Archive for November, 2014

Jason Vines Recounts PR Done Right, Rotten and Religious

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 4.18.27 PMWhen you’re home sick with the flu over the Thanksgiving holiday, you have a veritable doctor’s note to relax, heal and, it follows, do what I love to do: read.  It was in that context that I was finally able to sit down with a book I’ve looked forward to digging into, “What Did Jesus Drive? Crisis PR in Cars, Computers and Christianity,” by one of the ‘deans’ of the craft: Jason Vines.  Best known for his work guiding Ford through the Firestone firestorm, Vines also worked his magic at Nissan and Chrysler with a number of other stops amid his respected career, including Compuware during the Kwame Kilpatrick madness. Fascinating, all.

Though I have had the opportunity to chat with Jason on a couple of occasions I do not know him well nor have I had the good fortune to work with him. I have, however, admired him from afar, including his involvement in some of the most talked about vehicle launches ever – including 1992′s debut of the Jeep Cherokee through a plate glass window and the 2008 ‘cattle roundup’ introduction of the Dodge Ram – both at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  Read his book, however, and his tenets for effective public relations are even more impressive.

I won’t go through them all as you really need to read this book for yourself.  Yet, a couple that stand out are among those that Matt and I tout loudly and often. First, it is essential that business leaders provide their PR advisors with a seat at the ”C Suite” table and a voice in company direction. Whether at Nissan with Carlos Ghosen, Ford with Jacques Nasser or Chrysler with Dieter Zetsche, Vines was plugged in at the top.  No surprises, total transparency, mutual respect and a true say in decision making.  Vines demanded it and then proved, through high-level performance and impeccable judgment, that he deserved it.

Second and just as important: A PR counselor has an obligation to tell those at the top what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.  And, while battles often need to be picked wisely, doing the right thing, with honesty, transparency and foresight, is paramount; as is acting in the best interests of your customers at all times.

Looking for the ideal stocking stuffer this holiday season? Strongly consider “What Did Jesus Drive” for an inside look at high-stakes PR with reputations, careers and lives hanging in the balance. You’ll have a new appreciation for what those of us in the field do and strive to do everyday.



The PR You Want May Not Be The PR You Need

Monday, November 24th, 2014

shutterstock_73029673Here’s some perspective from our colleague Kristin Sokul, based on some recent experience:

With so many avenues to communicate in different ways to different audiences, it’s no surprise that when it comes to business communications, sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you need.

I recently met with a business to discuss the media relations and social media strategy their former PR firm had recommended before they parted ways. They didn’t want to skip a beat with local television and radio stations that covered them for annual consumer pieces, and they were ready to take the social media plunge because, simply, “isn’t every company investing their resources in Facebook and Twitter?” Yet, when we talked about who their target audiences are and how they generate business, neither of these answers pointed toward the business-to-consumer targets they were reaching under their current strategy.

After spending some time listening to their actual goals and whom they really needed to reach, it became obvious that the campaign they were sold on should have actually been a business-to-business strategy. Unfortunately, they had been led astray from the media outlets that should have been hearing their story and the social media platforms that would make the connections they need.

By the time we concluded our meeting, the business’ management determined it needed to rethink its entire approach to communications.

As public relations strategists, it’s our responsibility to counsel our potential and existing clients with strategies tailored to their business objectives and exhibit the kind of leadership to help businesses consider what communications tactics they need.

Sometimes what the company needs is obvious, and sometimes it takes a dedicated planning process to identify those needs and prioritize them, but any firm that has all the answers without first asking the right questions should be viewed with a critical eye.

The strategies and tactics selected should support the end goals of the overall business plan if it’s really going to be effective. Some firms may rely on the “easy wins” or build a strategy based on what the client thinks it wants, not what it needs. In the short term, both are happy with one another, but weeks, months or years later when all the communications goals have been met, but the “needle doesn’t move,” someone has some explaining to do. Instead, it should be the firm that does the explaining, right from the beginning.

The CW: Up and Atom with Arrow, Flash

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 5.46.35 PMMore than a year ago, I wrote about an overnight TV hit that was taking the network television world by surprise storm: The CW’s Arrow. As Season Two has now come and gone and Season Three will soon complete its Fall run, the show, network and its first spinoff are continuing to stay faithful to both its audience and comic book continuity – to super results.

Already, Arrow has featured major characters such as Roy Harper/Arsenal, (Black) Canary, Deathstroke, Suicide Squad, and Batman arch-nemesis Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Assassins. The show also introduced Central City police scientist Barry Allen (better known as The Flash) last year and has spun the character off and into his own show for 2014-2015 to rave reviews and outstanding ratings. Notable this season has been a prominent story arc with Ray Palmer, who has taken over Queen Consolidated and, last episode, is seen examining a holographic bio-suit looking very much like that worn by The Atom.  Oh, and by the way, Ray Palmer is played by Brandon Routh, who played Superman for one movie.

Almost as fun are the liberties Arrow continues to take with characters and settings.  On TV, the Emerald Archer’s base of operations is Starling rather than comicdom’s Star City, although in an episode this season, Ray Palmer suggests the city’s name should be renamed from the former to the latter.  Also, from the beginning, Oliver’s pet name for his sister Thea has been “Speedy” – a nod of course to Green Arrow’s funny paper sidekick.  And, Boxer Ted Grant recently made an appearance – not as Wildcat but as a former vigilante with a not-specified costume and handle.

The Internet and social media sites are ever-abuzz with what could or should happen next.  Will Laurel eventually take over as the Canary for her recently murdered sister? Will the Atom actually make a costumed appearance; whether on Arrow, Flash, or his own show? And, will rumors of another lesser-know D.C. comics character, Firestorm, come to fruition in the weeks and months ahead? The creative teams behind these shows are keeping us guessing and watching with twists and turns that are often counterintuitive but, for lovers of the genre, always true.

Here’s How High-Profile Execs Should Be Fired

Monday, November 17th, 2014

UnknownWhen I was a TV news intern back in the analog days, I remember being told by one of the managers that there were two kinds of news directors. There were “those who have been fired and there are those who will be fired.” The same is true in many industries where high-profile businesspeople get fired all the time. It comes with the territory.

As we have written before, so many of the communications surrounding those firings is pure bull****. Statements around those firings are filled with euphemisms, vagueness and, often, downright lies. They rarely, if ever, answer the question that all audiences want to know – “why?”

But here’s an example from sports, where firings are talked about much more openly than they are in the rest of business. Over the weekend, the University of Florida fired its Head Football Coach, Will Muschamp. The simple reason is that his teams didn’t win enough games, and that was clearly reflected in Athletic Director Jeremy Foley’s statement. This is how the firing was communicated to public audiences:

“Upon evaluation of our football program, we are not where the program needs to be and should be. I’ve always said that our goal at the University of Florida is to compete for championships on a regular basis,” Foley said. “Coach Muschamp was dedicated to developing young men both on and off the field. Our student-athletes showed tremendous growth socially and academically under his leadership. His players were involved in campus activities, engaged with the local community and represented the University of Florida with pride.”

Sometimes, it takes a forensic scientist to decipher statements when an executive is fired. In this case, it’s abundantly clear. It is handled with distinct lack of bull****. Also, a statement like this helps both parties move forward. It helps position Florida as place with high-expections, but where coaches can be treated well. It also lets potential employers know that Muschamp has potential to succeed otherwise, elsewhere. The lawyers should even be happy with this one.

This should be a model for this type of communication. Yes, you can be classy, clear and controversy-free.

When Clients Collaborate, Coordinate

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.50.46 PMIf you view the brand video on the Tanner Friedman website Home Page, you’ll see the term “making connections” in describing our firm’s areas of expertise (click here to take a look). In the world of public relations there are few things as rewarding as bringing clients together on a particular initiative.

Today is Veteran’s Day and client Detroit Public Television has just debuted a new series of video vignettes featuring veterans in the workplace.  When we initially heard that programming was being prepared we immediately turned to clients Goodwill Industries, whose “Operation Good Jobs” trains vets and IT firm GalaxE.Solutions who not only has collaborated with Goodwill on that very initiative but whose Chief Security Officer is also an ex-Marine. You can view the series here.

And, tomorrow morning, Tanner Friedman will be ‘ringside’ as the Greatest Show on Earth comes to Detroit Public Schools.  In this case, our firm brought together DPS with Feld Entertainment, which we assist in promoting a range of top national shows including the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Together, an elementary school attendance competition was put in place with the winning school incentivized by and soon to be treated to an exclusive student assembly filled with show performers. It truly will be a sight – and sound(s) – to behold.

Collaborations. Partnerships. Teamwork.  When accomplishing project goals it is often who you know as much as what you know. And when you can build relationships while also achieving specific objectives, so much the better – for all involved.

From The White House To Your House, Act More Quickly In Crisis

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Businessweek-Obama-Crisis-Management-cover1The public and private sectors have something in common. Organizations in both sectors must get with the times when it comes to publicly responding to crisis.

A recent cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek examines the crisis management style of the Obama White House. It mirrors what we see in business. When there is bad news, decision-making lags, despite the “right now” environment that is not likely to get any slower. Customers and media often are vocal, via Twitter and other platforms, while waiting out a response that is caught up in a process of “analysis paralysis.” As Businessweek reports about the White House, “Administration veterans describe Obama’s crisis-management process as akin to a high-level graduate seminar.” The same could be said about corporations and other institutions.

Here are some ways we recommend that you work as fast as the marketplace dictates during a crisis:

1) Quickly bring in an outside resource with the experience to know and practice the fundamentals but the vision wide enough to recognize and account for the nuances of your situation. Give this expert (it doesn’t need to be a team, especially when you have to work fast), latitude to offer counsel and relationships that can help you.

2) Keep the decision-making group small. Organizations are often plagued by the “too many cooks” syndrome. Instead, consolidate power in a crisis.

3) Minimize the involvement of lawyers. Yes, their voice can and often should be heard. But putting them in charge or involving too many of them distances you from your audiences and lengthens the process as the attorneys obsess over commas in statements.

4) Remember the ticking clock at all times. Even the biggest organizations can work quickly when tasked with a goal, as long as egos and insecurity are checked at the door. A constant focus on the vision for success should be balanced by a need to communicate fast or, better yet, get in front of your audiences.

The Businessweek piece ends with a quote from former White House advisor David Axelrod. He says, “As Obama used to say all the time, this sh** would be really interesting if we weren’t right in the middle of it.” All of usewho work with crises have felt that way at one time or another. But we don’t have time anymore to think that way when it’s time to get to work.