Archive for June, 2012

Here’s One Radio Format That’s Booming

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Like all other traditional media, radio has seen fundamental change in the past several years. Through all of the changes and all of the cuts, one format – sports radio – is stronger than ever before.

That strength has led CBS to enlist the help of rival station owner Cumulus to work together to take on sports radio behemoth ESPN. Here are the details announced just last week of the new CBS Sports Radio Network that will begin later this year and grow into 2013. In short, CBS will pair its content from its successful major market sports format stations with Cumulus’ need for high-margin smaller market stations. It’s all designed to give CBS a new national advertising sales platform and provide Cumulus with profitable programming.

So why is sports radio in a growth mode when most of commercial radio is contracting? There are two main reasons. First, with the big market ratings system switch from diaries to Portable People Meters, men who would have previously never recorded listening in diaries are, all of a sudden, being counted in the ratings because they will wear a meter. This has helped sports stations in top markets, many of which have moved to FM, catapult to the top of the ratings and serve as big revenue generators for their corporate owners.

Also, like sports TV’s “DVR proof” nature, sports radio faces less of a threat than most formats from iPod or Pandora competition. Sports changes daily and sports debate is best experienced live. Those are strong attributes for radio loyalty and time spent listening. While your iPod can play your favorite songs, it can’t provide up-to-the-minute opinion or analysis of your favorite teams. Plus, live play-by-play continues to be valuable for the same reasons – it’s just not the same when it’s recorded and if you’re listening to a tight game, you’ll actually listen to the commercials.

No matter where you live, in the midst of all of the changes, expect sports radio to grow while other formats continue to cut back.

Waxing Nostalgic

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

I work out with my iPhone which, of course, contains an iPod which contains, as of this writing, nearly 600 of my favorite downloaded songs. One of my favorite features of the iPod is the ability to see and flip through the “album covers” of those songs. Albums. Does the latest generation of music consumers – those that typically download songs rather than entire works – even know what the word refers to?

The Grammys as much as anything have kept the word alive. Along with Song of the Year and Record of the Year, there is still the prestigious Album of the Year, which awards artist, producer, engineer and mixer of a complete work of songs. Beyond that, for most, an Album is a grouping of digital photos on Facebook.

Long before the internet, TMZ and concert DVDs, one of the few ways to stay up to date with your favorite artists was to purchase their records – from record stores (another dying breed). Rolling Stone and Creem magazines along with by-mail fan clubs helped some but there was nothing like thumbing through the alphabetized record bins to locate your favorite new “wax”. A fingernail run along the right side of the album cover once home would free the vinyl disk of 10-12 tracks from its clear wrap seal, allowing placement of record on turntable and needle on album. Huge tuners then amplified the music via speakers even larger. Today, this process sounds almost as foreign as placing a film reel on a projector to watch home movies.

Coming in a close second to the pleasure of hearing the new music was enjoying the cardboard encasement. Typically 12.375 inches square (in order to tightly hold a 12″ disk), these “covers” were of an ideal size to accommodate incredible artwork and photography (some suitable for framing) from many of the industry’s finest. Inside, a treasure trove of information including lyrics, photos, writing and musician credits, was easily accessible, without the need for a magnifying glass – gold to a young radio DJ (me), beginning his career in the early 80s.

While the record album is still available on a limited basis, due to nostalgia and its superior sound quality to MP3s, it will forever be the “odd man out”. The music is still out there to be consumed yet the information associated with it must be sought out separately. I’m not so sure that’s progress.

At Least Have The Decency…

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

When it comes to words in the English language, which do you consider obscene? If Michigan House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas were to be believed, one of those words might be vagina. State Representative Lisa Brown was barred from speaking in session the day after using the word while arguing  against anti-choice abortion legislation. Interestingly, on Saturday, a particular SNL sketch featured the use of the word penis repeatedly. What’s right? What’s wrong?

Obviously the use of either of the words in italics above should not be deemed indecent or inappropriate, at least not in most contexts. Derivatives of those terms, however – especially those used in profane ways – can be. Where to turn for help? In 1972, the late great comedian George Carlin debuted his famous monologue, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”.  I will not list them here but suffice it to say the list still holds true after 40 years. It does not, of course, contain the “v” or “p” words referred to previously. Incredibly controversial, Carlin’s bit was also instrumental in the FCC’s establishing of indecency regulations, decades after the advent of broadcasting.

Today, it’s often hard to tell if any regulations are in place. That they do not pertain to cable television or satellite TV clouds the issue further (just watch HBO or listen to Howard Stern on Sirius/XM). A kinder, gentler FCC also considers context when judging whether the use of particular words are objectionable. During the 2003 Golden Globes, for example, U2 frontman Bono got away with using the ‘f’ work (adding ‘ing’), as it was deemed an ‘intensifier’ rather than a description of a sex act. And, how can you censor any type of live TV (including sporting events with emotional coaches and players) without some sort of tape delay?

While we have come a long way since the days of Lucy and Desi (and Fred and Wilma) sleeping in separate beds as well as tempered our Puritanistic tendencies when it comes to what we consider “over the line”, incidents such as what happened last week in Lansing demonstrate clearly that we still have a long (intensifier here) way to go.

Here’s Who Wins When Newspapers Slash Jobs

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

This week, we’re seeing new reports of newspapers decimating their ranks of journalists, somehow thinking that that will help with their chances of survival. Newspapers in New Orleans and Alabama laid off half their staffs – hundreds of journalists – this week. At the same time, reports say the already skin-and-bones Detroit Free Press will cut even more. It’s very similar to what we have seen in radio, where big corporate owners have tried (and largely failed) to cut their way to success.

But what if another familiar industry tried this approach? Let’s say you live in a city with one full-service restaurant – a venerable and trusted institution that has served generations excellent food with the highest level of service – alongside four fast-food restaurants, as the only dining establishments in town. Ten years ago, when sit-down dinner business began to fall off because customers preferred quick meals for their busy lives, the restaurant opened a drive-through. To generate interest in the new drive-through, it gave free dinners to anyone who used it.

As revenue began to slip, the family that owned the restaurant sold for cash to a corporation that owned restaurants all over the country. The former owners moved into a mansion in a city far away and the corporate owners began to cut. Ten years later, when there were not enough cooks to keep up with orders, they cut down the menu, offering fewer choices. They cut the wait staff, which for years had focused on personalized service, so there is one server per four tables. As business fell off, corporate owners ordered lesser qualities of meat, replacing USDA Prime, and doubled the price of steaks. Workers felt overworked and underpaid but were just happy to have a job. Meanwhile, the drive-through continued to give away food for free. Business continued to fall and the corporation continued to cut.

In this case, the restaurant is the newspaper. The drive-through is the Web version of the paper. The steak is the paper itself. And fast-food, well that’s broadcast (for the record, I believe there is such as thing as good fast-food). If the restaurant seems like a business nightmare, you get the idea of what’s happening in the media business.

Why would a company reduce the quality of its product, making it less valuable to customers and seem like it has no interest in growing market share? As a wise source once said, “Follow the money.”

Public media company executives don’t get bonused on how many stories their companies break or how many Pulitzers their newsrooms win. They don’t get to keep or lose their jobs because of good or bad journalism. They are like all other public corporations – it’s all about “hitting the numbers.”

While journalists lose their jobs and communities lose their journalists, executives get paid. Case in point, Gannett, which owns more newspapers than any other company. Their CEO received $32 million to leave the company earlier this year.

Without journalists, the executives of today who cash out tomorrow may have no way of knowing when the newspapers they oversaw finally cease to exist.

Appreciating Professional Journalism For What It Is – And Does

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

We are living in extraordinary times. While Dan Gilbert, Pete Karmanos and others in the business community continue to provide investment and momentum for development, commerce, downtown living and increased tax revenue in the city, Detroit’s civic leadership continues to struggle. This morning, the Editorial Page Editors of both dailies, Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson – addressed the issue head on with necessary candor.

“Swallow your pride — or choke on it,” writes the Detroit Free Press’s Henderson. “That’s what Detroit is down to in its operatic arc of financial tragedy: a final choice between acceptance of reality and suicidal defiance. The city’s elected officials can let their rogue corporation counsel…attempt to undo the consent agreement with the state to better manage Detroit’s finances. Or they can act like grown-ups and accept, with just a modicum of humility, that it is their responsibility to determine Detroit’s fate…”

Opines Finley of the Detroit News: “Somewhere in the city there may be someone capable of running Detroit, but it’s not the bunch occupying City Hall. [Governor] Snyder tried a shared-power arrangement in deference to the city’s pleas to respect local control. Now the governor can see what local control looks like in Detroit. Snyder should appoint an emergency manager and put an end to this train wreck before it takes down the rest of the state.”

Anytime anyone questions the power of the press and importance of the media (including oft-maligned print), I point to columns like this or, similarly, Pulitzer Prize winning pieces that bring public corruption such as Kwame Kilpatrick’s wrongdoings to light. Outstanding journalism cannot be underestimated and should not go unappreciated as it serves as an important seeker of truth and catalyst for positive change.

How The IPO Has Already Changed Facebook

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

If you believed in the “Social Media Expert,” it’s now officially time to put that fraud in the same category as the Tooth Fairy – something fictional, invented to comfort the ignorant.

Those who manage Facebook “like” pages (formerly known as “fan” pages often called “business” pages) have noticed a change that affects everyone who uses Facebook. This latest change, after what seems like a slew of changes, is the first visible sign that Facebook will be different as a public company.

For those of us who manage “like” pages, we now have something to dislike. Facebook now tells us what percentage of the opt-in network a post reaches. The short version of the story is that, in essence, the only way to reach 100% of your “likes” is to pay Facebook for the privilege. Clearly, this is an attempt by Facebook to increase its advertising revenue, as promised to Wall Street.

For the average user, it affects all of those pages you have “liked” so you can see all of their posts. As of now, you won’t be able to see all of those posts, even though you have elected to do so, unless the company or person you “like” pays Facebook.

For communicators, the advice is to continue to do as we have been saying since the advent of social media – diversify. Make sure you aren’t relying too much on Facebook – or any one platform – to communicate your brand. Only through a multi-platform approach can you accomplish your objectives.

Additionally, this could end up being a flaw in Facebook’s game. Might it be an opportunity for an upstart to make progress? Or will public pressure begin, forcing Facebook to explore other options? So far, there hasn’t been mainstream media coverage of this. That’s due, at least in part, to a smokescreen put up by Facebook as this new policy began. The company (which has a PR department run by former Bill Clinton communications chief Joe Lockhart) created a distraction in recent days by announcing it was considering access for children.

As for the self-proclaimed “Social Media Experts” – some of what they sold two weeks ago can no longer be peddled. The rules of the game are changing. That’s why it’s important to be able to play as many positions as possible.

Save The Last Dance For Me

Monday, June 4th, 2012

As Matt mentioned in his most recent blog, the past couple of weeks have been acutely focused around preparing for and attending the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, which ran May 29 – June 1st.  The annual statewide-focused rite of Spring provides an ideal opportunity for business leaders and policy makers to gather, discuss and act upon what is right and wrong with Michigan. The key word her is opportunity.

For rookies or those who have never attended Mackinac, we always recommend experiencing and participating in the conference to the fullest extent. And lest one thinks the conference is just about sitting in the theater watching sessions or late night revelry, it is, rather, if done right, hard work. To be sure, it is a marathon of learning, participating, meeting and introducing – aimed at collaboration and relationship building.

While speaking at Chamber member events I often extol the benefits of the conference including the late night opportunities for business-world bonding. After all, where better to truly loosen your tie and let one’s hair down and than at casual establishments with names like Horn’s, Pink Pony and Wild Mustang. It is there that productive conversations over great music and a cold beer could not exist as effectively elsewhere. Some often compare a few days on the island as akin to a year of lunch meetings. At Mackinac, you can only plan so much. It often happens organically, naturally, and, after hours.

What most people don’t realize or appreciate, though, is that this camaraderie occurs at its finest on the conference’s final night; you know, the evening following what is typically a mass daytime exodus from the island. In a recent year, I compared the final day’s late morning/early afternoon attendee exit as looking like the fall of Saigon (I half expected a helicopter to suddenly be pushed from the top of one of the Arnold Ferries). It is on this evening, though, that bonding happens most casually and effectively – with persevering attendees connected by their marathon-esque sense of accomplishment, knowing that sleep will come soon enough and the realization that a really good thing is about to come to an end for another year.

The Most Annoying New Phrase In Public Speaking. Right?

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Last week, attending one of the nation’s top gatherings of business leaders, government officials and top speakers, the Mackinac Policy Conference, I was exposed to intriguing perspectives from the Conference stage, along with the most annoying new trend of public speakers and conversationalists.

Right?

Since last year, I have noticed speakers, in one-on-one discussion, in meetings and in public forums irritate audiences with a new mental-verbal hesitation device. But it was particularly rampant from the Mackinac stage.

Right?

Yes. That’s right. Like a virus that seems to spread from meeting to meeting, conference to conference, speakers now feel the need to make their point then, out loud, ask the rhetorical question, “right?” It’s like “you know what I’m sayin?’” for the educated.

At first, I took this as a sign of arrogance, like the speaker needs verbal validation from the audience to boost confidence in the points the speaker was trying to make by receiving nodding heads in return. In some cases, that could be true. But, since I heard it so frequently last week, I am now convinced it’s just a verbal crutch – the latest tool the subconscious uses to buy a second of time to think of what should be said next, like “aaah,” “umm” and “you know.”

Whatever the reason, it’s counter to strong verbal communication. As a speaker, whether it’s across the table or across an auditorium, it’s important to verbalize your messages clearly. Cluttering your speech by asking “right?” after a bold, declarative sentence forces your audience to think about why you are asking if it’s “right?” instead of full attention to the message itself.

In this case, “right?” is wrong.