Archive for March, 2013

Media Relations: The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

pinwheelOf all of the lines about the media business I have ripped off over the years, the one that I seem to use the most consistently is “The ‘T’ in TV stands for ‘Today.’” In TV news, for as long as I can remember, if a story doesn’t have a “today” hook and a sense of “now,” it’s probably not going to get covered. “Evergreen” stories are nearly impossible to get covered. Now, it isn’t just TV where that applies.

The significant reduction of traditional media resources and space has caused a wave of changes in the PR business. But one of them is a a change in mindset. We have had to learn how to get used to waiting for even “good stories” to get done and then usually wait some more for them to appear.

A few weeks ago, we got a call from a reporter who had been assigned a business trend story by her editor. She thought one of the organizations we work with could be helpful. We provided information and access right away and she had what she needed relatively quickly, considering it was an enterprise story. Yet, the story took 13 days to appear online and in print.

Three weeks ago today, a TV station interviewed one of our Tanner Friedman clients for a planned “promotable” story. It has yet to go on the air because a glut of “day of” news has gotten in the way. 22 days ago, a business reporter got back to us with some follow-up questions about a possible story. That reporter hasn’t been able to get back to it since.

It’s important to remember when bringing potential news to journalists that “the news of the day” is always going to win. Everything else, even if reporters and editors like the story, is going to have to wait. That can be frustrating, but it is important to remember that it’s the new reality and something you need to condition your clients to expect.

The best way to get coverage now is either to have something that can’t wait, like an announcement that meets news criteria, or to offer an angle to a story that the media is already covering. Otherwise, it is going to require patience for you and your client. That is something we didn’t need as much in this job just a few years ago. Now, it’s an imperative quality.

City of Detroit: Give It To Us Straight

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.07.46 PMOver this past weekend I had an opportunity to sit down with an old friend over dinner and intelligent conversation. It was only a matter of time before the topic turned to Detroit and the Emergency Financial Manager situation.  Perhaps only the Kwame Kilpatrick saga has been a bigger story in Detroit in recent days and months.

All politics aside, no one can deny that something needs to be done to reverse the financial (mis)fortunes of the City. These same trials and tribulations have taken more copy space in more media outlets while ruffing more civic leadership feathers than a Gander Mountain winter coat rack. Yet, who are the bulk of these complaints coming from and are all audiences truly being informed of all possible contingencies (and the ramifications of the “same old”)?

Certainly, the old adage: the squeaky wheel gets the grease applies. High-profile community leaders, both based here and coming in from outside the market, continue to pontificate and dialogue-dominate while, all too often, suggesting disruptive protests and/or taking discourse back to the divisive isolationist days of Coleman Young.  Are these individuals truly representing the men, women and children of Detroit? Do they really appreciate and sympathize with the plight of those who see 9-1-1 calls go unheeded, nights go unlit and garbage not go away? Are they experiencing it firsthand?

Or maybe the anti-EFM catcalls would more easily be held at bay if the City and those working to bail it out did a better job of communicating, more specifically, what a bankrupt Detroit would look like.  Perhaps the best example of a hint of this is what occurred after the failed Belle Isle sale was announced. Who was not aghast at the prospect, said Mayor Bing, of 100 city parks closing as a result and the impact that would have on, in particular, our kids – our future.

As Kevin Orr moves forward with, as he tells it, “everything on the table”, I would suggest the City continue to give it to us straight – letting us all know the stark realities of exactly what we are facing and what, item by item, will occur if we don’t finally fix what is financially broken.



Time For The NCAA To End Its PR Madness

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

ncaa bkb logo(3)This year, as the on-court performance of 18-22 year-olds takes over part of the nation’s collective attention, the body that is supposed to regulate college athletics, the NCAA, is under the PR microscope.

And speaking of a microscope, a really powerful one is what you might need to find the NCAA’s PR strategy in the face of adversity because it can’t be detected by the naked eye. One of the adages we preach to clients who are faced with PR challenges is “speak for yourself because others who don’t share your agenda will gladly speak for you.” That is certainly happening in the case of the NCAA.

From commentators like ESPN’s Jay Bilas (a former college basketball player and practicing attorney) who calls the NCAA’s model “profoundly immoral” in this Wall Street Journal interview to University Presidents like Miami’s Donna Shalala, whose school was at the crosshairs of a NCAA investigation handled improperly, to the attorneys of a case against the NCAA that could entitle players to payment for their likeness, the NCAA is being lambasted in the media. Everybody with an interest seems to be talking, except the NCAA.

In the next three weeks, with everyone from casual office pool participants to hard-core fans to loyal alumni watching, how will the NCAA take steps to try to convince its audience of its value? It is in the best interest of the NCAA, to use this opportunity to communicate its messages and explain to the public how it plans to evolve its model if, in fact it does, or defend its model if it does not. This is the opportunity, while it has the public’s attention for its marquee event (it does not control college football’s championship), to enter the dialogue with its own story, beyond its 30-second “student athlete” commercials.

But, it’s important to remember that the NCAA is ruled by an Executive Committee, comprised of presidents of the universities for which the NCAA represents to rightsholders and sponsors and over which the NCAA polices behavior. Since the Miami investigation scandal broke, a statement reported in this story is all that has come out from the Executive Committee. So, despite the PR madness, expect the show go on as usual, with critics taking the lead.

Yahoo! Should Consider The Power of Quiet

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

Increasing-ConcentrationIn recent days, Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer made major headlines with her decision to end full-time working from home for all employees, citing a need for greater collaboration and productivity. I had originally intended to write a blog based on ‘work-life’ balance but a piece this weekend by Miami Herald syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, running locally in the Oakland Press, presented me with a new angle for consideration: Is in-person collaboration always the best approach?

There is no doubting that when people come together, great things – in the area of innovation and creativity – can happen. In the world of information technology, for example, the need for greater proximity of software developers is fueling a major repatriation of jobs to the United States.  At the same time, Pitts reminds us, in a new book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” (one I am reading and recommend), author Susan Cain argues for and provides examples of the need for many to also work separately in their own space in order to achieve maximal results. In fact, the open, collaborative workspaces with little or no walls or separation from others – so trendy at one time is – according to Cain and recent studies, far from “all that.”

Before reading “Quiet”, I, like Pitts, struggled with my Myers-Briggs pegged introvert-ism.  After all, in our ultra-hyper, YouTube society where virtually nothing is private, the word conjures images of someone sitting alone in a dark room watching “Wheel of Fortune” re-runs. Rather, “introverts” (like me and millions of others) enjoy life, people, events and public speaking but also need quiet time to rest and rejuvenate, emotionally and spiritually.  I greatly enjoy interacting with my family, colleagues, clients and the media. I also look forward to closing my door sometimes to write, think and strategize – whether at the office or at home.

Thus, I would argue that Yahoo’s Mayer, considered a visionary working for a high-tech, creative-thinking company, is perhaps a bit ‘off’ in her recent decision regarding where her people can or cannot work. Certainly, her directive could have been better communicated and executed (Why go so public and so hard-hitting with the policy change. Is there not room for some flexibility and compromise)?  In the end, it would seem to once again be a stark indication of today’s competitive business landscape where CEOs must appease board members and shareholders – progressive image, culture , morale and brand be damned.



Life After Kilpatrick: What’s Next For Detroit Media?

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

0311-detroit-ex-mayor-kilpatrick-guilty_full_600When the name “Kwame Kilpatrick” and the word “scandal” were first used in the same series of news stories, there was no social media.There were no smartphone apps because there were no smartphones as we know them. Newspapers in Detroit delivered 7 days a week and the papers themselves were a lot thicker. Newsrooms in all media employed a lot more people and reported on a lot more news every day.

The Detroit media’s constant and consistent reporting on the scandals, crimes, lawsuits and other controversies involving Detroit’s former mayor, which ranged from award-winning to enlightening to, for some, annoying, began in earnest in 2005, when the Mayor denied, then admitted, the City, just beginning its financial free fall, leased a Lincoln Navigator for his wife. The now-convicted racketeer, who blamed the media for all of his problems, has kept himself in the news consistently for the better part of a decade.

Now that he’s headed to prison for potentially 20 years or more, Kilpatrick will be less of a story. But then again, almost everything in and around Detroit (save the Great Recession and its impact on the community and auto industry) has been less of a story since 2005. How will that impact news reporting, which has downsized and been changed forever by technology and the economy while staying on this one story consistently throughout?

The relatively significant Detroit media resources devoted to covering the life and hard times of Kwame Kilpatrick can now largely be redeployed. But, after so long, how will that happen? Will they focus on the new challenges in City government, with a state-appointed emergency manager taking over finances? Will they cover the court cases without Kilpatrick listed as a defendant, that have been largely ignored in recent years? Or will the journalists be given a chance to enterprise and find stories, like they did with those that ended up in indictments and convictions?

Maybe some of the resources can be devoted to covering stories that haven’t received much attention since the “good old days” circa 2005. Those are the stories that reporters just don’t have time to do anymore. Sometimes, they don’t even have time to answer an email saying they don’t have time to do them anymore.

A few times, when we have told our clients that there’s no longer as much room for what used to be their news, they say “The media’s probably busy covering Kwame.” Now they’re not anymore. At least not as much. So what will the news around here look like now? Hopefully, in some way, it will look more like it did before the Navigator and all that followed.

Enjoying a Greater Variety of Music? Thank Technology

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

internet_musicAs an avid follower of pop culture I thoroughly enjoyed and share Mitch Albom’s perspective from today’s Detroit Free Press: “It’s Oz but it’s just not the same.” His premise in the wake of viewing the new Sam Raimi film: TV and movie programming are just not as special today as in pre DVD and DVR days when you could only see particular programming once a year when it ran on the networks.

When it comes to music, however, I would argue that the ability today to preview virtually any potentially downloadable song online at any time is a drastic improvement over how things used to be. And though I often lament the disappearance of the record store and (many would argue) the decreased popularity of terrestrial radio, modern technology is actually a good thing for music lovers.

Here’s why: Greater variety and more access. In the very early days of radio, DJs basically played what they wanted (or were paid to play). Juke boxes featured a range of songs but inspired Top 40 radio when the originators of the format noticed certain songs being played over and over during an afternoon at a juke joint. Top 40 AM, in fact, is what I grew up with. And, while the format was largely “color blind” (I used to hear Led Zeppelin next to Earth Wind & Fire next to Barry Manilow), you only heard 40 songs over and over. FM would come later, of course, with a greater variety of album cuts in its early heyday.

Today, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and the like allow for almost unlimited musical discovery, radio or not. With a recent affinity to “angst rock” bands such as Breaking Benjamin and Red, I have since branched out further, through iTunes recommendations and favorite-artist stations on Pandora to uncover scores of incredible music by similar newer artists – from Verve Union, Chevelle and Nine Lashes to Ten Years, Ghosts of August and 30 Seconds to Mars. I’m even finding some of my old favorites, including Richard Page (Mr. Mister) and Steve Walsh (Kansas) have more recent solo offerings. Who knew?

I would also suggest that our ability to sample before we purchase also keeps the artists honest. Long gone, of course, are the days of purchasing an LP for a single or two only to find the rest of the album is crap. Bono of U2 once suggested that the music industry was suffering not from illegal downloading but bad music. In this case, technological progress is a good thing.

How Do You Teach PR? Like This…

Monday, March 4th, 2013

UnknownPublic relations is not something you can learn how to do by reading a textbook. You can’t begin a career by taking a licensing exam online. It’s something you have to learn by doing, while ideally getting feedback and support as you encounter new experiences. That’s why teaching the “hows” of this profession in a traditional classroom setting must be difficult for those who choose to do that.

Now, I know of a model that makes so much sense, it’s hard to believe it only exists on approximately 20 college campuses in the country.

Late last week, I was introduced to Hill Communications, a student-run firm on the campus of my alma mater, Syracuse University, founded in 2001. The students who lead and work at the firm are members of the PRSSA chapter at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications. The model reminds me in some ways of the student-run radio station on campus, WJPZ-FM, where I worked during my time on “The Hill” (as the campus section of Syracuse, New York is known).

The business model is simple. Start-up companies, small businesses and small nonprofits receive PR services for relatively low fees. Hill Communications collects those fees for its members’ work and spends its budget primarily to send members to PRSSA and PRSA conferences to further their learning. More experienced students direct the firm and lead accounts. Less experienced students play smaller roles on accounts.

I had the privilege of speaking to several of the Students from Hill Communications and the PRSSA chapter while I was on campus last week. After 15 years of speaking to students groups at a half-dozen universities, these were, as a group, by far the most sophisticated communications students I have encountered. Their questions dug deep and their savvy impressed. I spent my time with them going far beyond the typical “how do you get a job” and focusing, instead, on account leadership, client service, culture building, media targeting and even billing and financials. It was like “talking shop” with young professionals a few years into careers rather than students who had yet to work full-time in professional environments.

The students of Hill Communications complement their classroom work and significant internship experiences by working together to experience the day-to-day thrills and challenges of working in an agency environment. It seems they have found the “secret sauce” of how to prepare for a successful career in this business. May they all graduate to find workplaces that will provide them with growth opportunities to continue what they have started in college.

Detroit: Autopsy or Right Place to Be?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 7.47.37 PMOver the course of the past two years, Detroit has become, perhaps like at no other time, an American curiosity – a microcosm of this country’s economic decay and fight for renewal.  It is quite apropos, then, that two books should appear in recent weeks, both of which examine the city’s histories, trials and tribulations, including what could have been and what might still be: Mark Binelli’s “Detroit City is the Place to Be” and Charlie LeDuff’s “Detroit: An American Autopsy.”

While both are extremely well-written and interweave Detroit’s history (dating back to its founding in the 1700s) with today’s headlines, the similarities largely end there.  LeDuff, the Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, former Detroit News writer and current Fox-2 reporter takes a bleak, gritty, autobiographical approach.  By its very name, “Autopsy” unsurprisingly but sometimes shockingly is rife with dead bodies (literally) including an overflowing city morgue, corpses in abandoned buildings and his own family’s fatal failings fueled by alcohol and poverty on the city’s southwest side.

Binelli, on the other hand, while exposing the underbelly of desolate neighborhoods, corrupt politicians and failed policies, gives equal time to the many visionaries and opportunities that exist and are being enacted in a town seeking to reinvent and rejuvenate. Ala Time magazine, which embedded journalists to report on Detroit’s “good” and “bad”, Binelli, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, returns to his hometown to live and write near Eastern Market, breathing in and reporting on in its sights, smells and especially its people.

Despite the differing approaches, both books are well worth reading.  While more dark than not, LeDuff is often a crusader against injustice – whether exposing police and fire department inefficiencies in the wake of a firefighter’s death, or writing a Detroit News piece that helps raise money for a grandmother too poor to bury her young granddaughter in the aftermath of a senseless shooting. Binelli, by contrast, takes a more ‘everyman’ approach with observations and assertions that allow us to form our own opinions – or at least contemplate what they should or could be.

I finished ‘Autopsy’ in a weekend (last) and am halfway through “Detroit City”. I strongly recommend reading them back-to-back as have I.  They are up-to-date, insightful and the ideal complement to each other and to Detroit’s current backdrop of emergency financial manager infighting and downtown business and residential living resurgence.  Perhaps, you may well think upon completing especially Binelli’s edition, Detroit City really is the place to be.