Archive for August, 2011

The Missing Item From The Disaster Checklist: PR

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Remember Hurricane Irene? OK, maybe our collective news memory isn’t that short. But, sometimes it feels like it can be.

Big weather and other natural disasters are big news and draw big audiences. The New York Times reports today that The Weather Channel’s weekend Irene coverage drew the largest audience in the network’s 29-year history. But weeks, even days, from now, how much attention will be paid to cleanup and recovery? Chances are, not much.

This summer, tornadoes ravaged communities like Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri. In the immediate hours and days that followed, those were the biggest stories in the country. But, after a little while, the media moved on and now it takes a Web news search to find out what’s going on in both of those places.

Go back further and it’s even tougher. What’s happening in Japan, now, post-earthquake. What about Haiti, where a devastating quake happened less than two years ago? Even Katrina, which happened six years ago and was the story of the year in American journalism, lacks much follow-up today.

This is all a by-product of the current state of traditional media. There are fewer journalists to tell stories and a news agenda that only follows a pinchful of “right now” stories at a time. But for communities struck by disaster that want recovery and rebuilding efforts to stay in the news, there is an answer – PR.

PR helps keep potential news stories top-of-mind with journalists. Professional PR can package stories and help bring the stories journalists would actually do to the forefront. PR can use multiple platforms, beyond traditional media, to sustain visibility.

As communities, regions and states conduct regular disaster planning, they should add another item to the checklist in order to stay relevant after the storm. Add a checkbox for PR.

Refreshing UDetroit E-Media Is Important, Unique

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Riddle me this: Where in Detroit or anywhere for that matter can you get a front row seat – free – to a veritable mini-concert of musical magic featuring Dave Mason (Traffic) , Mark Farner  (Grand Funk) and Rick Derringer? Try the UDetroit Cafe in Harmonie Park where these rock legends recently appeared both in person and on UDetroit’s new media offerings: UDetroit Web TV and UDetroit Radio.

The brainchild of Motown’s own musical maestros, Brian and Mark Pastoria, UDetroit’s multiple media platforms are housed in the Pastoria’s storied Harmonie Park Studios, whose soundboard has embraced the electronic impulses of a who’s who of recording artists, including Aretha Franklin, Eminem, The 4 Tops, Tori Amos, Black Crowes, Will.I.AM and countless others over the years.

UDetroit Radio/UDetroit TV is webcasted and live streamed each day and features Bob Bauer, longtime rock radio royalty in this town via his past stints with WABX-FM and WLLZ-FM. The music mix is wide ranging, often eclectic but always interesting, with a mind at all times on how to feature home grown. Where else can you hear Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac followed by The MC5. And, live artist performances and interviews are also a staple of the show, made all the more special with segment lengths that are not dictated by commercial breaks or Portable People Meter limitations, allowing one to really get to know what makes guests tick.

I watched the Mason-Farner-Derringer segment online last week (featuring an acoustic version of “We Just Disagree”) and witnessed Bauer’s show in-person yesterday. He’s a great interviewer and knows just about everyone in that scene. He and the Pastorias are onto something good here. U should really check them out.

Governor Snyder To Michigan: Let’s Market Ourselves

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

The following is inspired by my article in the September 2011 issue of “Chaldean Commerce,” the official newsletter of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce:

As Governor Rick Snyder works to turn Michigan around, a common theme and call for action can be heard in many of his speeches: Market yourself, Michigan, he says. What does he mean exactly? Despite the fact that we live in a state with a history of pioneering technology, innovation and commerce, in more recent years challenging times have forced us to change, evolve and reinvent. We are often, the Governor reminds us, our own worst enemy.  We are also, he concedes, too Midwestern humble. As such, he is calling on us to communicate our respective successes in business; tell positive stories and let those within and outside our great state know what a wonderful place Michigan is to live and work.

Why don’t we do more of this?  The reality of it is we simply may not have the time, acumen or interest. We’re too busy running businesses and keeping our heads above water, or, maybe we prefer to stay under the radar of our competition.  Perhaps we don’t feel the need to toot our own horns, preferring instead to let our work product and customers do the talking.

While Governor Snyder would no doubt understand those mindsets he would take exception. We should all be serving as ambassadors for our state he would say.  Be proud of our accomplishments. Take those horns and toot away! And the best way to do that? By all of us speaking loudly and often about our successes. How we are helping others through our non-profit work; how we anticipated demand for a particular new product and are creating and supplying it; how we are innovating in biotech, nanotech, IT and countless other industries and business sectors.

And the means by which to communicate all of this? In conversations at industry conferences and networking events; in company websites and marketing materials; in stories related to media or those told via e-newsletter, social media and video. Celebrate success here, there and everywhere on what is going on right here.

We’ll Give It To You Straight: A Bad PR Habit CEOs Have To Break

Monday, August 15th, 2011

When we conduct Media Training sessions for Tanner Friedman clients, we teach them how to speak in quotable, memorable and powerful terms. This requires delivering a message in confident, declarative sentences.

But, lately, we have noticed that too many business and political leaders have a bad habit. Instead of just saying what they want to say, they dance around the message. Too many quotes are filled with terms of hesitation like “sort of” and “kind of,” which softens often important points. Here are a few examples from a recent simple online search of speeches and media interviews, delivered by actual CEOs and high-ranking elected officials. Take a look and you’ll see the clutter:

“We’re kind of at a pivotal point with the state.”

“This is kind of the starting point of an actionable agenda.”

“They need to create a company in sort of the web world.”

““You want to always sort of soften that optimism by the realization that it is a very tough business to turn around.”

“Just to sort of get it right out there…”

“So, as I kind of indicated in my comments…”

Why? We see it first-hand. In a tough economic environment, when CEOs go “on the record,” it is often under a cloud of fear. They are afraid to be too bold, as it could be controversial. Very often they are afraid to say “the wrong thing.” Their brains insert “sort of” and “kind of” into their dialogue, as a way to soften statements.

This is just a bad habit and it can be broken with practice. Look at those statements above and remove the crutches. Of course, they become more powerful, more memorable quotes, even out of context. It’s up to PR pros to flag these statements and figure out how to help their CEOs break the hesitation habit.

Words And Actions Prevent Kilpatrick Redemption

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

L. Brooks Patterson opined this week that it should be placed in the “Fiction” section of area bookstores. Many, like the Oakland County Executive, reviled in its blaming of others for his failings. Released last week online and to a select few area bookstores, “Surrendered: The Rise, Fall & Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick,” has been much anticipated and discussed – but will it serve toward rehabilitating the image of the man behind it?

In the world of adversity management, when one admits their mistakes and vows to do better it can go a long way toward eventually turning the tide of public sentiment. The key word here is “eventually” as time can heal all wounds. Yet, admitting wrongdoing and also taking responsibility for that wrongdoing are essential to the possibility of redemption. While I have not read the book (only outtakes and reviews), it appears that Kilpatrick is nothing if not consistent in his continuing to point his finger at the media, vindictive business leaders and racism. They, he intimates, are what conspired to bring about his downfall.

What I find most egregious is not what he has written but his return to court last week to try to have overturned Judge Groner’s previous ruling that all book proceeds go first toward paying back his more than $800,000 restitution to the City of Detroit, citing it as “unconstitutional.” It is further evidence that Kilpatrick will never take responsibility and, as a result, is poised to fail miserably as the motivational speaker he seeks to become. After all, how can you teach others when you can’t learn yourself.

Time For Congress To Throw Out The Old PR Playbook

Monday, August 8th, 2011

When it comes to PR, things are so bad on Capitol Hill, the legislative branch of our Federal government may soon be called the “Embattled Congress.”

On social media and on the cable “news” channels (a.k.a. “Scream TV”), there has been so much partisan finger pointing in recent days, parents across America are worried that someone is going to poke their eye out. But, the research shows that most of America blames Congress as a whole for not really fixing the problems it confronted. A recent public opinion poll by the New York Times reports that 82 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, the worst such number in the history of the poll. Yes, Congress itself has a PR problem.

There are multiple reasons for this. One, Americans aren’t as stupid as politicians often think they are. The public can see when an organization – whether it be a unit of government or a corporation – isn’t working in the public’s best interest. The public can see through “spin.” And that leads us to another reason why Congress is in this PR mess – political PR itself.

Typically, political PR is focused on one thing – making an individual look good so he or she can get re-elected. Period. At the party level, it’s generally about making the party look like it has the solutions so its members can get elected or re-elected. Period.

Rarely, if ever, is political PR about long-term strategies of communicating with constituents on how the progress of long-term problems in complicated ways. It’s too often about soundbites, attacks and press releases on how spending taxpayer money benefits states and communities (when the whole problem is about spending money in the first place).

Congress, as a whole, needs to rewrite its PR playbook. Mudslinging, partisanship and phony compromise (not to mention hundreds of bogus press releases) doesn’t really “work” after all.

Did Redbox Kill the Video Store?

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Matt and I routinely opine about how important it is for media outlets and delivery systems to never rest on laurels; to continually evolve and adapt to changing market conditions and consumer preferences. Been to a video store lately? Can you even find one open anymore? I can answer ‘yes’ to both.

As Blockbusters and Hollywood video stores continue to shutter their doors, Family Video opened up a brand new location (ironically enough in a recently closed Blockbuster store) this week near me. ‘What?’, you might ask, ‘Why?’ After all, hasn’t the increasing popularity of Redbox, Netflix and cable OnDemand type services all but rendered the traditional bricks and mortar video store obsolete? Two Blockbusters near me have closed in the past year, not to mention the ongoing and soon to be final disappearance of Borders.

During a brief tour of the new Family Video store, I was immediately impressed by how they have adapted to meet their online (and/or by mail) competition head-on. Bright, clean, open and inviting, the store features Kids and Educational sections where rentals are entirely free, ‘Just like the library’ I was told by my tour guide. Moreover, the selection of old and new movies was extensive and well organized. Not sure what constitutes “Action” or “Drama” or “Adventure”? No worries. Movies are simply alphabetical by title and easy to find. Best of all, prices start at free with many in the $1 range and new rentals at a cost conscious $2.98 for five nights.

It’s a recipe for reinvigoration: Better selection, including quicker access to new movies than Netflix, coupled with better pricing means a new, improved buying experience via a forum that looks familiar but is anything but old school. We’ll be watching – their videos as well as their business model progress.

Corporate Communications Cuts: How To Reverse The Trend

Monday, August 1st, 2011

While, we haven’t seen any surveys or reports that put it in terms of numbers, we have certainly heard plenty of first-hand accounts that “big company” corporate communications cuts are still happening, even though in many industries, The Great Recession is in the rear view mirror.

We are still hearing stories of reductions in already slashed in-house staffs, further agency cuts and even additional (asinine) “no more local PR firms” edicts being issued. All signs point to just one fact – communications just isn’t that important to many large corporations.

There are multiple factors that have led to this state of affairs. Both in-house and agency cultures are to blame. For example, for too long, many corporate communications departments included some people who frankly didn’t need to receive a full time salary, benefits and stock options for doing what were basically part-time jobs. And on the agency side, too many agencies were billing large monthly fees that were really too large while throwing more bodies on corporate clients than were really necessary, just to rack up the bills. Corporate clients often paid hundreds of thousands upon hundreds thousands of dollars for “big” agencies to prepare binder-held reports that helped preserve both in-house and agency job security. With these bloated efforts, is it any wonder that PR has often been “the first to be cut?”

Another huge factor is that, as far as we know, corporate reputation is seldom, if ever, a measuring stick for executive success. Top executives get compensated for “hitting numbers,” typically short-term financial goals. So if communications can’t show up in “the numbers,” executives generally don’t place a priority on it (unless it’s a “crisis” that could cost them a job).

In order for budgets to stabilize, increasingly shrinking corporate communications departments and their increasingly endangered agencies need to be smart, not greedy. They need to operate efficiently with nimble, accountable models.

But, in order for this trend to be reversed, it has to start in the boardroom. What if CEOs were judged by their boards on corporate reputation? Not executive positioning per se, but long-term image building of the company. Why shouldn’t they? Wouldn’t that, all of a sudden, place a premium on communications?