Archive for March, 2011

GM Stands For Great (PR) Move

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

In this era of instant online criticism and overreaction, the PR “fails” seem to get all of the attention. So, it’s important to note when someone – particularly a big corporation – absolutely nails taking advantage of a PR opportunity.

One of the best examples in a while is what General Motors did this week at their plant in Orion Township, Michigan. The plant is being readied to produce GM’s next generation of small cars. So, the company took advantage of an unusual opportunity to open up its assembly line training to more than a dozen regional and automotive journalists.

As you can see in this Detroit TV story and this Forbes.com blog, GM allowed journalists to experience some of what it’s like to work on an auto assembly line. Teams of journalists were given GM trainers to see if they could meet the company’s quality standards under realistic, simulated conditions. This resulted in honest, humorous and revealing coverage. The results were some of the best traditional media relations clips I’ve seen in a long time.

This one-of-a-kind access, which was relatively inexpensive, allowed GM to:

-Remind its audiences that it will soon be producing a new line of small cars
-Reiterate that those cars will be built in the Detroit area and in the U.S.
-Importantly, show respect for its blue collar workforce
-Underscore its message of quality
-Generate some “buzz” at the end of the first quarter
-Attract journalists to leave their desks and actually want into a company facility, something increasingly difficult to accomplish
-Enhance the relationships with those journalists

Every day in this country, thousands of press releases are distributed. Few ever make news or even communicate messages. In this case, GM broke the old corporate press release model and used creativity, access and relationships to actually tell a story and deliver messages. Great Move.

And Then There Was Media

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

As we continue to examine ethics in the public relations industry, let’s close our 3-part “mini-series” with a look at media.

From local to regional to national and print to broadcast to online, most of us in the PR field work with members of the media each and every day. Some of us even worked as journalists prior to embarking on a second career.  And in this realm what would you say is the most important dynamic of interacting with the media? Securing placements for your client? I would argue that, rather, it is about building and maintaining trust.  How?

Professional Interaction:  This gets back to exhibiting mutual respect and professionalism at all times. Yelling at a journalist? Not a good idea; yet, it happens and lives on in newsrooms, spreading among reporter colleagues. Threatening an editor on behalf of a client that advertising will be pulled if a story doesn’t change will also ensure your credibility is diminished to zero.

Respect for the In-Basket: Reporters and editors receive a lot of pitches. Is yours truly newsworthy or are you pitching mall puppet shows to CNN? Is it going to the individual whose beat is appropriate to the story or are you wildly firing bullets out to random media lists hoping something sticks? Once your firm’s letterhead becomes synonymous with “junk” that is exactly the file where your press releases and media alerts will end up.

Terms: A reporter at a prominent business publications once told me how another PR firm repeatedly gave big stories on a particular client to his competition while pitching lesser stories to him.  Are you routinely promising “firsts” and “exclusives”? That’s fine as long as you spread the wealth and take care of everyone at some point.

Appropriate use of Media: The goal of most media is to tell the news with an unbiased perspective.  As such, PR professionals should always exercise respect for the medium. A counter to that is a firm putting forth a smear campaign, via press release and newswire on behalf of one client owed money by another entity. This entity subsequently sued client and PR firm and, rightfully, won.  A 5-figure lesson learned.  Telling an assignment desk, similarly, that they should send out a crew to an event because there are “hundreds on site” when there are not? Unethical.

Remember: Be ethical in how you operate and all that you do. It’s truly a reflection of who you are. It also reflects on our profession as a whole.

Client Communication Demands Honesty, Transparency

Monday, March 28th, 2011

This blog is the second in a series of three on ethics, post PRSSA Conference presentation at Central Michigan University.  While the previous entry examined ethics with colleagues, this time we look at client interaction. How do you work with clients and vice versa?

At Tanner Friedman, we communicate with all of our clients with total transparency at all times.  It starts with mutual respect on both sides of the table and forming a business relationship aimed at shared goals, successes and building trust. The collaboration must make sense for both parties. For example, does the scope of a particular engagement require a monthly retainer, or, does a project fee make more sense? In the end, it’s about client and PR firm feeling good about time and dollars spent and bottom line results.

Honesty should start from the very first phone call with a potential client. We will not take on a new client that competes with an existing one. If there is any question, we notify both the current and potential client of each other and let them make the final decision. I know of one firm who once worked with three different, competing retailers – two located on the same street just a block or so away! When this firm held an agency open house, the three met. Soon after, all were looking for a new PR firm.

Over the course of a particular engagement, there are many areas where an unethical PR firm has been known to stray.  One is in tracking time. Some firms have been known to (and been sued for) padding their time. We are aware of firms who will routinely call for extra client meetings and then take several individuals along, when one or two would suffice.  Moreover, account leads, mindful that their client will look over time breakouts but knowing they spent little or no time on the account, will delete a colleague’s name from a particular task listing and replace it with their own (or just add in phantom time).

And then there is the inevitable client transition and how that is handled (or not, appropriately). A firm that tells a non-profit client who needs to cut hours for budgetary reasons they will not be guaranteed the same team. Another berates clients when they choose to move on. I know of one case in fact where a company CEO was threatened with board action by a PR firm partner. Later, when this same PR firm was pitching another company, guess who the decision maker served on a committee with? Yep. The CEO of the previous company. Next time: media.

Conference Examines Ethical Behavior

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

We blog a lot about ethics and treating people the right way day-to- day and moment-to-moment.  That’s why it was particularly rewarding to be asked to speak on the topic over the weekend at Central Michigan University’s PRSSA Annual Conference. From the definition of the word ‘ethics’ to the importance of setting a foundation and following particular principles, a range of topics, including many real world (albeit anonymous), examples were discussed.

Over the course of the next three blogs, I’m going to recount the three primary areas covered with the CMU students with regard to audiences we should all behave ethically toward: colleagues, clients and media. This time: Colleagues.

One area of particular interest to attendees was career-pathing and the right of all professionals to be provided with proper guidance and feedback from superiors in order to grow and succeed. Telling someone in a review to “keep on doing what you are doing” and then berating them for not possessing particular skills at a later point is obviously the opposite of an ethical approach to employee communications. So is continuing to put someone on small clients, deciding the individual is not a  fit for larger initiatives, and then refusing to give them a decent salary increase each year as their “billables are not high enough.”

Over my more than 30-year career and positions in radio, print journalism and public relations, I have seen it all: the good, the bad and the terrible. Individuals being yelled at; others having items thrown at them; those not supported by management when clients are unethical; still others being physically threatened.  These occurred not in prisons or backstreets, mind you but in “professional” work settings.  Unethical if not bordering on litigious examples all.

Such shameful tactics are  aimed at keeping employees “down”, “in a box”, “under control.”  And when such employees leave and, down the road, are in decision makers role to perhaps hire outside support, do you think their former employers stand a chance in (you know what) of getting the business? Not a chance – and an appropriate comeuppance.  Next time: ethics with clients.

Listeners Still Doin’ The “Boot Scoot” For Country Music, Radio

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The rumors of radio’s death are greatly exaggerated…might go the mantra from the industry after the release, in recent days, of a new study sponsored by the Country Music Association and Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc. and conducted by North Carolina-based media research firm Coleman Insights.

For the study, 5,000 P1 Country radio listeners (aged 12-64) were polled on their music consumption habits and feelings on the state of Country Music overall. Nearly 200 industry professionals were also polled in order to compare and contrast their perceptions with the consumers they serve.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Consumers perceive the overall state of Country Music more positively than professionals in the industry do
  • Radio is the medium through which consumers feel “most connected” to Country Music
  • Radio remains the top medium for discovering new music
  • New media usage (i.e. social media, smartphones, websites) continues to increase among all age demographics, demonstrating growth patterns consistent with those in other formats.

Thus, the study seems to confirm, the overall perception of Country Music by its core consumers remains extremely positive, while, the general health of Country radio is strong. And, while listeners are continuing to find new means of music consumption via emerging technologies, they are not undermining Country radio’s connection with its listeners. Indeed, as we have written about previously, radio is wise to embrace and utilize such technology for continued brand awareness and loyalty.

The State Of The Media Is Change

Monday, March 21st, 2011

It continues to amaze us that with all of the changes in the media that are evident everywhere we look, we still hear so much denial and clinging to the way things used to be. In order to be successful in working with traditional and emerging media, it’s important to understand how quickly things are changing. That’s why we recommend spending time with the results of the extensive Pew Center research in The State of the Media 2011.

Some highlights:

-Newspaper newsrooms are, on average, 30 percent smaller than they were in 2000. That includes the biggest dailies and the smallest. I heard today about one large market daily that has reduced its business reporting staff from 12 to 4 in the past six years. Fewer journalists create less news.

-47% of those surveyed say they get some form of local news via a mobile device. That’s not a future number – that’s now.

-This is the first time in at least 12 years that the mean audience declined for all three cable news channels. Maybe “Scream TV” isn’t so popular when you can get your news, in peace, online? Online news consumption is up more than 17 percent from last year while cable news viewing is down nearly 14 percent.

-The most consistent medium is radio. 93% of people surveyed listen to AM and/or FM radio at some point during the week. That’s down just 3% in ten years. However, those who say they got news from the radio “yesterday” is down from 43 to 34 percent in ten years. We think that’s because of the mega-owners of radio stations that cut news altogether to save money. Simply put, if you live many of places in America, radio news is not an option for you.

If you work with or even in traditional media – the report is a must-read. If you think that you understand media just because you consume it your way, it’s also worth your time.

Traditional Media Steps Up In Times of Crisis

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

While Matt and I don’t often blog on the same topics (especially not in the same week), the world-changing events of the past few days in Japan, in particular where news and communications are concerned, are quite worthy of much examination.

What struck me most was how we as news consumers, despite our day-to-day use of online and social media to remain informed, in the wake of disaster, still rely so much on broadcast media for up-to-the-minute words and pictures. Who hasn’t been riveted to the television and radio to see and hear the very latest of the on-going crisis.

Matt touched on the vast resources that the national and international news outlets bring to bear for such events, providing credibility, accuracy and top, experienced journalists from a range of locations, not to mention the analysis of scores of experts.  It’s a combination you just can’t find anywhere else – certainly not online to the same breadth and degree.

It has also been rewarding, albeit bittersweet due to the tragedy, to have the national news networks, such as CNN and, in particular CNN Headline News, getting “back to basics” with actual continuing newscasts. I’ve been incredibly disappointed in recent years, with news networks that have become more about talk shows and talking heads than actual straightforward news reporting. Nothing like coming home from a late event in hopes of catching a quick TV news update only to find a replay of Joy Beyhar pontificating – on HNN!

Once again traditional news media steps up like no one else can in times of trouble, helping us try to make sense of it all.

Can We Consider The “Nobody Cares About International News” Myth Officially Busted?

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

13 years ago today, I produced my last TV newscast. Walking out the door of the TV station and into a new career direction, I carried with me a set of what I thought were facts about what the public cared about and what it didn’t.

Much of what I learned in my time in broadcast news has helped guide me in strategy and day-to-day decision-making in my “new” career and will continue to for years to come. But, in the years since that final broadcast in 1998, I have realized that some of what my management preached at multiple stations amounts to a set of myths that have been rationalized during years of cutbacks.

One myth that I believe has been busted, if not shattered, this year is that “people don’t care about International news.” I think that is a convenient assumption made as American news organizations, driven by corporate mandates, cut costs by closing bureaus around the world. It’s true that we care much more, on a day-to-day basis about our own backyard than something halfway around the world. But, as we have seen in recent months by the crisis in Egypt, the situation in Libya and, this week, the earthquake in Japan (the story of the miners in Chile last year is another example), big news anywhere in the world can rivet Americans.

We live in a more globally connected world, thanks to technology and a changing economy. Americans really know (more often personally) that what happens in places like China and India can affect their lives directly. We are also fighting two wars on foreign soil that have affected many American families. Meanwhile, too many news organizations believe that we “don’t care” about what happens overseas. Research, depending on how questions are asked, probably supports that. But, in times like this, it’s obvious that Americans do care about “big stories” wherever they take place at a time when technology helps tell them better than ever before.

This week in Japan, business news organizations, like the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, were actually the best equipped to cover the earthquake right away. They cover the global economy with journalists “on the ground” in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. But the American TV networks relied on Japanese TV feeds and, in one case, a correspondent in London (did they figure, “hey, it’s international?”) to tell the stories as they were breaking.

So Americans do care about International news. That’s a fact. But so is this – we, as a culture, really care about celebrity news. Remember, it’s the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston breakup that knocked the South Asian Tsunami “off the front page” in 2005. So Charlie Sheen doesn’t have to worry. Even with the world’s attention in Japan, the national media are waiting for his next stunt. That’s something that hasn’t changed in 13 years.

Fantasy Becomes Reality At Media Gathering

Monday, March 7th, 2011

This past weekend, for the 20th time, I attended the annual Banquet for alumni and students of WJPZ radio, the student-run station at Syracuse University, where I spent four years practicing the craft of communications. I last wrote about the event in 2009, as media changes smacked us between the eyes. The station has always been one-of-a-kind – a professional CHR (“Top 40″) format and often a ratings contender in a real-life medium-sized market.

The Banquet is also one-of-a-kind. In a typical year like, it attracts about 50-100 alumni from around the country (to Upstate New York’s snow belt in March!) – from freshly-minted broadcasters getting their feet wet to industry leaders who are decades out of school. This year, our keynote speaker was Matthew Berry, who is a widely popular Fantasy Sports analyst across all of ESPN’s platforms. Berry and I overlapped in school. He was an acquaintance with whom I shared several mutual friends, but I did not know him well. That’s because he hosted the station’s morning show when I was the news director and was having so much fun at night that I scheduled staff members to handle news in the mornings while I spent my on-air time in “afternoon drive.” Those who were up early in those days tell me he was very talented and funny, which is not surprising.

Part of Berry’s compelling keynote speech focused on how he was able to build his career and carve out a niche as the Internet was making an enormous impact on sports and on media. One of his secrets to success, he told the group, was how he developed and maintained a brand that allowed him to become recognized as a leader in his niche field. To accomplish that, he spent time and sacrificed money, to build his brand through, essentially, the power of PR, through media interviews and a website that provided compelling content to a growing audience.

The advice he dispensed was familiar to me as it mirrors what we tell our clients. Your brand is what distinguishes a person, organization or business. Communicating that brand effectively allows you to accomplish your goals. Living up to your brand promise allows your brand to be sustainable.

Matthew Berry successfully transitioned from Hollywood screenwriter to “The Talented Mr. Roto” online to valued ESPN expert – recognized instantly by fans (I saw that first hand, as soon as he arrived on campus Friday night to the clicks of camera phones when spotted by onlookers).

If you had told us back in school that one of us would develop a global brand by talking about, as Berry put it “fake sports” it really would have sounded like a fantasy. Today, it’s a reality for him, thanks to sound branding and PR.

Detroit Regional Chamber Elevates Business

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

This past week provided another opportunity for Tanner Friedman to speak on communications – this time at the request of the Detroit Regional Chamber as we helped inaugurate their “Elevate” business series.

What was different about this presentation was that rather than focusing on a particular platform or tool, I was asked to go over “the basics”; specifically, what is PR, marketing and advertising (and how one can utilize all for a well-rounded, multi-tiered approach). By the way, I had about 20 minutes to do this!

When we talk about strategic communications (our firm’s tagline), we are describing what we do for our clients, namely, helping them to “tell their stories.”  Thus, public relations is a medium that allows you to do this, using a range of tools,  including:

-Traditional media: TV, radio, newspapers, magazines (and their online counterparts—another presenter went through social media). Like no other medium, PR provides ‘third party credibility.’

-Marketing: Website, e-blasts, (e)-newsletters direct mail, brochures, sales materials, conferences/trade shows, association involvement. We look at these marketing avenues, in fact, as ideal ways for clients to “tell their own stories” in light of shrinking news holes while also leveraging traditional media coverage,  beyond original air and publications dates.

-Advertising: Finally, when discussing this avenue, we went through how various ad venues present particular advantages for audience targeting. Cable TV and billboards, for example, allow for pinpointing potential customers geographically, while, radio is better suited for honing in on demographics related to age, gender and income.

For the complete powerpoint on “The Basics” via SlideShare click here.