Archive for May, 2009

Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Conference: Connecting, Positively Affecting

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

What is it that makes the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference so special?

At no other time or place do you have such an incredible array of decision makers, opinion leaders and policy developers together in one place and available to discuss the region. In a span of just a few hours, tonight alone, I had the good fortune to spend a few moments with City Council President Ken Cockrel, Jr., Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano and City Council hopeful Gary Brown and their staffers. Incredible.

Today (the first full day on the island), also presented the unique opportunity to reconnect with media friends and leadership I work with daily but rarely have an opportunity to visit with socially—Paul W. Smith and Lloyd Jackson from WJR; Georgeann Herbert and Jayne Bower at WWJ; Nolan Finely at the Detroit News and Tom Walsh of the Free Press; Nancy Kaffer, Sheri Begin and Amy Lane from Crain’s; Steven Clark of Channel 7.

And, add to this “mix” the infusion, once again, of the Fusion group of young professionals and their refreshing and much welcome energy and enthusiasm.

At Mackinac, the day-to-day mainland hierarchies and red tape take a temporary backseat to cooperation on a level playing field. Imagine that: a happening where regional cooperation and a common purpose are not the exception to the rule but, rather, the norm.

Mackinac Attendees Should Feel No Shame

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

This may be my most scenic blogging locale to date – overlooking the Mackinac Island Harbor, the Round Island Lighthouse and Lake Huron.  A quick computer break after an afternoon of conference sessions inside a four star hotel before heading out to receptions where food will be passed and drinks will be poured.

Sound like fun?  Sure, it can be.  But it’s also good business.

Some are criticizing attendees of this year’s Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference.  ”Why spent a lot of time and a lot of money when there’s a fire burning at home?” they hear.  Fear of negative backlash caused hundreds to stay home this year.  That’s too bad.  There should be no shame in making an effort to communicate your business, face-to-face, with key audiences and take part in important discussions to shape the region when you do business.

Yes, in PR, we are in the perception business, as well as the reputation business.  You should be careful in those areas. But sometimes being too careful could cost you.  I bet many of those who stayed home because they feared criticism now wish they were here.  They are missing good networking opportunities, productive conversation and a little fun – all of which are positives at a time like this.

Don’t Forget This Important Communications Platform

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Since starting Tanner Friedman, one of our core philosophies has been multi-platform communications. We advise our clients to design their strategies over as many possible platforms as it takes to tell their stories and deliver their messages to their target audiences.

I have to say, that after nearly 2 1/2 years, the most underrated platform continues to be face-to-face. Most companies just find it easier to send a press release or an email rather than get a group together, representative of their target audience, and actually talk.  

But, one of our clients did just that this past weekend and I was privileged to help moderate the gathering.  This client, for many years, has targeted a select portion of the local audience via traditional advertising and PR. But, with the exception of full-fledged customers, the company had no direct contact with their audience, until now.  

The company held a “Community Forum” in a local neighborhood representative of the target base.  There, the company’s owners personally answered questions and solicited feedback directly from a group of 50 potential customers.  For 90 minutes, the business owners and I got to interact, in two-way dialogue, directly with the people who receive our communications messages.  We found it exceptionally valuable.  Not only did we learn from them, participants will also go back into their families and community with positive feelings about business owners who actually listened to them.

This week, Don and I head to one of the largest possible gatherings for high-level, face-to-face communications – the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference – 1,400 business, community and government leaders all on Mackinac Island for what I have called “The Super Bowl of Schmoozing.”  Watch the blog for perspectives direct from “The Island” and, in the meantime, don’t forget about the power of personal interaction to communicate your business. 

“These Are The Times That Try Men’s Souls”

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

The famous quote that headlines this blog from one of our country’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine (with excuses to women everywhere, I would have used “Our Souls”), has perhaps never been more apropos in these times. Most of us, in fact, can’t remember experiencing a period in history where we were all more challenged economically.

These are also times that behoof each of us, as business owners and working professionals, to not overreact or act out of fear. I was recently made aware, by two separate business owners, of run-ins they had with the same individual who they had hired, separately, for project work. When the work product was not up to par, they refused to pay full invoiced fees. Their disbelief and shock at how the vendor they had hired reacted was palpable and one of shock and disbelief. Both were verbally accosted in very public places with profanity laden discourse and threats, the likes of which they had never experienced in their respective 30 years each of professional life. There was no room for compromise or discussion, only anger and pathetic attempts at inappropriate intimidation.

These are times that test one’s mettle; prove one’s character; show what we are really and truly made of. When the chips are down, how we act—and react—demonstrates who we really are. Moving effectively beyond adversity takes setting a tone and a proper example.

There is an old adage that underscores all of this: “Treat someone well and they’ll tell someone else. Treat someone poorly and they’ll tell ten people.” Things will improve. Are you setting yourself and your company up for success in the future with how you are conducting yourself and cultivating relationships and a positive reputation now?

“Bad Economy” A ‘Cop Out’ For Bad Companies

Monday, May 18th, 2009

While the economy has never been more challenging it can also serve, for some companies, as a “cop out” for why business is failing. It has been our experience, in working with numerous companies in virtually every industry sector, that those that have both planned for tough times and, in turn, empowered and rallied its people towards future success, are the ones that persevere most efficiently.

You’ve no doubt heard: “A company’s people are its greatest resource” and it is true. I know of a particular company whose high level managers pushed, a few years ago, for having more of its up and coming professionals get involved in networking and new business development, only to be rebuffed by top management. The reason? Ego and shortsightedness. The heads of this company felt they could develop business better than anyone else and did not want to put forth the resources—whether in time or dollars—to train or bring the next level of ‘rain maker’ along.

In time, payrolls increased, while, new significant business coming in did not. And, if you think those realities might have precipitated change, think again. Rather than correctly cultivating a next generation of business developer, a culture of intimidation and negative “motivation” continued—’Bring in new business, or else.’ The end result? In just over two years, this company, through layoffs, pay freezes, pay cuts and attrition, has seen its staff and office square footage cut in half; its deflation in billables far worse. Economy? Yes. Bad business decisions? Absolutely.

It is a fate suffered by bad companies in times good and bad—if you don’t set your people up for success, they (and you) are destined to fail. That’s the true bottom line.

Business Now Means Communicating Now

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

A few mornings ago, I was privileged to sit on a panel as part of a seminar called “Economic Clarity:  Business Now.”  Professionals representing multiple aspects of business were asked to talk about the advice they are giving their clients and the answers to the most common questions they are receiving.  Put together by the law firm Clark Hill, I joined a panel that included experts in economics, government and public affairs, corporate restructuring and bankruptcy and business consulting, to talk about communications.

The biggest mistake businesses are making now?  Not communicating.  I told the audience, and I truly believe, that it is illogical and irrational for businesses, in this environment, to try to  ”stay under the radar.”  Here are some more highlights from the presentation:

This economy will have winners and losers and, chances are, the winners will be the ones who are telling their stories, delivering their messages and strengthening their brands right now.  ”Keeping your head down so it doesn’t get shot off” is not a business strategy – it’s actually a complete lack of a strategy.

Also, there have never been more ways for business to communicate – traditional media, social media, company Web sites, email, advertising, internal networks, etc. can combine for a powerful set of tools to stand apart, especially in tough times.

Those who are cutting or eliminating their communications efforts do so at their own risk.

Interested in hearing more?  A panel comprised of many of the same individuals who spoke this week will present a similar program in Grand Rapids, Michigan on June 3rd.  You can find out more at this link.

Mojo, MC Hammer, Ken Cockrel Utilize Social Im(media)te

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Still wondering whether social mediums Facebook and Twitter are just a passing fad? Consider a couple of high-profile postings/tweets from this week alone.

As reported in today’s Detroit News, Channel 95-5 Morning Host Mojo got into it this week, first on-the-air, with MC Hammer. After a radio interview in which he bristled over the topic turning to finances, Hammer went to his Twitter page, called Mojo a “coward” and suggested to A&E (which is airing Hammer’s new reality series) that they pull all ads from the radio station. Mojo, in turn, replied on his Twitter page: “Take a look at the ratings for our show before you make an emotional decision.”

Earlier in the week, much was written in the press about City Councilwoman Monica Conyer’s being locked out of her office, supposedly, she implied, by the returning Ken Cockrel. Cockrel’s mayoral aide Dan Cherrin took to his Facebook account to post a link to a story which quoted Cockrel disputing such claims.

Ahh, social media. Providing anyone the ability to “broadcast” to its constituency any place and any time. There’s never been anything like it.

A Political Branding Lesson For “The Real World”

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

We don’t blog too much about politics because political communications, particularly at the Presidential level, are often much closer to the work of Hollywood publicists than it is to what we do at Tanner Friedman.  Often, the daily “spin” and constant effort to make one individual “look good” does not resemble how businesses and organizations need to communicate every day.  But, this week, we have an example that can teach a lesson to any effort designed to communicate a brand.

Dave Bing, the former college and pro basketball star and longtime successful businessman, beat the sitting Mayor of Detroit, Ken Cockrel (the former City Council President), in a Special Election even though Bing was painted as an “outsider.” In fact, that characterization by his opponent may have propelled Bing toward victory.  Bing’s campaign stayed on-message throughout, preaching professionalism and character and differentiated his potential from his opponent’s. 

Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Nancy Kaffer explores the power of the Bing Brand in a front-page story that you can read, for free, here.  As for what it means to your communications effort, that’s where Tanner Friedman comes in.  Here’s how we are quoted in the article:

“…emphasizing differences is the root of brand-building, said Matt Friedman, a partner in Farmington Hills-based Tanner Friedman—Strategic Communications.
‘Your brand is your personality to your target market,’ he said. ‘One of the important things in establishing a brand is articulating points of difference.’
On those terms, Friedman said, Bing’s potential weakness as a newcomer and an outsider became an advantage — and negative ads from the Cockrel camp bolstered the Bing brand. 

‘It seems like this cry for change, having someone who is an outsider, may have worked in his favor,’ he said. ‘It reinforced that Dave Bing has not been a part of all the troublesome behavior in the mayor’s office or the City Council.’”


Air Force One Over New York City Event Egregious on Many Levels

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Could there have been any other outcome? Louis Caldera, the (now) former director of the White House Military Office has resigned, days after causing panic and outrage by conducting a low-altitude photo shoot of Air Force One over New York City.

Though officials said this was also a ‘training mission’ what could they have been thinking—in particular individuals affiliated with the Oval Office and military—who continue to work on the front lines every day in the ongoing fight against terrorism?

The video and photographic images are downright eerie; when viewing them, it is not hard to understand how residents in and around Manhattan, when suddenly faced with the reality of a large jumbo jet flying low over the Hudson, Statue of Liberty and surrounding skyscrapers flanked by a military jet could not harken back to terrible, life-shattering memories of 911. Police and emergency phone lines were flooded with calls from panicked individuals while equally scared occupants of commercial and residential buildings fled their respective homes and offices for safer ground.

To say nothing of the financial ramifications of such an event. At a time when the White House is preaching fiscal responsibility, they spend nearly $400,000 in tax payer dollars for new photographs? Why not take existing photos of Air Force One, find a good Mac computer and photoshop the plane into images of Americana? I know a number of talented creative professionals who would done a great job for a couple of grand. Instead, police and New Yorkers were caught totally by surprise if not terrified of what was occurring and then slapped further, with the rest of us, with a huge tab.

It will go down in history as one of the biggest governmental PR/Communications/common sense gaffes ever. And the icing on the cake: outgoing Caldera indicating that medication he had been taking may have been responsible for his lack of judgment in the incident. Note to his physician: time to cut the dosage. Military intelligence indeed.

Radio Troubled, Yet Resilient

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

For nearly 30 years now I have worked in the communications field. For the first 13, I was on/in radio (on-the-air, programming and research), with my voice heard over both current (WWJ, WXYT) and now defunct (WLLZ, WLTI) Detroit stations. I wrote for the national radio industry trade, “Monday Morning Replay” and, more recently, authored a book, “No Static At All—A behind the scenes journey through radio and pop music.” Yet, I had never spoken at length with one of the true legends of the medium—Dick Kernan—until this week.

As I work on an updated version of my book (originally released in 2005), I actually reached out to Dick, whose career in radio dates back 53 years (54 in July) via, ironically enough, Facebook. While his name, for several decades, has been associated with Specs Howard School, his Detroit on-air legacy dates much further back—to the early days of WXYZ-AM and the very first days of WRIF-FM, where he hired a young Arthur Penhallow for $150 a week (he’d been making $125 in Toledo). In the wake of recent on-air star firings (including Penhallow and Chris Edmonds from WNIC), I could think of no one better to muse on the state of the medium and where it is going.

Like me, he laments the jettisoning of top on-air talent but concedes it is sure to continue: “It is easier to cut costs than raise revenues,” he said. In the end, though, with the right programming in place, “content is king,” he is confident radio will evolve—and survive: “In 1956 I informed my dad I had taken a job (my first) in radio. He said to me: ‘Radio is dead. T.V. is where it’s at.’” Perhaps there is hope after all.