Archive for December, 2015

Radiohead’s “Spectre”: Nobody’s Done 007 Better

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.25.38 PMOver the past five decades there has never been a movie series as enduring and for millions as endearing as creator Albert Brocolli’s James Bond films. Never mind Furious 7, How about 24 x 007.  And through those dozens of movies the expert melding of action and music remains integral to the franchise’s success, in particular the opening credits which set the tone for each flick.  As detailed in Wikipedia, the actual iconic James Bond theme – featuring the surfer-esque “Dum-de-de-de-Dum” guitar riff was created by composer Monty Norman and scored by the legendary John Barry.  It has been utilized in the opening credits from the very beginning, including 1962′s “Dr. No” and 1963′s “To Russia with Love” as well as many of the closing credits through the very latest film.

By 1964s “Goldfinger” however, the movie’s openings would be dominated by popular singers and groups of that particular era.  And so it was that Welch singer Shirley Bassey took on that title track and took it to #1 for a 200 week run on the Billboard charts (#14 in the UK), garnering a Grammy nomination as well. Bassey would return in 1971 for “Diamonds are Forever” and again in 1979 with “Moonraker.”  As the Bond marketing and promotions machine continued to churn with radio airplay and soundtrack sales for its celluloid offerings, the franchise officially entered the rock era in 1973 with perhaps one of its best known and successful themes: “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings. Composed by George Martin, it marked the first Bond song to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Best Original Song), reaching #2 in the U.S. and #9 on the UK charts.  The song also won a Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists).

Thus would begin a non-stop run of popular artists in every film that has included, most notably: Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Chris Cornell and Alicia Keys. To say nothing of a slew of top performers that have contributed tunes to the closing credits: Louis Armstrong, K.D. Lang, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Moby. And despite mega superstar Adele performing “Skyfall” in 2012, no Bond song had every topped the charts in the UK until Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” entered them at #1 in recent weeks on behalf of the latest 007 chapter, “Spectre.”

Which brings us to what I and many feel is one of the best Bond songs ever: “Spectre” by Radiohead.  Released to fans this past week online as something of a “Christmas gift” it does not appear in the film nor soundtrack as the hauntingly beautiful tune was passed over in favor of Smith. It’s not the first time top artists have lost out in favor of other options.  Consider these “losers”: Johnny Cash (Thunderball), Brian Wilson (for a James Bond theme song: “Run James Run” which would later appear on “Pet Sounds”), Alice Cooper (The Man with the Golden Gun), Blondie (For Your Eyes Only [Sheena Easton] and Pet Shop Boys (The Living Daylights). It would seem, then, that Radiohead is in very good company. And thought enough to make it available to enjoy through the power of social media.

Take a listen, decide for yourself and let me know what you think. You’ll find a link to the Soundcloud version here as well as a YouTube version of how it might have worked/looked over the actual opening credits here. And, with Radiohead four years removed from their last studio LP, one can’t help but get excited by the shape of things to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELO Elicits A Nostalgic Universe

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

jeff-lynnes-elo-alone-in-the-universeNostalgia.  When it comes to “blast from the past” nothing does it quite like music.  Of course, music has a few things going for it.  Like scent, auditory stimuli can trigger vivid memories of persons and places from days gone by. As notably, as WDET’s Ann Delis put forth in my book, “No Static at All,” the repetitive nature of how we consume music can leave indelible marks in our psyche. We may read a book once or twice, yet, we listen to our favorite songs hundreds if not thousands of times.

As a former longtime air personality in music radio, I played a lot of songs a lot of times. Some I liked and some I loathed.  With a potential burnout factor a fact of life at that time, I was forever grateful for new music to be released and added to my stations’ playlists.  To this day, I still gravitate toward new music and away from old. That said, like many who look back fondly on music from the fun and emotional times of their high school and college days, I still have a soft spot for some of the bands and tunes from my youth.

One of those is a group that I feel is among the most underrated ever: The Electric Light Orchestra.  Between 1972 and 1986, the band sold more than 50 million records worldwide while boasting twenty-seven Top 40 singles and fifteen Top 20 hits. Until ELO, no band had ever so successfully melded classical music with rock and roll.  That said, you may well remember Walter Murphy Band’s disco-era “A Fifth of Beethoven” to a greater degree.  For me, however, with the release of 1976′s “A New World Record,” featuring the monster hit “Living Thing,” I was smitten.

Looking back, it was almost as much the branding of the band as the actual music. And while co-founder Jeff Lynne’s haunting vocals and driving orchestration were unforgettable, so too was the band’s iconic kaleidoscope logo which would soon become the very heart of a massive spaceship depicted prominently on all later album cover art – a akin to the guitar from a group of the same era, Boston.  I would argue that only Chicago’s Coca-Cola-esque moniker is more recognized and enduring.

It is with this foundation, then, that I was so excited to recently learn of the band’s first album in 14 years: “Alone in the Universe.”  Now branded as Jeff Lynne’s ELO (a story in and of itself thanks to past turmoil not uncommon between co-founders [ever hear of ELO II]?), the look, feel and sound of the new work harkens back to a time special for me and, no doubt, others.  Lynne, appears, has not missed a beat.

Ultimately, I think, that is why I love music so much – it means different things to different people based on individual tastes, emotions and personal experiences.  For this one, I might even trek out to purchase a now-hip-again full-sized LP version; easier to savor the album art as well as the new tunes fresh from the record store, just like back in the good old days. It’s back to the future through a veritable jukebox time machine.

How Chipotle Can Unroll Its Crisis

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

UnknownThe Chipotle restaurant chain, after helping to transform American taste, especially for Millennials, from fast food to fast casual, is in crisis. But are they acting like it?

It wasn’t too long ago when Chipotle’s biggest PR issue was the cost of its guacamole. But now, after newsworthy food poisoning outbreaks in multiple corners of the country, customers are making other choices, providing that PR crises can negatively impact business. The Wall Street Journal reports the chain’s same-store sales are down as much as 10 percent.

You would think with that kind of drop, the company would be seeking then seizing any opportunity to tell its story. One factor working against them is that an important part of the story, what caused the latest outbreak, still isn’t known by health officials. Still the company has a plan to improve its food safety. The challenge is it includes more centralization, which is counter to Chipotle’s local brand promise. Yes, it’s a mess.

All things considered, the company doesn’t appear to be doing all it can to deliver its message in an effort to increase its lines. Last week, the company’s CEO apparently did just one TV interview, on the “Today Show.” That reaches nearly 5 million viewers, which is a big number in today’s media environment, but does it reach the customer base? This morning, a full page, 7-paragraph “open letter” ad appeared in dozens of print editions of local newspapers. That also reaches a relatively large audience, but large enough, considering the Millennial crowd that appears to be the core customer? (By the way, the first generation to spend more in restaurants than on food for the home, we’re told). Some augmentation with promoted tweets and the chain’s Facebook page linking to the letter likely helped. But where’s the video that shows the younger audiences, not just tells them, what is happening and will happen? Also, many efforts seem geared to the investment community with much of the coverage focused on share price. That can often be priority one to the executives but is no way to get out of a crisis.

Sure, it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback. But after years or working with these situations, including a food scare earlier this year, it can often be clear when a company shifts into a mode where customer communication becomes paramount. It just doesn’t consistently appear that Chipotle wants to do whatever it takes to improve safety, demonstrate that to the public and win back trust and business.

The most important thing for a consumer-facing company to decide is that the health and safety of its customers shall be its highest priority. If the brand has to change, so be it. If it’s going to be expensive to make sure illness doesn’t result in the same ways again, so be it. That’s easy to write here, but other companies have proven time and time again that embracing and then living that priority in every way is the only way out of a situation like this.

The 12 Days of Business: Holiday Hopes for 2016

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

partridge_in_a_pear_tree_s1With apologies to those who observe Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or variations, a few hopes for the holiday season and beyond – for business and life – to the tune of a Christmas classic:

 

On the first day of Business

I’d really like to see

a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the second day of Business

I’d really like to see

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the third day of Business

I’d really like to see

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the fourth day of Business

I’d really like to see

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the fifth day of Business

I’d really like to see

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the sixth day of Business

I’d really like to see

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the seventh day of Business

I’d really like to see

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the eight day of Business

I’d really like to see

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the ninth day of Business

I’d really like to see

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the tenth day of Business

I’d really like to see

Ten commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the eleventh day of Business

I’d really like to see

11 and louder mindshare

10 commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the twelfth day of Business

I’d really like to see

12 months of health and prosperity

11 and louder mindshare

10 commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued…

…and a fulfilling year for you and me.

 

From A Toast To Business To The Business Becoming Toast

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

imagesFive years ago today. Was it the worst ending of a client relationship? Well, as Matt “Guitar” Murphy once put it to The Blues Brothers, “They’re all pretty bad.” But this one won’t be forgotten.

Five years ago yesterday. A corporate client took our team and their lobbyists to lunch at one of the best restaurants in Michigan as a thank you for a fruitful year of work. Before the high-end lunch entrees arrived, a client executive raised her glass and proposed a toast. “To The Greatest Consultants In The World,” she said initiating a big clinking of glasses and enjoyable afternoon of appreciation.

The very next afternoon, I received a message from the client’s public affairs lead on that project who had been our primary contact. He lived out of state, which is why I figured he didn’t make the lunch. When I returned his call, it became clear why he wasn’t there.

Just one day after being toasted by his colleague as one of The Greatest Consultants In The World, we were being stabbed in the back. Our contract was being terminated at the end of the year – just three weeks later. When I asked “Why,” this Nixonian veteran of behind-the-scenes political work before joining the corporate world wouldn’t give a straight answer. He first said it was because this global corporation was getting a new CEO with new priorities. I responded by saying the previous CEO was just fired five days earlier and was a Michigan public affairs campaign really at the top of the new CEO’s list? He then tried telling me the contract was being ended because of our firm’s performance. I responded by saying that he just had a member of our team speak at a national conference the week before, holding up our campaign as a model. He squirmed to the point where I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. Then he said it should have been me, as the team leader, speaking to that conference. I explained that I was on vacation with my family and he knew that before he scheduled the event. I realized that I wasn’t going to get a real explanation, so I ended the call. I haven’t heard from him since.

We continued to do work for another department in that company for another year. I have my theories, but I never found out exactly what happened or why. How could we be toasted then become toast just a day later? Even in a giant corporation, with left hands and right hands not meeting, it’s tough to comprehend.

Here we are five years later, with a lot more “war stories” to tell. The takeaway? Breaking up is hard to do. But if you’re going to fire someone the next day, it’s better to cancel the lunch plans. And when it comes to the actual breakup, show some respect and just be honest.

Tales From The Secretary of State Branch: A License To Communicate Differently

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

IMG_2883Every eight years, drivers in Michigan get a “birthday card” from the Secretary of State’s office. While that name conjures thoughts of international diplomacy, it’s essentially our “DMV.” The chore of having to go into a government office, taking a number and sitting in a tiny folding chair until being called to have your picture taken and take an eye test is hardly a favorite to-do list item.

But yesterday, I planned ahead and arrived 45 minutes early to secure a spot as second in line. I figured with the office closest to home opening at 9, I’d be out the door and on the way to the office by 9:15. It didn’t work out that way.

When the line of 25 was brought into the office, we were told by a manager that the statewide computer system was “down” and it was a “major” outage. We could wait or leave. I decided to wait. Sitting there for 90 minutes, I watched employees try in vain to get information and restart their system. I heard angry citizens curse the situation as they stormed out in frustration. I also live tweeted the situation after noticing that the Secretary of State’s office was doing nothing to proactively communicate to citizens via its website, social media platforms or traditional media. I noticed others, around the state, were doing the same.

After running out of time, and not accomplishing what I had set to accomplish more than two hours earlier, I had to scramble get to my office and then to a lunch meeting. As coincidence would have it, that meeting included Michigan’s Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson.

“We saw your tweets” was my greeting upon meeting the Secretary and seeing her two communications staff members. Exceptionally professional and apologetic, they explained what happened. It seems there was a problem with a server controlled by a different State department that affected everything they typically do in their 170 offices. It was out of their hands and was such a big problem that even the Governor was made aware. I sympathize but also offered some advice, as we have on this blog over the years, as recently as this post in 2012.

Things like this happen. All of us who use technology (in other words, all of us) understand. So be proactive. Someone knew early in the morning this server issue was going on. If I had heard about the issue on WWJ or WJR radio on the way, or seen it on social media while in line, I would have had the early option to not waste time and come back another day. It could have prevented the surprise that led to the cursing and visible disdain.

Instead, they followed the traditional edict “Don’t communicate bad news.” That’s not necessarily in the best interest of the people they are charged to serve and not necessarily in this age of communication. Tell your audiences what’s going on, clearly, instead of leaving it to employees on site who were hung out to dry. Manage expectations and empower your audiences to decide how to handle it in their own ways. The worst thing you can do in this situation is nothing. Then customers control the narrative and it’s always tinged with frustration.

To her credit, Secretary Johnson was open to this conversation.She also let me know I should have been given a pass, on the spot, to get me to the front of the line whenever I chose to return. That would have made a big difference but it didn’t happen.

Late in the day, I visited a second Secretary of State office, close to an afternoon meeting, and was in and out in 12 minutes. Today, I think differently about that State department. Maybe this will lead others to think differently about communications?

The CW Continues to Spread its Wings

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.20.54 PMWhile ABC, CBS and NBC are, of course, the best known and longest-standing American broadcast television networks, another, the CW Television Network (or ”The CW”), continues to make its mark with a growing cadre of original programming dramas and comedies – the former most notably in the superhero genre.  And its successful arsenal continues to grow.

Not yet familiar with “The CW?” Wikipedia describes the network as “a limited liability joint venture between CBS Corporation, the former owners of the United Paramount Network (UPN) and the Warner Brothers Entertainment division of Time Warner, former majority owner of the WB Television Network.” As such, the “CW” is derived from CBS and Warner Brothers. Yet, it just as easily could be referred to as the “DC” – as in, DC Comics since the launch, three and a half years ago, of a little program that could called, “Arrow.” Thanks to clever writing and a healthy adherence to comic book and fandom lore and continuity, “Arrow,” named after the Green Arrow superhero archer, has become a runaway hit.  Many, in fact, credit the show with putting the network on the map and keeping it there.  And, the CW’s super geography is expanding.

Justice League partner “The Flash” spun off a year ago, while the stage is currently being set for yet another in “Legends of Tomorrow,” which will begin airing late next month and feature villains and heroes alike (including Firestorm and The Atom) spun off from both Flash and Arrow.  In fact, in a two night, 2-part crossover this season, yet another iconic character that will star in ‘Legends’ was introduced in Hawkgirl.  And, in what the producers of both programs excel at, yet another surprise character appeared out of the ether this week in Hawkman- for the first time ever (non-animated) in TV or movies.

Where Marvel has succeeded on the silver screen, DC continues to dominate on the boob tube (and we haven’t event mentioned CBS’s “Supergirl”).  And, thus far, fans and funny paper novices alike are giving these heroes a collective thumbs up.  Hopefully it is a lesson to those who have failed so miserably in recent years with corny send-ups of Green Hornet and Lone Ranger.  In fact, Arrow and Flash have proven that super heroes can be handled with fun as well as reverence by properly understanding, respecting and marketing to the targeted viewing audience; giving them what they want and then some – up, up and away.