Archive for December, 2013

Schwartz Proves ‘Poise’ Not in Game Plan

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

San Francisco 49ers v Detroit LionsIn recent days it hit me.  Even before today’s typical Lions loss to a team with lesser talent – this time the Minnesota Vikings – a word popped into my mind that truly speaks to what this underachieving team lacks as it searches for answers. As they seek to find a way to win a game with a fourth-quarter lead (they’ve lost six of their last seven with such an advantage). As they seek to win a game in December (their last ‘w’ coming on Christmas Eve 2011). As the quest for a division title, a playoff win, a turnaround continues, what the Lions need to overcome more years of futility is: poise. And that’s why Jim Schwartz needs to go.

I have nothing personal against Schwartz. Two years ago as the Detroit Lions were moving in a positive direction after their abysmal 0-16 season, I had an opportunity to chat with the coach, one-on-one, at a charity event. He said he was headed next to watch his daughters play soccer; it was off-season and he mentioned that during the regular season he typically only saw his family one day a week. He was engaging and appreciative as I thanked him for his dedication and for making football in Motown fun to watch again. That was then.

That said, when you look back on his 5-year tenure with the Lions you see two things. One is a terrible record. In fact, Schwartz’s winning percentage is the worst by an NFL coach in his first full five years since John McKay coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers between 1976 and 1980 (an expansion team no less). The other is an ongoing lack of discipline, the antithesis of poise. From the Suh stomp to the Harbaugh tussle to a seemingly endless stream of ill-timed interceptions, fumbles, off-sides and unnecessary roughness penalties (not to mention past off the field player foibles), this team just can’t get it together. A 29-52 record over the last half a decade proves it.

Schwartz finally sealed his fate last week against the New York Giants by yelling at booing fans. Who does that? Sure, Bobby Knight used to throw chairs at referees but can you remember an instance at any level in any sport where a head coach got into it with paying customers?  It is virtually unprecedented and, in the end, the final straw that will broom one more failed regime out the door. The tone of any organization is set at the top. And the Fords aren’t going anywhere.

Larry Lujack, Radio Pioneer, Innovator, Super Jock

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

LarryLujackDon McLean famously wrote about ‘the day the music died’ in his 1971 career swan song “American Pie” – a tribute to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper who died together at the apex of their careers in a tragic plane crash in 1950. This past week, an iconic radio voice was silenced forever as Larry Lujack died in New Mexico of cancer at the age of 73.

Over a more than 20-year run on Chicago Top-40 station WLS-AM through the 70s and 80s, Lujack ruled the airwarves and dominated Morning Drive radio – and not just in the Windy City. Broadcasting on a 50,000 watt, clear channel AM frequency (ala WJR in Detroit), Lujack and his on-air brethren were beamed into cars, offices and homes across the country. Why was he so popular? As veteran Chicago Sun-Times media writer Robert Feder noted this week in his tribute to Lujack, the self pronounced “Super Jock” was different; an often dour and sarcastic personality in a land of overly effervescent, put-on, hit music DJs.

Lujack as much as anyone else I listened to growing up inspired my first career in radio. Traversing the airwaves into my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, he and WLS were to me like CKWW in its hey-day were to millions in Detroit – exciting, fast-paced, fun and funny, creating an irresistible ‘theater of the mind’ with hit music interspersed with interesting bits (i.e. ‘Animal Stories’ which would later inspire David Letterman’s ‘Stupid Pet Tricks’). Listening to WLS at that time was like listening to a whirlwind of music and comedic entertainment that was hard if not impossible to resist. For a sample, click here:

Lujack was in the right time at the right place with the right platform. While many complain today that traditional radio plays the same songs over and over and/or the jocks talk too much consider this: Top 40 radio was exactly that: the same most popular 40 songs played over and over and over again. Yet, with jocks like Lujack (and John ‘Records’ Landecker and others on WLS), you listened as much for what they had to say as to the music. And, their quick-witted, rapid-fire banter (often delivered right over the beginnings of the songs they played) meant the music and overall programming virtually never stopped (these guys often read the commercials live in their own comedic style), leaving you spell-bound and coming back for more. These jocks were also promoted significantly by their stations including on billboards, in television commercials and via personal appearances. I remember being in awe as a kid at getting Lujack’s autograph on a copy of the photo shown in this blog during a Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place.

As I am apt to say, as a former radio personality, programmer and observer, today’s programmers and management should be required to watch video airchecks of the greats like Lujack. One local programming master and appreciator of classic music radio, CBS’s Tim Roberts, has his WOMC-FM humming along like the stations of old with an adept blend of catchy songs and great personality, an even more audacious task in the shadow of today’s Portable People Meter audience monitoring system. Such programming is an all too often lost art today as is the voice, style and talent of a personality like Larry Lujack. Though off the air for the past 25 years, the terrestrial radio dial last week lost a bit more of its luster and connection to when radio was at its finest.


Sorry, “Social Media Experts” – Facebook Now Admits “Pay To Play”

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

facebook_dollar_sign_icon18 months ago, we told you about the first change after Facebook’s IPO, apparent to us, and how it would especially affect your efforts to drive attention and/or traffic for your business or non-profit on Facebook.

Now, it seems Facebook is finally admitting that yes, just because you “like” a company doesn’t mean you’ll see what they post like you did pre-IPO. In fact, odds are if you “like” a page, you’ll rarely, if ever, see what they post. This recent article in Advertising Age reports that Facebook now admits they are, in fact, running a “pay to play” system for businesses on their site.

Now, that presentation you paid to attend a year ago by the self-proclaimed “social media guru” that showed you how to set up a page for your business and get more “likes” is probably moot. And what about Instagram that all the kids are talking about? It’s owned by Facebook so it’s probably not going to stay “free” for long. What about Twitter? Facebook should be handwriting on the wall (so to speak) as Twitter is now operating in a publicly owned environment after an IPO. And all the clamoring from “social media experts” about “Pinfluencers” on Pinterest? You had better check your demographic targets first.

The other factor that should grab your attention is increased consumer dissatisfaction with Facebook. A site cluttered with ads you don’t want that doesn’t give you the content you do want easily leads to less time online interacting with friends and photos.

Really, none of this is any different from what we have been advising since 2007 – it’s going to take a multi-platform strategy in order to strategically and successfully communicate your message enough to meet your business objectives. And you can’t do it “for free” on Facebook like you used to, just in in the heyday of traditional PR, there really was no such thing as “free media.”

McCartney’s “New” Forcing Radio Programmers To Rethink Old, Bad Habits

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 2.23.20 PMAs holiday music continues to dominate the playlists of Adult Contemporary radio stations across the country, a voice familiar to the world but sorely lacking on such stations the rest of the year can be heard: Paul McCartney. Considering his book of work (the Guinness Book of World Records has deemed him the “Most Successful Composer and Recording Artist of All Time”) it is ultimately puzzling if not ridiculous that so many music programmers have deemed the so-so “Wonderful Christmas Time” his only song worthy of airplay.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in March 1999, Paul McCartney’s prolific and unparalleled career has included, according to Wikipedia: 60 gold records (43 with the Beatles, 17 solo) and sales of 100 million albums, 100 million singles and writer’s credit on 43 songs with sales over 1 million copies each. He has written or co-written 32 Billboard Number-One singles, including 20 with the Beatles and 9 solo/with Wings. And while McCartney’s classic songs (i.e. “Band on the Run”, “Jet” and “Juniors Farm”) continue to be played by Classic Rock stations, A/C and Top 40 stations have largely eschewed his new music; in fact, you have to go all the way back to 1983 for his last big radio hit: “No More Lonely Nights” (which peaked at #6).

So what factors are at work here? Some would say there’s a reason McCartney’s newer offerings have not received more radio airplay over the past 30 years: The music simply has not been good enough. I, on the other hand, would suggest that if you mine his more recent work, including from such LPS as “Flowers in the Dirt” and “Flaming Pie”, you would find countless gems worthy of notice. Other AC programmers might say the format has passed artists like McCartney by – that even more contemporary A/C staples such as Celine Dion are being replaced by younger “American Idol” and “The Voice” era fodder like Adele and Maroon 5. This is a generational audience argument that I also find bogus. One need only go to a Paul McCartney concert to see young fans enjoying the music with their children as well as their parents and grandparents – in other words, his music truly transcends traditional programming demographics.

Thankfully, radio appears to be becoming a bit wiser in addressing how to serve an even greater cross sections of listeners, unveiling stations with such formats as Adult Alternative and Adult Rock, among others. The timing could not be better for such artists as McCartney, who recently released his most critically acclaimed work in years: “New”. According to radio monitor/chart publisher Mediabase 24/7 (my one-time employer) a couple of different songs from the album, including “Queenie Eye” and the title track, are getting at least some Top 20 rotational airplay, albeit on smaller market stations like KRCL-FM Salt Lake City, KTHX-FM Reno and WCLZ-FM in Portland, Maine. Of course, satellite continues to embrace the former Beatle like no other in the industry.

Ultimately, artists like Paul McCartney long ago earned the right to have their music played (that both old and new). He and his music matter and sold-out concerts and gold, silver and platinum record sales continue to underscore this. To not regularly offer that same music on the airwaves is tantamount to ignoring the dictates inherent in station licenses – acting in the public interest of the audience it serves (and not just at Christmas time). Thankfully, McCartney’s latest record and its outstanding music is forcing the issue and play. It’s been largely inexplicable and a long time coming.

Fast Food Controversy Is Really Slow Cooked PR

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

mcdonalds-protestThe issue of how much fast food workers are paid has risen quickly in recent months toward the top of the mainstream news agenda. Today, well-orchestrated and promoted protests, filled with emotion and visuals, at fast food restaurants in Detroit and other markets are receiving news coverage and reinvigorating a public debate that seems to pop up every few months (and not by accident).

This is a well-organized and well-funded membership drive by the Service Employees International Union, fueled by an exceptionally effective and strategic PR campaign. Regardless of whether or not this adds fast food workers, en masse, as dues-paying members of the SEIU, this campaign should be considered successful for two reasons:

1) It put an issue “on the map.” While the minimum wage has been an off-and-on debate politically and otherwise in recent years, this campaign put the focus squarely on fast food work hourly wages. The union capitalized on the fact that virtually all Americans, at one time or another, have eaten at a fast food chain and had direct contact with employees. They fronted their campaign with a relatable piece of the issue.

2) They put people out in front. They didn’t lead with their recruitment effort, as they have with health care workers for whom the public messages have been about work rules and other aspects of traditional union recruitment. In this case, they have strategically targeted restaurants and highlighted stories of their employees for whom the public would be most likely to feel sympathy upon learning of the stories via traditional, mainstream media. They clearly understand and have acted upon a PR truism – the best stories and the most effective stories are always those about people.

No matter where you stand on this issue, it should be easy to admit that the fact that it is even an issue in the first place and one that keeps on attracting visibility is due to a PR campaign that is accomplishing its goals.