Archive for July, 2013

Should Wall Street Handle Your PR?

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

220px-Wall_Street_filmThis week’s “merger of equals” (we’ll see how that turns out) between global ad giants Omnicom and Publicis shed light on how public companies can become conglomerates, essentially holding companies, for ad agencies. The same is true for PR, as several national and global public relations firms are owned by public companies, even while often operating under brand names established by their founders. These firms employ some really smart and talented professionals and work with clients with some of the best brands (or the biggest issues) on the planet.

But the new level of awareness of public companies owning dozens of agency names that this merger brought should make those who purchase PR services stop and think about with whom they are doing business. Ideally, at privately-held, independent firms, business culture and client service must come first. If you do those things well, we really believe your firm will enjoy financial success. But I can’t imagine having to do what we do every day in a public company environment. How could we possibly truly focus on making our clients happy when the top business imperative must be to make Wall Street happy? How could we truly focus on strategic communications results when the top business priority is to “hit the numbers” with financial results to meet or beat analysts’ expectations?

In advertising, perhaps it works because of the revenues and margins possible with national and/or global clients. But in PR in recent years, we have seen clients become more cost sensitive, more attentive to time-absorbing tactics that big firms have historically employed and more interested in value-added services than battalions of “arms and legs.” All of the trends we see should be making the publicly-owned firms nervous.

Looking at other types of professional service firms, the largest law and accounting firms are privately owned by professionals themselves. They build their businesses on service and trust and keep profits to themselves. That seems to be a model that will also best serve the public relations business into the future.

The CW: In a (Justice) League of It’s Own

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 9.25.58 PMWhile the proliferation of superhero movies on the silver screen continues (with Marvel leading the charge with the upcoming The Wolverine and second Thor flick), DC Comics is looking toward the smaller delivery format – television – where it continues to generate success; sometimes against all odds.

No one, for example, expected the CW Network’s Arrow to be a 2012-2013 season sleeper hit.  After all, the “emerald archer” had never been a headliner in any media incarnation, funny books or otherwise.  And, if the success (or lack thereof) of Ryan Reynolds’ 2012 celluloid space age Green Lantern was any indication, the earth-bound playboy turned Robin Hood stood nary a chance of catching on. Wrong.

TV has been an interesting place for the masked avenger genre, in particular early on. The Lone Ranger and Green Hornet caught on from radio while Superman and Batman made a successful transition from the Saturday morning theater serials.  Batman’s “Technicolor” success in the late 60s would also spawn a series of tongue-in-cheek imitators (remember, for example, Mr. Fantastic, the gas station attendant, who by taking a magic pill and turning his jacket inside out to reveal a shiny cape fought evil to a canned laugh track)? The 80s would see The Greatest American Hero, the 90s a Danny Elfman scored The Flash and Superman revival Lois & Clark.

Perhaps the most successful and certainly longest running superhero TV show has been Smallville which helped establish, appropriately enough, a once fledgling network, the CW.  And, it is the CW that is now looking at a potential Arrow spinoff of The Flash (after he appears in the upcoming season), announced today at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.  Other Justice Leaguers – from Black Canary to Batman could also make Arrow appearances and cameos in the not to distant future. Next, it is further being reported, a Wonder Woman television program is being prepped for development.

It is said there are only so many great ideas and that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. It is also said by some that Hollywood has lost its creativity and is too risk averse. I would argue that the time-tested stories of good over evil can never go wrong, especially when enacted by heroes we grew up with and are ingrained in our American pop culture.

Detroit Bankruptcy Highlights PR and Media Reality

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

DetroitLast week’s filing of Chapter 9 Bankruptcy by the City of Detroit helps prove something we frequently tell clients. It’s something that takes time to understand. The fact is that news consumers don’t often pay attention to the details you want them to, which is one of the reasons why it takes so long to shape reputation via the media and takes even longer to change reputation.

On Friday, the day after the filing, I traveled to New York City for a long-ago planned trip. There, everywhere I went, when those I would meet would find out where I live and what I do for a living, they wanted to talk about what they thought they know about the new filing. Also, I stayed in touch via social media, primarily Twitter, where opinions flew all day long.

First, it was obvious how much the average news consumer didn’t grasp about the initial reports. The proper noun “Detroit” is used in so many different ways, conversationally, that it seemed hard for many to understand what happened. “Detroit” is used to name the entire Metro Area of more than 4 million people. “Detroit” is used to name the entire U.S. automobile industry. Neither of those “Detroit’s” filed bankruptcy. It was, in fact, just the city government in the actual City of Detroit. I even heard someone in public say “The State of Michigan declared bankruptcy.”

Also clear was how a moment like this can crystallize perception. As I toured one of the nation’s top broadcast newsrooms, a producer asked me what it was like to own a business “in Detroit.” I let her know that, “right now it is the most fun that I’ve had in business in the ares in years.” Before I could explain about all of the momentum underway, she gave me a look as if I had told her that I am the reigning Heavyweight Champion of the World. When I tried to explain that things are going better than they have in a long time, with the city government lagging far behind, she said “it was nice meeting you” and picked up the phone. She just didn’t want to believe it.

The last few years in and around Detroit have been a microcosm of many PR campaigns – three steps forward, two steps back. It all underscores one of the fundamentals of what we do – communicate your facts and messages to your audiences over and over again, at every opportunity, over the long-term, making progress along the way. As you go through it, it’s sometimes frustrating to see what Simon and Garfunkel sang about play out in real life: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

Detroit Bankruptcy Provides Opportunity To Communicate Positives

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Detroit_Bankruptcy_McMi_t607This week’s filing of Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection by Detroit Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr is, arguably, the biggest story ever to come out of this region – with the city’s very future hanging in the balance. As news media from all over the world covered the news with images of dilapidated buildings and abandoned fields, there also existed a prime opportunity to tell another tale and show another side. And so we did.

Indeed, several of our clients capitalized on that opportunity with vim and vigor.  Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber was the voice of business in Detroit including heading a press conference of business leaders to reiterate a continued strong commitment to the city, tout the countless positives and communicate progress (past present and future).

Tim Bryan, CEO of downtown IT firm GalaxE.Solutions recounted for national media outlets the promise he saw in 2010 from his company’s headquarters in New Jersey and how it continues to be realized everyday as an information technology hub grows from Campus Martius.  His comments were underscored by photos of the city skyline that accompanied many of the initial national news stories, each showing GalaxE’s “Outsource to Detroit” 10-story banner on the 1001 Woodward building. This imagery alluded, whether intended or not, to a transition and new beginning – with more IT jobs being repatriated onshore and to city’s like Detroit than ever before. (The widely distributed Associated Press story image is incorporated in this blog).

With these clients and others (including those in the financial and turnaround fields), Tanner Friedman was able to realize its strategic communications abilities to the fullest extent (morning, noon and night), helping media portray Detroit in as balanced a manner as possible. To be sure, to hear the words “I didn’t know that” from a reporter based in New York or China or elsewhere (someone on the outside looking in) was more rewarding than can be imagined. It’s what Detroit and our region deserves.


TV News Needs Innovation, Will This Deliver?

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

home_heroIt’s no secret in the media business that younger viewers really don’t like TV news as we know it. The news is on TV in time slots that are relics from a network schedule developed when their grandparents were their age. They simply don’t regularly depend on the presentation of anchors presenting stories riddled with cliches that are lampooned on Comedy Central and The Onion – two platforms younger audiences consume more than broadcast news itself. They see “Prime Time” (which is not necessarily the case in their lives) filled with talking heads, usually their parents’ age, spouting political opinion often inconsistent with their own.

Traditional media companies are not exactly busting their budgets with product development projects that could be designed to address this looming crisis. But this week, a start-up emerged promising a video news product that will work on mobile devices, computers and eventually maybe even on TV, to give young news consumers more of what they want, whenever they want it over the platform they choose.

It’s called TouchVision. One of the visionaries behind it is Lee Abrams, whose innovations we have written about before. This article in Adweek explains the premise and how it plans to work once it launches.

I was given a chance to preview TouchVision this week and it’s certainly intriguing. News stories are presented with high-end graphics, music and voice-over narration. It’s all available on-demand and you only watch the stories you select from the system’s menu. Most of the stories seemed to run about two minutes, so they can easily be watched in one sitting or on the go.

One thing I liked about what I saw with TouchVision is that the stories don’t talk down to the audience. One thing Abrams has long professed is that news can be “intelligent without being intellectual” and that appears to be the case here. Personally, the music behind the stories didn’t do anything for me. But I’m not the target audience here. For some, it could help make getting the news they want more interesting and fit better into their lives.

Is this the answer? Chances are there won’t be just one answer. There will need to be many, to meet increasingly customized consumer demands. When TV news first proliferated, it was done with a formula (anchors, desk, news, sports, weather, chit chat). Now, it’s going to take a lot more than that to satisfy a more diverse and complex marketplace.

It seems we are entering the next chapter of increased media experimentation. At this point, it’s virtually impossible to pick winners. But one thing that seems certain, the status quo, should anyone maintain it, shapes up to be a loser.

Legend of The Lone Ranger Lives On

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

lone_ranger1With the summer blockbuster movie season now in full swing, a film with a refreshing twist on the oft-crowded super hero genre debuted this week – The Lone Ranger – a white-hatted, white-horsed, masked and avenging former Texas ranger whose actual origins harken back not to the Old West but rather to Metro Detroit.

In 1933, the Ranger appeared for the very first time on WXYZ-AM radio in Detroit; a show reportedly conceived by station owner George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. The nightly program (one of radio’s very early serials) was so popular, it would be picked up by NBC’s Blue Network (later ABC radio), with new episodes running through 1954.  Over the years, such catch phrases as “Hi-Yo, Silver, Away!” and “Kemosabe” would become iconic, as would Gioachino Rossinis’s 1829 overture to the opera William Tell, best known to modern day audiences as the Ranger’s theme.

Interestingly enough, The Lone Ranger (with his trusty sidekick Tonto) would spin off another Detroit-based radio series, The Green Hornet, which also originated on WXYZ-AM radio and would be syndicated nationally.  The crime-fighting Hornet, the legend went, was the son of the Ranger’s nephew. His sidekick, of course, was Kato, later immortalized on TV by a young karate champion Bruce Lee.

It is also TV where the Lone Ranger is perhaps best know, with actor Clayton Moore’s stoic portrayal of the hero in blue running between 1949 and 1957. In recent days, though, it has been reported that the grandson of Brace Beemer, the voice of the Ranger on radio is looking to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive with a documentary, due out later this year.

And what of the Lone Ranger’s latest incarnation? When I first heard Johnny Depp would  be involved (as Tonto) and saw his Jack Sparrow-like costume, the word “campy” immediately sprung to mind. Indeed, there is plenty of that (although thankfully not to the degree of Seth Rogan’s Green Hornet). Yet, by the end of the film, Armie Hammer’s rendition of the Ranger has moved beyond milquetoast to an ‘into the sunset’ hero to be proud in a movie worthy of a look.

Say Nice Things About… Utah?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen telling friends and contacts that we were headed to Utah for a summer vacation, I heard it all. The most common question was “why?” followed closely by cracks about polygamy. Looks of surprise, at best, followed my explanation of the interest in rest and relaxation in and around a mountain resort town.

Utah has an image problem, as do most places in the U.S. We revert to stereotypes when thinking about cities and states where we have never been. Exhibit A is, of course, Detroit. We even heard that in Utah.

One evening in Park City, we got the “where are you from?” question from a couple of locals. When we responded, “near Detroit” to “what part of Michigan?” we got a look from one half of the couple that resembled what we might expected if she had taken a bite of something sour. She said “that city has gone to pot.”

We wondered how she knows what she thinks she knows about Detroit. She admitted it was because of a documentary she watched at Park City’s Sundance Flim Festival. She said she couldn’t get over “that train station.” When we explained that the crumbling, vacant old Michigan Central Depot was privately owned, she was surprised, then listened to our stories on what’s really going on in Detroit, besides whatever she saw in the film.

Now, with the tools available to us online, particularly with forums like this and social media, we have the opportunity to incrementally shape perception of places within our country. But it takes a proactive approach. So, I’ll take the lead and tell you a little about what I experienced in Utah:

Beautiful scenery, with mountains in every direction (as seen in this blog post’s accompanying photo courtesy of MCP Actions). The best Mexican food I’ve ever had (seriously). Some of the best whiskey I’ve ever tasted (in moderation). First-class resorts. Locally-caught trout cooked to perfection. In-N-Out Burger. A cool college campus built into a hill, overlooking a large city. A light rail system that easily moves tourists around a downtown.

Yes, I’m saying nice things about Utah. Just like wherever you live, it’s misunderstood by those who have never been.