Archive for February, 2009

Dodgers Should Just Say ‘No’

Friday, February 27th, 2009

If Los Angeles Dodger star Manny Ramirez doesn’t think $25 million a year, or, if he chooses, $45 million over the next two years is enough, the Dodgers should say fine and cast him off. It is irresponsible to do otherwise—ethically and economically.

At a time when sports teams are experiencing staff layoff woes similar to other industries across the country (albeit on a much smaller scale) and our nation in general is suffering, it is time for baseball and sports in general to start doing the right thing and sending the right message.

Signs that read: “Responsibility” should be posted in every front office and every locker room and at every sports agent’s desk; as in ‘take responsibility’—for doing the right thing. The American League’s top star, Alex Rodriguez, took steroids and initially lied about it. Perhaps baseball’s biggest name ever, Barry Bonds, is about to be indicted. And, now, one of the NL’s top talents and his agent are looking as greedy as the Wall Street “wizards” who put our country into the mess it’s currently in.

If our national past time is not careful, it risks alienating its customer base, just as it did in ’94 with the strike and the Lions have done in recent months. It’s not so hard to fathom, all things considered, that if pushed away too harshly, that fan base could, conceivably, not come back. Just think: ballplayers forced to really play for peanuts.

California Dreamin’ Replaces Reality

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

In our business, we all claim to understand the power of brands, and the perceptions they create.  But sometimes it takes a first-hand experience to really understand the affect of a brand on human psychology.  Last week, I had one of those experiences.  

I spent the week in California, trying to enjoy some time outside, soaking in some scenery and, of course, sampling some tasty food.  I had read about home values decreasing there, like everywhere.  But I was going to California.  I mean, based on reputation alone, California is the land of prosperity and Michigan is in the toilet, right?  I was going to see what life in a booming state was like, right?  After a week away from “the doldrums of Michigan,” vacationing amongst “swimming pools… movie stars” would just make me depressed about coming home to the economic mess here, right?  Not at all.

Following simple personal history and the powerful brand California has built, I was surprised as anyone to see that California is also suffering in a significant way.  High unemployment, declining population, homes in foreclosure, etc. – just like Michigan and, actually, virtually every state, the numbers show.  There was bad news on the state and local levels, everywhere I turned to feed my news habit.  In fact, I heard one radio story about how the state’s legendary film industry was actually declining because of states (like Michigan) that are offering incentives that California (until, apparently, now) hasn’t.  And, waking up Friday morning at the hotel, this USA Today story graced the front page outside my front door, detailing California’s troubled economy.

Still, I’m sure many in Michigan will wake up this week wishing they were in “a place like California, where things are better.”  That’s all because of brand perception, proving the adage that “Perception Is Reality.”  The fact is that things are tough all over.  But that, like mortgages and cars all over the country, just won’t sell.


Communicating Detroit to the World Starts at Home

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

To say that I and others in our industry found this week’s announcement in Crain’s Detroit Business that the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (DMCVB) has once again gone outside of Detroit for communications work interesting would be an understatement. Disheartening and disappointing is more like it.

There is, however, a precedent. Two years ago, the DMCVB went to Los Angeles for the creative work that begat the “D” brand/image positioning for Detroit. Creatives based here in the Metro area are still reeling from that slap in the face.

To complain too loudly is to to be accused of ‘sour grapes.’ Yet, isn’t the mission of the DMCVB to promote the Metropolitan area and its many companies, resources and services? Weren’t they, along with Chris Ilitch last year, promoting Detroit as a great place to hold corporate meetings and events? Didn’t the Governor, in her recent state of the state address, urge all of us to buy Michigan? Yet, at a time when Michigan is reeling from record unemployment and a failing Big 3, a group that is charged with being our front-line advocate instead goes to St. Louis and a large, national PR firm.

At the very least there could have been a partnering between a firm with particular relationships in target markets L.A. and New York and a local agency.

Instead, it appears once again that Detroit is ‘not good enough’—not even in the eyes of one of our own.

The Root of Employee Success? Setting Them Up To Flourish

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Since we seem to have a theme going this week of technology and employees, another thought: While Peter Karmanos appears to be about giving his new employee the benefit of the doubt, I continue to hear rumblings out of another company that seems to take the opposite approach: forever trying to catch its employees doing something wrong, including via technology.

This particular company is “fear-driven” from the very top. With very rare exceptions, it does not allow its people to join networking groups or professional industry organizations; somehow paranoid they might be recruited by other firms. Employee ‘comings and goings’ are closely monitored, including who they are going to lunch with and what time they arrive and leave each day. New ideas and creativity, if not in line with that of management, are quashed. And the piece d’ resistance? Management actually monitors employee desktops via spyware to see what they are working on and viewing. Stray onto the internet for a moment and you’re called on the carpet.

What’s interesting is that this company, by trying to control and bully, is actually losing the very people it is trying to ‘keep in line.’ Treated as such, they become disengaged, disenfranchised, disillusioned. It is a recipe for disaster; a fate that is being borne out as this company shrinks and implodes. An interesting self-fulfilling prophecy in action.

It is a lesson for all of us who lead organizations and professionals. Root for your people to take chances, explore new horizons and grow. Allow them to express themselves and provide new opinions and perspectives. Treat them well and you needn’t worry about their leaving, only shared successes.

Bank CEOs, Karmanos Should Give PR a Seat at Boardroom Table

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

Before we become accused of taking “pot shots”, a disclaimer: Pete Karmanos’ heart may well be in the right place in giving an ex-con a new lease on life, and everyone deserves a second chance. That said, the sloppily-orchestrated announcement by Compuware that Kwame Kilpatrick was coming on board, coupled with Karmanos’ ridiculous comments today regarding the shoving of a sheriff’s office deputy in Tom Walsh’s Freep column begs the question: Where’s the communications counsel in all of this?

More than likely, as Daniel Gross’s piece on Wall Street CEOs in Slate Magazine suggests, ego renders any such help a moot point. “A common taunt on Wall Street,” Gross writes, “goes: ‘If you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich?’ And so they tend to eschew the advice of their modestly compensated PR advisers.”

When Chrysler was taken over last year by Cerberus, suddenly, PR was answering to HR?! In turn, out went one of the finest PR pros in the business: Jason Vines. Telling, isn’t it, that Vines lasted mere months at Compuware?

A free word of advice to CEOs, if I may: In good times and especially in bad, have your public relations counselors with you at the boardroom table—and leave the egos at the door before you walk in.

Compuware Creates Its Own PR Mess

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Sometimes, public companies have to deal with PR issues that could not have been prevented.  Other times, they have to deal with issues of their own creation, which is especially challenging for communicators.  Today is one of those days for Compuware, which has hired Kwame Kilpatrick as an account executive.

The questions have been posed all day –  why would they hire Detroit’s former Mayor, convicted of lying under oath and jailed after admitting to multiple legal and ethical breeches, for an apparently high-paying job with a company division that deals with IT security?  Especially because he’s the reported target of a Federal corruption investigation.  To make matters worse for the company,  this news leaked while local and national news outlets reported 250 layoffs at the company.

The job will be in Dallas, where the disgraced former politician won’t be anonymous.  Kwame Kilpatrick has become a household name and a media spectacle after landing in town in a private jet and moving into a $3000 per month rental home in a swank neighborhood.  

Tomorrow morning, Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos plans to take to the radio to explain this hire.  He’ll probably talk about how the former Mayor will, somehow, will do some sort of good for Compuware’s business.  But, it will be impossible for him to do more good than harm.   Before he even spends a day on the job, Kilpatrick has already cost his new employer in negative press and, as Don mentions below, negative employee morale.  

This hire also calls into question the relationship between Karmanos and Kilpatrick, which has a history of city contracts and campaign contributions.  After recent national and local scandals involving businesspeople and politics, the public is more skeptical than ever about both CEOs and elected officials.

Never mind a company “shooting itself in the foot.”  This is a company breaking its own legs.  

Kilpatrick to Compuware Already Has Employees ‘Up In Arms’

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

The media is abuzz this morning with reports that former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will soon join Compuware-affiliate Covisint in Texas. Meanwhile, the papers are reporting Compuware plans to eliminate another 200 jobs.

What has been most interesting in early radio stories is the fact that Compuware employees evidently are most upset that the hiring violates the company’s core values that stress and require ethical behavior of all of its people.

This strong reaction once again underscores that, today, corporations must live what they say and practice what they preach. It is no longer enough to give someone a job; an employee, when initially attracted to a particular company, holds culture and values as important as pay and benefits. Further, they want to work day-to-day within the culture and environment they signed up for.

No matter how you look at it—whether from a brand image, corporate communications and/or employee morale standpoint—this is not one of Compuware’s finer moments.

Media Buzzing About This Blog’s Topics

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

At Tanner Friedman, we try to stay up to date, on a daily basis, about the media changes affecting the way our clients communicate.  Whenever possible, we try to share those changes with you on this blog. 

In the past 24 hours, two media outlets have reported on trends we first told you about on this site.  First, yesterday, The Detroit News reported on changing coming at one local radio station to inject more localism and personality into its product – something we have been calling for since we started this forum.  We appreciate the opportunity to be included in the story’s analysis and have this blog mentioned as source for current trends and topical discussion, as part of the article by reporter Susan Whitall (one of the most knowledgeable journalists covering music and radio, anywhere).

Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reports on a subject we told you about right here – the unprecedented financial challenges faced by local television stations across the country.  The Journal reports that in addition to cost cutting, it seems no other option for survival is “off the table.”  Sweeping changes could be coming along the same lines of what we are seeing with newspapers and magazines going “online only.”

Finally, we have written here about decisions made by radio ownership that we either don’t like or don’t understand. Now, one station group owner is going on-line to talk about changes from the owner’s perspective.  Tony Renda, Jr. of Renda Broadcasting, which owns stations in multiple states, has just started this new blog. We recommend that you follow it to get insight from a different point of view.  Full disclosure – Tony and I were classmates at Syracuse University and worked together at WJPZ-FM on campus.  

Twitter More Valuable As Communications Tool

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

For the past several months, like many others, I have been experimenting with the “social networking” tool that has piqued the curiosity of many communicators.  Twitter is supposed to be a 140 character or less snapshot of “what you are doing right now.”  But, in a very short time, it has become much more.

One of my favorite features is the news feeds that so many media outlets have started.  These days, no matter how busy I am, I can check Twitter and have headlines “pushed” to me from news organizations in the form of Twitter posts for quick and easy updates.  It’s an easy to way get my news fix.

This week, I also first-hand discovered a valuable Twitter experience – the community that is forming online.  I bought an “Aircard” from my wireless provider to use when I’m at client locations or traveling and, after a few days, was having trouble with it.  I put up a Twitter post about it and also searched recent posts and, in the process, made two connections which led to sound advice.  One trip to the store yesterday seems to have done the trick – thanks, in large part, to Twitter.

Sure, there’s plenty of chatter on there about how great Fridays are, how awful cold weather is and cryptic communication between members.  But, there’s also up-to-the-minute news, insights and some entertaining dialogue.  What there isn’t, of course, is advertising or any sign of revenue.  How long will Twitter last without taking in money?   

Please feel free to “follow” me at “mattfrieds.”

Kilpatrick’s Exit From Jail, Detroit Disappointing

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

You’ve just spent several months in jail after pleading guilty to perjury. You have been removed from public office in disgrace and owe a million dollars in restitution after costing your city $12 million. Upon release, what would you do? How would you act? What would you say?

If you are Kwame Kilpatrick you exit prison surrounded by body guards, board a private jet and tell a reporter, when asked what you would change if you could go back in time, ‘nothing.’ Meanwhile, his mother, an elected (barely) official still in office says that she was proud to arrange for the Lear jet, which cost $13,500.

For the former mayor, his words and actions continue to scream: “Me, me, me”—It’s all been a cleansing experience—for HIM; HE’S grown; HE’S got a job interview. Not one word about the individuals and city he has hurt and must repay; the public trust he lost; no, ‘If I could go back, I would have, at all times, acted in the best interests of all those who placed in me their faith and trust.’

Everyone deserves to move on; everyone should have the opportunity to get their life back. In this instance, Kilpatrick will never get there from here if he continues on his path most traveled which, for all intents and purposes, was his road to ruin.