Archive for November, 2010

What If You Had A Crisis And The Public Didn’t Really Care?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

We know from experience that a strike that essentially shuts down an organization can be among the most significant crisis anyone could ever face. We have been on those PR front lines before, on behalf of a client.

But right now in Detroit, one organization is in that situation and the public barely seems to notice. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s musicians went on strike nearly two months ago. The strike has attracted local and some national news attention as the story centers, of course, around money. The organization, like many arts groups nationwide and many nonprofits in Detroit, faces a revenue shortfall. The musicians aren’t interested in drastic pay cuts. The strike has put the entire Symphony performing season, and maybe its future altogether, in peril.

But the strike has not permeated the community dialogue. Unlike many labor disputes over the years, this one seems not to have risen to the surface as a frequent topic of conversation, outside of classical music fans. It seems as if the public, at large, just doesn’t care what happens. If that is, indeed, the case, it’s harmful to both sides.

If the community realizes that it can live without the Symphony during this time, then there won’t be a Symphony and the musicians won’t have jobs to return to at any pay scale. That fact is what ended the National Hockey League’s labor dispute a few years ago. Both sides began to realize that even sports fans were getting used to live without the NHL. So, they figured out a way to start playing again (with the players, primarily, capitulating).

Opportunity can often result from crisis. But, in this case, the public doesn’t seem to be treating it as a crisis. And that, for all involved, could be a missed opportunity.

Give Thanks If You’re In Better PR Shape Than The TSA

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Reportedly, two million Americans will travel by air over the Thanksgiving long weekend. That’s a small percentage of the nation. But, it’s a safe bet that around virtually every dinner table, families will be talking about the new security rules that have caused more pre-holiday “buzz” than any Black Friday sale.

The new “empty your pockets and be full body scanned or face an intrusive patdown” policy had led headline writers to refer to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration as the “embattled TSA.” Anytime the media routinely puts the word “embattled” before your title or organization name, then it’s obviously you have a Public Relations problem.

The PR lesson here is simple. No unit of the Federal Government – no cabinet secretary, no spokesperson, no press release – has adequately explained WHY the equipment, procedures and rules are in place. Nobody attempted to sell this to the public. Nobody has convinced us that all of this can prevent a terrorist attack.

There’s an adage I learned early in my career that “If you don’t speak for yourself, other will speak for you.” Because the Government has not made its case, then would-be protestors and self-proclaimed passenger advocates, as well as those who have experienced patdown horror stories, are controlling the dialogue. If we don’t understand something, how can we possibly support it?

Then again, these are the same Government agencies that still have not explained to us why the Ziploc bag can be the greatest weapon in the War on Terror (if the stuff is in your luggage, does a plastic bag really help?). So, this holiday season, regardless of the challenge you face as a communicator, be thankful you don’t work for the TSA, where you would be the victim of a bureaucracy that can’t tell its story.

What am I thankful for? The First Amendment. Without it, I couldn’t have written this blog entry or even pursue my chosen career. That’s something that should never be taken for granted. Happy Thanksgiving from the Tanner Friedman Team.

Music Lovers To Beatles: I’m Down(Loading)

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Nearly a decade after iTunes first began selling music, that of arguably the greatest band ever – The Beatles – finally reached the digital world this week.

Timing overall was interesting, coming a year after EMI re-released The Beatles’ CD catalogue and just a couple of weeks after the 70th anniversary of John Lennon’s birth. The planets, you might say, were all in alignment – 30 years after Lennon’s tragic death and 40 years after the release of the band’s last record of new material (“Let it Be” in 1970).

Early returns on initial downloads and consumer preferences are particularly intriguing.  While many often cite John Lennon as the group’s true artistic genius, the top U.S. single is the George Harrison penned, “Here Comes The Sun.” In the UK, McCartney’s influence reigns supreme with “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” the top 2 Beatles single downloads, along with the classic Isley Brothers cover of “Twist and Shout,” with John on lead vocals.

Also intriguing is that in a digital world where single downloads rule, as of this afternoon, 12 Beatles albums are in the Top 40 with three in the Top 10: Abbey Road” is #3, “The Beatles (White Album) is #9 and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is #10.  Looking more closely at the top 25, we find “1967-1970″ is #11, “1962-1966″ is #15, The Beatles Box Set is #16, “Rubber Soul” is #18, “Magical Mystery Tour” is #23 and “Revolver” is #25. Also, in the Top 40: “Let It Be” (#30), “A Hard Day’s Night” (#31) and “Please Please Me” (#40).

The takeaways here? Despite being traditionally ignored by the record industry, baby boomers and their contemporaries do still consume music and can be marketed to successfully  (especially when the product is top notch). Artists of all generations, meanwhile, understand they need to be where both their existing and potential fans are.

Do Your Due Diligence When Seeking New Strategic Partners

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

So you are looking for a new strategic business partner, perhaps even a professional services firm. How do you go about really and truly checking out prospects before making a final decision to hire them?

I am continually amazed at how certain companies continue to garner work in spite of a questionable reputation. There is absolutely no way such organizations would get hired had those signing them done their homework. In the spirit of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware), we offer, then, a few suggestions:

(1) Use Google: Google the name of the organization you are considering working with and see what comes up in terms of news and news coverage. Also be sure to look beyond the first page for older information. It’s hard to hide from Google.

(2) Talk to former clients: And we’re talking beyond those listed on a reference sheet. Ask about the relationship including the circumstances of the parting (and how that parting went). It’s worth asking.

(3) Talk to former employees: If possible, seek out individuals who used to work with the organization. You would be surprised what useful information you can cull from those willing to provide a few nuggets of perspective. You can learn a lot even when reading between the lines.

(4) Talk to the media: Call a newsroom and/or place an inquiry with a reporter or editor. Though they may not be willing to field a direct question about a particular entity you can always ask them what entities in a particular field they feel have the best reputation. If the company you are considering is rarely or never mentioned, that should tell you something.

(5) Check out their website and social media platforms: Are they using the avenues appropriately and effectively, with honesty, integrity and transparency? Who they are and what they are about, in their words and pictures, is right there for exploration.

Though most of us have long-since graduated from an institution of higher learning, when it comes to corporate sleuthing, the homework should never end.

True Story: A TV Station Serving Its Community

Monday, November 15th, 2010

This weekend, I returned to St. Paul, Minnesota for the first time in two years for the innovative Girls & Science event, organized by the Fox-owned station in the Twin Cities, KMSP-TV. The event continues to be a model of how locally-based traditional media can remain relevant even in the face of cuts and competition.

25 months ago I wrote this blog post, detailing my impressions of the event upon experiencing it for the first time. This year, with our client back as a participant, my feelings since then have strengthened.

Over the past two years, too many traditional media outlets have abandoned their role as a community convener. Local media has become less local than ever before as resources have evaporated. But the best and the smartest local traditional media outlets understand that in order to preserve their brands, their audiences and, ultimately, their revenue streams, they must remain visible and active in their communities. There is no better example of that than what KMSP-TV does with this event.

Instead of copping out, this station has stepped up. The event is bigger than ever before, as they have partnered with community organizations like the Girl Scouts, to help it grow. Even in the face of an early season snowstorms, thousands of girls and their families were on hand last Saturday to participate. The station was able to fill a community void, help out a local cultural gem (the impressive Science Museum of Minnesota), create memorable on-air content, engage their audience and even earn some money from sponsorships.

While just about everything involving media continues to change, one thing has not. The communities where audiences live and work still matter to the people who live and work there. Media outlets that respect that fact will, in the long run, be rewarded with high attendance and high ratings. As we tell our clients, good PR is simply good business.

Should Kanye Go West?

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

If there was such a thing as a Kanye West doll its instructions for operation might go something like this: (1) Take foot; (2) Open mouth; (3) Insert foot into mouth; (4) Repeat. After all, has there been a celebrity in recent memory that repeatedly “steps in it” like he has over the past year?  From the Taylor Swift debacle at the 2009 VMAs to, more recently, publicly accusing former President Bush of racism to his current feud with the Today Show, one can’t help but wonder: What is he thinking? And, is his image repairable?

Evidently in the wake of the Bush comments and in advance of the Today Show appearance, West had hired a media relations consultant, who, according to news reports, lasted just a couple of days (it’s not clear who fired whom). Judging by his ongoing travails (including a series of “explanatory” Twitter posts that he later deleted), he seems to be making it up as he goes along rather than looking before he leaps.

What should Kanye West do next? First, he needs to think long and hard about his image – who he wants to be and how he wants to be portrayed – and then think about it some more. Does he aspire to be a spokesperson or activist for his generation or race? If so, he has failed miserably in his chosen issues, venues and overall timing.

Normally after you apologize for a particular transgression it is advisable to keep your mouth shut and behave if not disappear entirely for a time. Then, when you do reemerge, it is vital that you conduct yourself with proper decorum, demonstrating you have turned over a new leaf.  The old adages: ‘time heals all wounds’ and ‘people are forgiving’ can come to bear IF you play the game the right way.  With a new album about to break, Kanye is here to stay for the time being. If he wants to stick around for a career, he’s better come out with a new workout plan – and fast.

Let The Corporate Bullies Beat Themselves Up

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

As I began writing this blog I discovered that November marks both national and international anti-bullying days. Synchronicity perhaps?

As a member of the corporate world for more than two decades, I have long since left behind the days of the school yard and the bullies who often roamed there, preying upon innocent victims.  Still, we all must unfortunately encounter the mean-spirited of the business world from time to time – those that use not their fists but their position or station in life to psychologically badger and belittle.

Such individuals don’t try to steal your lunch money but, rather, your dignity. They threaten not with physical size but, quite often, with your job. The corporate bully intimidates and extorts and seeks to rule the roost just like his grade school counterpart (and with a similar I.Q.).

The funny thing is, these people, we know well from Psychology 101, are actually cowards. They seek to strike fear because they themselves are insecure and fearful, ill-equipped to lead or manage people. Rather, they actually seem to enjoy chaos, confrontation and conflict.

Of course, the best way to deal with the corporate bully is not to lower yourself to their level. Rather, professionalism and decorum are the wooden stakes and silver crosses to these vampires of the boardroom – a methodology by which you can preserve your reputation (and sanity) while, over time, they ruin theirs with a permanent, self-inflicted black eye.

Conan To “Cable” Is Really No Big Deal

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The journalists who cover television are shrinking in numbers but, overall, have held their own as a group during a challenging time. Many more of them than not have worked hard to learn “the business” and can talk the talk with those of us who actually worked in it. But, with late-night host Conan O’Brien starting his new show on TBS tonight, too many TV writers have focused on a non-story.

Much has been made of O’Brien’s show moving to “cable.” “Cable” is the term that writers use to describe any channel that doesn’t broadcast over-the-air via local affiliates in a system designed for radio in the 1930s. Basically, a “cable” channel is any channel, except for Fox, that wasn’t on your TV in the 1970s.

None of this matters to Conan’s core audience of 18 to 34 year olds. Let’s use the town where I grew up (and now live) as an example. We got cable in 1985. TBS was part of the basic package then (showing lots of Andy Griffith reruns, Atlanta Braves baseball and other shows that started at :05). So the 18 year olds were still 7 years away from being born and the 34 year olds were 9 when TBS came on in my town. There aren’t many members of the core Conan audience who remember life before TBS. As one of my colleagues in that age range put it today, “TBS is just another channel.”

So while Conan on TBS may not win the “beauty contest” of carrying its time slot, it makes sense for the show’s demographic. As long as that audience, long indifferent to or literally unaware of any broadcast/cable distinction, watches – TBS and its corporate parent will make money. When we talk about “the business” – that’s really all that matters.

Coach Rodriguez Shows Desperation, Arrogance By Blaming Media

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Whether it’s a politician, a CEO or a head football coach – when it’s time to blame the media for your problems, that’s when you know that the problems are huge and getting out of control.

Here’s the latest example – University of Michigan Football Coach Rich Rodriguez. In his third season of leading college football’s all-time winningest program, Rodriguez has presided over more on-field losing and off-field issues than the school has seen in generations. His record in Big Ten games is just 4-16. His defense is giving up yardage and points in unprecedented fashion. His school is waiting to hear about its first NCAA penalties in football, ever. But as reported by the Detroit Free Press’ Mark Synder on this blog, as the coach addressed his weekly press conference today, he blames the negative attention on the media’s zest for negativity. Right.

As Don noted earlier today in his post about campaigns, it can be human nature, and the media’s, to chase negativity. But, sports is the exception. The sports media, especially in a local market, has little, if anything to gain, from negative news. In sports – winning sells. When teams win big games, fans actually buy paper copies of the newspapers for souvenirs. When teams win, TV and radio ratings go up. Two winning teams in a matchup will always attract more interest than two losing teams. In the sports media business, winning is good for ratings.

Rodriguez seems to be yet another egomaniac in a high-profile position who cannot accept responsibility for his own actions. Like the politician embroiled in scandal who points the finger at media “out to get him” or a CEO of a failing company that blames it on “negative press,” Rodriguez seems like he would rather not be accountable. For that, and the inexcusably poor grammar in today’s statement to the media (“that don’t sell”), I say that the University and its fans deserve better.

It’s Status Quo On The Negative Campaign Ads Trail

Monday, November 1st, 2010

While everyone says they are tired of the endless parade of negative campaign ads, are they, in fact, effective in influencing votes?

The research on the topic is divided. Some studies indicate that candidates who attack other candidates run the risk of turning off their constituents. Others show that the electronic mudslinging diatribes are more likely to be paid attention to by potential votes and, thus, are worthwhile.

Judging by the sheer volume of venom currently clogging the airwaves, one would imagine that they are being suggested and pushed by political consultants because they are, indeed powerful influencers.

Just think of the news coverage (and blogs) that are generated around such ads which, in turn, cite specific examples and play said messages over and over again (not going to happen here), sometimes on a national scale.

Just as bad news turns heads and grabs front page headlines, “bad behavior” seems destined to continue to be the political path most chosen – with “taking the high road” a much distant second.