Archive for October, 2015

Phil Collins’ Groovy Kind of Leave

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 2.49.18 PMThey say absence makes the heart grow fonder and perhaps nowhere is that more apropos than in the world of music. I was reminded of this dynamic this week with the news that Phil Collins, he of Genesis and solo fame, is planning his first LP of new material since 2002.  While most of us strive for retirement at 64 years of age, Collins is coming out of it to record and tour. He’s obviously ready. Are we?

As New York Post music writer Hardeep Phull put it this week, throughout the 1980s and 90s, Collins’ music, “used to saturate radio and TV to the point of mind-numbing omnipresence.” And, indeed, Phil was here, there and everywhere – including radio stations from coast to coast, MTV, even “Miami Vice” – year after year after year.  And, after multi-million-dollar sales and sold out concerts, Collins flamed out and went away on an extended leave of absence. I know I, for one, welcomed the extended sabbatical.

More contemporarily, the seemingly unstoppable Justin Timberlake experienced this same dynamic with his legion of fans.  In the brightest spotlight of fame beginning in 1995 with NSync, his 7-year boy band career saw the selling of more than 50 million albums.  An even more successful solo recording career would last another decade including major forays into TV (“Saturday Night Live” and “Jimmy Fallon”) and movies (nearly twenty silver celluloid appearances).  When “20/20 Experience” was released in 2013, fans had grown weary with Timberlake reading the writing on the wall and heading for the mountains – for a time at least.

Today more than ever celebrities in general walk a fine line between popularity and overexposure.  Never have we had more access to news, information, photos, video and overall artist content.  From TV talk shows with “The Jimmys” to YouTube and other online media there exist a multitude of communications mediums for engaging fans – and potentially burning them out.  Do too little and you risk not capitalizing on what could be fleeting fame. Do too much for too long and you risk alienating your fan base and also becoming a footnote. To be sure, it takes a balance directed by audience input and gut.  And, rather than being too available perhaps keep ‘em guessing and coming back for more.





The Good and Bad of Public Communication…In Just One Day

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

2015-10-29T012940Z_2_LYNXNPEB9S01P_RTROPTP_3_USA-ELECTION-REPUBLICANS-725x506Like virtually everything else in business, successfully communicating in challenging situations isn’t easy. But just yesterday, we saw communicating with a high degree of difficulty done exceptionally well and exceptionally poorly, in two high-profile situations that couldn’t have been handled more differently.

In the morning, we saw the University of Minnesota’s Head Football Coach, Jerry Kill, retire suddenly because of health concerns. Rather than doing the easy thing like hiding behind a crafted statement, Kill faced the public with emotion and candor on full display. The media, and the public, looked favorably upon Kill, showing a very high level of sympathy, because he did the tough thing, but the right thing. He put honesty and authenticity first and left no doubt as to his intentions and rationale. Ideally, college athletics should be about setting an example and Kill set an example of how to handle a difficult communications moment, matching his reputation.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum was the Republican Presidential Debate, seen nationally on CNBC. Without question, sharing a stage with so many speakers, being asked point-blank questions and trying to maintain composure under those circumstances in front of a live audience and 14 million TV viewers is a challenge. Also, in politics, the Golden Rule is “don’t say anything that can be used against you.” But, what viewers saw was the vast majority of the candidates taking the easy way out by simply reciting memorized talking points and attacking the questioners. While those tactics score points with viewers in the short-term, they should not be emulated by anyone wanting to learn about best practices in communications. What “works” in politics doesn’t fly in the rest of the world.

If your objective is to be talked about, follow what the politicians did. If your objective is to be understood and respected, follow Jerry Kill and the University’s of Minnesota’s lead. When times get tough, be honest, be authentic and speak to, rather than pander to, your audience.

Your Website Is Probably More Responsive Than You Are

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Unknown-1When I return a phone call, I’m receiving a salutation more often these days that I feel like I never heard a decade ago. Immediately, it’s “Thank You for calling me back.”

That’s because a returned phone call, just like an answered email, is becoming more and more of a rarity. I’m not talking about unsolicited sales phone calls or email. You can be in a professional relationship with someone and it can take days to get a response. We’re even starting to build time into projects for clients that includes follow-up, with them, the people who are paying us for our time. And this goes for “instant” platforms too. As I write, I’m waiting almost four hours to a response to a quick question sent via text.

Our business culture is less responsive than ever. The irony is, according to some significant professional service market research shown to me by a client, the top reason why a company hires a professional services firm is expertise in a particular field, followed by “responsiveness.” We have worked with multiple client firms who boast that their commitment to responsiveness is their key competitive point of difference. When you think about it, that’s pathetic. Something that should be a given is now a differentiator. Also, it’s frustrating that customers want their firms to be responsive to their needs, while too often failing to respond to the communication needed to fulfill those priorities.

Every business day, I get about 200 emails that require a response. They all deserve a response that day, even late at night if it’s a day of meetings and events, with driving in between. Every business day, I get about a half-dozen phone calls that require being returned. They all deserved to be returned within 24 hours, if at all possible. This is the hard way. We believe it’s the right way.

I know you’re “busy.” We all feel that way. Just about every business is “leaner” than ever. We are all doing jobs that used to be done by two or more people. We are all bombarded by interruptions when we’re not in meetings (that are too long). We’re eating lunch at our desks just to get the work done. But we have email at our fingertips and a phone in our hands virtually at all times. There’s just no excuse. The fundamental ingredient in every successful relationship has not changed since the days of secretaries and “while you were out” slips. That’s respect.

The Way Forward Down The Ford Field

Friday, October 16th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 2.34.09 PMSo what exactly do we want from the Detroit Lions?  A competitive team and wins of course but what else?  In reading and listening to news coverage that has included opinions from reporters, fans and players alike I would argue that what we all, collectively, want is a demonstration of emotion, a message of ownership and a commitment for improvement.  How are the Lions doing in communicating these things? Let’s take a look.

Coach Jim Caldwell is no nonsense, no frills, with a straightforward approach to communication.   And, there is no confusing the fact that he is running the show. He speaks for the team and he takes full responsibility for how the team is doing on the field.  But is that enough? Many feel Caldwell should demonstrate more emotion.  Not Jim Schwartz crazy emotion but something more than his typically calm, cool yet stern demeanor. I would argue you are who you are and that emotion comes in many different forms.  And, as for how he is on the practice field, in meetings or in the locker room, who’s to say?  You either motivate or you don’t.  Some of the most successful coaches in football (think Mike McCarthy of the Green Bay Packers) are calm but authoritative and, oh yeah, win.  You’ll recall so did Caldwell last year.

And what about ownership?  Obviously no Jerry Joneses here. The Fords have traditionally been hands off when it comes to speaking about or for the team.  That won’t change as long as fans fill the seats. Rather than words from the Fords, however, what fans and prognosticators appear to want from them is action – bringing new vim, vigor and talent into the front office.  What this team appears to need, most are saying, is a new team of football minds that can better evaluate talent and then draft, develop and/or sign it through free-agency.  Again, a close look at the Green Bay Packers demonstrates that all but three players on their roster were drafted by the organization.  The Seattle Seahawks, meanwhile, are rife with non-drafted free agents.

Finally, there are the players and reasons why Jim Caldwell continues to speak for the team.  In recent days, Golden Tate chided the fans for booing and leaving early; Eric Ebron announced his playing would have made a difference against Arizona; and Matthew Stafford outwardly continued to show zero emotion save a look of bewilderment and frustration.  Here, taking responsibility, demanding accountability and demonstrating frustration regarding on-the-field performance are sorely lacking. Remember the fire former Miami Dolphin and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino used to show on the field, on the sidelines, in front of the media?  Stafford, a captain, someone should call out everyone on this team and demand it work harder, play better and give maximum effort for the fans that pay their salaries.

Say it. Mean it. Own it. Do it.  That’s what we want from the Detroit Lions. And, after 50-plus years of futility, it is what this citizens of this city so desperately deserve.

Garbage Behavior Gives PR Firms A Bad Rep

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

imagesPR firms, collectively, are PR-challenged. We are often seen as scheming, secretive, greedy hucksters of “spin.”

That makes potential clients, even those who could really benefit from our actual services, think twice about hiring one of us. Unfortunately, this reputation is hard-earned because of the garbage pulled by some firms, quite often the biggest ones, like what journalists in Washington brought to light this week.

Just read this piece in The Washington Post. It explains how a mega-firm used taxpayer money to try to covertly get information out of reporters, without revealing their client and even offering a reward for information. Worst of all, they did this over email.

If it’s portrayed as sleazy by The Post, that’s because it is. Never mind the firm was probably using very junior people to do the dirty work while charging DC premium rates.

Often, when we start with a new client, it is helpful to know what journalists think about covering that client. It helps us understand what we’re walking into and how we can do a better job of working with the client to get the journalists what they need, when they need it. But it always happens with full disclosure. And it happens over the phone, to increase the level of candor and quality and efficiency of conversation. Sometimes, if more dialogue is needed, we’ll meet in person. This business is about relationships and mutually-beneficial relationships aren’t based on hiding information while asking for advice.

From exorbitant fees to overstaffing accounts to pulling this garbage, these firms make us all look like frauds We won’t get them to stop their behavior but it’s time unsuspecting clients get wise and stop rewarding it.

UAW Forced to Face Fiat and Facebook

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

detroit-social-media-uawAs UAW talks with Fiat Chrysler continue one thing is evident: While negotiations between the union and automakers are traditionally fraught with tension, social media can make them even more contentious and complicated.  Detroit News reporter Michael Martinez examined this very dynamic in his piece, “Social Media Tool for UAW Members to Vent Anger,” published today.

Whether negotiating contracts or trying to keep any type of news or information under wraps until it is ready to be communicated to a larger population, today’s world of instant communications and social media make confidentiality incredibly complicated. Leaks, rumors, innuendo – all can be put forth by virtually anyone at any time and shared with the masses.  To that end, it has never been more difficult for any organization to control and disseminate information that is accurate, on message and well timed.

Martinez called me for perspectives for his article, asking a couple of key questions: In the wake of scores of negative posts and tweets on social media regarding the proposed contract, how should the UAW respond?  And, could they have done anything differently?

As I said in the paper, the very nature of social media can quickly spawn an electronic mob mentality, leading to pseudo e-protests and rallies, especially when volatile issues are involved.  What the UAW should be doing now and moving forward is focusing on communicating accurate information and their rationale to their constituents early and often. That includes not only social media but all communications avenues.  The UAW can’t necessarily manage the masses but they can manage the message.  And while it does not represent another person at the bargaining table Facebook, Twitter and the rest do represent for the union a challenge that is formidable.


A Real Life Warning For PR and TV News People

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

imagesIs there anything more cheesy in PR than the oversized check presentation? That can zap the authenticity out of any good deed.

That’s why we have always recommended, whenever possible, if someone is doing something generous in front of cameras. to use the real check, if a check is needed. Now, maybe a handshake has to do, after a story we just heard about one of our clients.

Let this be a warning to PR and TV news people alike. Showing a real check on TV can lead to fraud. Really.

Recently, one of our clients had an opportunity to help a charity that had been stiffed out of funds that would have payed for a community program that parents and kids were counting on. After seeing a story about this on TV, an executive at the client company contacted us to say they wanted to help. By the end of that day, this good corporate citizen had cut a check and the TV station that had done the story wanted to do a follow-up with the company presenting the check to the charity on camera. Good PR, right? We thought so.

We learned that at least two viewers were able to get information from the close-up of the check from TV and used it to try to pay their bills. The client tells us someone tried to pay a DirecTV bill and someone tried to pay an American Express bill with their bank routing number. A quick-thinking employee and the executive whose idea it was to do the right thing figured out quickly that this was fraud based on the TV story and worked things out with the bank.

To PR types: your clients’ good intentions could cost them. It’s time to think about alternatives to both the oversized check and the real one. To news types: maybe just show the checks in wider shots?