Archive for July, 2009

Health Care Reform: How The Media’s Ills Affect Us

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

For those of us who follow traditional media, we knew this was going to happen. It’s just a shame that it had to happen with a story so potentially significant.

The national, traditional mainstream media has blown the Health Care Reform story.  I write that because, let’s face it, there is no visible, easily accessible coverage of the bills “on the table” and what’s in them.  Yes, the bills are reportedly long and extremely complicated.  But part of the role of journalism is supposed to be taking esoteric, but important, information and breaking it down for better public understanding and, perhaps, uncovering previously hidden facts along the way.

The coverage of Health Care Reform 2009 style has essentially consisted of a Presidential PR Campaign, Congressional bickering (all part of political PR)  and public opinion polls (because the public has strong opinions, even without facts).  Health Care Reform has been fodder for talk radio and talking TV heads, but beyond opinion, is largely a mystery to a culture that, ironically, is more hungry for more information than ever before.  Ironically, we have more news sources giving us less news, at least on this subject, than ever before.   I see a few reasons for this:

  • Resources – fewer journalists in an industry starving for revenue means it’s nearly impossible to “turn a reporter loose” on an enormous piece of legislation and sources that can help make sense of it.  That was take a reporter, or two, out of “the news mix” for several days (if not longer) and the bare-bones staffs can’t (or don’t want to) do that.
  • Opinion-driven Coverage – this has been a growing phenomenon for the past 15 years, previously cost cut broadcast media outlets expect you to find out about the news somewhere else, then come to them for opinion.  
  • The Obama Factor – the President still grabs an audience, regardless of his approval rating.  Putting him on for an hour of Prime Time spin is easier, cheaper and will draw more eyeballs then an hour primer on the proposed reform reported by journalists

So if and when a bill passes and is signed into law, how much will you know about it?  Chances are, not very much.  If that ends up happening, this is one case where “blame the media” will actually be appropriate.

A Communications Launching Pad for WSU Student Entrepreneurs

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Matt and I often have the good fortune to be asked to speak to various professional and business groups and organizations but it is the opportunity to interface with students that is consistently rewarding. I had that chance again this week in the role of guest lecturer to Wayne State students participating in the university’s entrepreneurial E2 Challenge.

As each of these students is currently working to develop a particular product or service through the university’s Technology Commercialization Office, I spoke on considerations for branding and promoting same in a changing media and communications landscape.

Key to this discussion was the importance of telling your own stories via communications avenues you control, in light of shrinking newsrooms and constricting news holes; including social media. We also reviewed the “ins and outs” of product launch tactics both old and new, including what works today and what does not (and why).

However, before communicating to anyone, we talked first about developing and honing your brand and “key messages”—ensuring that they properly and effectively speak to “who you are” and “what you do.” It is at this stage that you differentiate yourself from the competition and provide a value proposition to prospective customers.

Doing this initial groundwork, my presentation underscored, is essential—vital—to getting any product or service “off the ground” and effectively launched.

 

“Where Were You?” – I’ll Always Remember

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

It’s going to be hard to forget where I was when Walter Cronkite died.  Last Friday evening, at the moment that it happened, I was in the midst of a conversation with two respected veteran journalists, at a charity dinner table.  We were discussing the changes in the media businesses and speculating about the “who” “what” “when” “where” “why” and “how” about the future of news and information.

The three of us talked about where things have been, where they are going and how the public can possibly be served with the business side of media being battered so severely.  It’s the kind of “shoptalk” that happens virtually every day inside Tanner Friedman. But, this time, it seemed heavier, with more at stake than normal chit-chat.  Of course, we had no idea what was happening inside the New York hospital room where a true legend of journalism was surrounded by his family in his last moments.

Of course, there will not be another Walter Cronkite.  On that, we can all be certain.  But there is much uncertainty facing the business of reporting and delivering news.  

The communications, business, overall,  has never been so ripe with opportunity. There are so many ways to deliver and receive information.  I believe that it is a privilege to be working in communications in this era.  But, journalism has always been at the centerpiece of how our society consumes information.  When Walter Cronkite left the anchor desk, quality began to suffer.  At the time, it seems like that would be the biggest issue “The Business” would ever face.  Now, those on the inside wish that was all they had to fear.

Paul McCartney Letterman Appearance One For The Ages

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Tonight’s Paul McCartney appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” is historic in so many different ways—first and foremost Sir Paul has returned to the Ed Sullivan Theater where he and The Beatles first wowed America 45 years ago on the show of the same name.

McCartney and his band also performed el fresco from above the theater’s marquee, taking a cue from the Fab Four’s famous 1969 “Let It Be” rooftop concert in London atop Apple Records—the last time the band played together live. The pop king also spoke of his collaborations and friendship with the “King of Pop” Michael Jackson.

All of the “pomp and circumstance” surrounding McCartney and his appearance tonight are well founded. It has always amazed me that, despite his stature and accomplishments, he has often suffered through the years from critics quick to discount much of his music as inferior to that of John Lennon. While still in radio in the 80s, I actually addressed this with a letter to the editor of a paper that bashed Paul’s songs. If you look at his solo career alone, in fact, McCartney has produced, over the past 30 years, more than 35 Top 40 hits. This despite the fact that radio has largely ignored his newer records since the late 80s.

Indeed, he is royalty and, perhaps with the passing of Michael Jackson too soon still fresh in our minds, Paul McCartney will once again be celebrated, in life, as he so richly deserves.

Why Good PR People Can Do Social Media

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

After spending much of the past two days with clients discussing how Social Media can be a part of their communications strategies, it’s apparent how much confusion on the subject there is “out there.”  Still, too many are claiming to be “Social Media Experts” when many of us acknowledge that there’s no such thing yet. Even with daily “Top 5 Ways Social Media Can Help Your Business” lists, and some bona fide success stories, nobody can claim true expertise.   So while expertise may be unattainable claim, experience makes as much of a difference in these platforms as it does with any other.

So if you’re confused and need advice on how to put all of these tactics you know about into a strategy, PR professionals are a good first stop.  Why?  Here are a couple of reasons why “Good PR People” can also make good Social Media strategists:

-We know how to tell a story

-We can craft a message, then tailor it

-We’re used to having to work quickly, in “real time”

-We have always stressed “quality over quantity” when evaluating a campaign’s reach.  We know how to use our gut, rather than spreadsheets, to understand an audience

-We have always relied on our networks to get things done

To underscore these points, I share this recent article from Fast Company magazine about “The Greatest Marketing Campaign of All Time.”  Hyperbole?  Probably.  But some great lessons.  Namely – great stories are what get traction in a “viral” world.  Think about it. Of all the content that comes your way via email, Facebook, Twitter and blogs – what do you forward?  Only the best.  Also – your opportunity to create Social Media content, rather than just read it, is significant because very few users actually do it.

PR people should “get” this stuff.  That’s why we, as a profession, are largely leading the way in this booming arena of communications.

How This Blog Helped Spark A One-of-a-kind Effort

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Rule followers don’t make a lot of news.  But exceptions to the rule make for good stories.  That’s why today’s Detroit News runs this story by columnist Marney Rich Keenan about how a local community newspaper has been given a reprieve because, quite simply, the community demanded it.

This story actually begins with a posting on this blog, back in April.  I posted then about the announcement to close part of a chain of community newspapers, owned by giant publisher Gannett, including the Birmingham Eccentric, which had been printed for more than a century.  What happened next goes something like this…

Prominent national photojournalist Linda Solomon (who was raised and also currently lives in the Birmingham area) saw the blog link on my Facebook page and called me after reading the blog to discuss the situation.  Like many in the community, she was stunned and saddened.   I told her what I knew and then Linda sprung into action.  In this case, new media helped to fuel a campaign to save a piece of traditional media.

Linda helped to organize a group of passionate community leaders who banded together to call on Gannett to reverse its decision.  As Keenan reports in the Detroit News, one local leader even flew to suburban Washington to meet with Gannett executive Dave Hunke, who recently left Detroit upon promotion to corporate headquarters.  After conversation, Gannett agreed to keep the Birmingham edition printing – once per week – if the community could muster 3,000 additional subscribers.

Yes – it was a “grassroots” campaign that actually worked.  So, now, for Birmingham, this is their second chance.   All residents who said they would miss their community newspaper must now agree to support it.  It’s truly “use it or lose it.”  If you know one of those who bemoaned the planned extinction of the Eccentric, let them know that they actually have a voice.  All it takes is a subscription.

Prince’s “Purple Rain” Anniversary Date Apropos

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Today, in the midst of an emotionally moving day of news coverage in Los Angeles, I got wind of a reporter at the Arizona Republic who is working on a story on a pop artist other than Michael Jackson: Prince.

Actually, it is far from a stretch and quite interesting that the 25th anniversary of Prince’s “Purple Rain” comes at a time when pop music fans are celebrating the life (in death) of the man that helped pave the way for the artist out of Minneapolis.

Where before Prince had been considered too risqué for radio (“1999″ and “Little Red Corvette” being the rare exceptions), Jackson, in the early 80s, opened the door to acceptance and open mindedness that allowed Prince to finally be taken seriously and provided more wide-scale airplay, including on MTV.

As with Jackson’s “Beat It,” where Eddie Van Halen’s guitar riffs further demonstrated that dance and rock could coexist, Prince utilized electric guitar quite regularly in the midst of his signature drum machines and synthesizer to create a sound he could call his own. And, while Prince’s dance moves have always recalled James Brown in his prime, those in his creation, The Time—including Morris Day and Jerome—moved like Michael, to great effect.

It is almost eerie, then, all things considered, that “Purple Rain,” an ode to the afterlife, would be released on June 25th (the date of Jackson’s death) in 1984. Prince, as with countless other artists, owes a debt of gratitude for his livelihood to a man who was, today, finally laid to rest.

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” Coverage

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Across Social Media, I’ve seen news consumers complaining about the volume of coverage, more than a week later, on the death of  Michael Jackson.  Many seem frustrated and seem to wish they could do something about it.  Actually, they can.

Once upon a time, middle-aged white men sat in smoke-filled rooms and made decisions about what their audience “needs to know.”  But, now, the mainstream news media is becoming more democratic, as it evolves.  News organizations tell us that they watch very closely which stories get “clicked” and which ones don’t.  Editors tend to want more coverage of the topics that get viewed on news sites.

So, if you have had enough Jackson coverage – here’s how to voice your opinion to decision-makers.  Don’t view the stories online.  You could also turn the channel on the TV or radio, but unless you have a Nielsen meter on your TV or carry around an Arbitron meter, TV and radio stations won’t know.

As Don notes in the blog below, Jackson content is riding a wave right now.  You will continue to see and hear a lot of it in the days and weeks to come. But, unlike big celebrity stories past, you actually now have a small, but direct, say in how long this lasts.

Michael Jackson: Pop Star in Life and in Death

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Are we, as a nation merely morbid and ghoulish when it comes to the death of a celebrity, or, are we something more? There is no doubt we are all drawn to the strange and different while always curious about our own mortality (and that of others, especially celebrity). At the same time, as with the recent death of pop icon Michael Jackson, we gravitate to emotion and nostalgia and what such an artist (and his music) meant to us. We want to experience “the good times” again in order to temper our grief.

Record-setting record sales upon an artist’s death are certainly nothing new (consider Elvis and John Lennon, for example). Yet, just as Michael Jackson broke down all barriers related to sales, convention and race in life, his record-breaking modus operandi continues in death.

This week, his “Number Ones” CD has supplanted the latest release from the Black Eyed Peas on the Billboard Top 200 chart, at, fittingly Number One (with sales of 108,000 to 88,000). Peas, in fact drop to 4th place in sales, behind “Essential Michael Jackson” (102,000 copies) and “Thriller” (101,000). In all, an astounding 421,1000 copies of his solo LPs have sold in the past week (up considerably from the 10,000 sold in the week just prior to his passing). When you note that the Peas’ total sales are for a 3-week period, these numbers, today, are even more incredible.

On iTunes, Jackson has 38 songs in the Top 100, including 8 of the Top 10 most downloaded tunes; Ringtones, similarly, reports 3 of the Top 10 belong to MJ.

From Amazon to traditional bricks and mortar retail shops, Michael Jackson’s music is selling, selling out and once again, being experienced and enjoyed simultaneously by the masses. Interesting, isn’t it, that just as he revolutionized an industry, initially back in the 80s, he has become, once again its temporary savior.