Archive for December, 2008

Look Who’s Talking – The AT&T P.S.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

One brief postscript here to the AT&T story that brings to mind an adage that Tanner Friedman clients have heard from us before – “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will speak for you.”

That’s what happened here.  Because AT&T did not provide detail to customers about what happened, journalists were forced to turn to other sources.  This blog, in fact, became an attributable source in a PC World online story, because the writer was looking for more information to inform customers hungry for facts.

Another lesson learned for corporate communicators – unless you want a “blogger” speaking for your company – take the steps necessary to tell your own story.

Calls and PR Messages Don’t Get Through During AT&T Outage

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

You don’t need a textbook to learn how a “textbook case” of adversity communications was filled with frustration and missed opportunities rather than sound execution of a “crisis” strategy.

If your business is wireless communications than what could be worse than an outage of several in multiple major markets?  I can’t think of one.  Then what’s a good reason for customers to be kept in the dark about what was happening?  I can’t think of one of those either.

Today, AT&T wireless’ service was knocked out, presumably by bad weather, in multiple Great Lakes area states.  As I write this, some 10 hours after the outage began, I don’t have many facts other than my Blackberry didn’t work for about 9 hours today and I searched the Internet, including traditional media, in vain all day looking for solid information.  What I found instead was a lot of emotion on the part of frustrated customers.

The outage began about 10:30 a.m. and by early afternoon, Twitter and wireless forums had a lot of reports and guesses about what happened.  By late afternoon, bloggers began to post. One, from Chicago, even had a quote from an AT&T spokesperson.  By early evening, a Chicago newspaper had posted a story online.  A Michigan Associated Press story, filed at about 6:45 p.m. included one line about an outage for AT&T customers.   A cell phone outage pales in comparison to hundreds of thousands of residents without electricity.  But couldn’t one Michigan news outlet have reported some facts?

That could have happened, it seems, if AT&T had pursued an aggressive communications strategy.  Without question, their communications staff must have been hampered by a cell phone outage on a holiday weekend.  But, somehow, couldn’t a spokesperson reached out to key outlets that can reach customers immediately – like the all-news radio station and daily newspapers’ Web sites and asked for the media outlet to communicate directly with customers?  That would have saved thousands of calls to their call centers, visits to their stores (this happened all day, I read) and hits on their help Web site from customers who were unaware of a mass outage. It would have set expectations and reassured frantic customers looking for information.

The same approach works for social media too.  If AT&T people starting posting on Twitter and in forums, they could have laid out facts that could have quelled frustrating and speculative chatter.  I would normally suggest a message to customers on the AT&T Web site.  But, realistically, I can imagine the time, politics and other complicating factors that would have to go into such a thing at a gigantic corporation.

Years ago, when Don and I represented an airline, some in that company scoffed at our efforts to “go proactive” in times of adversity, like a snowstorm that resulted in cancelled flights.  But, after a while of doing it “our way,” the insiders learned that a tiny dose of self-initiated “bad press” goes a long way toward customer communication when you can work with the media to tell your story and deliver your messages.  It also reduces the drain on call centers and other resources.

So what about my day without a cell phone?  Let’s just say it’s a good thing it’s a quiet holiday weekend.

Lions are 0-16. What’s Next?

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

And so it is official: The 2008 Lions are winless. So, what does a franchise that is among the worst in sports history do for an encore? Hopefully make some drastic overhauls in personnel.

But what else? As someone that works everyday to help clients with branding and messaging, I have a few thoughts:

The announcement this week that the Lions were holding on ticket prices for 2009 was a step in the right direction. I would go one further: CUT prices and keep them discounted until the product on the field improves.

I’d also take another step: Have William Clay Ford make the announcement. At the same time I would recommend he do what Mike Ilitch did a few years ago after the Tigers turned in one of their worst seasons ever and start granting some extensive media interviews in which he demonstrates responsibility for the failure of the Lions franchise, apologizes and vows to do whatever it takes to turn the team around. He needs to do this with passion and resolve.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Lions played hard for Rod Marinelli right down to the wire, Ford has to clean house, from the front office down and, most importantly, put managers and coaches with proven league success in place.

These are the basic tenets, really, of crisis communications: Take responsibility, pledge improvement and reassure. 0-16 is a crisis and culmination of decades of ineptitude. Everything must change.

Holiday Memories: Yule Log & You Make the Call

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

During this Holiday Break 2008 it is heartening to see that TV and radio programmers are not taking time off where creativity is concerned.

Chicago’s WGN-TV brought their version of the Yule Log to Christmas Eve programming last night. Originated by WPIX-TV/New York in 1966, the Windy City’s Superstation broadcast non-stop video of a roaring fireplace accompanied by audio of classic holiday radio programs, which ran through the night. It was an unexpected treat, harkening back to another era.

Not as “heartfelt” but just as intriguing will be this Sunday’s WDFN-AM 1130 broadcast during the final Lions game. As WXYT-FM 97.1 (The Ticket) has actual rights to the game, Art Regner and “The Fan” will instead take calls and comment on each play. It is being billed as an opportunity to ‘turn down the sound’ of the game and listen instead to the unadulterated, “non-homer” commentary.

Great stuff, all!

5 Resolutions to Improve Communications and Business in 2009

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Businesspeople haven’t needed a holiday break like this in a long time.  Talk about stressed out.  Tough times have been made even tougher lately because so many people we encounter seem to just need to regroup and recharge.  

While looking ahead to 2009, here’s a list of suggested “Top 5″ New Year’s Resolutions that we hope will make next year as positive as can be, under the circumstances:

1.  Embrace New Media-  Despite what you may see on some Web sites, there are no “social media experts.” We are all in a period of experimentation.  But, we are seeing success with several forms of “new media.”  Others can learn from our clients’ forays.  Professionals who rely on referrals have much to gain.  Corporations that need to manage reputations also can benefit.  This year, if you haven’t yet, it’s time to at least get your feet wet.

2.  Learn the “New Rules” – The fundamentals of communications and media relations are alive and well. But, if you think you have your strategy figured out with press releases and pitching stories to “print, TV and radio” outlets – think again.  Do yourself a favor, get help if you need it – but whatever it takes, it’s time to learn how things have changed, will change and why it’s not all bad for your organization and its messages.

3.  Respect Time – Here’s something that literally happened to me this year that was not an isolated incident.  It’s a symptom of a problem – there’s not enough respect for time in business these days.  I was called to a meeting with a senior executive at a potential client nearly three months ago.  I drove approximately 45 miles, early in the morning, to be at this executive’s office.  The executive was more than 30 minutes late for the meeting.  We did end up talking, seemingly productively, for nearly 90 minutes.  I was asked to put together a letter of proposal – by the following week – so we can begin working together. I sent that letter on time, as requested.

To this day, that letter has never been acknowledged by the recipient. I followed up by phone and email multiple times.  Keep in mind – I did not knock on the door and ask for a meeting. I was called to the office and, after a meeting, a letter was requested by this senior executive.  Nearly 3 months later – no response.  No “I’m sorry, it won’t work for us.”  No “now is not the right time.”  Nothing.

Please don’t do this to anyone you encounter in business.  It is beyond frustrating. It is disrespectful.  

4.  Take Advice  - I hear this not just in the PR business, but with all professionals.  Why pay someone good money for their advice and counsel and then ignore it?  Of course, you have the right to do it. And it happens all the time.  Remember, all successful businesspeople will tell you that outside advisors can add value and make a positive difference – but only if you listen to them.  

5.  Put People First – As I have written before, there are a lot of short fuses out there.  There is a lot of emotion, fear and anxiety running through offices and organizations. If there’s one thing we can all do this year, it’s remember that we’re all people, trying to support ourselves, our families and our communities.  Let’s treat each other with professionalism, the way we wanted to be treated, in all of our business interactions.

Happy Holidays and here’s to a successful 2009 for the readers of the Tanner Friedman blog.

All-Wheel Drive Another Lesson For “All-Knowing” Senators

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Now that Washington has finally come to its senses on the Big 3, isn’t it interesting how this week’s mega-snow storm served as yet another reminder of how the U.S. automakers have been largely run through the ringer unnecessarily.

If you didn’t have all-wheel drive and/or a conscientious snowplower who didn’t take all day to remove the icy dump from the roads surrounding your abode, you probably didn’t get anywhere on Friday except stuck in a drift. And that’s my point.

The big SUVS that have long been in vogue to accommodate our lifestyles have not just been, here in the North Country, for pulling luxury craft or boasting that “mine is bigger than yours.” They have also been a necessity for getting us safely and efficiently around town during the often 8 months of the year where ice and snow can cause havoc in our daily lives and livelihoods. That’s something they just don’t understand in Tennessee or Alabama—or D.C.

The Big 3 may have been, over the years, shortsighted and arrogant in many ways, but they also have built vehicles that we have asked them for (and needed). That’s Economics 101/Supply vs. Demand and in no way deserving of the hand slaps they have endured in recent days.

It is one more example, as we have previously noted here, of the fundamental disconnect between our region and the rest of the country, including those residing day-to-day in the nation’s capital.

Local News Shines Through Snow Storm

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Local news, in particular that from local television, is quite often—rightly or wrongly—the object of disdain and parody for its tendencies in the area of self promotion, sensationalism and covering the crime beat.

Time to give them their due.

There is perhaps nowhere local TV (and radio for that matter) shine more than during extreme weather episodes. Yesterday and today were perfect cases in point.

Throughout Thursday, local news reports forecast a winter storm unlike any we had yet seen in 2008. As we all became glued to our TVs, radios and computers/handhelds for the latest information, school closings, meeting cancellations and other changes of plans were prompted hours upon hours before the first snowflake fell. Friday morning those warnings were borne out, almost to the inch.

It’s what the news and those that report it are supposed to do—communicate accurately in the local public interest. For THE winter storm of 2008, they all did just that; and they did it extremely well.

Newspaper Change Difficult But Necessary

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Change is never easy.  But, sometimes it’s just flat-out necessary.  

That’s my overall take on the sweeping changes announced today by The Detroit Media Partnership, the company that runs the business operations of Gannett’s Detroit Free Press and Media News Group’s Detroit News.

The changes include a cutback to three day per week home delivery, an available subscription to an online version of the print edition and enhancements to the Web sites of each “paper” that will include more video storytelling.  A column by Free Press Editor Paul Anger and a letter to readers from Detroit News Editor and Publisher Jon Wolman help put it all into more simple terms.  

Since Don and I started this blog, I have been pleading for change in the newspaper business, in order to save it. I have been begging newspaper operators to figure out how to make money delivering content on the Internet.  I have suggested that they are making mistakes by being too married to their print product and not making the most of the online platform.  

All of that said, I really enjoy reading the newspaper every morning.  It will be a part habit to break.  But, I’m on my Blackberry and on my laptop all day consuming news as it is reported online.  Doing more of that will enhance my life, personally and professionally. 

The Detroit Media Partnership made a bold business decision, just like we have challenged them to do.  I can’t say right now if it was the right one. But, at least they are showing guts and trying something different in the face of financial disaster.  Also, while they may have killed some aspects of their traditional business., they may have saved what’s left of journalism in this market – something we should all appreciate.

Here are a few hopes I want to share for the new model:

1) I hope they do more news.  There’s less of an excuse now to “not have room” for a story they want to do.  The Web platform gives them greater space for depth and variety.  If there’s no room in the print edition, so what?  Put it online.

2) I hope they get their headlines right, all the time.  One of the great aspects of reading a newspaper is to scan information and choose the most interesting stories to read as attractive content catches your eye.  Online, you rely on headlines to click, then are given one story at time.  The headlines better be good, and accurate, as they will determine what you read and what you don’t.

3)  I hope the Free Press and News will reach out to seniors, a growing segment of Michigan’s population and big consumers of news. What better community service could the Detroit Media Partnership provide than to provide computer and Internet training to seniors who are fearful of technology, but still want their information?

4) I hope competition is fierce.  The good news in all of this is that there are still two media outlets competing for news.  No newsgathering staff face cuts because of these announcements.  Let’s hope they take their competition as seriously online as they did in the heyday of print – that’s good news for consumers (and PR pros too).

Plan for 2009 – Speak Up Now

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

At Tanner Friedman, we are in the midst of a “sprint to the finish,” helping clients with their 2009 communications plans before The Holiday Season begins in earnest.  Hopefully, your organization is in the midst of communications planning right now. 

If so, our strong advice is to include vehicles that help you tell your stories, deliver your messages and shape perceptions of your business and your industry.  Simply put, if you don’t speak for yourself, others will speak for you.

Case in point – what happened this past week to the U.S. auto industry.  For years, the automakers just tried to sell cars.  It’s no secret, they did last often insulated from their key audiences. Now, one of the factors in this week’s news, as laid out by the PR-savvy columnist Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press, is that the industry – so busy competing with itself – did not take many of the proactive measures necessary to tell, retell and update its story.

You can learn from this mistake.  Never before have we, as communicators, had so many tools available to us.  If your key audiences “just don’t get it” – it’s time to take steps to make sure they do.  As we have seen, the consequences of “keeping your head down so it doesn’t get shot off” can be dire.

Lions Need Fans—Not Sparring Partners

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Can the Detroit Lions fall any further? When not performing on the field they are now making obscene gestures and insinuating they want to fight unhappy fans off of it.

I was just thinking the other day that nobody in the locker room has stepped up publicly as a team leader to challenge/rally his teammates to “dig deep” and “fight hard” in a positive way.

Instead, we have Dominic Raiola unhappy with hecklers and lashing out with profane hand signals and fantasies of settling fan differences with his fists. Unreal. This from a veteran professional?

A friend of mine who attended last Sundays’ game at Ford Field and witnessed some of the fan/player discourse said the dialogue was even more disturbing with someone in attendance asking Raiola how he could sleep at night and Raiola responding that that would be no problem when he went home that night to his “mansion.”

Frustration is entirely understandable—on both sides of the equation. I also am not a fan of heckling players. Yet, decorum and professionalism, by all members of the team, is vital right now. The Lions are at a crossroads with fans saying ‘no’ to purchasing tickets and TV audiences obliterated by blackouts.

Raiola and his teammates need allies willing to pluck down hard earned cash for a competitive product. Bite the hand that feeds you too many times and it may opt to stay away permanently. If so, that mansion might suddenly not be so easy to pay for.