Archive for April, 2009

Detroit News and Free Press Experiment: Early Returns are In

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Almost daily I am asked how the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press’ Thursday, Friday, Sunday delivery experiment is going. Are the papers losing readers and subscribers? Are more migrating to the online versions?

Some interesting highlights of the first 30 days:

-Initially, 10,000 people cancelled their subscriptions, roughly half the projected number. Additionally, many of these individuals, after being contacted, are returning—at a rate of 100 a day.

-Some 6,300 have opted to have non-delivery days supplanted by mail delivery; an option that triples the subscription price—again, exceeding expectations.

-The e-editions of the papers are attracting about 30,000 visits per day each (5-6 times the amount before reduced delivery began) and 3 million page views per week.

-Single copy sales via retailer are trending in the 200,000 per week range (down from 500,000, which included home deliveries), the intended goal.

Thus, while the program is still in its infancy, early returns are good. The real key will be ad revenue and whether those projected goals can be met and maintained, along with multi-platform readership. So far, though, so good.

Do Something Smart, Ditch The “Corporate Speak”

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Tough times for the economy mean tough times for the image of American business.  Right now, Corporate America incurs the wrath of many Americans  - who want businesses to pay for what has happened (and then, in the next breath, paradoxically, they are complaining about their 401(k) losing its value).  

It’s time for American business to build confidence.  But, until corporations start communicating differently, the gap between businesses and the public could continue to widen.  That’s why companies need to start speaking a new language – Plain English.

“Corporate Speak,” filled with nonsense buzzwords, infiltrated American business years ago.  Today, it inhibits too many companies from telling their stories, delivering their messages and rebuilding their reputations.  At the same time, too many other companies speak only in the language of their industries, leaving the rest of us without an understanding of what they do.

Here’s an example… A few weeks ago I sat through a speech by a Fortune 50 CEO, who was “on the road” trying to build confidence in his company’s vision for the future. During the speech, I looked around the room to see hundreds of sets of eyes glazed over.  That’s because the CEO spoke almost exclusively in industry and corporate jargon.  He lost the audience almost completely by calling for such sweeping action as the need to ”measure outcomes in broad, per capita envelopes.”  Huh?  In the few instances he was able to use common language, he was able to engage the audience, only to lose it again when he switched back to corporate garble.

Here’s what some big company needs to do – have their CEO sign a pledge to communicate with the public clearly and understandably.  Of course, financial reports and SEC filings have to follow legal language.  But, everything else should be in common English.  

In suggesting this to corporate clients in the past, I’ve been accused of asking them to “dumb it down.”   Actually, keeping things clear and simple shows respect for your audience – proving that you really want to engage with them.  It’s actually very smart.  And very necessary to reconnect business with America.

Coupling of WYCD and WOMC Give Radio Consolidation New Twist

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

In a year already notable (notorious?) for the letting go of top Detroit drivetime radio talent (including former Greater Media brethren JJ & Lynne and Arthur Penhallow), CBS today announced that sister stations WOMC and WYCD will be consolidating their operations to Ferndale (where ‘OMC resides); not only sharing real estate but, perhaps, also on-air talent. 104.3 PM Driver Ted “The Bear” Richards is the first casualty of this coupling. The Detroit News’ Susan Whitall broke the story first.

Even radio insiders are watching closely for how this will all shake out. Country PD superstar Tim Roberts has been programming both stations for the better part of the past six months.

The utilization of air personalities on multiple partner stations is certainly nothing new. I turned down a job at rocker WPFR-FM in Terre Haute, Indiana more than 20 years ago that would have had me jocking live on the FM while also “babysitting” their satellite AM country station. Radio legend Ann Delisi reminded me earlier today that Chum twins 89X and CIDR have also been known to “double dip” their people. (To say nothing of the whole traffic reporting model).

That said, while the radio industry at large continues to suffer financially and budgets are tight, many question the wisdom of continuing to tamper with live, hometown, on-air talent; in particular when the Portable People Meter (PPM) continues to underscore that stations rich in personality and local content (i.e. news and sports radio) are thriving. After all, higher ratings translate into higher ad rates and increased revenue, right?

A Twitter Warning

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

There’s no bigger “media darling” in business today than Twitter.  Just about every national outlet has profiled its youthful founders and the company’s ironic rise to the fastest-growing site on the Internet.  Virtually every day, there’s some Twitter related story in the news, which always includes messaging about the site’s popularity.

Venture capitalists have poured tens of millions of dollars into the company, even with no publicly known stream of revenue.  Meanwhile, small business owners across the country struggle to receive even simple lines of credit from banks.

As we have written multiple times on this blog, we think Twitter offers great potential as an effective communications vehicle.  As a source for news and information, its immediacy and portability are impressive.  Our whole team is having a lot of fun with it.  But is Twitter growing too fast, too soon?

The site is frequently “down,” shutting its customers out because of overloaded traffic.  That could lead to serious revolt.  Remember America Online?  They were first-to-market with home Internet service. But when they grew too fast, leaving customers with busy signals instead of service, they were dubbed “America Off Line” with customers fleeing in droves for more reliable options.  If Twitter doesn’t keep up with its demand – and fast – customers will find other ways to communicate.

With a staff reportedly of 30-some employees, is it too small to provide service when issues arise?  Based on our experience, so far, the answer is “yes.”  Again, AOL encountered those same issues about ten years ago, hastening its demise as the top brand in its class.

If Twitter doesn’t take steps now to improve reliability and service, they’ll move very quickly from a trend to a fad and from a headline to a punchline.

Building Client Relationships Entails Respect, Trust, Counsel

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

In recent days, Matt and I gathered with some PR industry brethren for an informal evening of catching up and comparing notes, including on clients and the media. One individual relayed that, earlier that day, he had been ‘fired’ by a client via text mesage—the only communications avenue that particular client ever used!

I am often asked about my approach to clients and the best means by which to commuicate, day to day, while building a productive, professional relationship. The short answer is that every client is different and the PR professional has to quickly learn and adapt to what the client prefers. I have never been a fan of meetings for the sake of meeting when as much if not more can be accomplished by phone or email in a particular instance. I’ve experienced PR firms that love to pack several firm professionals into a client meeting merely to eat up hours. That said, there is nothing like in-person contact, when deemed necessary by both parties.

The real key, though, is mutual respect, understanding and trust. Everyone’s time, in particular in this day and age, is invaluable and every second must count as an effective means to a productive end. At the same time, two-way trust needs to be built on both sides of the equation. Here, setting reasonabe expectations and counseling clients appropriately is just as important in building long-term relationships. Over-promising or always being a “yes man” will forever be a recipe for disappointment and failure.

We are communications consultants with a responsibility to, while striving to meet client expectations, tell is like it is; in particular how media and marketing is changing at the speed of sound. And, if and when the time comes to part ways, this, too, should be handled with professionalism and aplomb (and, ideally, not via text).

Community Newspapers’ Demise A Reminder

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Another day. Another piece of shocking news about the fate of media outlets.  This time, it’s word that five Metro Detroit community newspapers will go away at the end of May. That means not only the newspaper, but also coverage of those communities online will cease to exist in less than two months. This includes the oddly-named, but previously venerable, Birmingham Eccentric, which has covered its community since 1878.

For those outside the area, these are the papers that cover the school board meetings, the zoning disputes, the high school sports, the local events and the local people who accomplish things beyond the ordinary. One of the most indelible memories of the early days of my career is my appearance 19 years ago on the front page of the Eccentric, behind the board of WBFH-FM.

As with many of the cases of what’s happening with the media in the Detroit market, we expect this to be the beginning of a trend across the country.  And if you think having to read your national and regional news online instead of getting a paper at your doorstep represents a big change, think about living in one of the five communities where your longtime hometown connection to your news is disappearing.  There’s no answer to any of these questions:

-Who will cover what is perhaps your most important investment of tax dollars – your school district?  Unless there are board corruption charges, it probably won’t be your regional media.

-Who will cover the local elections, shedding light on your choice of candidates. Unless sign stealing is involved, it probably won’t be your regional media.

-Who will cover high school sports? Expect for the all-stars, it probably won’t be your regional media.

-Who will preview local events?  Unless they involve a celebrity, it probably won’t be your regional media.

As for PR strategy – we can’t emphasize this enough – it’s time for a new one that should include new platforms – that you control – and not just traditional media.

Time To Dispel PR Myths Forever

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

I just got back from a business trip out of town.  It’s gratifying to experience Tanner Friedman’s growth far beyond a “one area code” firm.  We get to add value to client activity in many states and getting out of town for a couple of days is a chance to spend time with our clients in a more casual way.

On this trip, one client and I compared notes on the biggest PR myths.  We just can’t figure out how they are perpetuated through the years, particularly by people in business who have never made their living via communications.  But we share the frustration of having to debunk them much more often than we should.

Here’s an initial list of what we came up with:

1) Proclamations and Resolutions Are Not News – You can declare today any kind of day you want.  Same goes for this week, this month or this year.  A proclamation or resolution is a nice thing to frame and hang on a wall. It’s a “feel good moment” for anyone involved with what’s being honored. But it’s not news.  Journalists realize that every day is some declared day, every week is some week and every month is some month.  Next time you hear someone suggest pitching a news story on this, ask them to think of Mayor Joe Quimby on “The Simpsons.”

2) Oversized Checks Are Not The Best Ways To Give Away Money – There isn’t a bona fide news outlet anywhere that would actually run a photo of an oversized check being given to a charity or contest winner.  It’s just plain phony.  But you wouldn’t believe how often it happens.  If you want to make your giveaway memorable, come up with something real and creative. Otherwise, stick the corny big check photo in your newsletter or on your Web site.

3) Editorial Boards Are Not The Answer To News Stories You Don’t Like – You wouldn’t believe how often we hear demands to set up editorial board meetings from companies or individuals who feel like they were wronged in a news story.  Most of those people have never actually been in one of those meetings. For news organizations that still have regularly meeting “ed boards” – meeting with them can be an effective way of initiating dialogue.  But, if you don’t like your coverage, these are not the place to air your complaints. Try that it will have the opposite effect. 

Let me know what other myths you hear “out there.”  As always, your comments are welcome.

In PR, Transparency Trumps Unethical Every Time

Monday, April 6th, 2009

What is considered ethical behavior in our industry? From interpersonal dialogue between colleagues to communication with media outlets, being forthright, telling the truth, transparency and honesty are all stalwarts of the profession (if not a credo for how one should live).

Examples of unethical PR methodology? Here’s one: Writing a newspaper Op Ed under the guise of a “common citizen” that touts, seemingly in passing, entities that, in reality, the writer is paid to represent (without disclosure). Here’s another: Informing media that a particular event or establishment is poised for celebrity sightings and/or big crowds when, in reality, there is no factual basis for the claims.

Why not merely do what it takes to promote your clients? Why not bend the truth whenever it suits you; after all, who will ever find out?

The truth of the matter is that deception is always discovered. It’s what we tell our clients: never lie and never deceive. It will come back to bite you (and haunt your reputation) in the end.

“From Tha D” Artists Look Like “Us”

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Leave it to music to transcend borders of geography, philosophy and race.

While, in recent weeks, key members of the Detroit City Council have further divided our region with publicly disseminated venom regarding Cobo Hall and Jay Leno, a show of regional and racial unity has come from three unlikely ambassadors—rappers Eminem, Kid Rock and Trick Trick—with their hot new song, “From Tha D”.

All best known for their connections to Metro Detroit (Marshall Mathers is originally from Missouri and Bob Ritchie from Louisiana), their collaboration is particularly symbolic for a region already segregated and, in light of recent events, now even more so. With an urban artist (Christian Mathis) from the city, a country rocker from the suburbs and an 8 Mile straddler with ties to both, “From the D,” (lyrical machismo and profanity aside) is an anthem symbolic of Detroit pride and unity.

While the Detroit Convention and Business Bureau would never, in a million years, think to utilize such a song (and rightfully so), they should feel good about the fact that their “D” brand has resonated, from the top down, to cultural opinion leaders; and, influencing at a “grass roots” level via an initial “grass tops” approach is not an easy thing to do.

One almost has to wonder what Monica Conyers thinks of the artists that have banded together on this song. Do they ‘sound like her’ or ‘look like her?’ Yes—and no. And that’s the beauty of it all.

Media Incredulous Over Twitterjacking, Continues Coverage

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Whether you call it “Twittergate” or “Twitterjacking” the outrage over the pirating and misuse of the Tanner Friedman Twitter page by an outside entity has resonated through the halls of business, media and fellow social media users alike over the past week.

Top tech and media reporters Bill Shea (Crain’s), Matt Roush (WWJ/GLITR) and Mike Wendland all covered the incident; some even speculating on who is responsible. Detroit News writer Susan Whitall called us on Wednesday and weighs in in today’s edition of the paper.

Why all the interest? While a number of celebrity Twitter pages manned by imposters have recently been exposed, the degree to which our imposter worked to impugn our reputation (including re-writing and then tweeting actual Tanner Friedman tweets to further perpetuate the misrepresentation) has rarely, if ever, been seen in this emerging medium.

Why would someone put forth this pathetic, unethical act? Right now, as legal and law enforcement look into the matter further, we can only speculate. It would appear, however, that someone had both an ax to grind and, evidently, a lot of time on their hands.