Archive for March, 2012

Doing The Wrong Thing

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

What exactly was Spike Lee thinking? Obviously, outrage and sadness over the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. After all, as the facts continue to come in, who has not been shaking their head in disbelief at what appears to be more senseless violence resulting in the loss of life of a young African American. It is an epidemic and a tragedy.

Yet, it would appear in recent days, through his actions, that Lee rushed to judgement with a profound lack of judgement. Thinking he had found the address of George Zimmerman, the man that shot Martin, he retweeted the home address of an elderly couple in their 70s whose son, William George Zimmerman, is not related to the shooter. As a result, the couple was forced to flee their homes in fear of possible repercussions.

Lee has since apologized and compensated the couple who took refuge at a local hotel but at what cost to society and social media? I have witnessed firsthand the abuse of Twitter by outside interlopers with no respect for the medium and the way it should be utilized. Considering in particular his vast following and position as a thought leader, Lee’s actions were irresponsible, reprehensible and could well have resulted in more violence, perhaps worse.

It should be a lesson to us all. Where such emotionally charged issues are at hand, it is important to step back and think before we speak (or tweet); celebrities even more so. And where violence is involved, inciting more is far from the answer. It is the problem – not the solution.

A Supreme PR Disconnect

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

This week, the biggest news story in the country was covered in much the same way it would have been covered before the advent of modern technologies. That’s because the Supreme Court of the United States does not care about PR in the least.

Holding the future of American law in their hands and all paid by the taxpayers of the United States, the Justices of the Supreme Court operate outside of the public eye in ways unimaginable to any other top-level public employee in modern society. This week’s arguments on the legality of “Obamacare” were not televised, broadcast online or even reported in real time. In an age of consumer demand for live coverage across multiple platforms, the public had to rely on after-the-fact journalist accounts and “handout” audio recordings.

The tops of the other branches of the U.S. Government communicate regularly to the public via media. In the legislative branch, Congressional proceedings have been televised since C-SPAN began in 1979. In the executive branch, the President has a public schedule virtually every day. Only the Supreme Court operates with archaic policies that now, in effect, deny public access to its proceedings.

If I remember correctly, the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, at least once considered allowing its proceedings to be televised but would not because of the fallout from the O.J. Simpson case. Now, that case is nearly 20 year-old history and its Hollywood-esque “playing to the cameras” has proven to be the aberration.

Court cases on TV do not necessarily bring high ratings (just look at the extinction of Court TV). But, the public has a right to be exposed to public proceedings, as much as technology will allow. As audiences before more niched and mass media continues to transform into personal media, the extreme disconnect between the Supreme Court and the American public will continue to become more evident.

We’re Going Mobile

Monday, March 26th, 2012

This past week I attended Corp! Magazine’s 2012 Science & Technology awards breakfast where a client was being recognized among the area’s finest in their field.  The keynote speaker was Linda Daichendt, president of the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan (MTAM), who presented some compelling facts and figures on mobile technology today and where it is going tomorrow.

Of course, the breadth, scope and options in the world of mobile technology and marketing options are expanding daily – from mobile websites to applications to SMS (Short Message Service), the fastest growing platform, which delivers marketing messages to mobile devices, including smart phones, tablets and car electronics.  SMS, in fact, is the fastest area of growth within the industry with an ROI of 7.2% compared to just 1.2% for direct email.

And the opportunities for delivering messages via such technology in the future are staggering.  According to sources quoted by MTAM:

  • Mobile device subscriptions are expected to hit 7.1 billion with 10-20 billion units sold by 2020
  • 44 billion mobile applications will be downloaded within the next five years
  • Total app revenue will soar to $30 billion by 2013 with over 21 billion downloads.

Build it and they will come? Not exactly. Consider these stats:

  • 1 in 4 downloaded apps is never used again
  • There are currently over 950,000 apps available on the mobile app stores
  • On average, U.S. feature phone users, on average have 10 apps, U.S. smartphone users: 22

It’s a lesson that underscores the fact that while the delivery platforms are sure to change and evolve, first and foremost we must develop and hone messages that will resonate, compel to action and achieve business objectives while standing out from competitors.  At the same time, it is imperative to know your audiences and the best mediums for reaching them. Then, you can create the “bells and whistles” to connect and build from.

TV News Turnover Has Viewers Wondering What’s Happening

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

All over the country, fewer viewers are watching local TV news and those who do are asking themselves more often than ever, “Who ARE these people?” when tuning in.

That’s because in the business where I used to make my living, we’re seeing a wave of turnover like never before. Contracts of the best known personalities, particularly news and sports anchors, are not being renewed. We have seen this in New York, where NBC isn’t renewing veteran anchor Sue Simmons and her reported $5 million contract. In Detroit, several top personalities like Don Shane, Robbie Timmons and Jerry Hodak have left WXYZ-TV’s broadcasts in recent months.

There are several reasons for this trend, as a recent story by Bill Shea of Crain’s Detroit Business explained. Here’s an excerpt:

“Increases in profit also are coming, at least in part, from smaller salaries. Television revenue — which is linked to viewership ratings — has been strained by competition for viewers from cable and the Internet, said Matt Friedman, a media observer, local TV veteran and co-founder of Farmington Hills-based public relations firm Tanner Friedman.

‘Corporations still put pressure on local stations to send profits to headquarters,’ he said.
That pressure to make money in an atmosphere of lower ratings and less advertising means station managers have to make cuts — and the big paychecks for veteran on-air talent are obvious targets.

‘What we’re seeing in Detroit mirrors what we’re seeing around the country in local television: When the contracts are up, they’re either not renewed or anchors are retiring,” he said. “What we’re seeing much more of is a generation of the highest-paid talent at TV stations retiring in their 60s when their contracts are up.’

And because stations have to scrap and claw for audience and revenue, the business sometimes isn’t as enjoyable for longtime staffers, Friedman said.

‘They’re not having as much fun as they used to have. They can go on to do something else,’ he said.

In the midst of this turmoil, there is some good news for one TV news veteran whose retirement is actually a retirement. After 27 years at Fox’s WJBK-TV here in Detroit, street reporter Bill Gallagher’s last day on the air is Friday. He is moving back to his native Western New York to be close to his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.

I had the privilege of learning from Bill as an intern, once upon a time. Intelligent, witty and a model storyteller, Bill has been a master at taking important news that, on the surface, seemed like “bad TV” and transforming them into television. A former elected official, he has excelled at political and legal stories that many TV types would consider “just print stories.” Bill also showed me how a sense of humor is vital to a career in broadcast news.

All of us at Tanner Friedman will miss working with Bill on client stories, as he has always been fair, even with the “tough stuff.” But his friends and viewers should all celebrate his opportunity to leave TV news on his own terms – a feat that is increasingly rare.

Forecasters Help Us Weather The Storms

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

When you think of jobs that, as Rodney Dangerfield might put it, “Don’t get no respect,” what springs to mind? Dentists? Customer service professionals? Even public relations professionals have often been referred to as “Spin Doctors”. There’s another vocation I’d like to examine for a moment: The broadcast weather forecaster.

How often have you either heard someone say (or muttered to yourself): “How hard can that job be?” or “Only in baseball and TV weather can you be right 30% of the time and still keep your job.” Sound familiar? I would argue those are unfair statements, in particular when one considers the impact these trained professionals have on their stations and our lives.

If anyone ever doubted the importance of broadcast weather in general, one only has to consider the fact that more people tune in to local TV news for weather than for any other reason. Radio stations such as WWJ Newsradio 950 promote it steadily and consistently as “traffic and weather together on the 8′s.” And, of course, in 1982, the Weather Channel officially debuted, providing us with up to the minute meteorological information, 24-hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week – a wildly successful money maker for NBC Universal. Factoring in web and apps, the Weather Channel Companies bring in some $500 million annually.

This past week, the value of our local weather broadcasters, with experience and access to tremendous technology, in concert with municipal early warning systems saved lives in Dexter, Michigan. Fast moving, disastrous storms left only 26-minutes to notify area residents to take cover. They did and not a life was lost despite enormous devastation to infrastructure and utilities.

I would suggest, then, that the next time we see skies darkening ominously and say to ourselves, “Something doesn’t look right,” we appreciate those who let us know what’s happening and what we should do about it, with the push of a button or turn of a knob. As we put our trust and the well-being of our families in their hands, it is a responsibility I know they take quite seriously.

Boss Says No Hoops At Work? – That’s March Madness!

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

All over America over the next few days, there will be managers inside workplaces actually worried about employees watching college basketball at work. I know. I’ve worked with that type.

They’ll be so worried that many employees will be forced to sneak in viewing (pretending to do something else) while one survey shows 6 out of every 100 workers will take at least one day off to watch the NCAA Tournament away from the office. So many bosses will stress over “lost productivity” and a “lack of focus.” Talk about March Madness.

For some good internal PR, just let your workforce enjoy two half-days of basketball on the job. It’s something we do every year at Tanner Friedman, for those who are interested, and it’s not just because I’m an admitted college hoops junkie. It’s because it fits our core value of work/life balance and because there’s simply no real downside.

It’s hard to imagine a company suffering a catastrophic loss of business just because employees have at least one eye on basketball games during one Thursday and Friday afternoon in March. With trustworthy people on board given the right technology, customer needs can still be met. We’re not talking about shutting down an assembly line. We’re just talking about letting people keep up with games via computer and/or TV.

The latest survey shows the aggregate loss of productivity for US businesses this week to be more than $1 Billion. But leave it to the author of the survey, a PR master himself who is always positioned well on workplace trends, John Challenger of Challenger, Gray and Christmas to put things into the proper perspective. Time “wasted” keeping up with basketball this week “will not even register a blip on the nation’s economic radar.” This is coming from an HR guy! He went on to say, “Rather than try to squash employee interest in March Madness, companies could embrace it as a way to build morale and camaraderie.”

In the name of morale and camaraderie (not to mention reality), enjoy the games, even at work.

A Conversation With ‘YCD’s Tim Roberts

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Utter the name Tim Roberts in music radio circles, and you will quickly realize you are talking broadcast royalty (although he doesn’t agree with the use of that term to describe himself).  To be sure, program director at WYCD-FM (99.5), Roberts is widely recognized among the top Country programmers anywhere. In fact, the prestigious Radio Ink just named him the #1 PD in America, while, Country Aircheck Magazine has recognized Roberts as one of the most powerful people in country music. (Oh, and under his watch, ‘YCD was the first major market station in the United States to play a then unknown Taylor Swift).

Why is he so adept at his craft, culled over more than 30 years in the industry? I had an opportunity to ask him this week.

To what do you attribute your tremendous radio success?

I’ve always been a student of radio history from Jack Benny to Orson Welles. Growing up in the 60s and 70s I was influenced by stations like CKLW (Windsor) and WLS (Chicago) as well as WRIF (where he interned as a young broadcaster) and the tremendous air talent that worked there. Those jocks were my idols and those stations followed the philosophy of live and local with personality, providing a total on-air package. I adhere to that philosophy today.

How has the Portable People Meter (PPM) changed the way you program?

It may have altered a few tactics but it hasn’t changed basic philosophies. Now as before, it is important that all elements of the station – from personality to music – are tight and to the point; focused, not rambling.

What is your secret to discovering and “breaking” new artists and music?

Some of it is innate gut. I just love music. I was a crappy musician who got into radio to play music. As a result I have a lot of respect for musicians and their craft. It has helped me relate to artists and their songs with a sense of what will resonate with the public – in short: good music.

There are those who say that radio as a medium is dead or dying in the wake of iPods and downloading. How do you respond to that?

I totally disagree. Studies show that 95% of the population listens to the radio as much as ever – in all demographics. Radio can always be better and unfortunately, some companies concern themselves too much with the bottom line. Providing an entertaining product, at the end of the day, is key.

A student of the medium. An adherence to live, local talent and programming.  A knack for musical variety and taking a chance on new artists. It’s a winning combination that scores listeners, station and programming accolades and serves as a case study for what all radio should be. You may not know Tim Roberts like the air personalities he guides but know this: we and radio are lucky to have him.

Radio’s Better PR Starts Here

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Last weekend, I once again enjoyed the privilege of attending the annual “Birthday Banquet” gathering of communications professionals from across the country – all members of the WJPZ Alumni Association. WJPZ is the student-operated radio station on the campus of Syracuse University that we alumni believe is the #1 media classroom in the nation.

Our keynote speaker was not an alum of Syracuse or WJPZ but is someone who is on the front lines of today’s emerging broadcasting landscape – Wayne Cabot, the afternoon drive anchor at the top news radio station in the nation’s #1 market – WCBS-AM in New York.

Cabot spoke about the state of radio and its current challenges. He mentioned one that ironically, even “radio guys” like Don and I have missed. Cabot said “radio needs better PR,” that the story of the medium’s relevance in American lives is often misunderstood.

He shared the statistic that 95 percent of Americans still listen to radio at least once per week. That’s a far cry from the “radio is dead” claims you often here (really, just like all of the other “… is dead claims” as we have written before.

While there is plenty not to like about the current state of radio (namely, how too much of it is automated and/or “cookie cutter” and/or boring), I’ll take Cabot’s challenge and tell a few good stories about radio today:

-Radio owns the car. It is the safest, best way to be informed and entertained while driving

-Radio can still own “now.” While Twitter is immediate, there’s still nothing like a radio journalist on a scene or just “on” a story to convey information, emotion and facts to truly understand something happening in real time

-Radio still largely sets the popular music agenda. Just ask my kids. They hear a song they like first on the radio before downloading it or looking for the video on YouTube

-Radio does digital better than TV. You can listen to radio stations on your smartphone or computer, for free. Most TV products still can’t do that.

Anything else worth touting about radio in 2012? We’re happy to share more.

Limbaugh Trades Mic For Foot

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

What happened to class, decorum and good taste?  What happened to tolerance, open minds and productive debate? When it comes to politically-steeped broadcast talk, it seems quite often that all of those things have long flown out the window.

There is no debating that Rush Limbaugh crossed the line last week when he referred to a Georgetown University law student testifying before lawmakers in Washington as a “slut” and “prostitute” during his nationally syndicated radio show. Amidst an initial backlash, Limbaugh stood by his comments.

Fair and balanced? Intelligent discourse? Hardly – and it is unfortunate. Broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh are afforded a rare and far-reaching platform from which they should be stimulating thought and inviting conversation. Instead, all too often they shirk that responsibility in favor of dialogue that is divisive, foul and mean. Is it any wonder our country seems as divided as ever – from the streets of our hometowns to the partisan halls of Congress?

Unfortunately it is all about ratings and, ultimately money. Say something controversial and you are assured front page headlines and a lead story in the six-o’clock news. It’s not surprising then that only after several major advertisers of his show pulled their spots did Limbaugh relent and issue an apology.

Tomorrow, though, will be another day with, no doubt, a ratings spike as the curious tune in to hear more on the firestorm. Advertisers will soon return. Will there be lessons learned? A move by such show hosts toward more tolerance of thought and actions other than their own? What do you think? Let’s just hope that as a society as a whole we never become immune to venom spewed.