Archive for June, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities’ PR Realities

Monday, June 27th, 2011

On the same day that Illinois’ Governor was found guilty of Federal corruption charges, I was on the radio in Detroit giving this interview on how turnover in Mayor Dave Bing’s administration would affect the City’s image.

Talk about “a tale of two cities.” In Chicago, based on initial coverage, there isn’t much worry about the city’s image despite the fact that a product of its political system is headed to prison for the foreseeable future. In Detroit, though, executive staff turnover is a “black eye for the City.” That’s because in Detroit, when it comes to PR, there is no margin for error.

Like a company struggling to rebuild its image after years of exhibiting poor customer service, Detroit has a tough communications road ahead, but one filled with opportunity. Because of dubious events in history, Detroit carries heavy baggage. For example, cold weather during the Super Bowl here was widely reported, while an ice storm in 2000 that essentially shut down Atlanta during its Super Bowl was not mentioned during the national TV broadcast. Also, the recent political scandals seem to bite harder and last longer in the national spotlight. Even car owners blame problems with their vehicles on “Detroit.”

Meanwhile, Chicago seems to enjoy almost Teflon protection. It continues to be the region Metro Detroiters envy and remains a magnet for young people who grow up and/or are educated in Michigan. Its big city problems are seemingly ignored because of its upside. Just last week, while in the Chicagoland area on business, I saw a TV news story about high unemployment. I even felt raindrops as I walked under cloudy skies. I did not, however, see any streets paved with gold.

Now, I enjoy visiting Chicago very much. It’s one of my favorite places to go in this part of the country and I have a trip planned for a few weeks from now. But, it’s important to remember that Chicago is part of the Real World.

With cities and regions, like companies and people, reputation is everything. Changing reputations takes time, effort and a real commitment to a unified effort – something Detroit still needs now, as much as ever.

Kwame Kilpatrick Still Doesn’t Get It

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Last week for the first time ever, I watched the classic prison film, “Shawshank Redemption,” starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Earlier that day, Father’s Day, Kwame Kilpatrick tweeted that he missed his children and looked forward to getting home and becoming a father again to his three boys. On Friday, that wish came true. For the sake of his family, good for him.

How disappointing, then, to read that he will be appearing in DonDiva magazine, which bills itself as “the Original Street Bible” with features on gangsters, rappers and prisoners. In the magazine he characteristically still blames others for his downfall, including Wayne County Circuit Court Judge David Groner, who he says was hard on him as a political  re-election tactic.  Kilpatrick does, uncharacteristically, put some of the blame on himself; although one moment he is ostracizing his flashiness, and the next he is again playing the blame game (and the race card): “[Many] were used to their leadership, especially the African- Americans leaders, being more docile and asking them for permission to do things,” he is quoted as saying.

I’m often asked how I would counsel Kwame Kilpatrick if he were a client. That’s easy. I’d tell him to start being a man. To keep his mouth shut, blame no one but himself and pay his restitution. Period.

With federal charges still to be faced will Kwame Kilpatrick ever truly be “rehabilitated.” To answer that, let me go back to ‘Shawshank” and the final parole board monologue from Morgan Freeman’s character, Red: “Rehabilitated? It’s just a bulls%$t word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a s%$t.”

Let’s Give Them Something To Read About

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

It’s interesting and perhaps telling that just as I was sitting down tonight to write this blog on newspapers, Matt published his on the same medium. Gannett’s announcement today actually fits right into what I continue to lament: the continued shrinking of local news content.

Let’s start with this dynamic in its simplest form. When I first began in PR nearly 17 years ago, one of the most basic tactics in the field involved personnel announcements – writing and distributing a press release to the hometown paper of client news/accolades accompanied by their photo. Typically, within a week or so, the release and photo would run in the “People” section of the paper. Those, of course, were the days when this particular section ran in virtually every newspaper everyday. Today, you’re lucky if it runs once a week if at all.

Similarly, I recently spent time at an event with one of the area’s finest, long-time society writers. We both lamented the fact that the society pages are often a mere shadow of their former selves. Thinner papers mean less space for news overall and that is now comprised, more often than not, of reader-sought-after content related to the automotive industry and sports.

My contention, whether for local newspapers, television or radio, is that local content should remain king. When someone’s announcement and photo appear in the paper, what is the first thing that person does? Typically, they buy more copies. And then they tell their family and friends and they may well do the same. AP wire reports on national news we can get anywhere. And, if there’s no room in the physical paper, isn’t online space virtually limitless?

I would humbly suggest to the powers that be to not lose sight of what makes their medium stand out from all others. After all, doesn’t it follow that covering more of your readers more often will encourage readership?

More Newspaper Cuts Can’t Help Newspapers (Or Their Websites)

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Another 700 journalists across the country found out today that they’re losing their jobs. It’s the latest in a series of ongoing newsroom job cuts by Gannett, the company that owns more newspapers (and their websites) than any other. This story by the well respected Poynter Institute reveals the internal communication that was used and reminds us that the company’s CEO took a seven-figure bonus and a 100% salary increase earlier this year.

This move may be good for the company’s financial reports in the short term, but it’s simply not good for its business or its industry in the long term. Fewer journalists means less local news content and less value to the people who pay the mounting bills – advertisers, subscribers and website clickers.

By cutting where the customers actually notice, news organizations just deepen their issues. We have said it before and we will say it again – Content Is King. If the generators of local news and information continue to be reduced, consumers will go elsewhere looking for that content, exploring multiple platforms, and advertisers will follow.

While it’s easy to blame current company management, they must share that blame with their predecessors. While the need to innovate was staring them in the face, they, like their counterpart in many industries, continued “business as usual,” taking their salaries and bonuses into retirement, kicking the glaring problems to the next generation of management.

One Gannett journalist not affected by today’s cuts boldly put a rhetorical question on his personal Twitter page tonight, “So just how do layoffs help a newspaper deepen its public service journalism and improve local news?” That pretty much sums up a sad day for journalists and the communities they hope to serve.

LeBron James Is No PR All-Star

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Has there ever been a worse time to be a public person who is really, really bad at PR? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

While sports talk radio shows are debating how good of a basketball player LeBron James is, it seems one thing is certain – he is really, really bad at PR. Years ago, that trait may have been more easily disguised or dismissed outside of his home market. But, today, in this era where everyone can be a critic armed with a potential audience, it’s a fact that makes his dismal performance in the NBA Finals even worse.

When it comes to bad PR, James is a repeat, if not habitual, offender. It really came to light last summer with “The Decision,” which will go down in the annals of Sports PR as one of the all-time egocentric stunts. It got worse when he and teammate Dwyane Wade mocked an opponent’s illness during The Finals. But, the capper was his reaction after last night’s elimination when he addressed his fan critics in what I can only describe as cavalier fashion.

All day on Twitter, I saw armchair advice that started with something like, “If I was handling LeBron’s PR, I would tell him… (insert obviously good behavior here).” But here’s the problem – this is someone who clearly does not listen to rational communications advice. He is clearly someone who surrounds himself with “yes” people, who will not challenge his status as “The King” (what he reportedly calls himself).

No PR professional, regardless of track record or level of skill, can help someone who does not want to be helped and does not think he should be helped. For all we know, he has ignored good, fundamental advice and will ignore it again.

Arrogance is one factor that breeds bad PR clients. For someone who was labeled “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002, as a high school junior, should it be surprising that with this so-called “king,” arrogance reigns?

Radio Vets Get It

Monday, June 13th, 2011

In recent days I had the good fortune to sit down and chat with longtime Detroit radio personality and programmer Lori Bennett, most recently PD at Magic.  She left the industry in recent months after more than two decades, including many years at WMGC rival WNIC. We had never met in person but had followed each others careers both in front of and behind the microphone.

Get two “old” radio vets together and the conversation invariably becomes dominated by what the airwaves could be, should be and used to be. I’ve always maintained that personality, communicating the right content in the right doses, is key to setting radio stations apart from terrestrial and satellite competitors. On exactly the same page and in a position to put words into action, Lori was responsible, over the course of the past year, in bringing back two talented, long-time radio vets to the full-time air at Magic: Chris Edmonds (Afternoons) and Kevin O’Neill (Evenings). We can all thank her for that.

Just south on the dial at 104.3-FM, ace PD Tim Roberts, meanwhile, is proving that he is not just one of the best Country programmers around but also has a knack for “Classic Hits.”  Dick Purtan’s absence aside, the station sounds its best in years with an up-tempo melding of talented jocks, jingles and music – all packaged and paced ala the Top 40 super-AM stations of the 70s. Roberts also had the wherewithal to bring back Jim Johnson (Middays) whose pipes and lineage deserved it.

And, in case you hadn’t yet noticed, kudos to News/Talk 760 WJR for allowing us, although fleetingly, to once again enjoy the sultry-voiced Lynne Woodison on many of their “positioning” jingles. I am privileged to call Lynne a friend and look forward to hearing more from her in the days ahead as well.

What’s the old saying: You can take the man out of radio but you can’t take the radio out of the man? As I continue to listen, critique and admire, it is always rewarding to hear and hear of talented industry professionals who are doing things the right way to the mutual listening benefit of us all.

The Takeaways From A Great (Not Just Good) Conference

Monday, June 6th, 2011

The just-concluded Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference is flat-out my favorite business event of the year. I often call it “The Super Bowl of PR.” This year, in particular, was memorable.

For the first time, I served as Chair of the Conference’s Marketing, Media and Sponsorship Committee, which helped increase attendance, coverage and underwriting. Tanner Friedman had four clients speaking on the Conference agenda (all communicated extremely well). I emceed the “Mackinac 101″ session for first-time attendees, featuring Henry Ford Health System President Bob Riney, political insider Debbie Dingell and WJR Radio’s Ann Thomas. And our client, Detroit Public TV, for the first time, produced dozens of hours of live coverage for TV and the Web of nearly all Conference sessions, making the event more accessible to the public.

But my big “takeaways” were from one of the Conference sessions. Author and researcher Jim Collins (most famous for “Good To Great”) lectured on lessons for Michigan business, based largely on his lesser-known book “How the Mighty Fall,” based on extensive research of companies that experience decline and even failure. As the co-owner of a business, it made me think about what we’re doing right and what we can learn.

Collins focused much of his talk on the five stages of decline all failing companies experience. It was a fascinating look at what they have in common – from the auto companies here in our backyard to PR firms that that struggled to change with their employees and/or clients.

One important trait of successful companies, Collins taught us, is how they stick to their values over the long-term. They use their values to hire people and to do more than create “to do” lists. They actually create “don’t do” lists of all the things that violate their codes.

For many reasons – from learning experiences to getting the real pulse of business and government to unrivaled networking to one-of-a-kind client opportunities to a whole lot of fun spending time with people I like and respect – “Missing the Mackinac Conference” is on our business’ “don’t do” list.

Outsource To Detroit Resonates, Reverberates

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Just hours ago the biggest gathering of Michigan’s business leaders finished up at Mackinac with a ‘to do‘ list for the coming year. Among the top five: Promote the “Outsource to Detroit” mantra to the world.

What is ‘Outsource to Detroit’? It’s a movement borne of a vision aimed at a mission of downtown Detroit as a national/international IT hub and viable alternative to taking such work offshore. And, total transparency here, it is also a campaign on behalf of Tanner Friedman client GalaxE.Solutions which is benefitting another firm client, Goodwill Industries, as both organizations look to put Metro Detroiters back to work.

In April 2010, New Jersey-based GalaxE, led by Chairman and CEO Tim Bryan, made a commitment to Campus Martius and a downtown office that would hire 500 IT professionals over the next 5 years to conduct the next generation of high-level, healthcare-focused work here rather than “over there.” Their message has resonated with clients; to date, over 120 individuals have been brought on board with immediate openings for another 200.

After February’s Super Bowl and the “Imported from Detroit” Eminem ad, Bryan indicated to me that GalaxE’s clients had been referring to their Detroit push internally as “Outsource to Detroit.” From there, what was initially going to be a phrase on a few giveways became much more. After enlisting “Made in Detroit” creator Robert Stanzler to create a logo and produce t-shirts sporting them, GalaxE donated the shirts to Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, making them available to anyone free for a donation of $10 or more with 100% of the proceeds going to Goodwill.

Worn by Bryan at the Mackinac Conference’s opening session and beyond, the shirt’s message became one of the hits and ‘buzz phrases’ of the event and, in turn, inspired others (including the Chamber) to pledge to join in its communication. Brilliant guerilla PR? How about a vitally important message, put forth with sincerity and passion by the right individual to the right audience at the right time.