Archive for December, 2012

A Literal Sign of Opportunity In 2013

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

How are you feeling about the PR and communications business heading into 2013?

Sometimes, nervousness can be tempting. It can be easy to think about the continued contraction of traditional media, the uncertainty of social media platforms, the prolonged de-emphasis of PR by too many large corporations and the “experts” who are popping up around every corner, claiming to know more than the professionals who serve clients for a living. But, then, there’s a sign, quite literally, that much opportunity lies in front of us.

During a Christmas Morning walk in Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta, I noticed a historical marker about an event I had never heard of in the 20 years I have been spending time in that city (including time working in that market’s leading broadcast newsroom). The marker tells of what can only be described in today’s language as a mega PR campaign, held in 1895. I have pasted the text of the sign below. As you read it, think about how much money was raised ($53 million in today’s currency), how many people came together and how much was accomplished, all with 19th century tactics. After you read it, think about how much we can accomplish today to use communications strategies to accomplish business objectives, with the tools available to professionals in this business. If it doesn’t get you psyched about 2013, I’m not sure what can.

“The Cotton States and International Exposition. Was held for 100 days from Sept. 18. to Dec 31, 1895 in Piedmont Park. This event was held at a time when the region’s population was only 75,000 and economically depressed. The people of Atlanta raised two million dollars to finance a public exposition. The theme for the exposition was two fold: to exhibit the resources of the Cotton States and to stimulate trade with Spanish American Countries. The exposition attracted over 800,000 visitors from 37 states and foreign countries. Eleven elaborate exhibition buildings were built to house 6,000 exhibits. Principal buildings included the 65,000 sq. ft. US Government Building, the Negro Building, Women’s Building, Georgia Building, Electrical Building. Other attractions included a Ferris Wheel moving picture theater, water rides, reunion of Confederate and Union soldiers, University of Georgia vs. Auburn University football game, the Liberty Bell, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. President Grover Cleveland and John Philip Sousa composed the King Cotton March for the occasion. All citizens were involved in the exposition and the success of the exposition proved to lift the community to a high plane of prosperity and public spirit.”

On that note, Happy New Year from all of us at Tanner Friedman.

A Thank You From Us To You

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

While we use this blog to contemplate and, we hope, initiate dialogue, we also use this platform to critique, suggest and, perhaps not often enough: praise. As we approach the end of the year and ready for another – Tanner Friedman’s seventh in business – we thought it fitting to go out on a positive note with not a holiday but rather a ‘thank you’ card of sorts:

To our clients: Thank you for your trust and support. Many of you have been with us since Day One (before even) as recognize and appreciate that our firm has only your best interests in mind as we work hard to meet your goals and business objectives.

To our strategic partners: Thank you for playing a vital role on our team. Whether for graphic design, video, printing, photography or day-to-day media relations and account work, you make us seamlessly better.

To our friends in the media: Thank you for recognizing that our firm forever operates on behalf of our agency and our clients with honesty, integrity and ‘respect for the in-basket’. That you trust us and the information and access we provide is gratifying. We also greatly appreciate your approaching us for thoughts and expertise on media and marketing stories you prepare.

To our PR brethren: As our firm continues to take a leadership role with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), it is quite rewarding to build new relationships while strengthening existing ones – both on the agency and corporate side.  We enjoy giving back to the industry while also referring business back and forth. Thank you.

To our Tanner Friedman team members: A heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you. You have made our first six years in business rewarding in so many ways. We work hard but all enjoy coming to work every day. Our team work simply cannot be beat.

To All: We have been honored to collaborate with you and look forward to continuing to do so in 2013 and beyond. Happy New Year from Tanner Friedman.

News Anchor’s Departure Evidence of A Radio Challenge

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

For 36 years, Metro Detroiters woke up to Joe Donovan’s voice giving them the news headlines, traffic, weather and some clever and often hysterical ad-libs. First with Don Patrick and for the past 20+ years with co-anchor Roberta Jasina, Joe combined his distinct baritone, uncanny way with words, newsman’s curiosity and unwavering professionalism to cement WWJ’s place in the morning ratings and the go-to place on the dial when the snow falls or the big story breaks.

On Friday, at the end of “morning drive time,” Joe very quickly said goodbye to the audience and apparently headed into retirement. On the air in Detroit since 1970 (radio fans will love seeing Joe in this portion of a documentary on CKLW, where he was part of “20/20 News”), he deserved attention on TV for leaving the air. I had the privilege of talking about him in this WDIV-TV story, as I worked at WWJ with Joe.

As a professional, I’ll always appreciate the confidence Joe showed in me early in my career. Personally, I’ll miss bumping into him when visiting the newsroom and talking college football (his knowledge of the sport runs deep, as much of the audience remembers from his pre-Internet days. Fall Saturdays on WWJ became “The Joe Show” with his scoreboard updates). But most of all, I’ll miss hearing him when my clock radio alarm goes off and throughout my drive to wherever I’m starting my day.

As listeners, we’re selfish. We want the professionals who wake up at 2am for decades to serve us and work forever. But the radio industry, like most corporate entities, doesn’t often think long-term. Now we’re faced with a retiring generation and so few prepared to step forward. For more than 20 years, radio news has not developed a “farm system.” Very few commercial stations around the country have been committed to news. The only all-news stations are in the largest markets. Because of budget constraints, those stations haven’t been able to develop “benches” like they used to.

WWJ enjoys a terrific brand and often leads the market in ad revenue. The format is the star, so that is likely to continue, even without Joe Donovan. But with that generation of broadcasters headed into retirement, the valuable medium of radio news faces a challenge – who will anchor the news when they’re gone?

To Triumph Over Tragedy

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

How does one make sense of the events of Friday December 14th in Connecticut? What does one say, do? What do our reactions portend for today and tomorrow and what do they say about us and our news media?

As we search for answers many of us still have only questions. And, in times like these, we seek information. At the same time, we seek the solace and comfort of community. It is truly when the media can be at its best – and worst. How did you first learn of the events in Newtown? As it happened during the day, most likely it was through the web or radio. A TV in the lobby of our office kept those coming and going informed. A tweet from an NFL player I happened to notice informed me that events were unfolding at an elementary school. And, during the evening hours, who wasn’t glued to their television sets for additional details and a quest for connection; the latter almost a desire for validation that this was an anomaly, that we are still, as a society and at our core, good. By and large, the news media showed respect early for the families with children involved. Incredibly, later in the day, many young students and their parents were appearing on camera to discuss the events of the day. One would hope a psychologist was the source of their first conversations.

Since philosophers could philosophize, there has been debated the question: Can we recognize good without evil?  Further extrapolated to our modern society: Does positive change come without tragedy? These are questions too painful to consider. Instead, there has begun, once again, an all-important dialogue designed to enact measures to, it is hoped, prevent such violent recurrences. Today, we are once again examining gun control, mental health issues and the family unit. That is a good thing. That is healthy.

It is ultimately sad, however, that it takes adversity to bring us together. Yet, trying to find a ‘light’ amid darkness, as I write we are not Republicans vs. Democrats battling over the answer to eliminating the fiscal cliff. We are not the State of Michigan vs. Detroit City Council on EMF law or union backers vs. right to work. All of those issues have been taken off the front pages and onto the back burner of importance in our lives. Today, we are just people – those who love and want to protect our children. We are unified in our shock, grief and desire to show support for the victims. It’s the first step toward healing. And, lest we forget, it is who we really are.

Voice-Tracking: Radio’s Devil in Disguise

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Wikipedia describes voice-tracking as follows: Voice-tracking, also called cyber jocking and referred to sometimes colloquially as a robojock, is a technique employed by some radio stations in radio broadcasting to produce the illusion of a live disc jockey or announcer sitting in the radio studios of the station when one is not actually present. Sounds almost dishonest, doesn’t it? I would argue that it will be radio’s death knell if it continues to be employed by commercial stations.

Decades ago, some music stations in small towns across the country utilized satellite feeds where they either did not have access to adequate on-air talent or otherwise could not afford them. Again, these were tiny markets where, next to a local AM station for news and weather, it perhaps made sense to bring in a feed from a satellite music network with professional jock talent (long before the days of the more diverse and sophisticated Sirius/XM). Major markets, on the other hand, offered listeners in their respective cities top live, local talent. Promoted and touted, many became virtual rockstars and ratings cash cows. All of that continues to be turned on its ear from coast-to-coast.

This afternoon, Clear Channel radio announced that longtime Detroit talent Frankie Darcell has been let go from “Old School Jams” WMXD (92.3 FM) with more talent extractions to be announced at other local properties. Darcell was not just any radio announcer. She was the station’s longtime afternoon drive host and known as one of the industry’s finest. People listened to hear her as much as the music she played. The explanation from the radio group: “[We] will be taking advantage of the latest cutting-edge technology and organizational structure so we can continue to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

What does that mean exactly? Voice-tracking where someone in another market will be pre-recording their show for this market. And what of live and local with a personality (such as Darcell) who lived, breathed and understood the fabric of Metro Detroit? Evidently it is not as important as the bottom line. Yet, as we’ve said many times before (and, it evidently bears repeating again), what, then, becomes of the value proposition for someone to listen to a particular station and not an iPod or commercial-less satellite offerings?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Another Motown Morning Show Moves On

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

It seems there is never a dull moment in the world of Detroit radio, as evidenced by Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea’s second major piece on the topic in two weeks. This time, another Motown Morning Show makes an exit; not for retirement but, rather, greener pastures – literally. You can read Bill’s entire piece here, once again featuring thoughts from Tanner Friedman. We wanted to elaborate further.

So where might 89x’s dynamic duo (actually it’s a team of three) “Dave & Chuck the Freak” be off to? No one seems to know exactly; in fact, it is perhaps this city’s best kept secret since the Kilpatrick/Beatty affair. There is, however, much speculation. Mary Martin of Martin Media Services knows radio well – she buys it for a living. And while, she says, rumors abound that the team could be heading to Greater Media to lead a revamped Magic (currently playing all holiday music in their A/C format), she would put her money on CBS’s AMP Radio.

Martin cites, in particular, CBS’s deep pockets and the fact that while the station does well in the ratings with Women 18-34, it still has not reached peak potential. “Dave & Chuck” on the other hand, routinely trounce 97-1 “The Ticket” in the top spot with Men 18-34. Would, however, CBS want to battle its sister station in this regard? On the other hand, no one does “live and local” like CBS Radio. Have the two tone down content a little and you might just have the right combo to truly make a run at Clear Channel’s Channel 9-55.

We’ll continue to watch and listen. With a multi-month non-compete currently in play, it could be late 1Q 2013 before they return to the airwaves. Then, they are sure to raise havoc and, most likely, the PPM numbers of the station that takes them in.

AT&T Outage Shows How PR Culture Must Change

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

This morning, my 8am conference call, much to my on-time obsessed horror, started at 8:06am. That’s because I thought my cell phone was broken, as it wouldn’t dial calls. It took a few minutes to realize it was my phone then get to a landline.

After thoughts of spending the day in line at the AT&T Store stressed me out, I took to Twitter to see if I was alone with this electronic malady. Within seconds, I found out that I wasn’t. Within minutes, it became clear there was a market-wide voice service outage. Minutes later, traditional media had heard from enough customers that it reported this as news. Nearly two hours after my would-be 8am call, AT&T’s Twitter customer service staff tweeted me back to let me know they are “working on it now.” An hour later, I read on Twitter and confirmed myself that it was over.

AT&T could have been proactive about this, saving a drain on its call centers and retail stores for customers who thought it was “just them.” It’s a lot like what I wrote about in this piece from 2008. Much has changed in four years, but corporate PR culture, unfortunately, has not. Companies are still afraid to communicate any “bad news,” even when it’s in the best interest of their customers.

In the case of this morning, text messaging worked. Email service worked. AT&T can text and/or email all of its customers. They could have notified us right away that there’s an outage in our area – there’s no need to call them or visit a store – and they’ll keep us updated. Then, when it was fixed, a text message, email or automated call could have brought the news of the successful resolution. They are a technology company. They are a communications company. Unlike most companies, they have the contact information for every one of their customers. If nothing else, they could have communicated via traditional and social media to manage expectations and save unnecessary frustration for customers calling and visiting stores.

But, no. Corporate PR generally dictates “reactive only” procedures in these situations. As I wrote four years ago, when Don and I worked with an airline once upon a time, our client proactively notified customers and we notified media when the airline would cancel large amounts of flights during severe snowstorms. That was more than 12 years ago. We saved thousands of unnecessary trips to airports and customers actually thanked the airline for being proactive. The media showcased our efforts as an example of good customer relations. The technology and PR both worked then. They would work even better now. If only companies didn’t live in fear of (cue ominous music) “bad news.”