Archive for November, 2009

Tiger Woods: Time For Honesty and A Voice

Monday, November 30th, 2009

In his legally crafted, delicately worded statement that only an attorney could love, Tiger Woods asks the public for privacy. Sorry, Tiger. There are too many questions about the accident early Friday morning about a figure way too famous, in a celebrity obsessed society, for that to happen. There’s only one way out of this and it doesn’t seem of interest.

This is a PR story that changed in the blink of an eye. Because the first news reports, quoting a police report, said Woods was “seriously injured,” initial public relation quickly became “Pray For Tiger.” Once more details emerged, just hours later on Friday, public reaction turned to “What Is He Hiding?” For anyone who has driven a car (just about everyone), the story just doesn’t seem to be plausible.

Making PR matters worse for Woods – as of this writing, he has turned police away from his house twice, refusing to talk to them. He’s not legally required to answer any more of their questions. But, if one of our clients was involved in an “innocent” accident near their home, that they believed unnecessarily raised public suspicion, we would advise them to talk to police around the clock for days – whatever it takes to tell their story and deliver their message so the truth can be heard and remembered.

But, alas, this is celebrity PR, which seems to always play by a different set of rules. In this case, it’s a statement that apparently some advisor hopes will “make it go away.” As Don noted on this blog just the other day, written statements, while sometimes necessary, tend to lead to more questions than they answer.

The simple advice here, as always, for anyone in the spotlight is to tell the truth, tell it quickly, tell it more than once if you have to and then move on. It’s easy to forget that we live in the most forgiving culture imaginable. If you make a mistake, admit it, apologize if necessary, then get on your way. Right now, Team Woods, instead of hiding behind a statement and hiding from police, should just talk and get it over with. The longer they don’t, the longer this story keeps going.

Giving Thanks To And For Those Around You

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Everyone is familiar with the old age: The whole is only as good as the sum total of all of its parts. How true it is.

When Matt and I set out to form Tanner Friedman 3 years ago, we began by developing a credo that would serve as a foundation for the corporate culture we sought to create and build upon—a “we” vs. “me” mentality and climate that subscribes to and practices empowerment, collaboration and mutual respect every minute of every day. From there, we brought in outstanding individuals—Zak Walsh, Kristin Priest, Justin Fisette, Kaylee Hawkins, Kim Higgins and others to form a true team. We make sure they are active, visible, involved.

Operating any other away makes no sense to me, or us. I recently was made aware of a correspondence from another organization where transition was taking place at its highest level; an organization that has never celebrated its people at large nor supported their career growth on a wide or consistent level. The correspondence sought to assure that the organization, despite the transition, was in good hands with existing team members.

And while this organization does, indeed, have many very talented professionals, it is unfortunate that, as they are not promoted externally every day, this correspondence rang hollow, almost desperate. It did not name anyone and could not even provide a web link to bios of these individuals, as the majority of staffers are not even afforded a Web site presence.

We blog quite a bit about treating people the right way. It is, we feel, at the core of every successful company.  I bring up the real-world example of the counter opposite not to attack but, rather, to prove a point and express my dismay. Looking forward, on this eve of Thanksgiving, that example also underscores how thankful I am to work with a staff, clients, vendors and other partners with a modus operandi that celebrates people and doing what’s right.

Happy Thanksgiving.

U.K. Polar Bear Ad ‘Shocks’ To The Detriment of ‘Awe’

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Why is nobody else, in the cross section of news coverage that I have seen thus far, up in arms about the visuals employed for the new U.K. Plane Stupid ad; at least as they harken back to one of the darkest days in recent U.S. history? The ad aims to bring attention to the problem of climate change brought about by air travel emissions. The message is important but the execution is flawed.

Obviously its shocking visuals of polar bears falling from the sky and to the ground with sickening, bloody thuds as the roar of an airliner is heard overhead are meant to do just that—shock and disturb. Even the ad agency behind the movie theater ads, Rattlingstick, describes the ads on their Web site as “shocking,” as they jockey, no doubt, for future industry awards consideration.

The ad is causing debate among news outlets throughout the world so, from the standpoint of massive exposure and standing out amid the clutter with a message that is now “front and center,” mission accomplished.

What I take issue with is the setting and format of the ad, which shows scores of polar bears—at first tiny dots against the backdrop of skyscrapers in a large urban setting—falling from thousands of feet to a soundtrack of airline jet engines. When I viewed the ad for the first time my mind immediately raced back to the horrifying images of 911 and individuals jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center Buildings. That indelibly etched reality makes this ad, I feel, insensitive and inappropriate. 

And so these doomed (at least in the ad) Arctic animals will enter the continuing and time-worn debate that encompasses aspects of creative expression—from music to artwork to advertising—”shock and awe” or “thoughtful and compelling”? Both have their place, strong points and weaknesses. Here, I would argue, the “shock” is over  the top, acting instead to muddy the message and usurp any call to action its creators intended.

JJ & Lynn Shine Light on Larger Medium Issue

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Though I know and respect all of those involved in this particular issue and, as such, must tread carefully, I feel compelled to provide a brief commentary if for no other reason than to try put it all into a particular context.

Former WCSX morning show co-host Lynn Woodison last week filed a lawsuit against Greater Media alleging a range of misconduct by her former employer, including not acting on evidently inappropriate interplay between coworkers. Reaction, via online forums and social media sites, has run the gamut, from jeers to cheers. Detractors detect sour grapes while supporters are pleased to see someone sticking up for what they believe is right.

Setting the drama aside, for me, all of this once again shines a sad spotlight on the fact that two more talented, long time, Detroit radio legends are off-the-air. Even Greater Media would have to admit that, from a ratings and fan following standpoint, letting the duo go last November was ill-advised. And while it has been great hearing them fill in for Purtan on WOMC, the fact that, after more than a year, JJ & Lynne are not broadcasting regularly somewhere is a sad commentary on terrestrial radio in this town.

Unfortunately, it is a continuing and alarming trend (Arthur P; Stoney & Wojo; Chris Edmonds; Tom Ryan; Gene Maxwell). And though I have said it before it bears repeating over and over and over: Radio is a medium that demands live and local, true personality and long-term continuity. It’s what makes the medium truly stand apart from others—including satellite and iPods. And while desperate times, it can be argued, demand desperate measures in order to improve bottom lines, throwing such talent out with the proverbial bath water is not the answer because in the end, nobody wins.

Say Goodbye To Oprah and “Mass” Media

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Having trouble understanding how the age of mass media is coming to an end, ushering in a new age of personal media? Today’s announcement by Oprah Winfrey that she’s winding down her daily TV talk show should help.

Her nationally-syndicated show began in the early days of cable TV. So, she was able to build a mass audience in an era of limited competition. Her brand was well established to survive a battle for eyeballs throughout the ’90s. Smartly, she and her team wisely re-invented their product from an ’80s “tabloid” show, to a relationship show, to a self-help show to, now, largely a celebrity-driven product. That evolution helped maintain a relatively audience level as the program’s core base got older and “infotainment” options exploded.

Like with virtually everything on broadcast television, Oprah’s ratings have been down in recent years. Still, the show is a lock to win its time slots across the country and it can be said that she’s leaving “on top.”

So who will replace her? Nobody. Will there be a “Next Oprah?” Certainly not. There will not be another national talk show host who becomes a broadcasting, branding, business and pop culture superstar. That’s because we’re well on our way to the end of mass media as we knew it. There just won’t be another personality with an audience so big and diverse, generating so much money.

As for talk shows, consider this – you don’t need to turn on the TV to be a part (even a silent one) of a conversation anymore from the comfort of your own home. Just go online.

When a Statement Makes the Wrong Statement

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

In the world of public relations and marketing communications two time-worn (and, I would argue, ‘worn out’) tools are the press release and the written statement. Both are issued publicly, typically relayed via media and online platforms and both, while written, can oftentimes speak unintended volumes about those who release them. For the purpose of this blog, I want to briefly examine the statement.

Typically, a statement is, for all intents and purposes, a “quote in writing,” provided to a news outlet looking for a response to a story being prepared. Where it is most appropriately utilized is in instances where litigation or the threat thereof makes it prudent to not go in front of a camera or microphone. In every case its use is preferable to a “no comment” (never!) or “unable to be reached for comment.”

Yet, I would argue that in most instances, a company or organization can always find an appropriate spokesperson to “orally” say something. I recently came across a local high-profile news story where the topic was only mildly controversial and no litigation lay in wait. Still, the company chose to issue a statement (reported as coming from their PR firm) to provide their perspective on the issue. Why the head of this company chose (or was counseled) to not go on camera or speak directly to writers and reporters is unclear. 

The bottom line is this: In seeking to manage messages, affect opinion and/or reassure particular audiences, it is almost always preferable that a company  goes on the record and speaks for itself. Just as studies have shown that ‘no comment’ is perceived as denoting guilt or wrong-doing, using statements in lieu of interpersonal communication does nothing to build media relationships or the public trust. Why are they hiding behind a statement, many will ask. For some communications firms, moreover, statements can become a crutch that unwittingly usurp the openness and transparency publicly communicating is looking to underscore.

Then, what’s the point?  Which is exactly my point.

You Can’t Cut Your Way To Change

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Last Monday, when I was handling client media relations work in a large Midwest market, a television reporter let me know she was working with me on her first day back from furlough. She, like many other media professionals across the country, was forced to take an unpaid week off. For her, remarkably, it happened in early November.

When I worked in TV news, I was told the only way I could take a day off in November (the month’s ratings set key 4th quarter ad rates), would be to call in sick from a hospital bed. What has changed between now and then? More than this space will allow. For one, though, it shows that the top priority is now not making money, it’s saving money.

I always said, when I worked in TV in the booming 90s, that TV stations were run like we were living in a recession, even though we weren’t. That’s because spending always seemed to be curbed in order to meet corporate profit margin mandates that ranged from 20 to 50 percent, depending on the owner and the year. Now, in a national recession, I can’t even imagine. In the face of an unprecedented need to change, most media owners are trying to cut their way toward their futures.

One new study shows that simply, that won’t work. If you work in media, PR or any related field, take some time and read this report by experts from the University of North Carolina and Yale University. It’s relatively quick read for an academic survey. Essentially, it says that whatever media companies have been doing since the dawn of the Internet revolution 15 years ago hasn’t worked and won’t work if the objective is to remain in business for the next 15 years. And it provides some examples from previous eras to serve as examples for CEOs who desperately need a plan, as their products are no longer “mass media.”

The mantra inside media organizations seems to be “Save Money. Save Money. Save Money.” Instead, this report shows (and it’s easy, as consumers, to agree), it should be “Reinvent. Reinvent. Reinvent.”

Detroit Daily Press Looks To Differentiate, Deliver

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

As I made my way this morning to the mailbox and adjoining newspaper slot, I noticed an extra thickness to my normal bundle of the Sunday Detroit News/Free Press and Oakland Press. Upon further examination, I found a preview copy of what is to be, as they describe it, “Detroit’s newest…and only seven-day home-delivered metropolitan daily newspaper.”  It’s the Detroit Daily Press. For key, core details, check out Crains’ Bill Shea’s story from Friday which provides more information and detail here.

Set to officially begin publishing (and daily delivery) on November 30th, today’s preview edition does a nice job of showcasing the myriad of reporting talent that the new, upstart will bring to bear, most notably: Editors—Bruce McLaughlan (Managing); Cynthia Burton (News); John Smyntek (Features) and Hawke Fracassa (Sports) and Reporters—David Sedgwick (Automotive); Doug Henze (Macomb) and Rob Parker (Sports), to name a few. All bring name recognition and a “trust factor” that will be important for attracting reader interest and, it is hoped, a loyal following.

While 7-day-a-week home delivery is an important selling point, it should not be the end-all, be all. As with any medium, “content is king.”  And, with particular reporters geared to focus on the news of particular counties (ala the one-time Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Bureaus of their competition), it would appear they recognize the void in community news holes that currently exists as smaller, hometown papers  publish less, go online or shutter entirely. That, I would argue, is where the prime opportunities for differentiation and “making a difference” lie.

And, lest naysayers point to a traditional, printed paper as a concept whose time has come and gone, the Detroit Daily Press has also embraced social media right off the bat, including Facebook, where a couple of hundred early followers have already signed on.

As a PR professional, any new news outlet is welcome. As someone in their 40s, I too miss every day home newspaper delivery. It is also nice to see some “old” journalistic friends returning to the limelight and newsroom. Good luck, gang. We’ll be reading.

Can You Keep A Secret?

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Bad news travels fast. You don’t have to be a professional communicator to know that. The old adage is especially true inside large corporations in today’s age of instant, personal communications. But even with the odds stacked against them, some companies can keep secrets, or at least bad news under wraps until the appropriate time.

This week, one of Tanner Friedman’s corporate clients had some bad news to announce – the closing and downsizing of facilities that will lead to job cuts in multiple countries around the world. I was dispatched to one of those sites, out of town, to support media relations because, for better or for worse, we have gained much experience in recent years handling similar situations. Here’s some of what we have learned:

-A commitment to announcing bad news as quickly as possible once decisions are made greatly reduces the risk of leaks. There’s nothing like weeks and months of internal speculation and a slow trickle of information to get rumors started outside the company.

-Companies that demonstrate respect for their employees fare better in these situations. A real companywide commitment to letting employees know first reduces the chance they’ll see the news in the media before finding out at work.

-Leadership matters. The best leaders in the company should get the news first, then be entrusted and supported to deliver the news credibly to their teams. When employees hear it straight from someone they trust – with the ability to ask questions – they won’t go to the media their frustration. They’ll be emotional, of course, if it means the possible or probable loss of a job. But that emotion is more likely, in these situations, to be contained to the office and home.

Bad news is simply part of being in business. It happens. But it is communicated best and leaked least when companies respect their internal audiences while preparing for outside reaction.

Upon Further Review: Communications in Cleveland Inconsistent

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

The recent blog on Cleveland Browns GM Randy Lerner sparked a slew of comments to my Facebook link, including from a couple of Cleveland Browns fans and former Cleveland residents. A few disagreed with my contention that Lerner’s recent meeting with two high-profile fans demonstrated some degree of communications prowess, in particular in the context of the overall mess that is this year’s Browns.

A bit more research on my part, including perusing the online authority on the team, Orange and Brown (theobr.com), would have provided me (and this blog’s audience) with a more complete picture of just how Cleveland Browns’ management has communicated this year, both internally and externally. 

Overall, the picture is not pretty. Consider: GM George Kokinis’s unceremonious firing after just 10 months on the job with little or no public explanation; a reportedly micro-managing head coach who was evidently less than a team player with his former GM; and a typically media shy owner in Randy Lerner who is operating a ball club without proper operations professionals in place.

All that said, in the face of fan complaints and a call for a team boycott, Lerner’s sitting down with a couple of well-known, long-time and, it might follow, influential fans is commendable.  By contrast, in a sea of similar discontent here in Detroit going back much longer, Detroit Lions ownership continues to say nothing to no one. That was my point and, unfortunately, still is.