Archive for November, 2012

Can Suh Get A Clue?

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Ever wonder just who, exactly, is advising Suh? Is it his sister? A manager?  His coaches? Or, is he ‘winging it’ on his own when it comes to communicating to and through the media?  It appears to me that he could use some help.

Well-spoken and incredibly talented, Ndamukong Suh should be on the road to superstardom – revered by fans, respected by teammates (and opponents) and courted by an unending string of product endorsements. Instead, just a couple of years removed from college and the magical aura of the Number One Draft Pick, Suh is stumbling like a quarterback trying to escape his reach. The sports radio talk shows are inundated with fans who recognize his considerable skills but are puzzled by his continued problems both on and off the field – the latest his $30,000 fine for his (accidental?) kick to the groin of Texan quarterback Matt Schaub. (Suh, has given new meaning to the oft-heard Thanksgiving day phrase, “Give me a leg”).

So what does the future hold for the Lions defensive heavyweight? I would counsel him that the future could be bleak unless he makes corrective action now. Step 1: Start communicating. If his kung fu move last Thursday was indeed inadvertent, then he should have said so when asked that very day – not six days later. Step 2: Be prepared to handle the tough questions. When pushed last season by 97-1 The Ticket afternoon hosts “Valenti and Foster” on his Packer stomp, he cut the interview short. I don’t think he has appeared on the show since (I’m guessing his choice). Step 3: Exhibit honesty. If you did it, take responsibility, apologize and then don’t do it again. Last year’s kick happened. Suh still refuses to admit it. Step 4: Set an example. Suh needs to understand that he is looked at as a role model and now, more than ever, every move he makes is under a microscope. He needs to learn self-control, whether between the lines or behind the wheel. Step 5: Get used to the spotlight: While Suh is no doubt no stranger to being a public figure he is obviously troubled by public scrutiny. He can’t hide from it. He needs to address it head on.

I’m rooting for Ndamukong Suh and would actually relish the opportunity to work with him. What I perceive is an individual who says he is not troubled with his recently-crowned image as the NFL’s dirtiest player but clearly is. As a fan, one would like to see him continue to prove himself without the extracurriculars. As a fellow human being, one would also like to see him exorcise his inner demons toward redemption. Sometimes, the first step in accomplishing this is to talk about it.

Time To Put The News Back In CNN

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Today, CNN hired a new chief. Jeff Zucker, former mastermind of NBC’s most recent success with Today and NBC Nightly news (before a failed tenure heading NBC Entertainment), accepted the job and will drive the mandate for change.

Yes, CNN faces a mountain of competition from emerging news sources online and the polarizing Fox News and MSNBC on TV. But the truth is, that competition is nothing new. CNN really peaked in 1991, when it put itself on the mainstream map with its live coverage from Iraq of the first Gulf War. I worked in the local TV news business in the 1990s and remember when stations would promote themselves as a CNN affiliate, even though its video feed service was available to any station in every market. That is an example of the “gold standard for TV news” brand cache CNN enjoyed for a few years.

But, just three years into its prime, CNN became OJTV, when it covered the O.J. Simpson trial wall-to-wall, even late into the day as the trial was held on the West Coast, essentially abandoning its all-news format. Following OJTV, in its efforts to rebuild, two things happened to set it back. First, Fox News began to pounce by creating a compelling brand and positioning itself as the “attitude” news channel (before preaching political doctrine). Then, Time-Warner corporate ownership downsized the newsgathering operation, weakening CNN’s ability to truly be a national and global news entity. CNN has never recovered.

The New York Times encapsulated Zucker’s introduction with this quote from him today, “I think we can remain true to the journalistic values that have always been the hallmark of CNN and at the same time we can continue to broaden the definition of what news is.”

CNN has 24 hours to fill. But let’s hope, for an hour each day in Prime Time, we can see a broadcast that fits the definition of news that won’t take any broadening. CNN has an opportunity to do a “straight newscast” in the midst of a universe of bias and commentary.

The concept of a 6:30 Eastern Time network newscast was born in the 1950s when, by 6:30pm weekdays, news viewers were home, finished with dinner, and in front of a TV to see what they missed in the news during the day. Now, we need a network newscast to fit the realities of 2013 and beyond. It needs to start no earlier than 8pm Eastern. It needs to assume we saw headlines on-line during the day, but missed the visual storytelling that only TV, especially in the HD age, can really communicate. It needs to provide reporting, beyond the headlines, that gives us more, without screaming partisan talking heads. It needs to respect that just-add-water controversies in national politics and stranger-than-fiction crimes are interesting to many, but there is other news important to us that’s tougher and more expensive to cover and we want that too. It should break stories that the audience will want to talk about online, sharing on social media. It should be anchored by someone credible, who cares about connecting with an audience more than having a pulpit. It should do what the “old 3″ networks do at 6:30, but do it better, for a wider audience and for longer.

For so many years, CNN has tried to beat the other guys with talk and opinion in Prime Time. It hasn’t worked. It’s time to fill the void in the marketplace with a newscast – a retro product with true appeal.

Hostess Demonstrates What A Brand Should Be

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

If there was any question about what a brand should constitute need only look at the ongoing and unfortunate saga of Hostess. A bankruptcy judge in White Plains, New York this week approved a motion by Hostess Brands to begin winding down its operations. In recent days, the iconic maker of bakery goods has very nearly knocked both the Petraeus scandal and Middle East turmoil off of the front page as Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos have literally flown off the shelves of retailers from coast to coast and, like gold, onto Ebay and into personal stashes.

What is a brand exactly? Certainly not a logo. In the case of Hostess, most are hard pressed to recall the Hostess name in blue encircled in a red oval, topped with a red heart. No, a brand, when done right, is something that elicits a positive emotional response and, over time when continually delivering on a “brand promise”: “brand loyalty”.

Most who grew up with Hostess – in less health conscious times to be sure – are certainly nostalgic about the company, brand and what it represents; namely, delicious treats enjoyed during youth. I have incredibly fond memories of riding my bike to the grocery store with friends, 50 cents in hand, to purchase my favorite – the Hostess Fruit Pie (preferably Apple). We then would ride to an area playground to eat our fare from high atop one of the playscapes on one of those lazy summer days. Priceless memories of youth no doubt played out by many millions of individuals over the years. And Hostess consistently played a prominent, priceless role.

It is precisely why, when news of Hostess’ imminent demise first broke, scores of consumers (many of whom no doubt had not purchased a Ding Dong in years), felt compelled to snap up a piece of Americana; indeed a morsel of their very childhood. That constitutes brand gold and is precisely why one or several companies are expected to buy either all or specific products for somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion dollars. And employee layoffs aside, if that’s not a creamy center, I don’t know what is.

College Students Shouldn’t Be Running Your Brand’s Social Media

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Recently, a major university’s Twitter accounts prompted alumni to react negatively after “accidental” posts by the students entrusted to actually manage the accounts, hour-to-hour, on behalf of the school.

In one case, an account representing one of the university’s most respected colleges, with a following of nearly 8,000, tweeted on Election Night “Woo Hoo!” in re-tweeting news that Colorado passed a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. In another case, the university Twitter account itself, followed by more than 17,000, tweeted that it was enjoying a Chick-Fil-A breakfast, even though there are no restaurants in that chain anywhere near campus. In both cases, it was a student posting personal tweets on the school’s accounts. In both cases, the students tried to apologize, in one case blaming the Hootsuite software, making the situation even worse, before the tweets were deleted.

Far beyond a PR lesson, there’s a cultural lesson here that extends far beyond one campus. This trouble didn’t start at the moment of careless students tweeting. It started because our culture has anointed college students as “social media experts.”

That is a flawed distinction because, really, college students, in the midst of a period of learning and growth, shouldn’t be deemed experts in anything. Think about it – many of them just learned how to make a bed when they arrived on campus. It’s time to end the “they’ve been online their whole lives, so they’re really good at it.” Well, I’ve lived in a home with indoor plumbing for my whole life. I use the plumbing every day. Does that make me qualified to be a plumber?

The same thing happens in the workplace. Too often, automatically, the youngest person in any office is the one “handling” social media. That’s a mistake. Just because someone “lives their life online” doesn’t mean they are the best communicator. Sure, on our teams, the younger members of our office tend to handle social media for clients day-to-day. But that’s because we have pre-qualified them as sharp writers with sound judgment, who handle other forms of client communications the rest of the day. They’re professional communicators.

As someone who started on the radio at age 11, nobody values a hands-on communications education more than I do. That’s why, like student newspapers and student radio stations have helped trained students for years, there should be student opportunities for social media. But when you turn over your online brand, you’re asking for trouble. I even worked in commercial, professional radio when I was in college, but never without editors, producers and other filters.

The mistakes made by student tweeters in recent weeks could have gotten them fired in The Real World. Instead, they probably got a “talking to” and, hopefully, an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their careers. They should be able to have those experiences, on accounts flagged as “student run.” But students should not be the greeters at the front door of your brand. Invest the extra dollars and leave that to the pros.

Remembering Sonny Eliot

Friday, November 16th, 2012

It is not every day one gets to witness greatness, in any field or industry. It is rarer still to have the great fortune to work alongside a master of his or her chosen profession.  As you hear and read the many remembrances of those who knew and broadcast with Sonny Eliot, who has passed away at the age of 91, you will sense this common theme and sentiment.

Best known as a wise-cracking weatherman over the course of his amazing 60-years with WWJ (TV and radio), Eliot began his career acting in Detroit-produced national radio productions including “The Lone Ranger” and “The Green Hornet” as well as a performer and voice man for a range of local WWJ-TV programs. After the war, he would discover weather and the rest, as they say, his history.

Both Matt and I were honored to have known and worked with him during our respective stints in radio in the 90s – Matt as a sports reporter with WWJ and I as the station’s drivetime traffic reporter.  It was amazing to watch Sonny write up his radio weather reports, all hand-written, mind you, complete with jokes and clever alliteration. Sonny was equal parts brilliant, creative, funny and crude (off the air). He was a true trailblazer – unique, fearless, one of a kind.

As Matt put it well in today’s Detroit News story, Sonny “oozed personality.” Personality – so key to standing out in broadcasting and something too often lacking in today’s world of overly PC-obsessed broadcast management. It made Sonny unforgettable, including the last time we saw him at the most recent Detroit Radio Reunion.

So many of our best stories of Sonny can’t be told here but will be remembered and told over and over again ‘off the air.’ They don’t just make us smile. They make us laugh until we cry. CBS Detroit has also published a wonderful array of thoughts from other former colleagues that knew Sony well. Take a moment and take a look here as we all remember a true Hall of Famer.

There Should Be No Limit For Journalists on Twitter

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Every so often, there’s a PR decision by an organization that, despite being made by professionals who otherwise know what they’re doing, that, on the surface, just doesn’t make any sense.

That’s how the Twitter policy by the University of Washington, made public today, strikes. The University has instructed journalists to limit the number of live tweets they send while covering UW events.

We have reached an era where live tweeting is essentially live news coverage. While, from the PR vantage point, it can be frustrating because journalists blend instant commentary (and often snark) with real-time reporting, we must respect Twitter posts as a bona fide news platform because that is how the our audiences – the media and the public – audience see it.

There dos not appear to be a UW policy that otherwise restricts news coverage. It would be hard to believe that the University would try to dictate how news is reported in traditional platforms. It’s tough to imagine a restriction on how many newspaper stories a reporter could write or TV packages a station could put together.

Years ago, when I was reporting for radio, I often covered the Detroit Tigers. Because a competing station paid for and maintained play-by-play rights, I was restricted from calling live action on the field during a game. But, I could still report live from the ballpark as often as the station wanted me to, providing facts and the game story to the audience. That restriction made reasonable sense. But restricting tweets to an arbitrary number does not, especially in the age of the multi-screen experience with so many fans watching TV while following social media at the same time.

Here, we are actually doing the opposite with our clients. We handle PR for many events and are have taken steps, including advising our clients to provide workspace and WI-FI access when possible, recognizing that journalists will live tweet the events. While we maintain the right to restricted credential access, once a credential is granted, event coverage is fair game, regardless of platform.

It’s impossible to imagine anyone choosing not to attend an event, particularly a major sports event, to stay home and read live tweets instead. In fact, we have found that live tweeting is good for brand engagement and awareness. In short, it’s good PR.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (?)

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

While many are digesting the last of their Halloween candy and Thanksgiving is gradually entering onto individual radar screens, one need not travel far up or down the dial to tunes of a counterintuitive nature for this time of year: Christmas music.

Like it or love it, radio stations are spreading the yuletide spirit across the country – in some cases, earlier and earlier. Bill Shea of Crain’s Detroit Business explored the how’s and why’s in his story this week featuring Tanner Friedman’s perspectives. You can read the entire piece here.

In Metro Detroit, adult contemporary station WNIC continues to lead the annual Kris Kringle-charge as they took to the airwaves on November 9th to inject visions of sugar plumbs into their listener’s heads. By comparison, Chicago’s WLIT went all-holiday on Halloween, Seattle’s KYXE on October 10! Like ‘NIC, both stations are soft rock, a format historically most conducive to the multi-week (or month) switch.

As the Crain’s story described, holiday music is big business for radio. For example, over the past 3 years, WNIC has ranked #1 ever year for both the December and Holiday rating books, pulling listeners from virtually every other radio station in town. After all, in the segmented world of radio, holiday music represents the only format that can potentially appeal to everyone at some point. As such, stations like WNIC often raise spot rates during this period by as much as 20%.

As commercial radio continues to look for more ways to stand out from its many competitors, don’t be surprised to see more stations unveiling temporary ‘Santa-song switches’ – gift wrapped especially for both increased listening and commercial ad dollars.

The Fundamental PR Mistake That Hurt the Romney Campaign

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

There can’t be just one reason why a presidential candidate loses an election. It’s virtually impossible to come up with a soundbite answer. There’s politics, psychology and factors and even much more complicated. In this case, it seems that ignoring an important PR fundamental, at the least, contributed to the ultimate failure of the Mitt Romney campaign.

This is a crucial fundamental, a bedrock of PR that consistently proves true regardless of changes to communications: If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you. If you don’t tell your own story, others will frame your story for you.

It’s worth noting again that Political PR and Business PR are different. Politics plays by a different manual and rulebook. But, from this vantage point, are a few of the many ways in which the Romney Campaign apparently seemed to allow the Obama Campaign to shape public perception of Mitt Romney:

-Romney as a rich, out of touch elitist:

I was only a couple of hundred feet away from Romney when he cracked about his wife having “a couple of Cadillacs” in the heat of Primary season. He didn’t do himself any favors with that line. But, as I discussed about 100 days before the Election in an interview on Sirius-XM radio, the Campaign’s decision not to release tax returns was one that played right into the hands of the Obama Campaign. The public had just one conclusion – that Romney was hiding a literal embarrassment of riches. That set up an ongoing narrative, often dominating the public discussion, over which the Romney Campaign had no control. The timing for such a controversy could not have been worse, with America still reeling from The Great Recession. Romney should have released the tax returns, explained them, and moved on to explaining why he should be elected President. Other wealthy men have been elected to office before but never was wealth such a barrier. Much of that was self-inflicted.

-Romney said “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt”

Mitt Romney never said “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” The problem for him is that he never said that he never said it. It was a headline written by a New York Times editor. We work with dozens of op-ed pieces per year with our clients. Our clients never get to write the headlines on any of them. That’s a job for editors. I will never understand why Romney wouldn’t just say that he never said that, never wrote that as it was written for him, and explain his opinion on what should have happened to the auto industry in terms voters could understand. Or, better yet (let’s suspend the reality of politics for a second), give President Obama credit for that “win,” and then talk about all of the ways he believes the President “lost” otherwise.

-Romney as a political chameleon

Ironically, it has been well reported that Romney’s health care laws in Massachusetts served as a model for “Obamacare.” But, as a presidential candidate, Romney promised to “repeal and replace” the federal law. That gave the Obama Campaign a big opening to shape the image of Romney as an unpredictable flip-flopper. This would never happen in the world of politics, but Romney could have explained that his job is to represent his party as its nominee so he’s doing his job by upholding the GOP platform. But since the code of Political PR wouldn’t allow for it, the Campaign’s brand took a hit.

This is a lesson for anyone trying to communicate. Shape your own story. Deliver it over every possible platform. Otherwise, your competition will happily tell your audiences all about you, from their perspective.

I’m Sorry If You Missed This Story About Apple, So Here Are Some Thoughts…

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Monday night, as Hurricane Sandy hammered the East Coast, the Wall Street Journal broke a business story that would have risen much higher on the news agenda under different circumstances. One of Apple’s top executives was reportedly fired because he refused to join his boss in apologizing for a snafu for which this executive was at least partially responsible. The product in question was Apple’s much maligned Apple Maps software, which is installed on every new and upgraded iPhone.

You can read about what happened to Scott Forstall here. By all accounts, his refusal to participated in a sound and somewhat uncharacteristic PR move by Apple did not alone cost him his job. But it appears that it was the proverbial “last straw.” Apple has become the world’s most cash-rich company by making products that consumers not only want, they feel like they need. That success has come in spite of the fact Apple is also often the most arrogant on the planet, even though it grew from the most humble, entrepreneurial roots.

When a company messes up, it should apologize to its customers. It’s really that simple. When that happens, it’s a company apology. No one executive should be allowed to sit out. A leadership team can not lead when a one executive is out of synch, especially in a public way.

Several years ago, I worked with a technology client in transition. Because of a bankruptcy filing by a third-party provider, it had to quickly transition customers to a new, hastily-created system. That transition did not go well, knocking out service to hundreds of thousands of customers. In a meeting with local management, both the company’s ad agency and I recommended a quick public apology. The executives refused, saying they had nothing to apologize for – the outage was caused by another company’s bankruptcy and they did the best they could. That was an awful decision, driven by fear and hubris. After several days locked in the public pillory, their corporate bosses overruled them and demanded a local apology, which was received “better late than never” by the public. As strongly as the local executives felt about not apologizing, they got in line when ordered by top management.

These two lessons are important when considering technology and product PR. Sometimes, things won’t go as planned or as promised. When that happens, you owe it to your customers to apologize, fix the problem and quickly move on. It’s really that simple. If only every executive could understand.