Archive for July, 2010

For Movie Marketers, It’s Easy Being, Making Green

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

imagesWith comicdom’s heavyweights – Batman, Superman, Spiderman, X-men, Hulk – already immortalized on the silver screen, is there an end in sight to Hollywood’s efforts to transfer newsprint heroes into celluloid superstars? A ready made audience, proven track record of success and a veritable league of costumed do-gooders makes that scenario unlikely.

Sure, there have been a few misfires: Ben Affleck as Daredevil and George Clooney (costumed in a nippled breastplate) as Batman spring immediately to mind. Yet, the failures have been rare and the successes (based on sequels and hundreds of millions of dollars in box office receipts) the rule rather than exception. Powering the demand and turnstile spinning are incredibly passionate fans and effective means by which to attract them.

And, lest one thinks comic book movies are only for mouth-breathing geeks, consider than the first “Superman” movie in the late 70s, coupled with far and wide accolades from the literary world a few years later for the graphic novel “Watchmen,” formed the foundation for what would become an ever widening acceptance of the comic medium as a pop cultural icon. It would be further strengthened as late 80s moviegoers were treated to a “coming attractions” of Tim Burton’s “Batman”; the visually-stunning, ground-breaking preview set the standard for creating early movie ‘buzz’ before the Internet and YouTube.

In more recent years to the present, such film ‘sneak peaks’ are most often premiered to adoring fans at large comic book conventions, or, Comicons – usually with director, writer and stars in tow. It is targeted marketing genius, really; appear and interact at a forum held specifically for your core audience then let them carry the PR banner to the masses on a grass roots level. And, as Comicons have grown in size and respectability, they are covered not just by industry (“Wizard”) or niche (G4 TV network) media but by mainstream as well (here’s the Associated Press’s take, picked up by CBSNews.com, ABCNews.com and others, on the debut of footage from the upcoming “Green Lantern” movie).

Still don’t believe me? Ever heard of the Green Hornet? He last appeared on screen in 1966 for one season on newly ‘Technicolor’ ABC-TV amidst the hype of the campy “Batman” series.  With his trusty sidekick Kato (at that time Bruce Lee), he’s set for a return in January 2011, starring Seth Rogan. Chances are pretty good the Hornet’s mask won’t be the only ‘green’ associated with this one.

Time For The Bull@#$% To ‘Spend More Time With Family’

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

no-bullAs I write, the Board of BP is negotiating some sort of “resignation” arrangement with its CEO Tony Hayward. Any reasonable person who has been following the aftermath of the oil spill can assume safely that whatever BP says is code for “he’s getting fired, but first his golden parachute is being sewn together.”

This week alone, we saw a public university president, who had been under fire from faculty, “resign to spend time” with his wife, who had battled cancer but her employer later all but said she’s in remission. The next day, Detroit’s Police Chief “resigned” because his boss, the Mayor, didn’t like the Chief’s appearance in a reality show promo or his admitted romantic relationship with a Lieutenant. The media and the public didn’t buy the “resignation” line. It was immediately and popularly believed, by simply reading between the lines, that the Mayor fired the Chief.

Google “resigned” and “spend more time with family” and you’ll find about 250,000 lines of bull. Scanning through the first 15 or so pages, I found that most who fit that category had the word “embattled” or “controversial” written before their title. Many had been caught in some impropriety. Others had clearly and publicly failed to achieve results. This is not an American phenomenon. It’s easy to find examples from around the world – in all facets of business and government.

So, we live in a world where 67 year-old men routinely “resign” to “spend more time with family” and 50 year-old men “retire.” What’s wrong with this picture? A lot. Our culture has been trained, likely by lawyers, to essentially lie about top executives’ firings.

The exception, of course, is sports. General Managers and coaches are fired in sports year-round and nobody thinks twice about it. But, in business, and public companies in particular, they “resign,” “retire,” “mutually agree to separate from the company,” or even “step down.” But rarely, if ever, are the departures categorized as firings, even when they fit the textbook definition of “fired” which is “dismissed from a job.”

Same goes for government. Who was the last high-ranking federal government official fired, even though turnover is a constant? Archibald Cox?

Of course, semantics often dictate the terms of employment agreements. So the attorneys will probably continue to have their say on this one (even though PR types get blamed when the public doesn’t buy the lines of bull, which is so often the case). And feelings and emotion also enter the fray, even though often, public company executives get multiple millions to go away.

But wouldn’t a line like this be refreshing, in the name of integrity, “The Board of Trustees fired the President on Tuesday, saying she failed to adequately address enrollment declines and rising costs.”

Actually, that was a real line – from Western Michigan University in 2006. That Board, accountable to the public, refreshingly asked the typical bull to spend more time with family.

Reporter’s Hire Gives TV News A Boost In Buzz

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

scott_lewisThe announcement went public late on a Friday afternoon, when good news can often get lost. But, word that Detroit’s ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV hired a household-name investigative reporter gave TV news something it desperately needs in Detroit and around the country – positive buzz.

After a more than a decade in radio news (where he became a great writer, like so many 1970s era broadcasters), Scott Lewis worked at WJBK-TV, first a CBS affiliate and then later a Fox-owned station for more than 20 years. When Fox took over and featured a 10pm newscast, Lewis’ stories often ran in, what was for local news, long-form and their prime time appeal helped give the station big ratings, especially when competing against dramas on the other networks and myriad choices on cable. But as this Detroit News story explains (including some commentary from Tanner Friedman), Lewis left the station more than six months ago, with an uncertain future.

Lewis’ return to TV coincides with the upstart, nonprofit Michigan News Center, started by former WXYZ-TV investigator Steve Wilson, which I explored in this article just three weeks ago. When I interviewed Wilson for the piece, he suggested that Scripps, which owns the station, chose not to renew his contract for two primary reasons – one, because they no longer wanted to pay money for a marquee investigative reporter and two, because, as Wilson put it, they “just don’t have the stomach” for investigative reporting anymore.

Of course, Lewis isn’t going to be working for free and, based on his work at WJBK-TV (where his reports helped lead to the indictment of a Detroit City Councilman, among other groundbreaking reporting), he probably won’t tell many fluffy stories. So why was Wilson really forced out? It’s probably complicated and included multiple factors. But, with Lewis changing channels, it’s the first time I have been asked about a high-profile TV news hire in what seems like years, rather than just being asked about talent leaving stations and the financial woes that news operations are experiencing.

Times are still not good in local TV news – in Detroit and elsewhere. Audience and revenue have eroded, leaving behind a product that has experienced unprecedented competitive challenges. But, for at least one station, a high-profile hire is more than just a good PR move. It should lead to more viewers on the nights his stories air, more clicks on the website, more interviews on the radio touting his work and something the industry needs more than ever before – positive buzz. Positive, that is, unless you are a wrongdoer, especially in government. If so, it’s time to watch your back.

What Goes Around Comes Around in Employee Relations

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

jbo0008How do you treat your employees? Do you guide and mentor and set them up for success, or, do you badger and belittle and set them up for failure?

I am continually amazed by stories I hear. How about the boss that does not provide a roadmap for future growth (“Keep on doing what you’re doing”) and then chides the employee when certain un-communicated milestones are not met in their mind. Or, the superior that gives “all or nothing” ultimatums rather than guiding and encouraging the colleague towards success in reaching particular goals.

Such individuals-in-charge seem to operate out of fear and ego. Don’t they realize that they are stifling and paralyzing their greatest resource for sustained and future success – their employees? Sadly, no. And when times get tough, rather than rallying the troops and circling the wagons, they fire poison tipped arrows directly at their own people.

The biggest barrier to change for such individuals, in my experience, is their past successes. “My way works so why not keep doing it” seems to be their motto. What they don’t realize (and find out in time) is that treating people badly always comes back to haunt you. It may take 5 years, it may take 20 years but your reputation (cemented by all of the former employees you treated poorly) will soon precede you and the death knell for your company becomes only a matter of time.

As the 80′s “hair band” Ratt so famously sang: “‘Round and ‘Round.”

The Decision: PR Still Matters

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

61001468After spending Thursday night as one of nearly 10 million who watched “The Decision” – ESPN and LeBron James’ failed attempt at a news event/charity fundraiser/ego stroke – and the past few days and reviewing the online and on-air analysis, from the perspectives of both a professional communicator and a sports fan, I am left with only one conclusion – PR still matters.

Even with all of the opinions and emotions, most everyone can agree that they don’t have as much of a problem with what James decided to do – they just can’t stand how he went about it. That’s PR.

And it seems most fans and analysts agree that they don’t have a problem with ESPN airing some sort of announcement live, they just don’t like how it was shoved at them. That’s PR too.

I’m not going to suggest all of the ways in which this could have been handled differently. Judging by some sports talk radio sampling, even non-sophisticated audiences have already figured that out. But I do think it’s worth remembering that all involved with this situation would have been better off if PR, rather than ego feeding, had come first.

Every morning my inbox is filled with self-proclaimed “social media experts” and more so-called “gurus” than The Beatles’ India swing, presenting their “Top 5″ lists on how “traditional” PR isn’t very important anymore. Sure, PR has changed and it keeps changing. And it should. But sometimes it takes a big story or a shared moment to realize that the public is important and isn’t as dumb as celebrities and TV networks think that it is. It takes a moment like Thursday night to remind us that the fundamentals of “Good PR” must still be displayed or the alternative can be ugly, with ramifications lasting for years to come.

What’s So (Prime Time) Special About LeBron James?

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

urlHave you heard or maybe read? LeBron James is a free agent. And, in about one hour, he will officially announce where he will be playing next season and beyond on a live, prime time TV special on ESPN.

I remember when prime time TV specials were actually that – special – typically on a topic or individual of maximum importance to our society or world. But this? This is nothing more than sensationalism and hype and a way to sell commercials and make money as we watch a world class athlete and millionaire becoming even more of the latter. Do we really want or need to watch this?

You have to give Disney and ESPN credit. They are the masters of marketing and promotion. And never mind the myriad of games they run, I’ll sit there for hours watching the NFL Draft for goodness sakes (although the move this past year to weeknight prime time was, again, all about the bottom line). You also can’t fault any media outlet for doing what it takes to try to expand shrinking margins.

Yet, there has never been a tougher time to generate coverage for what I would deem “real news” – a charity making a difference in its community; a volunteer giving of his or her time to help the less fortunate; a start-up business that is leading a charge in new, green technology. The news “holes” are there but limited.  On the one hand you can give kudos to the NBC Nightly News for their “Making a Difference” segments; on the other, you can lament that their segments are brief and run less prominently at the very end of a newscast.

My point is that while LeBron James signing somewhere/elsewhere is legitimate news, devoting an hour (plus, if you count the lead ups) packaged as its own show only further underscores that our priorities are “out of whack” and that, all too often, the news media does not act in the public interest.  That is my opinion, at least. Now, pardon me while I get ready for next week’s MLB “Home Run Derby.”

It Takes Sharing To ‘Navigate New Media’

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

091207_newhouse3Since we started Tanner Friedman, we have consistently tried to keep our clients and contacts updated on the transformation change affecting media and the way we all communicate. Things are changing so fast, that it takes frequent updates to keep pace. That’s one of the reasons why we started this blog.

Because of the exploration on this blog of media change, and specifically the rise of nonprofit journalism, I was asked to write an article for a website called Navigate New Media – a collaboration between faculty at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University (my alma mater) and media professionals.

The article appears here. I hope that you will read it and share it with others who may be interested. While you’re there, click through the site, then consider bookmarking it. While we have established this blog as a bona fide source of media change information, we are far from alone. The Navigate New Media site is credible and growing – promoting the type of information exchange that is crucial to understanding what is changing and what might be next.