Archive for April, 2010

Social Media: Before You Move Forward, Step Back

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

lg_sn-logosWhile many of us live and breathe social media everyday, two recent conferences served as a reminder of the importance of stepping back from time to time for a renewed perspective on purpose, content and format. 

At this week’s PRSA 2010 Michigan Conference in Novi, an event which I co-chaired, social media guru Peter Shankman reiterated a couple of key perspectives during his keynote address that bear repeating and contemplating:

“You owe a debt to those following you—Be interesting.” It’s what we tell our clients and aspire to with each Facebook post and Twitter tweet: Have something to say. Inform and educate in a way that builds both your personal and professional brands without being overtly commercial and promotional.

“The real value of Twitter is in the re-tweet.” Again, be compelling and credible in your content; so much so, in fact that others will want to share your wisdom/information with others. That, in turn, can build a strong, dedicated following beyond merely “following” others so that they will “follow” you (hopefully) back.

Last week, my colleague Justine Fisette, and I presented on some of the basic tenets of social media to several hundred REALTORS at the Realcomp “Tools of the Trade” Conference in Dearborn. At the end of our discussion, questions related to ‘what’, ‘how often’ and ‘how can I find the time to post’ were unsurprising, coming from attendees still new to the media. It reminded me how new and daunting it all can still be to many.

The lesson there: Consider your audience. It’s very easy for the experienced to become too sophisticated, too technical and, in turn, too complicated. Who are you trying to reach and why? That will help determine the best approach for the ‘how.’ Amid the hashtags and retweets and fancy abbreviations, sometimes for particular targets, simplicity and back to basics can be even more effective.

All I Really Need To Know About Dateline’s Detroit Special, I Learned In RTN 564

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Update_DatelineOne week since NBC devoted an hour of Prime Time on a Sunday night to a special on the City of Detroit and the reaction is still touching nerves across the 313 area code and its surrounding area. Recent local news items have ranged from level-headed to emotional to unrealistic.

I carefully viewed the special last week while wearing a few hats – former TV journalist, public relations professional, someone born and raised in the region and a fourth generation business owner here. After a week of reflection and paying attention to the reaction of others, it is my education in broadcast journalism that most influences my opinions on Dateline’s coverage. You could say, with apologies to Robert Fulghum, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in RTN 564.”

In analyzing the show, I have thought back to the Broadcast News Reporting class I took at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University – RTN 564. Two quotes, said by the class’ instructor (a respected longtime anchor and reporter) in the early days of the semester, rang true throughout my career in TV news and apply to the broadcast that has caused so much local controversy. He said, our job as TV journalists, was, essentially “…to get people to watch commercials.” Another quote I remember is that TV news “…doesn’t cover the 1,000 kids who make it home from school OK today. It’s the one kid who doesn’t make it home.”

Both quotes should help keep the Dateline show in perspective. NBC put it on the air not just to enlighten the nation to Detroit’s situation, but to sell advertising to help its parent company, General Electric, turn a profit. That motive shapes coverage. Also, “the positive side” just doesn’t qualify as news by traditional definitions (and network news is, if anything, traditional). That’s just the way the news business has worked which has been, historically, very profitable.

Critics of the show should continue to express their opinions, but they can’t change network TV. I remember a PR executive I worked with early in my PR career who used to pitch CNN on stories that CNN just didn’t cover. His hubris actually led him to believe they would change for him and suddenly cover stories like local retail grand openings. No matter who you are, you have to accept the rules of the game and work with them to do the best you can. In the case of Dateline, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, for example, did that.

So how likely is a “Part 2″ with “the positive side” that many would like to see? Unlikely. Dateline’s hour of truth – factually presented but largely negative- got trounced by 60 Minutes, with market-by-market ratings ranging from abysmal (2s and 3s in the largest markets) to modest (6s and 7s in medium markets). As much as NBC showed the one kid who didn’t make it home from school, it couldn’t compete with an Al Pacino interview on CBS. As usual, “celebrity news” trumps all.

The Fourth Kind’s Media Devices Further Blur Line Between Reality, Fantasy

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

the_fourth_kind_poster-405x600Take a quick tour through the offices of Tanner Friedman and you may note a theme of interest. In our Tanner Friedman whiteboard brainstorm room, there hangs a framed tribute to “War of the Worlds”; nearby you’ll spot the front page of the 1947 Roswell Daily Record, which announced that the military had recovered a flying disc.

An interest in little green men? Rather, a fascination with the role that media has played over the years in determining fact vs. fiction. In 1939, Orson Welles and his Halloween broadcast blurred, for the first time, news and entertainment, airing a radio play presented as a mock news broadcast.  Later, in Roswell, the Army/Airforce actually issued and then recanted a press release reporting a strange, possibly otherworldly discovery; later holding a press conference to further reiterate its changed position.

Of a similar but newly unique vein is the alien abduction movie, “The Fourth Kind,” released in late 2009 and now available on DVD. And, where “Blair Witch Project,” “Cloverfields” and even last year’s “Paranormal Activity” utilized handheld cameras and purported initially to be ‘real’, “The Fourth Kind” does something no other movie of this genre has done before: tells you up front that what you are about to watch actually took place (and we have the film to prove it).

At the movie’s very opening, in fact, actress Milla Jovich informs the audience that she is playing the role Dr. Abigail Tyler, a one-time psychiatrist, and that the film tells the true story of events taking place in recent years, investigated by the FBI, in Nome, Alaska.  Interspersed throughout, further, is footage of who is purported to be the actual Dr. Tyler, interviewed by writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi.

What is perhaps most interesting and different about this particular film, though, is the use of a split screen which shows actors recreating scenes side-by-side with what is represented to be actual video footage—both police (from squad car cameras) and patient hypnosis documentation. The end result is disturbing, chilling and compelling. And in today’s world of reality TV, YouTube and multi-media in general, who’s to tell what is real and what is not.

Give this one “two thumbs” up and an index finger to scratch your head with.

Campus Controversy Shows Banks Need to Prioritize PR

Friday, April 16th, 2010

james_dimonAs a alumnus of Syracuse University, I was momentarily proud yesterday when I saw on CNBC’s Mike Huckman’s Twitter feed that he would be reporting live on the SU campus today. That pride lapsed, though, when the I discovered it wasn’t a story that would bring positive attention to the school among CNBC’s audience of businesspeople. The subject of Huckman’s reporting (and columns like this one all over the Web) was a student-driven controversy about the University’s speaker for May commencement activities.

The speaker is scheduled to be Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase (pictured), which has donated significant funds to the University in recent years. Students, though, are voicing protest because they see Dimon as a symbol for the collapsed economy, government bailouts and the bleak job market the seniors are graduating into.

Those emotions, which are easy to counter, are a symptom of a problem facing “big business” in general in today’s times but the banking industry in particular. Banks suffer from one of the most serious image problems of any industry in America. The public regards them as reckless and greedy. Because banks that accepted TARP funds had to curb communications efforts as an attached string, they have largely not invested in telling their turnaround plan stories and communicating their messages to the public. That lack of attention to PR and communications, regardless of the cause, haunts these companies today.

This controversy will subside in the coming weeks. Dimon will likely make his speech. The students will graduate and get on with their lives. But the banks’ PR troubles won’t go away until they figure out a way to tell their stories and deliver their messages.

By the way, Huckman is leaving CNBC soon to enter the world of Big Firm PR. Maybe his first client should be a bank?

A Week Unplugged: An Information Junkie Goes Cold Turkey

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

6a00e554ae4b6e88340115700e5987970b-450wiRecently, I realized that I hadn’t really taken many “days off” since Tanner Friedman began. There have almost always been emails to answer, calls to return – business that needed attention, regardless of the day of the week or my location – in the office, working from home, traveling on business or even on vacation.

I also realized that I had not been without cell phone and Internet access for a full week since the Spring of 2000 – before texting, the iPhone, Facebook or even WI-FI access. The fact is that I really enjoy what I do for a living and, often, it doesn’t even feel like “work.” So I don’t think twice about bringing the laptop to Disney World or taking a phone call while looking out onto a lake or answering a text from a stadium seat.

This year’s family Spring Break trip, though, would be different. The cost of using a cell phone on a Caribbean cruise is prohibitively expensive. Internet access is 55 cents per minute. So I decided, for the first time in a decade, to completely unplug, leaving business in the hands of a very capable team of colleagues and understanding clients. I’m also an admitted “Information Junkie.” I’ve been a voracious news consumer, my family tells me, since sitting in the high chair. So, in the days leading up to the trip, I couldn’t decide if the plan to truly unplug was going to feel like a reward or a punishment.

For the first two days, I had feelings that can only be described as withdrawal symptoms. Connection had become, at least, a habit and at most, an addiction. As soon as I would get into a line, I would reach into my pocket for my phone for an online check of some site – anything to avoid the boredom of waiting- but was stuck with just my own thoughts and actual human conversation. For days, I kept thinking “what if I have a message?,” “what if a big news story breaks? – I’ll have no idea.” My family tells me I was grumpy at first – even in a great location.

But as the days went along, my head cleared and my mind adjusted to the circumstances. For example, I had time in the evenings, instead of answering emails, to read two books. Rather than worry about missing news, I starting thinking about how nice it was to be able to focus on enjoying the day and who I was spending it with, rather than consuming information every time I had a down second. I really was able to “let it go.”

The one exception, though, was sports. There was very limited access to U.S. sports on the ship that thankfully, included live broadcasts of the Final 4. But not having scores and details available to me on demand (especially with the Tigers season starting) caused me some stress, rather than relieving it. I guess maybe I needed an outlet from my outlet.

Now, I head back to work feeling refreshed like never before. I might not wait 10 years to do it again.

Cross-Country Radio Tour Demonstrates Continued Lack of Creativity

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Picture 2A day ago I returned from a cross-country trip to Florida for a spring break vacation with my family.  Though I always have my iPod at the ready, I often like to go up and down the radio dial as I drive through various cities to try to catch a bit of local broadcast flavor.

Ever since I was a youngster growing up in east central Illinois, I have been fascinated with radio station monikers.  Prior to industry consolidation more than 20 years ago, station “call letters” routinely referenced a bit of history and/or captured an element unique to the particular city in which the radio station resided—WLAK, WLUP and WFYR in Chicago, for example, still rank among my all-time favorites.

As we drove south on I-75 through Cincinnati and Louisville and around Nashville and then veered onto other byways around Montgomery and into the Florida panhandle, I was looking forward to hearing something different in this regard. Maybe an Adult Contemporary station in Louisville called “Rose 92 FM” or a “Smokey 104” or “Mountain 93” Country outlet somewhere through Tennessee. And wouldn’t it demonstrate both creativity and a tribute to social consciousness with a Montgomery, Alabama Urban Station utilizing “The Bus” in its moniker (?).

Alas, while Toledo does have “The River” at WRVF 101.5 FM there were far too many “KISSes,” “MIXes” and “FOXes” for my liking.  As is often the case, the most creativity came from outside a major market and the watchful eye of individualism-quashing research and national consultants where Panama City’s “Island 106” stood out like a sore thumb—or, more appropriately, like a welcome, palm tree-decorated sunny beach.