Archive for October, 2011

Media Change: A Phenomenon Anything But New

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Take a look at these quotes from a Time magazine article on the state of the newspaper industry. When do you think the article appeared?

-”(Daily newspaper) competition has vanished in all but 61 U.S. cities…”
-”…(Five newspapers) are fighting for their lives. (One newspaper) is dangerously close to death).”
-”In content, the papers run heavily to features, prize contests, decollete pictures, columnists by the dozen, and other trivia.”

Something from a media critic recently, as traditional media is engulfed in change? How about July 14, 1961?

Not long ago, someone gave me a copy of the Time article from 50 years ago, as New York was at a point when it could no longer support seven daily newspapers. The reasons were familiar – consumer media consumption patterns were changing, readers were choosing relevant content over infotainment and those who could not lead were losing money. Essentially, those are the same factors that today are driving media change.

For those who still seem uneasy with the fact that newspaper circulation is dropping, realize that it is a trend that began more than five decades ago (when, according to this article, most U.S. cities became “one newspaper towns”). New York, then and now, because of its large commuter mass, is the exception to the rule.

According to this article, I saw that the seeds of the “personal media” trend began even in 1960. Price hikes that year at the less popular New York papers didn’t help them make money. Why? Consumers, even then, wanted what they wanted, when they wanted it, how they wanted it. Given the choice, consumers gravitated to the most valuable content, driving change. Just like now.

A Request for New Radio Experiences

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

With evening events common in our line of work, I often find myself radio button pushing on my nighttime drives home in search of new music discoveries. As my tastes lean toward alternative and I don’t subscribe to satellite, stations such as 89X often quench my thirst for music I have not heard before yet resonates enough for an iPod purchase. Another you might not of heard of? WOVI 89.5 FM – from Novi High School.

Yes, these radio programming neophytes could teach commercial radio consultants and program directors a few things about keeping the music mix fresh. Just the other night, I discovered through these “black board broadcasters” the ska-infused melodies of the band, RX Bandits and their song, “Only For The Night”. And while that tune is far from new (it was originally released in 2006) it was, for me, a new musical experience. I’m of the opinion that radio needs to offer more of those to its listeners.

I admit as a former radio disk jockey/music director and audiophile, my ongoing quest for songs beyond those I listened to in high school and college may be more ambitious than many. Yet, as those of my generation gravitate more and more to online music discovery portals (Pandora, Jango, Spotify, Slacker and Songza among them) I know I am far from alone. Conventional radio programming wisdom dictates that listeners want to listen to music they know and like. Evidently, I am told, the PPM (Portable People Meter) backs up this rationale. The end result is that programmers, fearing a spike in listenership, rarely stray from the musical “straight and narrow” (i.e. safe). Ever feel like you’re listening to the same songs over and over? Now you know why.

And though my career no longer hangs in the balance based on ratings, I know today’s radio listeners want more (and less of the same old). And, as my RX Bandits example proves, it doesn’t have to be just about newly released music. Why, for example, does a Classic Rock station rotate 150 well-known songs at a time on-the-air when there are literally hundreds of thousands of possibilities?

No listener monitoring services are full proof (just look at the joke that used to be the old Arbitron diary system). And is “safe” really safe? I would argue that that methodology is instead disastrous – driving terrestrial listeners to the variety of satellite and the web. It’s time for more programmers and music directors to rely on their gut and take chances (and, importantly, for more general manager “suits” to let them). Perhaps those that have become jaded and/or less creative should go back to school and chart a new “course” for rediscovery.

From The Other Side of The Table: Dos and Don’ts When Pitching Business

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Ten years ago, I was asked to sit on a selection committee for a corporate client that was hiring an ad agency. I sat through three days of presentations and heard “we do the best creative” and “we get the best rates on media buying” over and over and over again. An attempt at a scoring system was supposed to “objectively” guide the process. But ultimately, the committee reached a consensus based on highly subjective, but highly important factors – relevant experience and cultural compatibility.

For the past few weeks, I have been involved with a PR firm search for a nonprofit I’m involved with on a volunteer basis. Much to my chagrin, the process started with an RFP before I got involved. I will unequivocally state that issuing an RFP is the worst way to hire a firm. Period. I’ve written multiple blog entries on that so I’ll let those speak for themselves.

So, I got to this stage as part of a committee that reviewed a stack (pictured above) of about 15 proposals. Many of them were ill fitting. For example, global firms that wanted to fly in “experts” from around the world (on a nonprofit budget). I guess their business development staffs needed to justify existences that week by showing that proposals were submitted. A graphic design firm submitted a proposal for what was clearly described as a PR project. Many firms put rigid retainer price tags on their work, as if a rough description in an RFP was etched in stone. All of those proposals were quickly eliminated.

While confidentiality precludes me from sharing details, here are some dos and don’ts based on what I observed during the proposal review and presentation/interview process. They may sound basic, but only a pinchful actually “got it” in this case:

-If you’re selected to present, do make sure everyone at the presentation has a meaningful speaking role (beyond reading off PowerPoint slides or running the laptop). Otherwise, you’re sending a message that you have dead weight in your organization.

-Do your homework. If the organization you’re pitching has been mentioned in news coverage, know about it. If you’re selling your connections in the community, use them to get insider knowledge you can incorporate into your proposal and/or presentation.

-Do distinguish yourself. All firms are going to say they “have great relationships with the media” and “are great writers.” One way to do that…

-Do speak the language, if possible. If you have worked with an particular type of company before, prove it by speaking to them in terms they understand in their business, not PR jargon.

-Do use recent examples. Communications is changing fast. So if you are going to prove you have the right experience to get the job, prove it with examples in the past few years. If something is going to be older, it had better be monumental.

-Do ask questions. Do use those questions as jumping off points to speak to your capabilities. Remember – you’re in PR – you’re supposed to know how to do that.

-Don’t suggest six people should be working on a relatively small piece of business. That just shows you have a lot of people with nothing to do.

-Don’t shove social media down the throat. It’s a tool. It’s one tool. It’s not going to solve anyone’s problem on its own (unless it’s a social media project per se).

-Don’t name drop. Unless you are prepared to bring those names to the table, right away (and you’re probably not).

-Don’t list specific media outlets you would place stories with in your proposal. You work in PR. You’re supposed to know how to manage expectations.

-Don’t list client projects as case studies for clients that fired you, in the same sector you’re pitching. You don’t work in a vacuum. Word gets around.

-Don’t assume the potential client sees the world the same way you do. Playing up hard that you’re a “big firm” may not matter to an organization that only wants to work with 2-3 good people, whether it’s 2-3 of 2-3 or 2-3 of 50. A good question to ask is “how many people on our end are you equipped to work with on your end?”

I used to think that writing proposals was challenging. But, compared to this exhausting process, I’m not sure anymore. One thing I do know, this decision is coming down to two factors – whose experience seems the most relevant and who seems like the best cultural fit.

Take Us Out to the Ball Game

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

As I write this, I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep, albeit not before my heart rate slows a bit. Feeling the same way? Chances are you’ve been watching the Tigers in the playoffs – and we’re not alone.

Who hasn’t been talking this week about thrilling plays, tension-filled situations and, quite often, later than usual bedtimes? And despite the yawns and dark circles, the past several days have been nothing if not invigorating. Why? In addition to seeing our team battle for supremacy, the Detroit Tigers have created for this city a common bond built through high emotion and shared experiences. We are all united with a common purpose built on a foundation of hometown pride. Right now we are all water cooler brethren.

It’s something we don’t often experience, at least not to this degree – a majority watching, listening to and reading about the same thing at the same time. Indeed, the mass media experience is, today, rare if not fleeting. The days of everyone gathered around the TV to see Walter Cronkite anchor the CBS Evening News are gone forever. American Idol is perhaps a more modern day predecessor in its ability to draw millions across generations.

It’s about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s about tradition and competition. And, it represents the media at its finest and purest in its ability to bring the masses together in a real and positive way.

Can Sports Fix A City’s Reputation?

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

We’re in the reputation business and we’re located in a region that has seen more than its share of reputation issues over the past four decades.

So, we’re keeping a close eye on the news coverage of some pretty fun times here in the Detroit area, including national stories like this one from the front page of USA Today. While the positive attention is nice and the “news hook” is easy, one simple fact is being ignored in this coverage – the win-loss records of professional sports teams have no bearing on a city’s reputation.

Consider the facts of Detroit’s reputation demise, caused by widespread national awareness of (in no particular order) economic distress, auto industry decline, violent crime, failing schools and political corruption.

The current sense of energy and optimism in the region has been felt all year long – before the Tigers’ first pitch or Lions’ first kickoff – and is due to business uptick (including thousands of professionals being hired in Downtown Detroit and young professionals moving in there), new political faces, education reform’s early stages, fewer foreclosures and signs that unemployment has bottomed out. Any Detroit comeback is being led by events in The Real World, not on any playing field.

Take a look at Forbes’ most visited cities in America – Orlando, New York, Chicago, Anaheim and Miami. Winning sports teams can’t be argued as a factor for their popularity. And CNN Money’s fastest growing cities in America – Palm Coast, Florida, St. George, Utah, Las Vegas, Raleigh and Cape Coral, Florida- can’t boast any momentum from winning sports. All of those cities have other strong qualities – mostly economic – that are drawing visitors and residents.

As a sports fan whose passion for the games was largely driven by the fact that I grew up in this sports-crazed region, I understand that it’s simply more fun when your favorite teams win. I believe that the presence of sports as an entertainment option benefits the quality of life in the region. I’ve even seen evidence that sports benefits the economy (although how much is often up for debate).

As many writers here have noted (while scoffing at years of national reports since the 2009 Michigan State run to basketball’s Final Four), sports can’t “lift weary spirits,” nor can it pay bills or find jobs for fans. Sports can’t repair regional reputations either. That must happen, over time, in many other ways.

When Is A Banner Not Just A Banner?

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

The answer to that riddle: When it carries a symbolic message of hope, renewal and opportunity. That is exactly what occurred this past week in Detroit as a 10-story “banner” was unfurled from the top of the 20-story 1001 Woodward Building in Campus Martius, across from Compuware. The new message from high atop the downtown skyline? Outsource to Detroit.

We’ve discussed the campaign previously, post Mackinac Conference, when the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce adopted the mantra and movement to promote via their “To Do” list for the year. It’s importance, however, bears repeating, both for its genesis as well as its evolution.

Outsource to Detroit represents the incredible fact, first uncovered by IT leader and Tanner Friedman client GalaxE.Solutions, that, for perhaps the first time ever, high-level, well-paying IT work can be conducted in a city such as Detroit at price points competitive with offshore. Moreover, there is a new, emerging trend: issues related to inferior quality from offshore-based firms mean an opportunity to repatriate even more jobs back to the U.S.

And, with this burgeoning IT cluster developing here (with GalaxE, Quicken, Compuware, VisionIT and others), Washington is paying attention and looking for ways to help bolster and promote it.  In fact, two high ranking Obama administration officials, John Fernandez and Michael Strautmanis, have traveled here in the past two months to see things for themselves.

A banner? A mantra? No, Outsource to Detroit is much, much, more: a tangible symbol of Detroit’s continued rebirth and the promise of better things to come.

Lesson From The 616: Actually Do It

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

If you know our firm and have been following this blog, you know that one of our core values as a company is something known as AFDI, which stands for “Actually Bleeping Doing It.” It’s something I have carved in (faux) stone in my office and the last thing I look at every time I leave the office door.

It frustrates us to have to take part in the same conversations occur over and over again. It takes a commitment to action and accountability to get things done, which is what our colleagues and clients expect and deserve.

It is refreshing to see a community adopt this spirit and that is exactly what I saw up-close late last week in Grand Rapids, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities in my favorite state. I was privileged to be among 30 businesspeople from the Detroit region selected to take part in a first-of-its-kind “East Meets West” day, put together by the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. We traveled to Grand Rapids to meet with community leaders, discuss how the two largest business regions in Michigan can work better together and see, up-close, some really effective economic development happening there. It was fascinating and fun. I have done business in Grand Rapids as long as I have worked in PR, but had never seen it quite like this.

Most revealing was a panel discussion featuring three difference-making business leaders who spoke in candid detail about their community’s culture of getting things done. There, we heard lessons that are worth remembering for any business in need of change or any community that needs its businesses to step forward.

In Grand Rapids, we heard, there is an ongoing, open dialogue between business, government and philanthropy. They talk about the difficult subjects. As one leader put it “we don’t worry about having tough conversations, we worry about not having them.” Businesspeople are expected to put aside their own agendas and even their own company agendas and work toward a shared goal of improving the city and the region. Importantly, there is an expectation that all businesses will take part and that progress will be made.

The examples are varied, from a medical school moved to their city to a from-scratch science research facility to first-class hotels to a thriving 24-hour Downtown to a one-of-a-kind public art display/social media engagement platform called Art Prize (which draws 500,000 people from across the country).

That’s a community-wide culture of AFDI. It’s challenging enough to accomplish it in a company. The next time you need an example of people working together to get things done, look no further than Grand Rapids.