Archive for January, 2012

Doing What’s Right For Clients, Not Ego

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

While collaborating recently with a client I was asked to get involved with a major, name brand automotive entity. Further, I was asked to serve as corporate spokesperson surrounding a series of events. A tremendous opportunity for me to see my name in print, in turn promoting, by association, Tanner Friedman? Some might think so. Instead, I advised my client that it would be in the best interest of his client if they spoke on their own behalf, under my direction.

After all, it is rarely not in the best interest of a company to speak on their own behalf. It is akin to the rules of “no comment” whereby a company can always say something. Saying nothing is perceived as hiding something. Taking that a step further, in times of crisis and especially good news, why not have your company’s top person doing the communicating? Aren’t they supposed to be the face and voice of that organization? That methodology is not to push the PR practitioner aside. Rather, a true public relations pro, focused on doing what’s best for their clients, should put their energies into making sure their client CEOs or spokespersons are well prepared on what to say and write.

Now, there can be exceptions to the rule. Perhaps the CEO or corporate voice is unavailable for a reporter on deadline. Maybe the head of the company is actually based outside the marketplace and unable to do a quick TV segment.  Further, some company heads are either not media savvy or otherwise uncomfortable with a microphone or camera in their face. Media training aside for the latter example, some or all of these scenarios can lead a PR practitioner to step in. However, if that is the case, it is always preferable for the PR firm to indicate to the interviewer that they are acting as spokesperson on behalf of Company X, Y, or Z and not have them list the name of the PR firm. Even worse: A written statement or email attributed directly to a PR firm, speaking for a client company. What’s the point in that?

It really gets down to ethics, lack of ego and doing what is truly right for  the client. The majority of PR firms out there get that. A few don’t and, in turn, can make our entire industry look bad — while they’re busy trying to make themselves look good.

Radio: Less Talk? How About Just The Right Amount?

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

A radio station plays a song. As the song fades, the listener awaits a station identifier, maybe a jingle, perhaps even a warm friendly voice to inform as to who sang the song, its title and what might be coming up next. Instead, from music, the station goes directly into commercials and from commercials, into a recorded promo where an air personality tells the listener that they will be appearing live that weekend at a furniture store. Then, once again, we are into music. A mistake? Is this a smaller market where, perhaps, a rookie board operator is training? No, this was heard just last week here in Detroit – and it’s a shame.

There is a movement afoot, it seems, where “less talk” is supposed to translate into less button pushing or “tune out” and, it follows, stronger ratings. Yet, I would argue that there is a vast difference between “less” and none at all. Going from music directly into commercials with no station identifier whatsoever? That’s a cardinal sin in radio and something I learned as a training disk jockey neophyte way back in my first year of college radio in 1981.

Now, some smart radio consultant out of New York might argue that the Portable People Meter (which measures station listening via the unique sound waves emitted from a particular radio station’s transmitter) makes stating the station’s “call letters” a moot point. I would counter that without branding and live, local personalities, you are, as my partner Matt Friedman so aptly said in recent days: “An iPod that is playing someone else’s songs.”

Instead, there is a happy medium that exists – an approach too often lacking today that truly connects listeners and their radio stations. Google WLS Radio in Chicago and John “Records” Landecker, my radio idol in the 70s that is still on-the-air today. Seek out one of his video airchecks on YouTube. There, you will hear (and see) a time when the medium came across truly larger than life through a fast-paced melding of voice, music and jingles that achieved an almost other-worldly theater of the mind.

“Less talk”? How about just the right amount? How about smart programming with the right combination of live personality, information and diverse music that is well produced and engages, connects and gives us a reason to set the MP3 players aside. How about disk jockeys appearing at more than just sponsor-paid remotes? C’mon radio. You’re better than this.

The Most Underrated Communications Platform Is Still…

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post here that declared the face-to-face platform as the most underrated in communications. Given a changing industry that has spawned new platforms since that post, my opinion has not changed and was affirmed today.

Our client, CARE House of Oakland County, hosted Elizabeth Smart at a sold-out fundraising luncheon. To prove once again that content really is king, the opportunity to see and hear Elizabeth Smart sold out this charity event for the first time in 16 years.

While we’re proud that the event received significant news coverage, it was something you really had to see to experience. Even via Skype, there would be no way to replicate what it felt like to be in that room as Elizabeth told her story, in frightening and chilling detail, of her abduction and nine month time of enslavement. For more than an hour, a ballroom of 360 attendees gave its undivided attention. Nobody was doodling on paper in front of them. Not a single email was checked or text message sent (not even by me).

There is nothing like a compelling speech to hold attention, tell a story and deliver a message. It’s an afternoon that nobody there will ever forget. That only could have been accomplished by in a speech by a talented, passionate and captivating speaker.

We love tweets, status updates, news articles, blogs, emails, newsletters and ads. We recommend combining as many platforms as possible into a campaign. But there is nothing like a speech to jog the brain, touch the heart and create a memory.

Citizen Journalism Really Takes A Pro

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

One of the buzzwords you hear a lot of media executives say these days is “citizen journalism.” The people who run the companies that have eliminated the jobs of thousands of journalists want to create space on their websites for journalism supposedly done by non-journalists.

This week, I had an opportunity to test citizen journalism. As a former journalist, I figured I had a better chance than most people of pulling it off. Here’s how I heard that it’s not as easy as some would think:

On Monday, I had a hankering for one of my favorite restaurants near the office, Pei Wei, and arrived prepared to wait in line as usual. When I couldn’t open the door, I realized that the location had closed. Disappointed that online searches revealed that no local outlet had written anything about it, I sought to find out what happened. I figured this was an opportunity to see if a citizen could play a journalistic role.

I sent an email to the company and a few days later, I received an answer. It read, “Sadly, it was a location that was real estate challenged and we couldn’t keep it open. I apologize for any disappointment or inconvenience this caused. We will be opening many more locations in the area over the next few years.”

I shared that answer on my Facebook page and, tongue-in-cheek, promoted it as an “exclusive.” The response was personal and warm so it was pretty good PR. But, as a journalist, I found the response to be a non-answer answer. “Real estate challenged?” What does that mean? As a citizen, though, I got all that I was going to get. Would a media relations department talk to me? Probably not. Could I track down the landlord or property manager and ask questions about what happened tot he lease? Probably not. Could I find an expert in Oakland County, Michigan commercial real estate to share opinion on what might have happened? Maybe. But all or any of the above would have taken time and I have a company to run and clients to serve. How in the heck could I really be a citizen journalist?

I understand how “real people” are playing a role in journalism. If I saw news break in front of me, I would photograph it, tweet it and it could be around the world in seconds. But real reporting of anything other than spot news such as tracking down information, having the credibility and audience to get the right people on the phone and assembling facts, data and opinions into news stories? That’s best left to the professionals. We need more of them so the rest of us can focus on our real jobs.

5 Things I Learned About ESPN At ESPN

Monday, January 16th, 2012

For a media and sports geek, touring ESPN was as cool as it gets.

I had a rare opportunity because I won a fundraiser auction for the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (for which Tanner Friedman does PR work) a couple of months ago when ESPN basketball analyst Jalen Rose put up for bids a private tour of the ESPN Campus in Bristol, Connecticut. I bid just enough to win an opportunity I had wanted since cable TV was first hooked up in my house and I got hooked on ESPN.

ESPN takes and makes more than its share of heat for its news, programming and personnel decisions. But, its influence on our sports media culture, its coverage of games, its global brand prowess and its presence in sports fans’ lives makes ESPN a compelling force and, I hoped, a compelling place. During a morning of walking through every studio, sitting on every TV set (the photo with this piece is of Hannah Storm and Bob Ley anchoring SportsCenter) and behind every radio mic and meeting many of the people I have watched on TV for years, I spent much of the time in awe even though I have spent almost my whole life observing or working in broadcast environments. I even read “the book” (nearly 800 pages) on ESPN, yet the place didn’t take shape for me until I was there.

Here are some things I learned while there that I think are worth sharing:

1) Everyone seems to be a passionate sports fan.

In local TV and radio, I worked with sportscasters who really didn’t like sports. I worked with many newscasters who carried a disdain for the news content. I didn’t see any of that at ESPN. The Sunday NFL Countdown guys wanted to talk NBA with Jalen Rose behind the scenes. The anchors talked sports during commercial breaks and wore sports clothes on the newsroom while putting their shows together. It’s a perfect example for any business – a passion for what you do shines through to customers.

2) “New Media” is fully integrated

Many local broadcast operations are still having a hard time balancing TV and other platforms Apparently, not ESPN, where it’s all integrated. I had a chance to talk to NFL reporter Adam Schefter. His most valuable pieces of equipment are not mics and cameras – but his Blackberry chargers. He gets most of his information via text and relays it over Twitter. By the way, he also spends a lot of time on TV.

3) The newsroom is absolutely huge

It’s by far the biggest newsroom I’ve ever seen. There, anchors work side-by-side alongside producers to write scripts and put together shows, something I didn’t always see even in local news. It’s also the only TV newsroom I’ve ever been in without police scanners (which was nice).

4) The talent level is off the charts

The SportsCenter anchors, when seeing them on-set, immediately registered as some of the best broadcasters I’ve ever seen in action. They read every highlight like the viewer is seeing the game for the first time, even if they have seen it dozens of times already. The analysts work largely unscripted and are enormously prepared. They all try to be high-energy when on the air, regardless how little they have slept, to be interesting to the viewer. Excellent anchors surrounded by strong producers and relevant data from hard-working researchers combine seamlessly. Because of the Internet, it has to be much more than just “scores and highlights” now. It has to be a mix of video, facts and opinions, making the most of the TV medium. They all seem to get it and live it.

5) A really cool charitable element

ESPN has decided a well traveled corridor to banners for charity. There are ESPN banners (like those seen at venues where they broadcast) on both sides of the hallway with signs next to them explaining which charity will receive each banner as a donation. There are sharpies in containers on the wall. So, when personalities are walking the halls, they can easily sign the banners and know which causes are receiving them in which cities. ESPN makes it easy for them and they each sign many on their way from one assignment in the building to another.

I could go on. But I want to get home to watch a basketball game. On ESPN, of course. I don’t think I’ll be watching quite the same way again.

What A Moroun

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Before I get started I want to make it clear that the title of this blog is actually a play on words from a classic Warner Brothers Buggs Bunny cartoon in which Buggs, exasperated by the idiotic behavior of another character in the story, utters: “What a Maroon.” Yet, I must admit the phrase does fit nicely with the continued moronic behavior of the Moroun family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge.  This week, that behavior landed 84-year-old billionaire Matty Moroun in the Wayne County lockup for contempt of court along with aid Dan Stamper who is quickly accumulating a rap sheet of his own.

After Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards sent the two men to jail, son Matthew Moroun quickly took to the airwaves, claiming a violation of civil rights and, even more lamely, a personal vendetta by the judge against his father. Evidently, Moroun was attempting to evoke a conspiracy theory whereby – are you ready for this one – Judge Prentis was acting to “pay back” Governor Snyder for his recent appointment of Edwards’ son Prentis Edwards Jr., a former Wayne County assistant prosecutor, to the 36th District bench.

Of course we all know the real issue here. After 8 years,  the Gateway Project, a partnership between the Bridge Company and MDOT aimed at easing border traffic by connecting bridge traffic directly to I-75 and I-96 has still not been completed by the Morouns. Instead, they built a roadway that routes heavy traffic through the streets of Southwest Detroit and right past the Moroun-owned duty free store and fuel pumps that make, it is estimated, millions each year. That, is what sent an 84-year old to jail.

Reporter Charlie LeDuff had it right when he said on Fox-2′s “Let It Rip’: “Matty Moroun, in many ways, is his own worst enemy.” Similarly, Tanner Friedman’s own Matt Friedman told Detroit Free Press reporter John Gallagher last week when being interviewed for a pre-court story, “He’s not famous in the community – he’s infamous.” The point being from the old train station building to the DRIC issue to the Gateway Project, the Morouns, despite their tremendous wealth and influence, have done nothing to ingratiate themselves to or help the City of Detroit, acting instead only in their own best interest. Now, finally, they are paying the price. Time to stop the lame attempts at PR-spin. Time to stop the endless stall tactics. Time to stop reaching for the pocket book. Time – to do the right thing.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Controversy

Friday, January 13th, 2012

While at WWJ this week on behalf of a client, I became engaged with a reporter and producer considering a segment on the current controversy related to author Jodi Kantor’s new book, “The Obamas.” Specifically, I was asked about Michelle Obama’s CBS interview, in which she stated she was not an “angry black woman”, and how I might advise a client in such a situation from a reputation management perspective.

While we all have an innate desire to protect our respective reputations, what you never want to do is potentially turn a one-day story into a 2-day or more story by saying something even more controversial. As such, it is always imperative to pick words carefully. Another rule of thumb in crisis management is avoid using negative terms that you don’t want to be associated with. State what you are, not what you aren’t.

Michelle Obama is a classy, intelligent woman – a role model to be emulated and looked up to by millions. In this case, I would have liked to have seen her diffuse the situation by demonstrating the book and its contents were really not worth commenting on. What if she had simply said: “I’m currently immersed in [name of another book] and enjoying it immensely.” Or, “My schedule unfortunately dictates limited time for reading. However, next on my list is [name of another book].”

When one comments on such a story, you risk fueling it further and, potentially, contribute to selling even more books and extending shelf life. Overall, though, this saga is poised to soon become much ado about nothing and another footnote in a long history of controversial books written about high-profile people.

Answering The Fundamental Question About Branding

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Late last week, I received an email from a client with a question so fundamental yet so frequently asked. She was hoping I knew of an article that helped to answer the question. Because I didn’t, I told her I would write a blog post in which I try to succinctly answer the question. So here it goes.

The question was “I have to speak to our staff during professional development next week about image and branding. Why is it important?”

While it sounds extremely basic, it’s a question too many fail to ask and others fail to answer in honest ways. Too many also try to split hairs with definitions of terms that they don’t understand like “brand” and image.” We encounter those who think that your brand is your logo and your image is whatever you want it to be.

To really explain the importance of your brand – for companies and organizations of all types – I turned to one of Tanner Friedman’s close collaborators, George Pililouras, who has extraordinary experience in brand development. Here’s George’s take:

“A brand represents ‘Who You Are’ to your customers. A brand is a promise that gets proven and fulfilled in all areas of communication. A brand is something to experience that lives in the mind of consumers in an emotional and rational way. Simply put, it’s what comes to your customer’s mind when they hear your name.

Why is it important? My view is simply that ‘no one (naturally) cares about you, so you need to make them care.’ A brand is critically important as it represents everything about you and your organization. It’s how you are perceived by people and equally important, how they feel about you. Your brand must be liked before it’s going to get consideration. People have to mentally buy into your brand, before they’ll consider buying your products or services. Of equal importance your brand has to be consistent in the market and have a unified voice.”

George does a great job of capturing the essence of these important fundamentals. What Don and I often like to say the key to building a brand is to communicate, through all platforms and methods, who you are, what you do and how you’re different.

Brands can be developed and images can be shaped through a variety of PR and communications tools but that always takes conscious, consistent, honest effort over an extended period of time.

Some times the finer points of communication can make a difference. But, in considering whether you have the brand you desire, it’s crucial to start with the basics.

A Recipe for Success

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

It is hard to believe but 5 years ago this week, Matt and I left relative job security as equity partners in another professional services firm to venture out into the unknown as entrepreneurs and partners in a new public relations firm venture. We knew it would mean, for a time, no income. We knew it would mean building a client base. Of course, we had no idea that the economy would soon sink to all-time lows. It was the best professional decision either of us have ever made.

What was most important to us, and still is, was building a corporate culture that would promote teamwork, professionalism and mutual respect – in short, an agency where people would want to work and clients would want to work with toward outstanding results. Some clients followed immediately; others as soon as legal issues were resolved.  Soon, we began building a staff of talented PR professionals who shared our values and valued our mission.

We also, from Day One, recognized the importance of being flexible and agile when it came to billing arrangements. The recipe was simple: provide value, get results, build the relationship and bill for our time.  Through honesty, transparency and, again, mutual respect, client trust and comfort levels were achieved in the short and long term.

It is interesting and important how the term ‘mutual respect’ stands at the core of how we operate and what we believe in. It is how we have continued to build productive relationships and alliances – not just with clients and team members but also with outside collaborators and referral sources. It is how we have weathered economic stormy weather while continuing to grow our company each and every year. It is a recipe we highly recommend for others looking for success in 2012 and beyond.

If You Care About Media Change, Make Time To Watch “Page One”

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

We started Tanner Friedman five years ago this week, on the cusp of some of the most profound changes the PR and media businesses have ever experienced. Like our friends in the newsrooms, we have lived the changes you have noticed and read about. Sometimes, it seems a shame that we didn’t document it on camera, as history has been made in front of us more than once.

Someone, though, had the foresight to follow the superb journalists who cover media for The New York Times. The people who have chronicled the changes, while working in the epicenter of change, are the primary subjects of a documentary called “Page One.” It premiered last summer in a relatively few theaters but is now airing on The History Channel and is available via Netflix, among other providers.

Since you’re reading this blog, the subject of media change likely at least intrigues you. So, I highly recommend that you watch this film. In addition to featuring an industry, a company and a newsroom in transition, the film also captures a glimpse of the editorial process, something we as PR professionals work with every day. For PR pros who never worked in a newsroom (or haven’t lately), the interaction between reporters, editors and subjects is “must see.”

Much of the film centers on compelling reporters David Carr, whose background as a recovering drug addict and former welfare recipient makes him an ironic figure at the pinnacle of journalism, and Brian Stelter, a former college blogger who moved to the epitome of traditional media to cover media. Both are terrific reporters whose Twitter feeds I regularly depend on to keep up with what’s happening on a daily basis.

One of my pet peeves in working with newspapers (shared by many journalists inside newspapers) is also exposed in the film. Many news decisions are still dictated by “space in the paper,” even though the news organizations themselves are supposed to be following the customer-driven trend to digital content. “Column inches” are still driving factors even though online space works differently and is potentially less limiting.

For your media consumption, Page One should be priority one in the coming weeks. If you have seen it or if you now decide to see it, please share your comments and reaction. It’s a film that makes you think about where this is all going and the value to society of “real” journalism.