Archive for April, 2012

Don’t Race to Judgment of Others

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Has there been a time in recent memory when our public discourse has focused so intensively on race and allegations of  racism? The Trayvon Martin tragedy in Florida. The Delmon Young arrest in New York. And, closer to home, in the continuing debate over the dire need for an Emergency Financial Manager in Detroit, an “us vs. them” theme that too often pervades arguments against such an appointment.

For some, it is purely about hate. For others, including politicians focused on developing a platform based on polarization on which to run, it is about perpetuating old stereotypes for selfish means. In all cases, though, racism is about ignorance.

Just as bullying is in the headlines with a new documentary film, Congressional hearings and a no tolerance doctrine in schools, racism needs to remain in the spotlight until it is stamped out.

How? We can start by doing a better job of talking to and getting to know each other better. In school. In church. In the workplace. And in public forums. This past week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s “Detroit Business Conference”, DPS Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts spoke on a panel discussing talent retention and training.  Always passionate and candid, Roberts said (reported by MLive) that old-fashioned ideas about who’s a real Detroiter is holding the city back as it tries to move forward.

“Detroit is a city that’s so proud of being a black city that it hurts us,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to get over this race issue.”

His words, for many in the room was like a salve for sore ears, an elixir for heavy hearts, an invitation for calm yet reflective contemplation and honest dialogue. To cure that which ails us takes both the conviction to speak out but also a willingness to listen – both without prejudice.

30 Years Later, Don Henley’s Words Still Ring True

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

30 years ago this year, Don Henley topped the charts with a rant put to music called “Dirty Laundry.” Henley wrote and performed it to express his disgust with TV news and its sensational style.

Recently, when analyzing reaction to the death of Dick Clark, I was reminded of one simple line from the song – “It’s interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry.” That pretty much sums up a phenomenon that may have irked Henley when watching TV in 1982 but is a fact of life in 2012, particularly on social media.

Regular social media users can attest, nothing “lights up a feed” like a celebrity death. Whether it’s an icon like Clark or a celebrity that most previously wouldn’t have been able to identify as dead or alive, news of a celebrity death spreads instantly on social media and elicits reaction like no other content on the Web.

We even see it on this blog. When Don Tanner (not Henley) has written about the legacies of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston, our traffic picks up. In the hours after a celebrity death, it’s often hard to find much else on Twitter or Facebook, regardless of your connections.

I often hear from clients and others who want to know why traditional media focuses so much on death and celebrities. Well, combine the two and see what happens on social media, with the vast majority of content created and distributed by consumers, not by media organizations.

As someone who, as Henley sang, once made “my living off the evening news,” I have seen instances where news decisions that are really made to save money or drive quick ratings are rationalized by “it’s what people want.” But, in this case, human nature proves that when we, as a society, look in the mirror, we see a culture that really believes “it’s interesting when people die – give us dirty laundry.”

Lynne Woodison’s Focus on Family

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Through roughly five years and the more than 750 Tanner Friedman blogs that Matt and I have written during that time, it has always been interesting to us, in reviewing analytics, that our posts on media personalities – particularly those in radio – continually generate the most attention. Perhaps it is not surprising at all, when you consider how much time we each spend with these men and women behind the microphone, albeit through the airwaves, yet in the most intimate of all mediums.

Through our respective work in print and broadcast journalism prior to our PR days, our firm’s founders have been fortunate to work and interact with many, many talented (even “Hall of Fame”) broadcasters as colleagues, associates and, in many cases, friends. That is why it was so rewarding, in recent days, to reconnect over lunch with Detroit radio legend Lynne Woodison. Though we email often and lunch from time to time, we had fallen out of touch in recent months; I soon found out why.

Late last year, her son Colin was in a horrific car crash in Nashville, where he resides. In the hospital for many weeks with a broken pelvis among the physical trauma he experienced, he next bore many more weeks of rehab where he very gradually progressed from hospital bed to wheelchair to cane to, only very recently, walking again on his own en route to a full recovery. With him throughout the ordeal was his mother.

Lynne, I had learned, had relocated to Nashville for some time in order to do what she could to nurse Colin back to health along with helping to keep his successful business venture, running.  Anchored on the east cost in Washington, D.C., by Colin’s brother and co-founder Trevor, the company has continued to grow in clients and revenue, counting among its devotees A-List musicians and Obama-administration officials who appreciate the efficiencies and security afforded by the customer service- focused Mac screen repair service.

Back in Detroit in recent days with the health of her son assured, Lynne is weighing next steps in her storied career. Might that include radio? Visit her Facebook page and you will experience scores of fans and devotees urging her return.  In my opinion, Clear Channel’s new rocker, 106.7 “The D” (in need of live Detroit talent) should have her on speed dial.  And what about WDET or “The River”? Just think of the renewed interest her presence would bring to those properties.  To say nothing of WJR, which already uses Lynne’s voice on their station identifiers, bringing back a music show (something they dabbled with in a recent year) to add a new programming wrinkle.

For Woodison, her family healthy and priorities always in order, anything is possible in 2012.

PR Secret Revealed: What’s Behind The Door?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

For too long, the work of PR firms has gone on with some degree of mystery to clients. It takes only a small dose of cynicism to point to the big firms that got away with big fees for little work for many years. They enjoyed a lack of transparency so clients wouldn’t know what was happening back at the office. “Just get the media placements” was often enough.

This has created a misunderstanding that hurts us all in this new environment. Too often, clients act as if we go back to the office, unlock a mystery door and then turn on the “machine” we keep in the back room. It’s as if all they have to do is sign a contract and the “PR machine” kicks into gear on their behalf.

But there’s no mystery door to a back room. And there’s no such thing as a literal PR machine. It’s time for clients to understand that the best results come from collaborative processes.

Here are a couple of examples of the machine myth. Several years ago, I worked on a team that was representing a medium-size professional services firm. A few months into the engagement, one of the senior partners was upset that he hadn’t “gotten any press.” When I explained that was because he had not discussed with us any of his cases, or his opinions, or his expertise or anything interesting or newsworthy, he didn’t want to hear it. I explained the process of creating PR opportunities but he wasn’t interested in that. He exclaimed “we’re paying you to get us press.” He wanted the machine and, unfortunately, his attitude spread through the firm, as negativity tends to do, causing an adversarial relationship.

More recently, we were hired to create messaging for a private business having a challenge differentiating itself from its relatively well-packaged competition. At the onset of the engagement, we explained how the messaging process should work. We facilitated a meeting of the company’s senior staff for them to explain who they are, what they do and how they are different. We reviewed their existing materials as well as rough copy, written by one of their partners, for use on the Web or in brochures. We next presented a draft, labeled as such, of boiled-down (from meeting notes and dozens of pages into a two-page document) key message points, based on what we had seen so far, as a starting point for discussion as part of the defined (and proven) process.

Company leadership was not happy with what they received from us. We were told “you just spit back what we gave you” and “there are several errors.” They apparently expected that after one meeting and a review of materials that we would be able to completely brand their company and know their business inside-out. They refused to participate in the rest of the process and sought “another direction.” In other words, they wanted a machine.

So, to bust the myth once and for all, firms don’t have a machine to do the work. But the good ones do have talented, experienced, passionate people who, working with our clients, can provide the human touch that is crucial to long term relationships and success.

A Real Vacation: If A Junkie Can Do It, You Can Too

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

At Tanner Friedman, one of our core company values is Work/Life balance. Although we bring passion to our business every day, we believe that time away from work allows us to focus with the appropriate energy level for our clients for the vast majority of the year.

Two years ago, for the first time in a decade, I took a vacation that was a getaway in every sense. I wrote this post about how difficult it was, as an admitted information junkie, to go “cold turkey” with no cell phone and no email for a full week.

A year later, I did it again. And last week, I did it for a third time in three years. In conversation, I have become something of an evangelist for a week “unplugged.” So please allow me to make the case here.

Americans get fewer vacation days than most of the rest of the industrialized world. According to the World Tourist Organization, Americans take 13 days per year of paid vacation time, on average. Japan averages 25, Canada 26, the U.K. 28, Germany 35 and
Italy averages 42 days. So, it’s up to each of us to make the most of what our culture allows.

For 51 weeks of the year, wherever I am, I rarely go more than a few hours without checking email. It’s tough, frankly, for me to go more than a few minutes, if not otherwise occupied, without getting a news or sports fix via Twitter or another app. Really, it doesn’t take much down time (a line in the grocery store, a walk from a parking space, some time on hold, for just a few examples) to have me reaching for my phone. I make an effort every day to answer emails and voicemails same-day. It’s just who am am or, maybe, who I have become. While I am essentially addicted to the steady stream, I usually enjoy it, recognizing that it can divide my attention and cause some stress during “off” hours.

So, for one week of the year, originally because of the prohibitive cost on a cruise ship but now out of bona fide desire, it has become essential to turn off the laptop and put the phone in the room safe and focus attention on family, experiencing new places, relaxing and reading books.

To make it possible, I took steps ahead of time, preparing with clients and the Tanner Friedman team and also picked a week when many would be vacationing. Those factors helped me come back to limited email and client objectives met in my absence. I’m now back refreshed and ready for the next 51 weeks (with some more vacation days, of sorts, thrown in).

If I can do it for a week, then you can, and should, do it for a week.


Sunday, April 8th, 2012

This coming Friday one of the most talked about movies to come along in years will debut in the form of a documentary: Bully. What makes its premiere even more interesting is the recent reversal of its rating from R to PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America.  This action was spurred by an online petition on, generating more than 500,000 supporters, undertaken by a Ann Arbor high school student, Katy Butler, herself a one-time victim of bullying.

The rating change assures a wider audience, including school-age individuals – those most likely to perpetuate or be affected by bullying.  In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education 13 million American kids are bullied each year.  It is a tragedy and one thankfully being dealt with seriously and with no tolerance, from classrooms to the halls of Congress.  At ages where peer pressure and a desire for acceptance are at their highest levels, the isolation, stress and shame of being bullied experienced by kids often ill equipped to handle it can have dire consequences. All too often, in fact, we hear of suicides and Columbine type reprisals.

Governor Rick Snyder has admitted to being bullied and, as I watched the trailer to the movie, the image of a school bus brought back memories for me as well. In switching from Catholic to public school in 9th grade, I suddenly found myself in a new school, district and environment where I knew no one.  My first day, in fact, I stood on the wrong corner for the bus which subsequently passed me by with a vehicle full of taunting kids. Arriving at school via my parents, I experienced more of the same and what would become several months of unpleasantness – including merciless teasing, being stolen from and physical duress, including being stabbed with a screwdriver. I still bear the scar.

While the experience was terrible at the time, it made me a better person – not only able to “turn the other cheek” but also to stick up for myself when things went too far. In years to come I would intervene where I would see others being bullied – even when it meant putting myself in harm’s way.

Though I don’t know exactly what Bully will ultimately portray or teach, I am hopeful it will open eyes and minds – showing that we are all people with feelings; that no one is any better than anyone else; that, as my mom used to say to me as we would pass someone less fortunate: There but for the grace of God go I. To be sure, there are enough hardships in life. Why do some insist on making things more difficult for others?