Archive for August, 2013

Sometimes BS Still Wins The PR Battle

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

UnknownNo matter what you do for a living, there are moments when the behind-the-scenes stuff in your business can be downright embarrassing. Here’s a look at an example of that from the PR business. It’s a case in point of a practice that should be extinct, but unfortunately appears to be alive.

The truth that many won’t tell is that for generations, pure BS dictated fees in the PR firm business. Typically, firms would charge clients the biggest fee they thought they could get away with every month until they were fired. That model paid for many country club memberships for owners who enjoyed the margins created when fees did not necessarily reflect work. Earlier in our careers, we saw first-hand how client fees were determined by factors like how much the last client to leave was paying or how one partner chooses to outdo another partner’s latest new business conquest.

When we started Tanner Friedman, we decided that to operate with the integrity we promised clients, fees would be based solely on the work performed for clients. We would bill only for professional time, whether via hourly, project or ongoing arrangements. In other words, no BS.

But what happens when potential clients ask for, or even demand BS? That actually happened recently. We received a referral to a company that works in an industry where we have long-term, in-depth experience but, at the moment, no conflicts. They were planning an event weeks away and were months behind on planning. They needed a firm, fast, to jump in help make the event happen, as well as work to secure national industry coverage.

In the initial 30-minute phone call, the head of marketing said that in addition to this immediate project, she was also hoping to retain the selected agency for a one-year campaign. I counseled her to focus on the immediate event first – how to squeeze 90 days of work into two weeks – and then, and only then, turn to how to create a year-long campaign. She then asked for a proposal to support the event, which we turned around in less than 48 hours to meet her time imperative.

Her first reaction to receiving the proposal (which would have saved her hide in pulling off an event for which there had been no strategic planning) was to ask how much it would cost for a one-year campaign. I responded by explaining that, based on one half-hour call, with an event looming for which there would need to be two intense weeks of work, it would impossible and irresponsible to give her an estimate that would, essentially, be fiction.

It’s like they walked into a restaurant to ask for a table for 12 at the peak of dinnertime and, before finding out how they could be accommodated asked “how much would it cost to eat here every day for a year?” without telling anyone at the restaurant if it would be breakfast, lunch, dinner or some combination of the above. Or if they are vegetarian or gluten-free. Or if they were to eat in or carry out. Or how large of a party they had. Without knowing any of those factors, could the restaurant give a cost that is anything other than BS?

She pushed back, writing “we need to have a general idea of the dollars we might be spending if we have a firm handle this for a year. I realize that I have only given you the basics, but… we are looking to you for recommendations and the associated costs.”

In other words, she has to make a boss happy and BS is welcome, if not encouraged. I offered to give her an estimate of what it would cost to develop a plan. She said that was not good enough. So I wrote this:

“I can only answer this question hypothetically. Without determining a plan of action and scope of work, it is impossible to estimate fees with any acceptable level of integrity. All I can tell you is that a medium-sized annual project for us, which this, at first glance, would appear to be, is typically $X to $X on an annual basis. Because a year-long project would include travel to your location, I can guess, and this is only a guess, that it would be on the high end of that.

We begin with clients by deciding that their needs match our capabilities and interests. Then, together, we determine a scope of work and develop a plan (for which we are compensated). Our fees are based solely on that scope of work.”

A few days later, we were informed that this company had selected another firm. We can only assume that some firm was willing to throw out a number – probably the biggest number they thought they could get away with – to get the business while the inside contact makes her boss happy. This time, BS won the battle. But, from our vantage point, because enough of our clients tell us they appreciate our processes and how we do businesses, we think integrity is winning the war.

Does Robin Thicke ‘Got to Give it Up’?

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Screen-shot-2013-08-16-at-8.16.59-AMI honestly can’t believe it didn’t happen sooner.  When I first heard Robin Thicke’s latest mega-number-one single, “Blurred Lines” I thought for sure I was listening to Marvin Gaye’s 1977 classic “Got to Give it Up”.  From its baseline and cowbell to falsetto and ‘call and response’ elements the two songs are very, very similar.  But similar enough to be considered plagiarism?

In an interesting move nearly unprecedented in the music industry, it was reported this week that Thicke and fellow songwriters Pharell Williams and T.I.  have filed suit in Los Angeles federal court against Bridgeport Music, a Southfield, Michigan-based song publisher and the Marvin Gaye estate. The move is a preemptive strike in anticipation of a lawsuit from the Gaye family and Brideport; in essence Thicke and company are asking the court to mediate the matter now, prior to possible litigation being filed.

Proving plagiarism in music is typically quite difficult although not without precedent.  The most famous case ever involved the Chiffon’s 1962 hit “He’s So Fine” and George Harrison’s 1971 tune, “My Sweet Lord”.  Harrison lost to the tune of over $500,000.  Chuck Berry actually received a songwriting credit on the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” as the courts ruled it was too close to Berry’s early classic, “Sweet Little Sixteen”. And, more recently, Vanilla Ice was frozen out of a percentage of royalties when he sampled the primary bass line from Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” for “Ice Ice Baby” without permission.

Just as common as such obvious and high profile cases, are lesser-known instances that would, at face value, appear to be as blatant as any other. Listen to Jethro Tull’s obscure “We Used to Know” next to the Eagles’ “Hotel California”. The latter, interestingly enough, opened for the former in the early 70s, at a time when Tull’s touring set featured the tune.  And, the outstanding website highlights a comparison I had never previously heard of: Jazzman Horace Silver’s 1965 “Song for My Father” and 1974′s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” from Steely Dan. The intros are absolutely identical.

In the end, with only seven chords to choose from, song similarities are seemingly impossible to avoid. And, intended or not, some artists actually seem to appreciate the appreciation.  In fact, Pete Townsend is also in the news this week saying he considers similarities in boy band One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” to the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” a tribute and sees no reason for legal action. In the case of Thicke vs. Gaye, however, for now the line between a ‘nod’ and ‘borrowing generously’ are indeed blurred, soon to be in the sights of the court system.


A New Battle In The War Against Your DVR

Monday, August 12th, 2013

fox-sports-1-300x300As Don notes this week, the companies that own radio stations are using sports talk as one of their best hopes against you using Sirius-XM, Pandora or your iPod in your car. Inside your home, a similar war is being waged against your DVR.

Even in the era of media consolidation that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, there’s one battleground that keeps going and, just like radio, with TV it’s sports. While the personalization of TV viewing via DVRs and streaming services like Netflix is booming, sports is one area – maybe other than a coverage of big news story, the only area – in which the time-shifted experience pales in comparison to the live one. That’s why Fox, much as it did when it shocked the broadcasting world nearly 20 years ago by buying rights to the NFL, is betting big on sports and this time with a national all-sports channel. This is happening in an era where there is so much sports programming, even the major pro sports leagues and largest college athletic conferences have their own channels.

Come Saturday, the Speed Channel will be no more. That real estate on your cable or satellite lineup will be Fox Sports 1 the channel Fox is using to aim all the way to the top – at ESPN. While ESPN’s “SportsCenter” has featured personality but no personality has ever been allowed to be bigger than the brand, Fox Sports 1′s upstart “Fox Sports Live” promises personalities who will keep their coverage “light” and “fun.” As one executive told the Los Angeles Times, their criteria for selecting “talent” is “Do you want to hang out and have nachos with our guys?”

But, more than the highlights and analysis shows (which are no longer “scores and highlights shows” as scores can so easily be found on smartphones and computers), the coverage of the games is the most lucrative for these channels. Games on TV are virtually DVR-proof and often provide a better experience on TV than at the venues themselves in-person. That is why the cost of TV sports continues to skyrocket. Fox just landed the U.S. Open Golf contract and expect more big money battles to come.

Competition on TV has been especially good for viewers in recent years in other genres. While it has watered down the “news” into dueling political debate channels, this is widely considered the “golden age” of TV dramas, because the level of competition has increased. For the packaging of sports highlights, information and analysis, may Fox Sports 1 and ESPN battle to be better than one another, not be first to the bottom of the content pool.

Presto! Greater Media Shuns Magic, Adds Sports To Its Bag of Tricks

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

default_300And so it comes to pass.  Much rumored by radio insiders and much denied by Greater Media for many, many, months, it appears adult contemporary radio station Magic 105.1 FM will officially become a sports/talk station while also bringing longtime WRIF-FM Morning Show giant Drew Lane back to the airwaves. A press conference is scheduled for tomorrow at 11am.

It has been a long, slow decline for the former home of Jim Harper’s “Breakfast Club” – one-time king of the “soft rock” set.  And while it is never easy to see top talent such as current WMGC morning man Chris Edmonds, let go (as reported Friday by’s Mike Austerman), it was more than time for a change. As I’ve noted before (and heard again on the station the other night), when a major market radio station goes directly from music into commercials sans jock talk or reference to “call letters” (basically the station’s name or “handle”), it’s not hard to read the writing on the wall.

Industry trade website All Access and the Detroit Free Press are both reporting what Bill Shea of Crain’s Detroit Business speculated last month: Magic will pick up the contractual rights to ESPN Radio. Does that mean syndicated content such as the popular “Mike and Mike in the Morning will air in Detroit? It’s too early too tell but one would hope not.  Early reports are placing Drew Lane in afternoons (3p-7p) without former partner Mike Clark. Lane has expressed no shortage of disdain for early mornings in the past. His love of sports would also make this transition work.

Magic’s “less talk” mentality since Harper’s exit no doubt contributed greatly to its downfall.  It is once again a lesson I feel all radio programmers should consider when attempting to “neuter” on-air talent and personality. What is the hottest FM radio format today? Sports/Talk. Underline talk. Interesting, isn’t it, that that is exactly where Greater Media is turning to bring back 105.1′s “magic”?

Rodriguez Suspension Could be Drastic – So Should Measures Toward Image Repair

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 8.25.58 PMTomorrow – Monday August 5, 2013 – is destined to be a date for baseball that will live in infamy.  As many as 20 Major League ballplayers face a range of suspensions related to performance enhancing drugs.  Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun is already on the bench for the year without pay. The Tigers Jhonny Peralta is sure to follow (his replacement Jose Iglesias has already been traded for and, awkwardly enough, played beside Peralta for the past several games). Which brings us to the player all of baseball is watching: Alex Rodriguez.

It would be very easy to “pile on” the Yankee third baseman – arguably the most reviled individual who ever played the game.  However, for the purpose of this blog I will instead stick to the facts before offering Mr. Rodriguez some free PR advice – advice he can surely more than afford; advice he would surely never take.

At this writing, Commissioner Bud Selig is reportedly continuing to negotiate an agreement with Rodriguez’s legal team that could sit the embattled slugger through the 2014 season – perhaps longer (“forever” is rumored to be one of the possibilities).  According to, Rodriguez, on the other hand, is apparently having none of it – citing, according to a source, “…clause 7G of the Joint Drug agreement that states that PED users can “only” be hit with a 50-game suspension. Rodriguez has never failed a drug test.”

Rodriguez is due $34.2 million this year, $25 million next season, $114 million overall through 2017. Any suspension would likely, as with Braun, be without pay.  In his 19 year career, Rodriguez has earned $400 million – nearly half a billion dollars. What should he do?  Of course, he should stop the posturing and selfishness and agree to whatever suspension the league hands down, demonstrating remorse while admitting that he has let the fans, his team and baseball down.  This should be a ‘no brainer’.

But to try to preserve his career and attempt to repair his reputation, Rodriguez needs to take drastic measures of his own volition: He should announce  that when he does come back in 2015, he will play for the major league minimum while donating the remainder of his salary to the Major League pension fund to assist former players and personnel that were never millionaires but played and performed the right way.  Amazing? Absolutely. And that is what it’s going to take. For once, Rodriguez needs to acknowledge that “it’s” not about him – it’s about the game, its integrity and, in many ways the pastime’s very future.