Archive for August, 2009

When Was the Last Time You Were Called, “Creepy?”

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

I’ve been called many things over the years but never “creepy” and never “bad at P.R.” Yet, these sophomoric personal and professional attacks were handwritten on a post-it note attached to a check I received this week from a dead beat client, forced by the local courts to finally pay our firm for services contracted for and successfully rendered many, many months ago. I won’t get into specifics other than to say a contract was signed and several prominent media placements were garnered in a very short period of time. 

Unfortunately, lack of mutual respect and professionalism in the business world are all too common, in particular in such challenging economic times. By contrast, however, visionary companies and business owners address and approach such financial realities in a much more productive and pragmatic way.  I attended this week’s Corp! “Entrepreneurs of Distinction” award breakfast and listened to several prominent business leaders provide perspectives on their approach, in good times and bad. Optimism, mutual respect, flexibility, a willingess to evolve and attention to client service were all key themes.

In the case of the aforementioned client, I have perhaps never spent more time attempting to provide an individual with appropriate counsel on the realities of media relations today (not to mention dealing with the dynamic that she had burned bridges, we discovered, with key media decision makers in the past who were unwilling to work with her again). In the end, anything short of the “Oprah” show, evidently, was not enough. Repeated, ignored attempts at working out payment plans were put forth with professionalism and yet, apparently, were considered an invasion of space.

And so it  goes.  Yet, despite the “attacks” I am proud of our organization and its adherence to our standards and values. We strive to do what’s right every day—whether faced with adversity or opportunity—for our clients, strategic partners and colleagues alike. It is a modus operandi for long-term success, in business and in life.

Whole Foods CEO: Too Far Out on the Limb?

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

More than a week ago, the CEO and Co-Founder of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey, had his name on an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that opposes the President’s health care plan and offers alternatives.  It was essentially an articulation of a rational argument, grounded in business philosophy.  But throw logic out the window.  This is the most emotional issue in America right now and this piece has ignited controversy.

Tens of thousands of Facebook users have joined an online group saying they’ll boycott Whole Foods.  That’s ironic because Whole Foods is a company we at Tanner Friedman hold up as a model social media communicator in our frequent presentations.  Some analysts believe this public stance will cost the company business and could negatively impact its stock price.  It comes at an unexpected time because public company CEOs are more risk averse than perhaps ever before in their public communications. Because of the down economy and rock-bottom public perceptions of Corporate America, most CEOs want to play it safe  - often too safe (to the detriment of their brands).  But, in this case, a CEO (and presumably his communications team) went out on a limb.  But maybe too far?

These questions could determine what level of crisis this controversy reaches:

-What did his Board know and when did they know it?  If this controversy catches the Whole Foods Board by surprise and also negatively impacts business, it could mean trouble for Mackey.  That will depend on whether those who proclaim a boycott actually stay away and for how long.

-How will the company respond to the controversy, to contain it?

-Will other companies join in and publicly support Whole Foods’ position?  If so, it could dilute the controversy.

The big winner in all of this is The Wall Street Journal. So much, at least for now, for the demise of the newspaper editorial page.  Mackey’s piece is among the most read items on wsj.com, nine days later, and every item about this controversy has mentioned the Journal.

It’s important to remember that the only media bias that really exists every day is a bias toward controversy.  That’s why this story could linger, for perhaps as long as uncertainty and emotion reign in the health care debate.

For more, visit this link to Lucy Anne Lance’s radio show in Michigan, on which I appeared this morning to discuss the Whole Foods situation.  The interview is expected to be posted soon, if it isn’t there already.

Radiohead Once Again Uses Fans’ Favorite 4-Letter Word for New Music Release: Free

Monday, August 17th, 2009

In a past blog we opined that, as CD sales continue to fall in favor of tune by tune downloading, we might one day see the traditional multi-track record go the way of the Victrola.  After all, consumers have grown tired of spending $15 and higher for CDs that only feature one or two exceptional songs surrounded by filler.  Radiohead, always at the forefront of consumer tastes and trends, is once again taking a new approach to providing quality product to fans without the hefty price tag.

For their 2007 release, “In Rainbows,” Radiohead allowed fans to download their CD directly from the band’s Web site and pay whatever amount they preferred, including nothing if they chose. Today, a new song, “My Twisted Words” was released by the band, offered free as a download at http://radiohead.com/deadairspace/. Leader Thom Yorke had been intimating that the band planned to release future tunes in this manner (one at a time) or via EP  (2-3 songs); again eschewing the traditional, now outdated, approach. They have not been under contract by a traditional record company since 2003.

“We’ve been recording for a while, and this was one of the first we finished,” wrote band member Jonny Greenwood in introducing the free download, as reported by today’s Chicago Tribune.  He also mentioned “There’s other stuff in various states of completion” which presumably will be released when completed.

In an era of music pirating and a feeling that anything available on the Internet should be free, Radiohead has taken a ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach. In turn, the band, like no other, continues to build a loyal fan following dedicated to not only plunking down money for good music but also concerts and merchandise. It is a ‘long view’ that, the group has proven, wins every time.

Traditional Media: Still A Factor Until Further Notice

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

We at Tanner Friedman are spending more of our time working with “new media” than ever before.  That probably doesn’t surprise you.  While we value the options that emerging methods of communications bring our clients, it can be easy to talk about traditional media in the past tense.  While, it’s important to remember that traditional media, even over new delivery platforms, are still reaching audiences and still require skill, experience and know-how if you want to have a successful PR program.

I was reminded strongly of this today, when a journalist from an established outlet asked some questions of one of our clients.  The questions prompted a long and challenging strategy session and reminded me that, even with media consumption and delivery changing quickly, the old “power of the press” is still a strong factor – among several – in shaping reputation.

So, until further notice, traditional media is still a factor.  We are working hard to blend “the old and the new” to create effectiveness.  While focusing on one, you shouldn’t completely count out the other.

2008 Woodward Dream Cruise Logo Was Emblematic, Symbolic

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

In just a few short days the annual rite of August, the Woodward Dream Cruise, will motor its way through nine host communities to the tune of 40,000 classic cars and a million people. Though Tanner Friedman chose, subsequent to the 2008 Cruise, not to continue as the Executive Director team, we are rooting for its success and remain in regular contact with its leadership, who remain our friends.

This morning, I read a Detroit Free Press Q&A with a longtime Cruise Board member whom I respect greatly. However, following on the heels of another story in which last year’s Dream Cruise logo was referred to as “too stylized,” today’s story also seems to write off the ’08 moniker, saying: “We’re back to a really cool logo (for 2009)”).

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion and, where art and design are involved, taste in emblems and logos is incredibly subjective. That said, last year’s logo, for better or for worse, was monumental—the first time an actual automotive designer had been commissioned for the artwork. It came with rave media reviews, in particular within the national automotive community (hit link to read a story from the influential Autoblog.com); key to helping us “extend” the Dream Cruise brand to potential sponsors outside of economically cash-strapped (even then) Detroit. Champion (STP) and Turtle Wax would later come aboard, helping to underwrite the event’s annual six-figure tab. 

A prominent graphic design/branding firm also weighed in on the “what’s and why’s” at that time (link here) with a similar take.  The new logo was emblematic of the overall evolution of the event last year.  Did we sell more merchandise than in ’07?  Numbers were comparable if not down slightly in a down economy. Still, we had the town talking and paying attention.

The Dream Cruise will always happen, regardless of logos or sponsor participation. Yet, take it from someone who has led three—all are interlinked and key to the success of the other. Brand awareness and extension lead to event underwriting; in turn assisting cash-strapped municipalities pay for the event while ensuring the Cruise remains free for its participants.

Twitter Journalism Now Taking Shape

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I often say that today, Social Media, is like the “Wild West.”  Out here on the frontier of communications, there aren’t many rules so it takes strength and smarts to make your way over unpaved terrain into unexplored territory.  There’s no better example happening right now than what I call “Twitter Journalism.”

We’re seeing it first, on the national level, in sports reporting.  This summer, in multiple instances, sports journalists have reported news on their Twitter accounts before vetting it through an editorial process.  They get the “scoop” instantly, beating the competition.  The most recent example happened last Friday at 3:59 p.m. when Sports Illustrated and si.com’s pro football columnist, Peter King, broke the news that the New England Patriots won’t sign ex-con quarterback Michael Vick, with an afternoon “tweet” – to a “following” on Twitter of nearly 36,000 – before even reporting the story on his outlet’s Web site.  

Just yesterday, sports media powerhouse ESPN issued a widely blogged-upon new policy for its staffers and social media, some of whom broke news of NBA free agent signings this summer without ever working through an editor.  This type of reporting is instant – even faster than the Web reporting which has changed journalism in recent years.

So will it spread to other forms of journalism, like hard news reporting?  I decided to talk to a few journalists who regularly use Twitter to find out.  

One reporter for a national print/Web outlet told me that if she was to report news, even if confirmed, via Twitter without first working through her editorial chain, she would expect to be fired.  At that publication, I’m told, the process for breaking news is to write for the Web site first, then the outlet would send a link to that Web story via Twitter.  

A veteran radio reporter with local and national assignments told me that his first responsibility with breaking news is to his “day job” – so his stories go first on the air.  That’s not surprising considering that radio – like new media – can have a great sense of immediacy and can provide near-instant reporting.  He does use Twitter, he says, to call attention to stories he reports on the air or on the Web.  He also says he shares concern that some journalists have about using Twitter to “cross the line” to commentary.

I also received an interesting perspective from Tina Reed, a reporter for AnnArbor.com – a new local news Web site in Michigan.  She has been “tweeting” for about a year and has actually broken news on Twitter – with links to just-posted Web coverage.  That’s a hybrid approach, it seems.  She considers all information online, regardless of platform, “… representative of my work” and says anything on Twitter should be consistent with what she would send to an editor.  Reed sees some potential danger in “retweeting” (forwarding) news items via Twitter, which many journalists do.  She says, “when retweeting, I also make an effort to use tweets from tweeters that I know or are more established.”

So where is this leading?  One of two ways, which could vary among news organizations. Either this will be a continued way to break news and meet demand for instant information. Or it could be a reason for news organizations to “crack down” on their processes.   We’ll keep an eye on it for you.

 

 


What Will Monday Bring For 89X Morning Show?

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

We will know more Monday morning but, for now, the fate of the 89X Morning Show (“The Morning X”) remains uncertain after, evidently, pushing on-air banter to the limits of what station management deemed appropriate this past week.

Although I did not actually hear their on-going “bit”, it apparently was themed around an unnamed (“shadowy”) station employee lurking around a darkened bathroom. Speculation ensued followed by, it was reported, a memo from management to “cease and desist” further commentary over the airwaves. This memo was subsequently read live; in turn, the AM Show trio of Dave Hunter, Chuck the Freak and Lisa Way was taken taken off-the-air.  

It has been suggested that all of this could be part of an elaborate “hoax” designed to generate media coverage and spike listenership. If that’s the case, I love it.  If not, I don’t get it. At a time when terrestrial radio is screaming out for personality and controversy, the Morning X has the town talking! It’s what the best radio talents over the years have always done. Watch Howard Stern’s “Private Parts” again. Howard is infamous for both publicly calling out and/or ignoring management. Similarly, another former Detroit jock who went on to fame and fortune elsewhere, Steve Dahl, used to put his Program Director on-the-air live when his boss would call in during his show to try to keep him in check. It all makes for great, “theater of the mind” radio. It gets you noticed.

Many of today’s radio personalities are at a distinct disadvantage over their predecessors from the 70s and 80s as stations either don’t have or are unwilling to spend the dollars to promote them in the marketplace. In radio’s heyday, top jocks were hailed everywhere—from billboards to TV commercials to newspaper ads. They were household names and voices. Today, if you want to stand out, you’re largely on your own.

I’ll be listening tomorrow morning, as I am sure many thousands will be, for new news on the fate of ‘The Morning X.” And, really, isn’t that the point of it all?