Archive for August, 2010

Media Puts Face on Medical Marijuana Patients

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

donna-lambertOne of the biggest media stories of the past week in Metro Detroit was the raid of a medical marijuana dispensary in Ferndale which resulted in the arrests of 15 individuals, including the owners of the establishment. Many of those arrested, including ownership, were medical marijuana patients licensed by the state of Michigan whose medication was seized and who are now precluded from using what (for them) should be legal according to the law.

One of our clients, Michael Komorn, is a criminal defense attorney who also sits on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association (MMMA). Since the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was put into effect nearly a year ago, he has represented numerous patients and caregivers (those who are licensed to grow a specified number of plants for a specific number of people). Over and over again, he says, due largely to the murkiness of the way the law was written, scores of individuals are being arrested, raided and legally threatened. Typically, no charges are ever brought; still, plants are destroyed and individuals in need go without their medication.

If one were looking for a ‘silver lining’ in this week’s developments, one only had to watch a bit of the televised arraignment proceedings or look over the “mug shots’ of the 15 arrested individuals. Suddenly, there is a “face” on the medical marijuana movement and, no doubt to the surprise of many, it is not, to borrow Oakland County Sheriff Bouchard’s quote, “…some Cheech and Chong Movie.” Rather, the ages, genders and demographics could be any one of us. One individual, a woman in her 50s, is a former police dispatcher.

If you google the topic and dig, you’ll see that this is serious business. A family in Saginaw whose 7-year old daughter (battling brain cancer), loses access to her medication after her caregiver is raided. A single mother (and licensed patient) living in Jackson threatened by her landlord with eviction for smoking in the privacy of her apartment. Unfortunately, these individuals are often overshadowed by those that would take advantage of the law for personal gain.

Sometimes from adversity comes enlightenment and understanding. With a face of medical marijuana emerging, it is hoped by many that a dialogue and conversation between law enforcement and the patient/caregiver community will soon begin as it has with municipalities such as Bloomfield Township. Education is a good thing—in particular where truly sick individuals are concerned.

Tale From Vacation: A Tasty Lesson In Branding

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

25702_381870049437_520619437_3603761_7819915_nI have been quiet from the blog for the past couple of weeks because I was enjoying 10 days in my favorite summertime locale – the Northwest portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I won’t ask you to read any vacation stories or look at any photos, but there was a moment from vacation that inspired me to write this entry. It happened while I was biting into one of my favorite annual moments, sitting at a picnic table and biting into one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve had anywhere.

The story starts in 1953, when a Dairy Queen location opened in the scenic resort town of Charlevoix. Decades later, the Dairy Queen became regionally famous for its burgers because the owner, rather than ordering frozen patties from DQ corporate, picked up fresh ground beef each morning from a local grocer and make one-of-a-kind burgers at his location. Fast-forward to 2008 when he was told his Dairy Queen franchise was in jeopardy after an inspection from corporate. He was told to use the company’s mandated frozen burgers or say “goodbye” after 55 years as a DQ.

This entrepreneur could have faced a crisis. The Dairy Queen on Bridge Street was an institution in Charlevoix. Then, he discovered what too many businesspeople often ignore. A name is not necessarily a brand. Many towns in the area had Dairy Queen locations. But only his location served the burgers that were talked about as far away as Traverse City, some 50 miles away. Only his location provided an extra level of service.

So, he played to the strength of his brand within the community he served. He chose his fresh burgers and let Dairy Queen take away his franchise. He renamed the location Dairy Grille. It was big news in Charlevoix and nearby Petoskey, so he clipped the news articles and placed them in the windows at the counter for 2008 and 2009 – so everyone who patronized Dairy Grille could see the story from credible third-party sources. His message was simple – he wanted the best for his customers. So he kept his source of hamburger meat and, in his mind, upgraded his source of ice cream (a local provider). The menu stayed pretty much the same and so have the lines. At lunchtime, the staff works extra hard to meet the demand of carry-out food orders (something you’ve probably never seen at a Dairy Queen).

There are two lessons to remember from the Dairy Grille. One – your company’s name is just a name, unless there is a real brand supporting it – a brand that your customers believe in. And two, when driving along US-31 on the South Side of Charlevoix, order a Wahoo burger – you won’t regret it.

Media Messaging Drives The Woodward Dream Cruise

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

logo8And so the Woodward Dream Cruise, the classic car world’s annual rite of summer, concludes anew; a little soggy this year (but nothing a Sham-Wow couldn’t handle).  As Executive Director of numerous past Cruises, predicting how the weekend’s weather would shape up was just one of the many questions routinely fielded from media each year.

As our team worked each Cruise to “expand the brand” throughout the country and across the globe (after all, helping the host municipalities underwrite the massive undertaking entailed attracting sponsor dollars in and out market), we began attracting the attention of media the world over – from Germany and the Soviet Union to prominent national media (Speed TV) right here in the U.S. More media = more coverage = more interviews.

Serving as an event spokesperson was actually one of the aspects of the position I enjoyed most. As for the typical questions? One heard often was how gas prices might affect Cruise attendance. Regardless of per gallon fluctuations, out of state visitor numbers, in particular, continued a steady up-tick with caravans from all over the country an ever-increasing dynamic.

What about, we were asked, area retailers along Woodward who felt the Cruise took away business? One had only to look at the big picture and the $50-$100 million in economic impact for the region as a whole. Moreover, many creative, entrepreneurial business minds up and down the route took advantage of the massive crowds (i.e. the hairstylists offering B-Hive dos and the art galleries featuring automotive displays) to achieve positive results.

A recent New York Times blog writer posed the question, oft heard in more recent years, of whether the Cruise might someday permanently feature Detroit. Our Cruise in 2008 made a foray there for the first time. In the article, current Cruise Director Tony Michaels raises a good point regarding geography while other Cruise leadership rightly cite economics. What do you think? I think it will, indeed, happen one day—benefiting the entire Metro area through the underscoring of regional cooperation and full stretch celebration of one of our country’s most historic byways.

The Myth Of The Press Release

Monday, August 16th, 2010

paperboyThe following is excerpted from the Summer 2010 Chaldean American Chamber Newsletter:

Quite often when I am asked what I do for a living, my answer of “Public Relations” is met with a blank stare.

“Publicity,” I often add, “People come to us because they want to be covered in the news.”

“Oh,” often comes the reply, “You write press releases.”

It is understandable. Before I entered the world of PR nearly 20 years ago, I thought the same thing.  And, while the traditional press release still has its place, it is far from the “end all, be all” for generating coverage for yourself or your company. Traditional news holes are tight and resources stretched.

That said, the press release does still have its place. It is most effective, in fact, in promoting specific news – for example a charitable event. In this instance, all pertinent information pertaining to who, what, when, where, can be provided to media for quick and easy dissemination.

It really comes down to news value. A press release announcing a “sale” or “open house” may be newsworthy in your eyes and to your organization but will not be looked at similarly by an editor or producer. “Take out an ad,” they might suggest. In fact, sending in such information will only hurt the credibility of those sending it in the eyes of the media decision maker.

The key to media coverage? Here’s what we really do: Properly package stories for targeted media distribution. Rarely is it about hitting a ‘send to all’ button. To be sure, it is not about sitting back and seeing what sticks and is covered in the end. It is an approach that can make the difference between the front page and the circular file.

What Is So Scary About Business Conversation?

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

i-hate-talking-on-the-phoneMy biggest business pet peeve? The unanswered email. I mean, really, how tough is it to hit reply, type in a short answer like “Sorry. I don’t know,” and then hit send? A close second is the unreturned phone call. Does it really require you to block out time on your calendar to call back?

When I do decide to gently call out this bad behavior, the excuses are all the same. Something like “I’m sorry. I’ve been really busy?” Really? Too busy to actually use that Blackberry you check every five seconds? Another favorite of mine, “It’s been crazy around here.” Really? Crazy like a barricaded gunman situation at the office? That, though, would be a legitimate excuse.

We’re no psychologists, but after several years in business, we see what’s really going on. Many people absolutely abhor business conversations with any tinge of negativity. If a journalist isn’t interested in our story, it’s easier for them to ignore emails and calls rather than say “no thank you.” If a potential client can’t accept what we’re proposing, it’s easier for them to ignore our follow-ups, rather than to say “anything we could do differently to make this work?” If someone really is busy, how hard is leaving a voicemail in the evening saying, “my schedule has been packed, can we please figure out a time next week to talk?”

Some honest business people will even say, in their apologies for weeks or even months of unreturned calls, in a moment of true candor, that “I’m not good at confrontation.” For some reason, for some people, any potential category goes under the category of “confrontation,” even among people who are not confrontational. All that does is impede business progress and, of course, communication. Sometimes they avoid real conversation and choose to handle the challenging conversation over email. That, of course, is not ideal but it’s better than avoiding it altogether.

This phenomenon is certainly not new. I’m old enough to have worked for bosses who would rather deliver messages through a secretary or issue the latest edict via memo (copied and placed in every employee’s mailbox) rather than face a challenging conversation face-to-face. But somehow, even in the age of email, voicemail and text, it seems worse now because there really is no good excuse for avoiding necessary business conversation.

So what about the salesman who calls me almost every day at the office and about once a week on my cell phone, but won’t leave a message or a voicemail? I know his name (he uses it with my colleagues to try to get through to me) and his company name (we have this newfangled thing called “Caller ID”). Why won’t he leave a voicemail? What’s he afraid of? Maybe I need a team of psychologists to answer that one.

Marketing Music Multi-Generationally

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

222211048_416deb9c00While still a young disk jockey back in my native Champaign, Illinois, I was captivated along with much of my radio audience by a new group out of Bath, England that took its strange name from American psychologist Dr. Arthur Janov, whose Primal Therapy suggested tears as a replacement for fears. Thursday night, some 25 years later, the band Tears for Fears will kick-off their 2010 U.S. Tour from MotorCity Casino Hotel’s Sound Board.

Besides reliving the old classics I am particularly eager to see the demographic makeup of those in attendance. Last year, I attended a Steve Miller show at DTE and was amazed by the sea of young people. It was, in fact, one of the most packed shows I had ever been to at the venue. When I asked one of the 20-something attendees why the appeal of the artist, they replied: I grew up listening to him because my parents listened to him. I could identify; with an appreciation for Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick and Johnny Mathis borne out of hearing their music, as enjoyed by my parents, on the family stereo as a youth.

As I’ve written before, for older alternative/art-rock tinged groups such as Tears for Fears, radio has not been kind in recent decades. Classic rock will play a Steve Miller Band—not so a Genesis or Rush. Instead, a band like Tears or Asia or Toto have continued to market themselves directly to their core constituents through their Web sites, touring and new product. And, quite often, the most ideal means by which to engage new “customers” (fans) is through “referrals” (endorsements) from existing customers. In this way, for bands, a fan base can be strengthened and built upon from generation to generation.

Moreover, the ability to transport and listen to a music collection anytime anyplace via iPod and other MP3 players, is only fueling a multi-generational demand for new tunes, from new, established and artists that might be considered by some to be “long in the tooth.” For groups like Tears for Fears, their latest “coming out” could be one of the best times ever for them to shout, shout, let it all out—now and for many years to come.

#Backchannel Bridges Gap Between Social, Traditional Media

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

sclark_20100310170745_320_240If you want to see how Traditional Media and Social Media are coming together to make for some interesting communications, check out the #backchannel hashtag on Twitter. This is an example of what we envisioned when we started Tanner Friedman. “The old” and “the new” are blending for a multi-platform communications experience.

The Backchannel is the creation of WXYZ-TV news anchor Stephen Clark. Basically, when his newscasts air on TV, he is engaged in conversation with viewers, via Twitter, and they are engaged with each other. They are talking about the news but, more importantly, they are talking about the newscast. You remember the TV newscast, the product that was supposed to be rendered irrelevant by Social Media. Here’s how Clark describes The Backchannel on his own blog.

One of the jobs of the TV anchor is to build a connection with the audience. Here’s an example of how Clark is doing that in new ways, using Twitter, beyond his many tweets all day and evening long. Last night, Clark was among a group I was with at a Detroit Tigers game. Once he tweeted that he was at the game, he started hearing from followers. So, he organized an impromptu “Tweetup” at the ballpark a couple of innings later. Viewers got a chance to meet and interaction with Clark “in real life” – something they would have never done in his days of merely reading a TelePrompter.

While he has taken it to a high level, Clark isn’t alone in his use of Social Media. His counterpart at WDIV-TV, Devin Scillian, posts regularly on Facebook and Twitter to an audience of thousands, interacting with his audience. And WJBK-TV reporter/anchor Roop Raj takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the station’s weekend morning newscasts on a frequent basis.

Clark’s example should demonstrate to the companies that run TV stations that they can rescue their brands among a tech savvy population. The challenge is that the companies and their executives are not pushing this. Generally speaking, the anchors are doing it on their own. They should serve as an example throughout Traditional Media of how to seize an opportunity to recover part of an audience that could otherwise be lost, perhaps forever.

Message To Mike Cox And Political Leaders: Stick To Your Positive Messages

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

mud1With the primary just over a day away, we continue to be inundated by negative campaign ads and news stories that both cover and attempt to sort through the mudslinging. Mike Cox had his share of controversy this past week regarding new allegations of his involvement with the fabled Manoogian mansion party. My TV20 came by the Tanner Friedman offices to get our take, as communications consultants, on the situation.

What ended up on the TV station’s cutting room floor from the interview is what we counsel our clients when faced with such adversity: stick to your key messages—in this case, Cox’s campaign platform: ‘As a former marine and attorney general’, his primary message has been, ‘he has what it takes to make the tough decisions (including cutting taxes) to get Michigan on its feet again.’ And though one should never “hide” from particular allegations, how you respond to them is paramount.

Years ago, I worked with a law firm who had a client who was accused of sexual harassment. Though a talented litigator, a first draft of a statement he wrote in his client’s voice left much to be desired from a communicator’s standpoint as it repeated numerous negatives (i.e. “I unequivocably deny that I was involved in any type of sexual misconduct”).  We opted instead to focus on the many positives associated with this individual’s numerous years of dedicated service and that the truth would prevail.

Equating this, then, to  the realm of political advertising, I am always perplexed as to why politicians run campaign ads that mention the opposition (and their supposed gaffes). Why waste time and dollars on the “other guy (or gal)”? Use it to promote your ideas and your name. Plus, studies show that voters respond negatively to the candidate slinging the mud.

Full circle back to Cox, he fairly adeptly handled the latest ‘revelations’ calling them ‘ludicrous.’ I would have left it at that and moved on. Instead, he suggested political espionage in the news’ timing, and, in additional sound bites, said he ‘did not know Kilpatrick at that time.’ Do you really need to know someone to be at their party?  Almost always (and especially here) less is more—lest you raise even more questions and doubts.

PR Firms Can Learn A Lesson From The Mouse

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Disney-World-Cinderellas-Castle-1Just about every company says that customer service is its #1 priority. But very few actually build a culture in which service becomes outstanding.

That’s the in-a-nutshell message of a compelling and entertaining speaker I had the privilege to hear last week. Customer service trainer Dennis Snow, a 20-year manager and executive at Walt Disney World, spoke at a seminar hosted by one of our clients and I was invited in to hear the presentation. For a sampling of what I heard, click here.

Snow, the author of the book”Lessons From the Mouse,” spoke of the fundamentals to successful customer service. One, in particular, resonated with me after these years of PR firm leadership. Everything you do, Snow said, as a business should be strategized while looking through the lens of the customer.

Ironically, the PR firm business has a long way to go in that department. For most of us running agencies, we need to think, would we tolerate what we, as an industry, do to our clients? Would we pay a professional services firm a fixed monthly fee, regardless of how much work they do for us? Would we really pay for photocopies, cell minutes, scans or faxes? (Yes, I’m almost ashamed to say, there are, in fact, firms that are charging clients for faxes). Would we really be expected to sign a contract right off a proposal with no room for discussion on terms or detailed conversation on objectives and scope of work? Would we tolerate paying for three people at a meeting with us, when only one is involved in strategy and the others are taking notes (and sucking up time)?

When we started Tanner Friedman, we made every effort to look at our client experience through the lens of our clients. As our business evolves, we try to stay in that position when making business decisions. Communicating with our clients, rather than imposing terms on them, tends to help. But, as an industry, the PR firm business is embarrassingly lacking in that area. We hear that from potential clients who have sworn off hiring any firm in the future, because of poor service they have experienced from just one firm in the past.

Another one of Snow’s messages is important for our profession. Can we make every customer happy every time? No, we can’t. But our overall focus should be on providing a level of service that, at the end of a project, makes the client look forward to the next project. As at Disney World, where they have you already thinking of your next visit there as you walk out the door, that should be our objective, rather than nickel and dimeing our way to client dissatisfaction.