Archive for January, 2014

“The Best Weatherman In The Country” To Leave TV News

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

UnknownAbout 15 years ago, when in Atlanta for a long weekend, I stopped by the first TV station that paid me to write and produce news – WSB-TV – for a tour of its new building. While seeing the state-of-the-art broadcast facility first-hand, I was introduced to the station’s news director, who had been hired since I left. When he found out I lived and worked in the Detroit area, he said “Detroit. The home of The Best Weatherman in The Country, Chuck Gaidica.”

In the years since I worked with Chuck at WDIV-TV in Detroit, I heard that title associated with him on more than just that one occasion. And every time I did, I flashed back to a moment in the WDIV newsroom in February 1998. Detroit was expected to get some snowfall one winter’s night. The news director, wanting big ratings in a “sweeps” period, demanded that I make snow the lead story at 6:00 and hype “a major storm” on the way. When Chuck came into the newsroom that afternoon, he made the producers’ desks his first stop (unlike most weather casters, he wanted to actually talk about a shared vision for his role in the newscast, not just how much time he was being given). I asked him if he’d consider what was coming “a major storm.” He looked aghast. He let me know he was only expecting a small amount of snow. When I shared the boss’ plan with him, he was not happy. We agreed, integrity and facts should come first, but I was under strict orders. After we talked, he went to see the news director and when he got back to my desk, he let me know the good news – I was going to have to find a new lead story.

So it should be no surprise that Chuck’s job meant more than just getting to be on TV. But, he did that part exceptionally well, making talking for 4 minutes in front of a green screen with no script or Telepromter then making smart smalltalk with the anchors look easy (it’s not). On screen he’s charismatic, clever and compelling. He is in real life too.

Today’s news that Chuck is leaving his TV weather job in August to join a church as a minister is the fulfillment of a dream for him over the last few years. Even though he has been in the Detroit market since the early ’80s, he’s only 55 (yes, he was that talented in his 20s). He’ll still appear on WDIV on their highly-rated specials, presumably like the Downtown Fireworks and the Thanksgiving Parade.

The first generation of TV legends got to finish their time on TV and then ease into retirement. But that’s not happening as often for this second generation. So many of them are leaving because their contracts aren’t being renewed or management “asks” them to retire. For The Best Weatherman in The Country, it’s a career change sending him off the set, on his own terms, and well-deserved.

Dispute Reveals Storm Clouds For TV

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Storm_cloudsRight now, because of a dispute about fees, one of the original stalwarts and selling points of “pay TV” is not on TV for customers of DirecTV. It’s symbolic of a fight for relevance by some traditional media outlets, even those just 30 years old.

The Weather Channel was a novel concept for much of its existence, providing a weather forecast for the nation and for your area, 24 hours a day. But, today, it is fighting for its existence, at least on DirecTV. Its PR position is that it’s a service essential to safety. The Channel went so far as to produce its own attempt at “viral video” to spread its message, using a tried-and-true tactic of putting a nonprofit group out in front. But, like too much “campaign communication” it is hyperbolic and struggles to be credible. You can watch it here, before weeping for the PR profession.

There’s no question that weather is important in today’s media environment. Just look at any social media news feed and you’ll see that first-hand. But how important is The Weather Channel? I asked DirecTV customers, in the coveted 25-54 demographic, many of whom grew up with cable TV, and asked them if they miss the Channel and why or why not. Here are representative responses:

-”I love and use their app several times a day but I don’t remember the last time I turned on the channel.”
-”I would miss the channel if I could rely on them to be doing weather anytime I turned them on.”
-”I usually watch local weather news or check my weather app.”
-”5 years ago, I would have been upset…”
-”I have never once flipped to The Weather Channel.”
-”Actually had no idea it was gone.”
-”I don’t miss TWC. For weather info, I go to the weather apps on my phone and broadcast weather casters.”
-”I didn’t even realize I didn’t have The Weather Channel.”
-”My trusty Weather Channel app will detect my GPS location and give me current conditions and the forecast for that spot right on my screen.”
-”I just get the local forecast from local TV stations or go to weather.com.”

Based on this unscientific sampling, which confirmed my guesses, TV, especially national TV, is a much less preferable form of weather information than it used to be. DirecTV knows this and The Weather Channel probably does too. Of course, they can bring in much, much more revenue by selling national TV commercials than they can from any space on their app or website. Much like newspapers, their customers prefer new platforms while their business model dictates they cling as long as possible to the original platform.

As communicators, we need to understand how the changes in media consumption affect both how consumers want information and the way the media business works. This is yet another example of the profound changes occurring before our eyes.

What’s in a Radio Name. Creativity, Hopefully.

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

1041Later this week I will be making my first trip to New Orleans since I was a kid, overseeing communications on behalf of an automotive client at the NADA (National Auto Dealers Association) show.  I am hopeful that during the visit, I will have the opportunity to get together with radio friend Jag, formerly of Detroit’s Channel 9-55 and now PD and Afternoon Drive host with what has become one of my all-time favorite station call letters/monikers: KVDU – Voodoo 104. Brilliant.

In my book, “No Static at All” I reference the magic that occurs when call letters match city of origin thematically. WDET, KLOS and WNEW are one thing but how apropos was the old WLLZ (Detroit’s Wheels) and former Chicago stations WLAK (The Lake) and WFYR (Chicago’s Fire).  The Windy City’s WLUP (The Loop) lives on, continuing its 35-year rock music tradition.

Other favorites I have discovered over the years include San Francisco’s KFOG, LA’s KOST (The Coast), sports station WJFK in Washington, D.C. and WARH (The Arch) in St. Louis.  Even Windsor/Detroit’s CIDR (The River) is not bad, considering the watery international span running between our two sister cities.  Boston’s WHBA (The Harbor) changed formats and names two years ago, just missing a gold star from me with its replacement: hip-hop station (The Evolution—why not the Revolution?).

Alas, in doing research for this blog I was disappointed to find there is no “K-Rain” in Seattle.  KWAV is in Monterrey, CA not Honolulu and KUFO resides in Portland, OR as opposed to Roswell, NM where it belongs (although nearby Dexter, NM’s Hispanic station held promise with KALN, until I learned it is known as “Amigo Radio” and not “The Alien”).  Kudos to smaller market stations (where, quite often more creativity can be found) with “The Outlaw” in Wichita Falls, TX and “The Renegade” in LaGrange while, WKGR rocks Palm Beach as “The Gator”.

As with most of what’s wrong with radio, too few owners owning two many stations has led over the years to homogenization of talent, music mix and even call letters.  One of the most egregious examples has to do with Chicago’s one-time WLAK, which became the generic WLIT, underscoring its light rock format while usurping its incredibly memorable and locally flavored name. This week in the land of Mardi Gras I look forward to celebrating the industry creativity that still exists by a new generation of radio programmers that get it and broadcast it every day.

When the AD’s PR Overshadows Xs and Os

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

7575800It was not long ago that college athletic directors and assistant football coaches were relatively anonymous. But thanks to the ubiquity of sports media, those days are long behind us. This week, the hiring of an offense coordinator at the University of Michigan (a job that now pays in the high six figures) and the role of that school’s athletic director (a former public company CEO), has generated more talk of PR than Xs and Os.

On Friday, the school introduced Doug Nussmeier, hired from the University of Alabama to run Michigan’s offense after the school fired Al Borges (who generated lots of bad PR this season by making multiple decisions that were easy for even a casual fan to second-guess). But on Friday, and through the weekend, traditional and social media focused less on the football aspects of this hire and almost exclusively on the public role of athletic director Dave Brandon.

At the press conference, head coach Brady Hoke introduced Nussmeier, who spoke and took media questions, followed by Brandon, who also spoke and took questions in a lengthy session with reporters. Hoke, in what was an unusual call for a head coach – typically the “face” of football at major universities, if not the face of the school itself – did not answer questions.

This resulted in hours upon hours of talk radio chatter and two separate columns in the Detroit Free Press (here and here) analyzing why Brandon, not Hoke, has become the lead spokesman for Michigan Football. There’s no question that Brandon has seized the spotlight since the former player returned to campus as athletic director. He high-fives players on the sidelines in front of the cameras, is known to look over the coaches’ shoulders while they review film, has appeared in multiple Big Ten Network documentaries and even called into a radio show Friday morning, more than an hour before the Nussmeier press conference, to talk about the hire. Brandon is being called a “puppeteer” and worse in traditional media.

There is understandable upside in putting Brandon out in front, at least to some extent. While Hoke’s strengths as a communicator seem to be much stronger one-on-one and internally, rather than externally, Brandon is a skilled and passionate spokesman. He’s also active on Twitter and is insightful on his blog.

While I don’t know Brandon personally, experience shows situations like this are often results of egos that demand control and attention. Rather than this being the result of PR counsel in action, experience shows this is more likely a plan set from the top of the organization.

Regardless of the reasons behind why this is happening, the fact that this is happening can not be positive for the University. An organization’s PR approach should never become the story. When a PR strategy is working, it happens almost invisibly. While Michigan Athletics is examining its offense on the football field, this is also a good time to explore how it plays offense with PR (at least until the football team starts winning like it used to).

City Leadership Needs to Act with Greater Judgment

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 4.53.15 PMLest any of us rush to judgment, I will begin by stating that it is hoped that the ongoing investigation by the city of Detroit and Detroit police department will yield a final and definitive report on what happened exactly during a Thursday night traffic stop of new Detroit City Council president pro tem George Cushingberry. That said, why is it that some of our highest profile city leaders continue to demonstrate a lack of judgment?

It was almost prophetic that, earlier in the day, the Detroit News published a piece by Nolan Finley, which expressed trepidation over new city council leadership, “Did Detroit Get Another Crazy Council?” In fact, the editorial called out Cushingberry as, “…a slick political operator who has had his snout in the public trough for nearly 40 years.” And, while the council’s second in charge responded with a public ‘Go to Hell’, Finley appeared literally Nostradamus-like, considering events that would occur mere hours later.

Between Cushingberry, police officials and media reports, some of the exact facts of the incident on 8-mile are murky, yet it appears no one is disputing that officers found an empty rum bottle and marijuana in the council member’s car.  Cushingberry stated the weed was for a medical marijuana patient friend and the bottle had been in the backseat for some time.  Perhaps most controversial is his alleging racial profiling by police led to the stop.

At no time in Detroit’s history has image and behavior – and judgment – been more important, in particular by city leaders. This week’s commentary by the Detroit News, expressing concern that the age old adage of the more things change, the more they stay the same may once again come to pass appears well founded. After all, anyone driving around with an empty liquor bottle and unsecured marijuana is asking for trouble.  Again, I’m not judging, I’m just saying that where our leaders are concerned we deserve men and women with integrity, character – and judgment.  If not, here’s another saying these individuals should consider: Lead or go home.

 

 

 

 

Here’s The Key To The First 7 Years Of Tanner Friedman

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

7-year-candles-kalynskitchenSeven years ago this morning, Don Tanner and I walked into a temporary office and immediately got to work. Remember the scene from the beginning of “Jerry McGuire” where he feverishly tried to work the phones? It was something like that, except we were sitting on furniture borrowed from our landlord using phones salvaged from my grandfather’s house.

Our first order of business was to do what we thought we could do best, create PR for ourselves. Today, seven years later, it’s easy to look back at our first materials and realize how much has changed (social media has since more than moved off college campuses, for example) but also how much has not changed. We decided, from the beginning, that our first and highest priority would be to develop a set of values and live by them every day. They are, essentially, our Constitution. Here is how we articulated them in our announcement press release, by design, attributed to the two of us:

“‘Tanner Friedman values respect, teamwork, integrity, professionalism and work/life balance, along with a commitment to follow-through,’ said Tanner. ‘Those are the qualities we will share with our clients and in our workplace culture,’ added Friedman.’”

We think we have lived up to those promises. The set of values has guided our hiring of colleagues, our choice of collaborators, and whether to begin or continue working with clients.

Respect means mutual respect, with every “street” two-way. Integrity means honesty, to everyone, every time, even in situations where traditional practice in our industry may be to go in a different direction. Professionalism means adhering to the highest standards. Work/life balance means taking the time necessary to enjoy a well-rounded life, without having to worry about office control over a finite about of personal time. And a favorite “AFDI” – Actually F-ing Doing It – is about a commitment to following through, with accountability to doing what you say you’re going to do and not repeating the same meeting over and over again.

Tough decisions are made easier when you have a set of values to measure against. In late 2013, we encountered challenges with a client that put us at a crossroads. While there had been a long-term relationship, a new top executive was not consistently demonstrating cohesiveness with our values. That helped us decide to terminate the relationship. In the difficult conversation with the executive, we were asked, essentially, how come we were telling the truth – that we were ending the relationship because of a lack of cohesiveness around values. The executive wondered when we didn’t just say that the fees weren’t high enough or we just didn’t have time. We explained because that wouldn’t be true, but that question told us all we needed to know about our decision.

After this many years, we are often asked for advice from fellow entrepreneurs. We always start in the same place – determine your values and live by them.

Thank you to our colleagues, collaborators, clients and all who have helped us achieve these first seven years. We look forward to many more years of working together.