Archive for March, 2010

Just In Time For Spring, A Breath of Fresh Air From a TV Station

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

imagesAs amazing as this sounds in 2010, many traditional news organizations are essentially still experimenting with the Internet. For local TV stations, it’s not just a place for anchor bios anymore. But they still struggle with the Web as a place to break news. Streaming video on stories online versus on TV is still largely a balancing act. And Facebook and Twitter can be places for teases or headlines, but not always reporting.

One TV station, though, seems to be breaking the TV mold and entering a world we embraced when opening the doors of Tanner Friedman: multi-platform. If you work in or with the media, or you just pay attention to how news organizations do what they do, check out this piece by the non profit organization Newslab on a station in Topeka, Kansas. It may be a small market, but they employ big time thinking.

WIBW-TV is working hard to establish a brand as a news leader in its market. But that could be a challenge for other stations, especially in bigger markets. Those stations that have stuck too closely to the old “news, weather and sports” TV formats or those that have diluted their brands by too closely resembling the mock newscasts on The Onion’s Youtube channel have their work cut out for them. They’ll need a complete rebranding at a time when marketing resources, even for TV stations, are hard to come by.

What we’re seeing out of Topeka is a hopeful sign that TV stations can see their viewers as customers who are choosing to receive information in new and variable ways. That’s a departure from the days when I worked in TV, when we all watched three TVs side-by-side-by-side in the newsroom and acted as if our viewers behaved in the same way.

Dick Purtan’s Final Broadcast Intimate, Just Like the Medium Itself

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

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Many of us listened to Dick Purtan over his more than 40 year career but did you have a chance to listen on his final day? You can actually watch and hear his final 10 minutes on WOMC here.

What perhaps struck me most about Purtan’s Friday broadcast is that it did not fall into the trap of being a V.I.P. “love fest” with every county executive and city official calling in as much to pay tribute as to do some campaign stumping.  No, like a well-heeled on-air bit, the timing of the final show ensured this would not be the case; with the recent, annual Salvation Army radiothon providing ample opportunity for the area ‘who’s who’ to wish Dick well and rightfully congratulate him on a Hall of Fame career.

Instead, yesterday morning’s broadcast was special in the way that radio is special. As the most intimate of mediums—we typically listen alone in the shower, car, pool—the last show was largely between Purtan and his listeners. Surrounded by family and co-workers, legions of longtime fans called in to thank him, “remember when” and request past bits and put-ons that had served as a soundtrack to their lives.

What’s next? From the man who can now sleep in every morning, updates and podcasts from dickpurtan.com.  From WOMC, no word on a replacement although the station said yesterday it would be two months before an announcement was made. I would speculate that on-air “tryouts” might be held to let listeners decide. And for the industry: Hopefully a reminder of the importance of top-tier talent in connecting with audience and standing apart from the competition.  That talent may cost dollars and cents but its ultimate power cannot be discounted.

Kilpatrick Should Eschew Advisors, Do The Right Thing

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

164065,1223867440,11And so the sordid saga of Kwame Kilpatrick continued today in Wayne County Circuit Court.  In recent weeks, the Kilpatrick defense team attempted to disqualify Judge Groner.  Today, the former mayor’s attorneys tried more misdirection from the issue at hand; focusing this time on the mayor’s parole officer, implying in questioning that she did not make it clear to Kilpatrick what financial information he was required to report.  Ludicrous all.

Even Kilpatrick’s Manhattan PR advisor Mike Paul got into the act today, when he was unexpectedly called to the stand by Groner and asked what fees he was charging someone who indicated he had no money. $1 was the answer although the spokesperson conceded that his contract is with defense attorney Schwartz. Schwartz objected to Paul’s appearance, saying he was a member of the defense team. You keeping track of all this? You believing any of it?

It’s time to come clean with full disclosure. It’s time to demonstrate responsibility and sensibility. Kilpatrick and his legal team need to stop with the games and ‘smoke and mirrors.’ He didn’t know he was supposed to disclose a $15,000 gift to his sons from Sigma Associates, brought to light for the first time today? C’mon. He doesn’t know what financial resources his wife is managing? Find out. He doesn’t have the money to pay his restitution? Then don’t take out a million dollar lease to live in a mansion.

Here’s the bottom line: In the world of reputation management and repair, words are cheap.  Tangible, corrective actions, on the other hand, are key. Doing the right thing, in other words, is all that’s left for Kwame Kilpatrick. Pay your debt to society as ordered by the court. No one wants to hear or see anything else. Forget $1. We’re offering up that advice for free.

Dave Bing Uses Old School Tool To Score

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

bildeEven in a world of multi-platform communications, one communications vehicle remains an effective tool of choice for leaders who want to deliver a message to those counting on their leadership – the simple speech.

Even in a world of communications change, not much has changed since the days of Mark Antony and “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.” Tonight, in Detroit, a leader with the eyes of a region and a nation pointed squarely in his direction, used an old fashioned speech to successfully achieve his communications objectives.

There was no Powerpoint, no musical accompaniment, no fire and brimstone as Detroit Mayor Dave Bing took to the podium for his first State of the City address. In just about 30 minutes, the basketball star turned businessman turned unexpected politician calmly and assuredly laid out the realities of a troubled city and a high-level view of what his administration’s plans are to fix some of them. The speech was filled with an appropriate level of candor (something far too many businesspeople and elected officials know too little about), information and confidence, there was a limited “rah rah factor.” It was an effective and appropriate recitation of the State of the City, in his view, something his predecessor never did without breaking his hand patting himself on the back or otherwise making a ridiculous spectacle of himself, as in this clip from 2008.

This assessment is purely from a communications and public relations standpoint, not a political one. But regardless of your politics, it’s tough to argue with a speech that is clear, honest, to-the-point and reassuring of leadership. Dave Bing couldn’t have tweeted it any better.

A Woods Examination with the CMU PRSSA

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

5TM32R54B5Yesterday, I traveled to Mt. Pleasant at the invitation of the Central Michigan University PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) to speak at their annual conference and meet with a number of future PR professionals, something I always enjoy immensely. As always, those in attendance were bright, engaged and shared a number of perspectives that I wanted to share here.

During my breakout session, which examined Tiger Woods as a PR case study, I looked at all dynamics of the unfortunate undoing of a sports legend including the realities of celebrity, an ever-changing media landscape and particulars related to what we expect of a public figure, in particular when they fail off of the field of play.

A couple of students questioned how an international management company such as IMG, which handles Woods, could have blundered the crisis so blatantly. We discussed, in turn, how sometimes you can wisely counsel a client until you’re blue in the face and they still choose against your recommendations. Kwame Kilpatrick was famous for not heeding the advice of many of his press secretaries (yes, he went through a few), most of which were not allowed full access to information anyway.

Other CMUers in attendance brought up a seeming double standard when it comes to particular celebrities. Why, one asked, can Charlie Sheen cheat on one wife and beat up another and still co-star in one of television’s most popular sitcoms and shill for Fruit of the Loom while Tiger Woods loses most of his sponsors and is temporarily driven from his line of work? The answer there is easy: It depends on the particular image one portrays and/or embraces. Years ago, Sheen’s career did take a hit when he was first tied to madams and pornstars. Today, his reputation as a “bad boy” is well established—he even mocks it on his TV show. Woods, on the other hand, has long been a “role model.” Again using the actor analogy for comparison, think of what happened to the careers of the previously squeaky clean images of Kevin Costner and Meg Ryan when their respective philandering was exposed. Some might argue that they never recovered.

Can Tiger Woods recover? That question ended our breakout as we look next to his return to the links at the Masters on April 5th. Thank you again, CMU PRSSA for a lively discussion of a PR case study still in play and adversity management in general.

The RFP Casino: Is There A Better Way To Play?

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

casino-moneyWhen hiring legal counsel, an insurance agent or an investment advisor, nearly all businesspeople will ask someone they trust for a recommendation. That’s the lifeblood of professional services. Sometimes, there can be “shopping around” so a company can make a decision that’s best for them. But for some reason, when it comes to PR or communications services, some companies insist on running a formal RFP process.

For the uninitiated, RFP stands for “Request For Proposal” and it’s often like going to a casino. Someone will end up winning, but for all other players, it ends up costing them. Knowing that there will be a winner among all of the losers keeps us playing.

What can be wrong with RFPs? Let me count the ways:

-Too often, the RFP is a farce. The company or government entity already has chosen a firm in effect, but must go through the motions in order to satisfy requirements. Unsuspecting firms compete in the process, at their own expense and time, even though the deck is stacked against them.

-Even in legitimate searches, RFPs tend to put weight on superficial criteria – like size of staff or billings or claimed relationships and promises. Often, they ask for detailed workplans (for free!) that enable the company to pick and choose ideas from the losers to hand to the winners. Other times, they ask for ideas that firms must invent hypothetical answers to, based on just a few paragraphs of information.

-In an interview phase, firms often must make presentations based largely on fiction or, at best, educated guesses – on how they would serve a client that doesn’t yet exist, out of context, without any real knowledge of the company and its business objectives. In fact, I’ve been in presentations where the client refuses to describe the intended scope of work, leaving it to the firms to invent something on which to be judged.

-Relationships with clients that choose a firm via RFP start like an arranged marriage. Instead of hitting the ground running, there is a period of acclamation that’s longer than usual because the client and firm need to get to know each other, in earnest, once the show is over. The real work tends to begin later, after a ramp-up process that can be relatively lengthy, at the client’s expense.

I have yet to meet anyone in this business who likes RFPs, who consistently gets good clients this way or would recommend them for an agency search. So what’s the best way to hire a firm? Whether you’re buying or selling, we welcome your feedback.

Pink Floyd Battles EMI Over Music’s Integrity

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Pink-Floyd-pink-floyd-58193_1024_768If Pink Floyd gets its way, you won’t be downloading single songs from the group’s catalog much longer. The longtime British band won a High Court ruling this week against record company EMI regarding online sales of the group’s music. Floyd wants its listeners to consume its works as originally intended—in the context of a complete album.

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Pink Floyd has released very few singles, most notably 1973′s “Money” from the classic Dark Side of the Moon and “Another Brick in the Wall” from 1982′s The Wall.  To be sure, the majority of Floyd’s works, from Animals to Wish You Were Here to A Momentary Lapse of Reason are, for all intents and purposes, concept records. As such, its not hard to understand the band’s wanting listeners  to hear all songs in their proper respective context.

According to published reports, EMI plans to fight the ruling indicating their contention that the term “record” in their contract with the band constitutes a “physical thing” (ala a record album or CD) and does not apply to online distribution.  I find EMI’s line of thinking ludicrous and as disrespectful to the integrity of the artists’ work (physical, digital or otherwise) as those illegal downloaders they and other record companies spend so much time and money fighting each year.

As to who is right and who is wrong? I would suggest sitting down in a comfortable chair in a room with soft lighting, throwing on a pair of headphones, closing your eyes and listening to Dark Side from beginning to end.  The answer will soon make itself apparent—in stereo.

119 Words Banned From The Air – “Good News and Bad News”

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

1467145_DRINK_45140_LGeorge Carlin must be turning over in his grave.

Years ago, Carlin lampooned the FCC for the “Seven Dirty Words” in what became a classic comedy bit. Apparently not to be outdone, the CEO of the Tribune Company, Randy Michaels today issued a memo that has certainly made the rounds on the Web – an edict of 119 words he has proclaimed are now banned from the airwaves of the company’s flagship WGN-AM in Chicago.

I have to give Michaels credit for identifying most of the top cliches that clutter too many broadcast newscasts and have helped to disconnect them from audiences. The list alone would have been enough to generate productive conversation in the newsroom. I commend anyone for trying to rid broadcasts of “news speak.” I was taught to write news copy “like people talk” but too often it’s written “like newscasters talk” and that simply violates the fundamentals of good communication. I also believe the use of jargon is one of the reasons why TV (and even radio) newscasts too often sound like parodies of themselves.

But, as a leader of people in a workplace, I find the details of Michaels’ directive to be abhorrent. It shows a lack of respect for the professionals who work difficult hours for modest salaries in his operation. Colleagues could and should mentor each other and help each other communicate more effectively. But they should not policing each other, which will only worsen morale inside a workplace that is probably already decimated but cuts.

There’s no question that news needs to change to meet the needs and expectations of its customers. Cleaning up copy is one place to start. But, old habits die hard – it takes time to evolve. And one thing is for sure – management by memo can’t replace real, positive leadership.

Newhouse Panel Sheds Light On Trends

Monday, March 8th, 2010

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Over the weekend, I had the privilege of taking part in a panel discussion at my alma mater, the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Several of us, from around the country, tackled challenging questions about the future of media. At the end of the three hour forum, there seemed to be unity on three points:

-The content the audience likes best will win
-Media will continue to change, significantly, in the coming years
-It’s impossible to predict the future because what seems like the future today won’t be tomorrow

I believe that social media platforms provide an opportunity to traditional media outlets to play to their strengths and recapture some of what made them great. Via blogs and networking sites, two-way communication enables local outlets, in particular, to create personal connections with their audiences. Just like radio stations such as CKLW in Detroit 1960s and 1970s led listeners to call them with news tips, local outlets today can generate those types of touchpoints via Twitter. Just like FM stations, like WRIF in Detroit in the 70s and 80s, motivated thousands of listeners to essentially deface their second most expensive assets – by placing bumper stickers on their cars – Facebook can allow listeners and viewers to declare themselves as “fans.” But none of that is possible without local personalities engaging audiences.

Others on the panels brought up important points, such as:

-Facebook risks losing audience because “Farmville” updates and the like cause clutter and interrupt the experience users are seeking. It’s important for pros to keep their eyes open for “The Next Facebook.”
-Other national brands could harness the power of local radio, and share costs with station owners, following the lead of Disney and ESPN
-Radio stations are still profitable. But, they have cut local programming (often to the bone) to maintain the margins owners have enjoyed in the past as well as pay the debt incurred during the buying binges of the 1990s and 2000s
-Newspapers have seen their audiences go to their Web sites, but risk losing them because, through cost-cutting, many have skimped on multimedia content, something today’s consumer craves

These professional discussions are helpful to those who attend and those who participate because every time they take place, they are merely snapshots. Reconvene this group in 90 days, you’ll hear something different. That’s the world of communications we live in today and that’s why we strive to stay ahead of the trends.

Gabriel Ends Eight Year Itch With Innovative Scratch

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

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Leave it to Peter Gabriel to record the prototypical cover record in a totally atypical way. 

After all, as it has been some 20 years since he released a full-length solo album, and eight since a CD of any type, you might think he’d want to get some new stuff out there. Then again, that’s not totally fair. Gabriel has actually been quite prolific when it comes to recording new material for movie soundtracks, including the entire musical score for 2002′s often overlooked “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and, more recently, the song “Down to Earth” from Disney Pixar’s “WALL-E.”

For his just released “Scratch My Back,” Gabriel conceptualized a unique musical “give and take” where he would re-record particular artists’ song for this album and they, in turn, would record one of his compositions for  a companion “I’ll Scratch Yours” CD.  ”Scratch” is also quite interesting in that it includes covers of only two hits (David Bowie’s “Heroes” and Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble”) with the rest less known cuts from from both well-known and indie artists.  Their efforts, it now appears, will not come in the form of a Gabriel cover CD but, rather, a series of monthly iTunes releases, including Simon’s take on “Biko.”

Add the fact that Gabriel eschews guitar and drums on this new record and it is clear that while ”Scratch My Back” may not be wholly original music, the concept, execution and artist embody originality at its finest and are generating “buzz” not typically realized for an entire body of work in these days of single digital downloads.