Archive for September, 2009

“Time” For A Spotlight on Detroit

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Detroit is on the cover of Time Magazine this week and is all over Detroit is on the cover of the most recent Sports Illustrated. Expect to see increased coverage of Detroit in Fortune magazine too.

That’s because Time, Inc. – owner of all three publications and their Web sites – has a year-long “Assignment Detroit” underway. The company even bought a house on Detroit’s East Side as a working bureau – so journalists stationed here and those just visiting can see more than just the inside of apartments or hotel rooms. Here’s a link to the site that houses much of the content, including a blog written by journalists who already established themselves in this market before Time came to town.

Detroit’s Fox-owned WJBK interviewed me this week for some perspective on the Time cover story and the project in general. You can watch their story at Tanner Friedman’s YouTube site.

The bottom line – Time believes that Detroit content will capture the nation’s attention and drive audience to its properties, at a time when all media are challenged in that regard. They also clearly believe that the city’s stories are relevant to the future of the nation’s economy.

For those of us here, we’re used to national reporters flying in for a day, taking pictures of abandoned buildings, picking up a few quotes and flying back to New York to write their stories. Hopefully, this presence in the market will help Time’s journalists create fair and complete content which, so far, they have done.

DPTV Spotlights Sullivan’s “Really Big Shooow”

Monday, September 28th, 2009

This past weekend, viewers of Detroit Public Television were treated to a rare glimpse back at true “mass media’ in its heyday. “Ed Sullivan-The 60s” was a nostalgic return to a time before audience fragmentation—when shared media experiences where not the occasional exception (ala the Super Bowl or final episode of “M*A*S*H”) but, rather, the rule. 

Sunday nights, virtually all black & white TV sets across North America were tuned in to see the latest comedians, vaudevillian performers and musical artists; the latter including the first televised, live performance, in 1964, of the Beatles. Susan Whitall’s recent column in the Detroit News runs down many of the special’s highlights. 

Before “American  Bandstand” and, as Whitall notes, long before YouTube, the “Sullivan Show” was virtually the only way to get a glimpse at the emerging rock groups of the 1960s. Though odd in look and demeanor (ala a caricature of Richard Nixon), Sullivan stood in stark, unhip contrast to the likes of the rebellious Jim Morrison and the psychedelic Byrds, yet, people tuned in by the millions. If you were on Sullivan, you were somebody. And, if you were anybody, you watched.

Today, to relive such a phenomenon, one must look to “American Idol,” which is routinely watched by more than 30 million people each week with an audience that stretches across a multi-generational demographic, including parents and their children.

To be sure, “Sullivan” is a refreshing and welcome time capsule of pop culture and media that demonstrates both how far we’ve come and how much we’ve changed—for better or worse.

Want To Fill A Room? Talk Social Media

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

We’re frequently asked about how to draw a crowd at an event. The stereotypical answers include free food and celebrity appearances. But, lately, the answer seems to be simply putting a sound discussion about Social Media on the agenda.

Last week, my colleagues Don Tanner and Kristin Priest spoke to a packed house at a local business group, providing insight on Social Media. Today, I was honored to be among three speakers at CBS Radio’s “Laptop Lunch” put together by all-news WWJ-AM.

CBS Detroit’s Technology Editor Matt Roush provides details in this account. Check out his story to read the advice provided by all three speakers today – applicable for anyone trying to find the business upside of Social Media. The event exceeded attendance expectations.

There is a tremendous amount of curiosity, confusion and insecurity about Social Media across all industries and skill levels. That’s because the technology and applications are changing so quickly, after years (if not generations) of communications predictability. Businesspeople and consumers alike are hungry for insights, recommendations and explanations.

I still don’t think there’s such thing as a “Social Media Expert.” Something this new and fast-changing doesn’t lend itself to true expertise – at least not yet. But those of us who communicate all day and all night long appreciate the opportunity to share best practices and learn what the questions are. Discussions like this help emerging media evolve and that’s positive for all of us online.

PPM Forcing Radio Programmers, Personalities to Pay Attention to Listener Preferences

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

When the Personal People Meter arrived on the radio industry scene nearly two years ago to replace the antiquated Arbitron diary system, it was hailed as a more accurate means by which to track listener preferences. Today, while still in its infancy, the PPM is providing radio programmers and managers even greater and more subtle insights than even they expected or imagined.

For example, listener interest regarding particular music, promotions, contests, discussion topics and length of commercial breaks can be readily and accurately analyzed and scrutinized.  If a listener doesn’t like a song or a show guest and tunes out as a result, it is recorded in cold, hard data. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Such information has already caused some controversy between Ryan Seacrest and his bosses at Clear Channel Communications, Inc. The Wall Street Journal weighed in this week. Evidently Seacrest is being told to talk less and play more music, based on listener tune out when he does more of the former and less of the latter.  Some radio stations have actually began opting away from re-booking particular talk show guests after they generated less than favorable PPM numbers in previous appearances.

Radio is always best when it is spontaneous and largely unscripted and one would hope that the “powers that be” will not allow the PPM to handcuff host creativity. At the same time, the PPM is providing airwave talkers with a new and insightful reality check. Not exactly ‘put up or shut up,’ but a reminder that, quite often, on-air chatter is best and most appreciated in short bursts. It is also pays to listen to your listeners, if you want them to continue to listen to you.

Clients Win When Agencies Collaborate

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

One thing about the communications business has not changed in recent years, with change happening all around us. Collaboration among professionals can transform a communications program into something that can truly add value and make a difference for a business.

For our corporate clients, that has often meant collaboration among multiple agencies. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t happen often enough.

This week, I spent time out of town with an agency one of our clients has hired in another state to replicate a campaign we have run since early last year in Michigan. After spending time with this other firm, a spirit of respectful partnership emerged among professionals. That will benefit the client and, perhaps, our firms overall, as we learn from each other.

A decade ago, Don and I worked with a corporation that encouraged its firms around the world to work together to generate new ideas and plans for execution. That interaction led to innovative programs and, for one, I learned lessons from fellow pros that I carry to this day.

If you have multiple agencies in multiple markets, find ways for them to interact and combine forces to serve you better. Remember that they aren’t necessarily competitors and are all playing for your team. Even in a single market, if you have separate firms for PR and advertising, for example, find ways for them to work together and challenge them to collaborate to achieve your overall communications objectives.

In a corporate age where every dollar matters and every agency has to prove its worth, it’s time to end the “right hand, left hand” policies.

Brett Favre Sears TV Commercial Renders Reputation Repair

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Over the course of the past year, I have criticized Brett Favre on two separate occasions. A year ago, I was disappointed, as were many, in how he handled his changing role with the Packers and eventual exit to the New York Jets. I stand by that blog.  However, more recently, as he again waffled on his future (this time regarding a role with the Minnesota Vikings),  I again questioned the future Hall of Famer for remarks and actions that seemed to underscore the time worn saying about there being “no ‘I’ in ‘team’.” This time, I admit, I was wrong.

Since joining the Vikings several weeks ago, Brett Favre has done nothing but demonstrate class and his trademark “cool” under pressure. Almost from the onset of donning his purple jersey, there were numerous reports of unrest in the Minnesota locker room as players, evidently, took sides and exception to the older newcomer. Favre’s first exhibition season performance, not soon after, was abysmal. Still, he never flinched. He was there to work hard and help the team win, he said repeatedly, while shrugging off (if not ignoring entirely) any questions of civil strife.

Yesterday, while enjoying college football, came the piece de resistance; the icing on the cake that demonstrates, I think, Favre’s true character: a television commercial—for Sears. In it, Favre is attempting to decide whether he wants to purchase a particular widescreen TV. “I’ll take it,” he tells the salesperson. After a brief pause he “waffles”: “I don’t know.”

Perhaps it is the recommendation of a savvy agent looking to help his client revive a former idolatry. Regardless, Favre’s willingness (or decision) to, in essence, make fun of himself and address his detractors and recent travails with humor is nothing short of brilliant. It is entertaining and endearing. Is it genuine? I think we should give Brett Favre a free pass on that one.

How NOT To Raise Money For Charity

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

It seems stories of “fails” are popular online these days. Well, here’s a gigantic and disturbing “fail” story of a non-profit trying to raise money via an event.

About two months ago, I received a letter from the non-profit letting me know I had been “selected” to be model in an October fashion show benefit. It would cost $1000 to appear in the show. Because I had no connection to the organization and my address clearly came from a mailing list (because I was identified as a spokesperson for a client, rather than my position at Tanner Friedman), I discarded the letter.

In late August, I received an email from the organization asking if I had selected my modeling outfit yet and wondering if I had heard promotional announcements on a local radio station. The email also said an invoice would be sent to me so I could make my “contribution.” I promptly responded, saying that I was unavailable to participate and please do not send me an invoice.

Today, an official ritzy invitation appeared in the mail. On it, I am listed (as “Media Relations” for my client as my title) as one of 91 “models” at this fashion show. A small disclaimer says that the list “may be subject to change at the time of the fashion show.” Essentially, my name is being used, without my permission, to sell tickets to an event for which I never committed.
My guess is that I’m not the only one in this situation so I have reached out to others who appear on the invitation to let them know.

I’m not revealing the name of the organization – yet. I sent an email tonight to the executive director (whom I talked to at an event in January for literally 10 minutes, which was my only contact with the organization). Her response will dictate how far I go with this.

Regardless, this situation shows a complete lack of integrity in the name of fundraising. It is an example of what should NOT be done to raise money in tough times. Listing the names of supporters can be a key tactic in non-profit communications. So, names must be used judiciously and accurately.

Non-profits are valuable in every community across the country. Many of their missions are more relevant now than ever before. We have several non-profits at Tanner Friedman and we value our relationship with each of them – it is privilege to communicate their missions. I serve on governance or advisory boards for for non-profits and, often, my work with them can highlight my days.

That’s why this is so troubling. Hopefully, it won’t turn off those who were burned from volunteering or contributing to non-profits in other ways. Hopefully, this is an isolated incident. But stay tuned in case I choose to reveal more.

The New “Beat of Detroit”—Will It Move People To Listen?

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Next to April Fool’s Day, Labor Day is, traditionally, perhaps the most ideal time for a radio station to unveil a new format. The 3-day September weekend, summer’s “last gasp,” is all about outdoor fun accompanied by a musical soundtrack provided by radios—on boats, beaches, backyards and autos transporting from one to the next. End result: lots of listeners for long periods of time.

This weekend, Clear Channel’s longtime step-child, country station WDTW (“The Fox”) is gone, replaced by “The Beat”—playing “feel good” dance hits (“Rhythmic A/C”) from the past several decades at 106.7 FM. The station is geared towards an audience in the 25-54 demographic, skewing female. Susan Whitall chimes in in today’s Detroit News.  

So far, in the midst of its 10,000 non-stop, commercial-free hits in-a-row introduction, the music has been varied and far-ranging, from Katie Perry’s  2009 “I Kissed a Girl” to mid-90s hits from En Vogue and Will Smith, even back to the 70s with Marvin Gaye and “Sexual Healing.”

While the format may remind some of WMXD 92.3 FM, an Urban A/C, “The Beat of Detroit” is color-blind when it comes to its artists; witness the aforementioned Perry as well as Justin Timberlake, Cher, even Abba (with “Dancing Queen”). Friends of Tanner Friedman in the industry have indicated to us that the station will take a cue from CBS’s “Smooth Jazz” in its quest for an ethnically diverse audience. And, while “The Mix” is one place from which to potentially pirate listeners, the new Clear Channel upstart also no doubt has its sights set on Citadel’s WDVD (96.3), whose Contemporary A/C station continues to increase market share, as well as “Detroit’s Nicest Rock,” WNIC.

Time will tell, obviously, on “The Beat’s” future. Residing down at the far end of the radio dial has never boded well for any radio station, anywhere, ever.  On the other hand, one would hope Clear Channel will, for a change, promote the station and inject live, real, local talent.  Who knows: If the the recent re-stocking of sister WDFN (“The Fan”) with Detroit-based personalities after a failed experiment in long-distance talent is any indication, perhaps the radio giant is turning over a new leaf.

The JEEP: An American Triumph: The Little Movie That Could, Should

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

The year is 1940 and, faced with the impending prospect of entering World War II, the U.S. Army faces the urgent need to build a new mechanized vehicle designed to transport troops and light payloads and match the Germans’ new mechanized warfare of blitzkrieg.  That summer, with his firm American Bantam Car Company bankrupt, and allotted just 49 days to design and build such a vehicle, Roy S. Evans does the impossible: He beats 134 other companies by outbidding them and then produces the very first Jeep—later recognized among the three major reasons the Allies would ultimately win the war.

Sound like a great story? Consider that Evans delivered his invention with just 30 minutes to spare. Consider also that political measures conspired to doom his prototype to connected competitors. You bet it’s a great story and one that deserves to be told.  If screen writers Cathy & Paul Bruno and producer-co-writer Manuel Freedman have their way, in fact, “THE JEEP: An American Triumph” will one day be a major motion picture. They have been working for many years to accomplish just that. (See more here).

Some would say there has perhaps never been a more opportune time. As Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne officially took the helm of Chrysler this year, he put forth much inspired dialogue: “Athough we have many challenges yet to overcome,” he said, “There is no doubt that we will get the job done. Chrysler will be back—strong and competitive…”

What better time for Chrysler to underscore its rich heritage of innovation and commitment to building outstanding vehicles for the world stage. Like the military in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor, Chrysler is under the gun to turn things around. Like Roy Evans, who would do the impossible, it is poised to persevere. With movie incentives at an all-time high in Michigan, what better place to film such an epic?

Full disclosure here: We are working with the filmmakers to grab the ear of, ideally, the powers that be at Chrysler, if not additional investors. Yet, even at a time when the automaker is reeling financially, one must consider the many powerful, positive ramifications—on both grass roots and grass tops levels—that such a feature film would have in terms of marketing, promotional and public relations value.  Think about it: a “feel good” film to help scores of Chrysler faithful—enthusiasts, past and current customers, employees, business partners and more—once again feel good and proud about the auto giant. How does one place a value on that?

Want Media Coverage? Offer Access

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I’m pretty much smack dab in the middle of America as I write this post. I’m sitting in Nebraska, but I can see the bluffs of Western Iowa out of the airport gate window. Appropriate, I think, because the lesson I’m about to share should apply just about anywhere.

This morning, at a factory in Nebraska, a Tanner Friedman client and I hosted eight journalists in a small-to-medium market without ever using a press release. That’s right, we were able to attract interest from a variety of information outlets and get them to send reporters to gathering without ever sending a press release. How? Access.

If there’s one thing the traditional media still likes, even in fast-changing times, it’s access to people and places where their audiences can’t go on their own. It’s still part of journalists’ jobs to take their audiences inside the news – literally and figuratively.

Today, we hosted journalists inside what is typically a high-security, no access facility where products are manufactured that help to support the economy of the Plains states and others. We provided access, not only to the facility, but also an on-the-record question and answer session with experts (who don’t normally participate in media interviews) to provide expertise and insider knowledge. Journalists there today received news nuggets, photo opportunities and familiarity that will help them tell stories in the future. Our client was able to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.

To get attention, it’s important to think differently. If your M.O. is limited to the following – write release, send out release, make follow up calls, expect coverage, complain about the lack of coverage, etc. – think about this – what kind of access are you offering? Create access to someplace newsworthy, to someone who has something newsworthy to say or to information that is worth an editor creating news space.