Archive for October, 2010

Only You Can Prevent RFP Robbery

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

A few years ago, I was one of about ten people who watched a show called “K Street” on HBO. It was about a fictional DC lobbying firm, with actors playing lobbyists, run by a real political superstar, James Carville. I bring this up because in one of one of the episodes, Carville was asked by a would-be client to provide counsel on a project for which he would not get paid. His response was “no” because “ideas cost money.”

We’ve written before about how RFPs are the worst way to hire a firm. One of the reasons is that organizations that try to select a firm via RFP often ask for free, speculative work of firms whose only source of revenue is fees for work. Quite literally, in many professional services business, “ideas cost money.” But those who put out RFPs too often don’t respect that.

Recently, we heard of an RFP that demanded:

-A complete PR plan, including a targeted media list and proposed stories to be pitched to each outlet
-A messaging document, with recommended messaging to be inserted in to ad and PR campaigns
-A through media buying plan, including specific outlets and costs.

This was all as part of a proposal, in a selection process, for which there was no compensation. The firms were to base detailed plans on an eight page RFP document and a brief phone call with a marketing director.

It can be, essentially, robbery. The gun to your head is the chance at a contract, especially in a challenging economy. That enables them to steal your ideas, with no respect for you. A big issue here is that firms are judged on the quality of work they provide with no client relationship, no depth of preparation and completely based on speculation. Essentially, the RFPs demand and reward works of fiction.

We know of at least three firms that gave the organization exactly what they asked for – detailed work product, for free. In this case, the agencies who give away work for free with the hope of getting paid for it someday are accessories to the crime of robbery.

So, there is only one way that this abhorrent behavior on the part of governments, nonprofits, corporations and other organizations is going to stop. Agencies need to take these RFPs and throw them away immediately upon receipt.

Linkin Park Invites Listeners To Look Into A Thousand Suns

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

In July 1945 in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, history was made as “Trinity” became the world’s first artificial nuclear explosion. Witnessing the infamous event, J. Robert Oppenheimer recalled a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…”

These words form the foundation for Linkin Park’s new record, “A Thousand Suns,” a call for recognition, restraint and redemption. From a branding, marketing and entertainment standpoint, “Suns” is noteworthy on several fronts.

First, it is a rare concept record in the truest sense of the word with a consistent theme continually underscored in lyrics and spoken word, including an eerie, actual recitation by Oppenheimer of another Hindu verse: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” We later hear Martin Luther King and others. In addition to the dearth of themed LPs in today’s music world, the record’s sound certainly quite often plays against Linkin Park type.

However, it all works wonderfully. While Branding 101 might dictate that straying from what you are known for can be damaging in terms of confusing/alienating fans/customers, there is something to be said about taking a fresh, new, artistic approach that still remains true to a core essence.

From a marketing standpoint, what better way to stand out and command attention in a current environment where downloading individual songs is the norm; inviting the exploration of an entire body of work? Pink Floyd would be proud.

The Really Big Question of The 2010 Election: Do Robo Calls Really Work?

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

We appreciate all of the questions we get from our clients and contacts, even the questions we are not quite qualified to answer. The Election Season, we have been asked multiple times “Do those annoying ‘robo calls’ really work?”

Since Tanner Friedman does not handle direct political campaign work, my guess has always been that if those automated calls to your home phone number were not considered effective, then campaigns probably would not spend the money to do them. But, we’re talking about politics here, where conventional wisdom doesn’t necessarily carry the day. So, we asked respected political analyst and public policy expert, Craig Ruff of Public Sector Consultants in Lansing, Michigan. Here’s a special Tanner Friedman Blog “Q&A” with Craig Ruff…

Q. I get a lot of questions about why they political campaigns are allowed to call people on the “Do Not Call” list. It’s because the politicians exempted themselves from the law, right?

A. As with so many other laws, politicians exempted themselves and political committees from making calls to households. Many of us view it as phone spam, but it is legal.

Q. Business marketers would be loathe to irk a customer before ever having the chance to communicate a message. Why do political campaigns seem to not care about that?

A. Great point. Political groups use robo calling because they intuit or, more likely, their research shows that it works. Most people whom I know resent the calls, but they similarly disdain negative advertising on TV and radio. I know that the latter works in most circumstances. There’s no evidence that robo calls actually cause people receiving them to vote against the sponsor. Business and charities have not borrowed the practice from politicians, at least not yet.

Q. We do cost-benefit analyses all the time. I assume campaigns do the same thing. Do they really think the calls sway voters and it’s worth the money?

A. As mentioned earlier, I’d be willing to bet that research shows that robo calling works. Because of their immediacy, they likely serve as a prompt to the busy voter to remember to vote for or against someone or something, rather like impulse buying at the grocery store.

Q. Is the simple answer there that they think it gets an unfiltered message into the home?

A. It’s certainly true that it is unfiltered and guaranteed to arrive “just in time.” The vast majority of robo calls at our home come in the last few days of a campaign. That suggests to me that they are designed, in big part, to remind me to vote and suggest how to vote.

Q. What do you say to voters who say they’ll “never” vote for the candidate that inundates them with robo calls?

A. Although it costs the consumer time and effort, people who are so taken aback that they would vote against the sponsor of the robo call, the best method of diminishing its use would be to get a phone number for sponsors, call them, and tell them that the phone spam caused me to vote against them. If enough people did that, I suspect that we would reduce their use.

Q. Any other perspective that would be helpful for people (especially the professional communicators who read the TF Blog) to “get” this?

A. I’d caution other messengers to be very careful before adopting every political tactic. For starters, you’d violate “Do Not Call.” But, too, an angered consumer may stop buying your product forever, not just in a single election.

A Chance To Communicate Once Again

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

In my many years in the communications industry I have written nearly everything one can write as well as spoken to countless groups on a myriad of topics.  This past week, with the passing of my father to Alzheimer’s, I wrote his obituary and delivered his eulogy. No amount of experience – career or life – can prepare someone for such events.

My entire life I have focused my interests on various forms of communicating – through music, writing and the spoken word.  Over the last 2-3 years of my dad’s 10-year battle, 2-way communication was often difficult if not impossible. In his final 6 months, it was largely non-existent. When I visited back in July when things appeared dire and hospice care was initiated, he gave me one fleeting look of what might have been recognition. Words were no longer possible for him.

Last Saturday, I received a call from my mom that he was fading. I immediately booked a flight back to Illinois for early the next morning but learned, on the way to the airport, that he had died at 12:45 a.m. In that surreal moment, I recalled a dream I had had the night before which took place in his room at the nursing home. In the dream, though laying down, he was aware, appeared as when he was healthy and was surrounded by a sort of aura. He acknowledged my presence and we spoke very briefly as he understood my words; something we had not been able to do for some time. When I awoke, I recall looking at the clock. It had read a quarter to one.

I share this experience with some trepidation as it is extremely personal. At the same time, writing and speaking of it is both comforting and cathartic. As I said at the eulogy, for the first time in years I feel like I can communicate with my father once again, perhaps like never before. In that way, his loss is a gift.

Abrams Out At Tribune But Innovation Is Far From Over

Friday, October 15th, 2010

More than two years ago, the Tribune Company hired Lee Abrams as its Chief Innovation Officer. We were keeping an eye on Abrams and his efforts to shake up one of the bastions of “old guard” media. Today, Abrams resigned in disgrace after more than a week of some of the worst “bad press” a media company could get. This story summarizes it all.

We consider Abrams a Tanner Friedman inspiration of sorts. His “AFDI” mantra (Actually Bleeping Doing It) is something that guides and motivates us every day (and is also posted on the wall of my office). To us, it’s about accountability, thinking differently and a commitment to doing what you say you’re going to do rather than just having the same meetings over and over again.

Apparently, the role of corporate executive didn’t fit Abrams well. And if you read all of the coverage, you see a company in need of a “fall guy” to stop the PR bleeding (I write this because the unprofessional tone in the company was likely set at the top and Abrams, while falling in line with that culture, was not at the top). But, as a creative and critical thinker, it’s tough to argue with his substance, even if you don’t like his style. An Abrams interview on this blog made the rounds in 2008. Read it again. Do you think it still resonates today?

Abrams’ tenure with Tribune may have ended in disaster, but traditional media companies should not be turned off to the notion of a Chief Innovation Officer. In fact, as newspapers struggle with consumer demand for digital content, television news fights for relevance and radio in need of a revenue boost, every traditional media company should at the very least hire and empower a Chief Innovation Officer

Health Care, Communications Intersect at The Summit

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Today, I joined many Tanner Friedman Health Care clients and more than 500 of the top professionals in that field at the 2010 Health Care Leadership Summit, which was put on by the Crain’s Detroit Business publication. No need for me to recap the sessions, you can read about them on the Crain’s Detroit site. But here are a few “takeaways” I want to share:

-Right now is a fascinating time to do Health Care public relations in Detroit. It was reinforced today that the market is on the cusp of change and Health Care itself faces a similarly pivotal moment. In times of change, communications is so crucial to success.

- Speaking of Health Care change and communications, it’s obvious that the still-new Health Care Reform law at the Federal level has still not been effectively communicated. A national poll revealed this morning by one of the speakers indicated that cable news bickering, rather than actual reporting of what’s in the thousands of pages (and what’s not), has led the public to a point of frustration, rather than understanding. Shame on the politicians who passed the law and the bureaucrats who are enacting it for not figuring out a way to explain it all to the public (they certainly have the money to do it).

-Traditional media outlets can, if they so choose, be important facilitators for future-thinking dialogue. Crain’s was able to use its power to bring together the top leadership in an important field to the region it covers. That led to at least one groundbreaking discussion – one in which I was fortunate to participate – about how Southeast Michigan can better market itself as a high-caliber Health Care destination. No fledgling Web-only outlet can pull that off in the current environment.

-Health Care is an industry that affects literally every household in Metro Detroit. So why isn’t coverage of Health Care more of a priority by regional traditional media? Crain’s covers the business of Health Care – that’s their role. But the daily newspapers have greatly trimmed their coverage in recent years, even as the industry has grown (in a shrinking market). The TV stations seem to only have the staff to do the “diseases and cures” stories. Even with limited newsroom resources, shouldn’t it be more of a priority?

Michigan Media Ignores Old Myth In Debate Coverage

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Governors Race DebateI’m blogging from the “media room” at Detroit Public Television, site of the only scheduled debate between the candidates for Michigan Governor. Here tonight, more than 50 journalists reported from a room next to scene of the debate itself, which happened in a closed TV studio (per debate rules agreed to by both candidates).

The debate was carried live on every Public Television station in the state, along with at least one commercial TV station in the state’s largest markets (including three in Detroit) and on public and commercial radio stations statewide. Additionally, the debate was broadcast live via multiple Webcasts, including two nonprofit websites, where it will stay archived through Election Day. Online, the voter engagement was large on Twitter (check out the action on #midebate) At least one daily newspaper plans eight pages of coverage in Monday’s editions. Organizers say this is the most accessible and covered debate in Michigan’s history.

As I sit watching some of the best journalists in the state craft their stories and examine all of the angles, I am reminded of a myth I heard when I worked in the news business. It went something like this – “The public doesn’t care about politics. They are just interested in the horse race.” So, races are largely ignored (except for controversies in campaigns) until Election Night, when coverage is “blown out” for a few hours. I didn’t agree with that then and I don’t agree with that now. The debate (and another forum we handled media relations for earlier this week at the Detroit Economic Club that drew 450 business leaders on less than a week’s notice) prove that in an age of “robocalls” and attack ads that are uglier than ever, it’s clear that the public wants as close to unfiltered access to candidates in major races that it can get. On nights like this, the combined power of traditional and new media platforms can deliver.

Sure, except for political junkies, the public may not care about “how the sausage is made” in the legislative process. But, in a state like Michigan, at a pivotal time, an election is top-of-mind news. Tonight anyway, media outlets across the streets threw out the old myth and gave the public what it wants and needs. That’s worth noting, especially on a Sunday night, when traditional media coverage is lately bare bones.

“Coffee, Tea or Social Media?” A Reminder That Competition Is Everywhere

Monday, October 4th, 2010

200316557-001I got a call last week from a friend who owns a business. He’s “taking the plunge” he told me. He’s committing to a Social Media campaign in an effort to communicate his business. It all sounded great until he told me who was going to be leading the charge. His receptionist.

For years, I have said that sometimes our competition is not other firms. Sometimes it’s the “DIY” type – the client who says “all of the media knows me, I can do this myself.” He’s usually in OK shape, short-term, until journalists start taking buyouts or the beats start turning over or the news organizations themselves disappear. Other times, though, it’s the “we’ll handle it in-house” type. Except they don’t have any professional communicators in-house. So, they have the office manager send out their press releases. It may get a little news printed, but that’s it (and that’s not the point).

Now, there’s this example. The rationale (or rationalization) in this case is two-fold, my friend implied. This receptionist is young – half his age. And, of course, he won’t have to pay her any extra to take on extra responsibility, even something she is not qualified to do. She may be an intelligent person with a very bright future. But, she is not a professional communicator. She may have spent countless hours on Facebook interacting with friends, but is she the best person to craft the company’s message in front of a universe of half a billion people?

Over the years, all of us in the agency business (especially those of us who work with large, global corporations as well as locally-based small businesses) have seen these situations. The business owners seem to feel good about having control and saving money. But how many of them are really successful, over the long term, communicating strategically and building their brands while building their businesses? None that I have ever seen.

In talking with other professionals, it appears that those of us in communications face this challenge alone. Law firms don’t have to worry about a receptionist being asked to make arguments in court because they are “good at talking.” Accountants don’t have to worry about a client taking their tax preparation work in-house because a receptionist is “good at spreadsheets.” But, because our profession doesn’t require state certification, it can be dismissed as something a receptionist can do.

What can we do about it? Sometimes it’s as simple as shrugging our collective shoulders and reminding each other that those who seek “free” solutions are getting what they pay for. But, it should also be a reminder that competition is everywhere. So, for the clients who “get it” we have to provide value every day.

A Multi-Media Toast

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Multimedia(1)While Facebook and Twitter provide an opportunity for an on-going “mini dialogue” of thoughts and perspectives, blogging, of course, allows for more in depth commentary on a particular topic. This week, I am combining the three social media platforms for a Tweet + Blog + Post as I “Toast” a few of my latest multi-media “favorite things.”

Television: While many argue either that there is nothing on TV, or, that the only true creativity is on cable, I continue to be “wowed” by the great writing on NBC’s “30 Rock” and “The Office.” A recent episode of the former featured recurring guest Matt Damon questioning why Geico Insurance would have three different spokespersons (gecko, caveman and the lame Rod Serling imitator).  On the latter, new office building owner Dwight bragged to Jim of his newly expanded key ring: “The more expansive the key ring, the more important the man.” Countered Jim: “So says the custodian.”

Advertising: Though the theme is incredibly hokey, I like the new Southwest Airline commercials, “Good Copy, Bag Cop,” which feature airline ground crews policing airlines that charge for luggage. These denizens of justice race down runways alongside taxiing airplanes with their logos “blurred” ala the TV show “Cops.” The only thing missing is the classic tagline of previous Southwest spots: “You are now free to move about the country.”

Newspaper: I never thought I would say it, but I now prefer the digital versions of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press to the actual paper. The digital News and Freep are bright and easy to read and the virtual page turning function is fun to utilize. Now, the powers that be have unveiled an improved interface for quicker, simpler accessibility. Well done.

Radio: Thought not exactly new, many have yet to discover the AOL Radio cell phone application. The app enables you to access virtually any CBS radio station across the country over almost every format. As such, your cell phone can become, for all intents and purposes, a 21st century transistor radio or Walkman. With Ford’s Synch system, you can also stream in your car. Radio junkies never had it so good.

For me, this “Toast” has been cathartic during a week in which my travel schedule had me too busy to post or tweet. Now to get that Julie Andrews song out of my head…