Archive for March, 2009

Starting Today News Changes Forever

Monday, March 30th, 2009

All across Southeast Michigan today, newspaper subscribers woke up without a newspaper at their front door.  That’s because – as of today – the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News began their future, which includes:

1) Home delivery on Thursday, Friday and Sunday only

2) An electronic version of the print edition available to subscribers every day

3) An “express” version of the paper available at boxes and retail locations every day

This new model is the focus of attention by media companies nationwide.

At lunchtime today, CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership (which oversees business and operations for both papers) and Free Press Publisher Dave Hunke addressed the Detroit Economic Club – wearing a wireless mic and speaking in a conversational style.  I had a front row seat.  

Hunke explained the rationale for the changes and described them in detail.  As he put it, the papers decided to “trade fuel, paper and manufacturing costs for journalism.”  Instead of being a town where newspapers would go out of business, Detroit is a community where newspapers are changing into new ways of delivering information.

And unlike companies that change first and ask customers later, the Detroit Newspaper Partnership queried thousands of customers who told them they want local information sources that are:

-”Relentlessly Transparent”

-Voices of the Community

-Smaller, faster and easier to use in their busy lifestyles

-Able to facilitate commerce

-Providers of information where they want it, when they want it

That input led to the new product that began today.  Hunke also noted, as we have been telling you for two years, that news consumers are now “platform agnostic.”  They want their information delivered across multiple media that fit their personalized needs.  That is why the papers are in print, on-line, in a digital format and the Free Press will be providing morning news content to WWJ-TV, owned by CBS (but without its own news operation).  The papers will also test market a handheld 8 1/2″ x 11″ “e-Reader” device that would download newspaper content daily.

After listening to Hunke and spending much time in recent weeks talking with newsroom employees, two questions stand out in my mind.  #1 – Depth – with a “smaller, faster” product, will there be room for longer stories that require longer storytelling somewhere online?  Or will everything have to fit into a small package?  #2 – Brands.  Hunke says the Partnership is committed to two papers, competing editorially.  But, beyond their names, their bylines and their packaging, how will they be distinctive brands that different segments of the market will support?  We don’t know that yet.

Another note to consider, regarding expectations – while the papers are upholding a commitment to journalism (especially considering their only other options were to cut even more newsroom jobs or go out of business), do not expect newsroom staffing levels to ever return to what they once were. Newsgathering resources will continue to be tight .  

Hunke received a deserved standing ovation today.  But, not because everyone loves the new information sources yet.  It’s because Hunke and the 2,000 employees of the Detroit Media Partnership are actually transforming their business, something too many companies have been too reticent to do.  Their business model was broken.  Instead of just complaining about it or doing the same thing hoping the circumstances would change, they actually did something about it.  That’s a good example for any business in 2009.

Hunke admits “there is no Plan B.”  So this has to be successful.  It also means things have changed forever.  We’ll never see home delivery of these papers seven days per week again.  It will take some getting used to.  In the meantime, we should salute a company that is willing to take a calculated game instead of riding the status quo into history.

“Twittergate” Bastardizes Important Social Medium

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Today marked a new low in the Twitterverse as we discovered that someone had started a Tanner Friedman Twitter page and was using it to post vindictive and potentially slanderous tweets. These ‘imposter’ tweets ranged from re-writes of actual tweets from Tanner Friedman professionals to assorted news links; all with one obvious purpose—to impinge our reputation.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who is behind this pathetic, desperate, libelous exercise. Crain’s Bill Shea, who covers the world of marketing and media, knows the ins and outs of the local landscape and provided ample speculation. Virtually within minutes of Bill’s blog post, the fake tweets mysteriously disappeared. Interesting.

What drives someone to be so vindictive as to (a) pirate the the name of another organization and (b) use that pirated medium to spread venom and vindictiveness? One can only speculate. At best it is a blatant misuse of an emerging and valuable communications tool. At worst, federal laws may well have been broken. Stay tuned.

Facebook: Better Late Than Never?

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

A quick update on a recent Tanner Friedman blog post that attracted a lot of feedback from our readers.

News reports say Facebook is actually going to listen to its customers on its redesign and pull back some of its changes after “uproar.”  Rather than consider the preferences of its customers on the front end, Facebook now has to backpedal and give in to customer demand now.

Lesson learned – if you’re going to do something that you think is “best” for your customers, talk to your customers before you do it.  Otherwise, it’s just for the executives (who don’t always know best).

Another Newspaper Gone – Another Trend To Consider

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Just this morning, the Ann Arbor News, which has served one of Michigan’s most vibrant communities for 174 years, announced its plans to close in just a few months.   In its place, a new Web site will launch, AnnArbor.com, that plans to cover news and include “social networking.”  See the details here.

Last year, we told you about this trend – newspapers and magazines going away and replaced by “online only” outlets.  Today, we are much closer to the beginning of this trend than we are to the end.  It will be happening more and more often and certainly not just in Michigan.

What does this mean for you, if you work in PR or wear some sort of PR hat?  Just another reason to stop clinging to the ways of doing business you learned throughout your career. It’s time for you to change too.  As news content – and business – moves on-line to stay, so should yours.  The potential third-party credibility of these Web sites may end up being close to what newspapers once enjoyed.  But, that’s no sure thing.  Think about the communications channels that you control – that are open to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection who throws out a few search terms.  That is the way we, as consumers of information, want it.  That is a trend in full-swing.

Radio Resonates, Rewards Audience

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

While I often lament the state of terrestrial radio, I would rather rave when it is warranted. Such was the case, this week, with CBS sister stations WYCD-FM and 97-1 The Ticket.

Working on behalf of Tanner Friedman client and local, emerging country artist Tommy Steele, I had the privilege of interfacing with Program Director Tim Roberts, considered among the top country programmers in the business. While the station reserves its FM playlist for national acts with charted songs in the Top 50, its HD Channel, “The Wolf” (available online as well as via HD tuner), affords greater flexibility for playing a wider range of artists (including new bands). On Tuesday, Tommy Steele’s first single from his upcoming CD, “I Like The Sound Of That” will debut, while, in the coming days, behind-the-scenes video clips of Steele recording his new record at Nashville’s hot Rivergate Studios will be made available at WYCD.com.

Sports talker The Ticket, meanwhile, is proving that the big money radio stunt is far from extinct. Last night marked the first of two Saturday night promotions at another firm client, Twelve Mile Crossing at Fountain Walk in Novi, in which we tied in two hot topics—March Madness and Economic Stimulus. With popular host Terry Foster hosting, participants had an opportunity to have their name drawn to “Crack the Safe” and a shot, with the right combination, of an AIG executive bonus-like $97,100. A range of basketball competitions from Fountain Walk’s new $8 million Fusion Health & Fitness court netted individuals additional prizes.

Radio fails when it fails to be fun, engaging, risk taking. This week, local radio resonated—to the benefit of its listeners.

Corporate Communications: More “Bad News”

Monday, March 16th, 2009

For about the past 21 hours, my Blackberry and AT&T’s wireless network have not been communicating well with one another.  My Blackberry can’t send or receive email or access the Internet.  That’s a problem.  Then again, so is the way the company is communicating with its customers.

I don’t want to make you suffer through the customer service frustration that ate up a chunk of my day.  But I will summarize and say that a tech support rep was so convinced there was not a network issue in my area, as I suggested, that she talked me into the fact that I need a new phone.  When arriving at the store to make that purchase, I was greeted by a frustrated manager and sales person who have seen a steady stream of customers all day long complaining of similar issues because – surprise! – there’s a network issue in the area.

As I first suggested in December, why can’t AT&T take the lead, as the top player in its industry, and start communicating with its customers instead of only to its “key audiences” like executives, investors and others who do not necessarily pay monthly fees each month)?   The answer lies mostly in corporate culture. It’s certainly not unique to AT&T.  Most big corporations have communications departments set up to provide “good news” to their executives and investors and keep “bad news” from reaching their customers.  

They are afraid of losing money, but think about how much money went out the window today.  A tech support rep spent 15 minutes on the phone with me troubleshooting a problem she couldn’t actually fix (she wanted me to erase everything on the phone and start over – good thing my instincts prevailed).  And in the store, the sales staff was dealing with multiple customers frustrated with common issues instead of selling product.  

If they operated a Web site on which, if you are having problems that come with a network issue, customers could see if their area was listed, saving calls and easing minds.  Same with Twitter feeds that list trouble spots.  If the outage is widespread, they could work via traditional media to manage the message as well as expectations.  Technology sometimes fails.  We understand that.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Just communicate it, then fix it and we’ll get on with our lives.

Instead, I’m stuck with a Blackberry that won’t do what it’s supposed to and I have no idea when that will change.  Talk about “bad news.”

To What Degree Is Dave Bing’s Education Important?

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

In the general scheme of things, is it really all that important what educational degrees Detroit mayoral candidate Dave Bing has or does not have? I would argue that what is more important to consider is the context of this week’s stories and debate.

The City of Detroit is coming off of one of the biggest political scandals ever, centered around issues of honesty and integrity. It is sorely in need of leadership that embraces transparency, telling the truth and doing what is right for the city’s constituents.

In recent weeks and months, this is the third time Dave Bing’s background, if not his character, has been called into question. First, it was the timing on his place of residency. Next, it was his voting record (or lack thereof) and now, questions regarding his previous public statements regarding his education.

The political arena is unforgiving and one lived publicly under a microscope. The popular businessman, basketball Hall of Famer and mayoral hopeful must understand, embrace and consider this, moving forward, in all that he does and says. To do otherwise and raise additional questions of uncertainty in the minds of the voting public will surely lead to Bing’s being unsuccessful at something for perhaps the first time in his storied lifetime.

Facebook Puts Execs, Not Customers, First

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

When I worked in TV news, we didn’t talk much about customer service. At every station, we were obsessed with “beating our competition” in ways that our customers never even noticed.  We had to be “live” in front of darkened buildings. We had to tout “exclusive” camera angles.  We had to tell our customers over and over again that we brought them a story “first” (if only by a few seconds) even though we knew they didn’t care.  Why did we do all of this? Because our bosses and consultants told us to.  And now, the industry is living with the impact of those directives.

Today, I fear Facebook is now making similar mistakes.  

I’ll admit it – I like Facebook.  I’ve been on since June and I have had fun experimenting with it as a communications vehicle, along with enjoying reconnections I never imagined possible.  The company is an amazing success story – from an online hangout for college students just three years ago to 175 million users worldwide today, no other company on the planet is adding customers as quickly.

Today, Facebook changed its look and functionality, giving me, as a customer, the third different interface in just nine months.  This change puts a lot more information on one page and, as Facebook is selling it, “We’ve updated our home page to make it easier to understand what’s going on with the people you care about. Now your friends’ posts are streamed in real-time and you have more control over what you see.”

But this is clearly not a customer-driven decision.  Facebook’s popularity tells us it wasn’t “broken” – so why is it being “fixed?”  And it’s clearly not advertiser-driven either.  The new format does nothing to increase ad exposure.  So, why is it happening?   Because the bosses say so.  One columnist assumes that it wants to be more like Twitter, a fast-growing, but more simple and much smaller site, because Twitter rebuffed a Facebook takeover offer.  If that’s true, how egocentric must their executives be to disrupt a customer base of 175 million, thinking “headquarters knows best,” just to try to outdo Twitter.  

If you are a Facebook user, were you ever online, using their product thinking “I wish this was more like Twitter?”  I doubt it.

Facebook is growing in an era of two-way customer communication.  That should put the customer in charge.  Now, especially in the Internet business, there’s no excuse not to let your customers tell you where they want to go.

Note: We welcome all readers of this blog who are on Facebook to join our “Friends of Tanner Friedman” group.  Let’s hope you can find it now.

Tweets Should Be 2-Way Streets

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

In recent days I prepared and gave a presentation on branding for a PRSSA Conference at Central Michigan University, finishing up with a few thoughts on social media and its role in building both professional and personal brands. Pulling from personal experience as well as research, I came across a phrase that, I think, really sums up what social media is all about: People having conversations online.

As even the purported experts and specialists on the subject must surely admit (at least privately), we’re all trying to utilize and figure out this still emerging and evolving medium (Twitter, at 5 million users, for example is a mere ‘baby’ compared to Facebook’s 150 million). Still, some are doing a better job of utilization than others.

Effective tweets and Facebook entries are those that encourage, as the ‘online conversations’ phrase suggests, a dialogue—a two-way (or more) discourse. Social media, by its very name, should discourage one merely talking at another. I’m always amazed, when on Twitter, when I see someone that is “followed” (at least in numbers listed) but barely “following” anyone. To me that suggests an individual disinterested in what others think or say—and that’s missing the point of it all.

Rather, engaging others with open, honest, transparent and non-promotional thoughts, news and insights provides a glimpse into who you are, how you think and what you are about—and should pose a request for reciprocation.

Think Again: Set New Coverage Expectations

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Think journalists are going to leave their desks to come to the event you are planning?  You should probably think again.

Here’s a new example of how media cutbacks are affecting in-person news coverage.  A correspondent in the Washington Press Corps told me today about the late February meeting at the White House of the National Governors Association.  There, approximately 40 of the nation’s governors, who all just received a total of nearly one trillion dollars in Federal “stimulus” money, met with the President before making themselves available to reporters.  Newsmakers all – they gathered in one place, inside the White House, to answer questions in rarely accessible form.

My source tells me that in years past, this annual availability attracted hundreds of journalists. But this year?  ”There were more governors there than reporters,” I’m told.  In fact, one correspondent tells me that that at times during the gathering, several governors talked to themselves, out of boredom, rather than to any journalists.

So there they were, 40 CEOs of our 50 states and the in-person news presence was well under capacity.  Why?  Fewer resources in news organizations.  Instead of a “beat” reporter on every subject, journalists now wear multiple hats and cover more.  Many just don’t have the time to travel anywhere to cover anything up close.  Many more rely on wire services, feeds or even PR “handouts” as foundations of daily coverage.

The bottom line is this:  unless something you are planning is extraordinary (and sometimes even if it is), it’s time for new expectations for a new era.