Archive for March, 2016

“You Cut My Favorite Anchor.” “I Don’t Care.”

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Famous-Improvised-Movie-Moments-EMGN4When word got out this week that a highly-rated local TV station, owned by a global public corporation, was letting go three popular, respected on-air anchors and reporters amid other cuts, we started getting questions. Don’t they understand how much the audiences likes and trusts these guys? Don’t they get that they will lose viewers in the long term? Aren’t they concerned this will hurt their product?

I believe local management does understand that and is concerned about it. We know them and work with them. This is a station that takes its community role seriously and this has to hit hard. But, ultimately, in today’s media world, it isn’t their call. As one former general manager once told me about most local stations, “They’re an ATM for headquarters.” It used to be all about gaining ratings points and selling commercials. If ratings and sales were good, headquarters would leave you alone. Today, as with every public company, it’s about making a corporate spreadsheet look a certain way. Yes, management by Excel document dictates who you see on TV.

It reminds me of the famous scene in the movie “The Fugitive.” The escaped prisoner, played by Harrison Ford tells the Deputy Marshal, played by Tommy Lee Jones that “I didn’t kill my wife.” Jones, whose only job was to find him, responds, “I don’t care.”

In the powerful accounting and finance departments of big public companies, when it comes to things like customer loyalty, brand building and long-term reputation, they don’t care. They really only care about three things – hitting their numbers, hitting their numbers and hitting their numbers. It’s all about this quarter’s targets and meeting number expectations for this year. The cruel reality is that while journalists lose their jobs, headquarters bean counters will earn bonuses for making their marks.

This is just how it works with Wall Street. Several years ago, we did enormously successful work for a New York-based public company. While providing highly-specialized niche services, we received accolades from within the company and won awards within our industry. We accomplished this at a tiny fraction of the cost of the global firms the company used otherwise. But when corporate ordered cuts, our track record and relationships didn’t matter, nor did our efficiency. Someone took a look at a spreadsheet and cut our budget completely, along with some of the big firms’ work and multiple in-house, full-time positions. Not only was there a hole in our business, the company’s corporate communications was decimated and the company’s reputation suffered. But, that’s just not a priority in the modern corporate world.

We have seen the hard evidence from newspapers and radio that cutting aspects of the product that customers notice is not a pathway to growth or increased relevance in a fast-changing media landscape. TV follows this path at its own risk. They will hit their numbers now, but risk their long-term viability. The number crunchers just don’t care.

Everyone Needs A Murray Feldman

Monday, March 28th, 2016

hqdefaultI firmly believe that success in business and in life are not possible without mentors and role models. Looking back, I’m thankful that nobody had that better than me. I realize this now, as one of the professionals most instrumental to my early accomplishments in communication is, maybe for the first time ever, the subject of news rather than the one reporting it.

Murray Feldman has been at Detroit’s WJBK-TV for 40 years. I met him 30 years ago. He let me spend an off day from school shadowing him in the newsroom and out on stories. Just days after my 16th birthday, he invited me to spend a whole week off school doing the same. At the beginning of the week, I was opening his mail. By the end of the week, he had me at the typewriter, writing stories for air (on carbon paper).

A few months later, I landed what I thought was a big interview with a radio personality for my community radio station. But when I got back to the station, I realized the interview didn’t come out. It was a blank tape. I was devastated. As hormones pumped through my body, tears ran down my face. I got home, plopped on my bed and looked at the carbon copies of the scripts I had written not long before. I called Murray for advice. He told me it happens to everyone. It has happened to him. It’s part of the business of electronic journalism. Sometimes the equipment fails. My focus now should be looking forward, not back. So, I did.

I’d send Murray tapes, he’d send me critiques. When I got to college, he helped me get an internship at Channel 2, rare for a freshman (the photo here is from that year). I got to work half-time with him and half-time for his Executive Producer. That EP soon became the news director at WWJ Radio and gave me my first paying job. Murray has done business reporting for WWJ, in addition to his TV work, for about 30 years, so we became colleagues. He was always honest about “The Business” and never tried to do anything but help me chart my own path.

Murray was my first phone call after my parents when I got my first full-time broadcast news job. He was my first phone call when I became an equity partner in a PR firm. I talked to him on the first day of Tanner Friedman. He has always been encouraging, nurturing and in my corner.

Thanks to Murray, I have now been among news people for 30 years. I have never met anyone in the media industry with his consistent class, professionalism, attention to detail and commitment to teaching. After 40 plus years as “talent,” he has never thrown a tantrum, never acted like a stereotypical anchor. He has been anything but.

Now, Crain’s Detroit Business reports he’s leaving the station. Circumstances aren’t clear (Fox doesn’t allow its journalists to talk to reporters, keeping a “corporate employee” type policy). I just hope he’s leaving on his own terms. While I’ll miss working with him on stories, maybe we’ll have more time for lunches and dinners? I’m trying to be like Murray – to think positive, to look forward, not too far back.

Everyone who wants to be successful needs a Murray Feldman. I will be eternally grateful that mine has been Murray Feldman himself.

Batman v Superman? How about DC v Marvel

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 6.04.31 PMDespite the fact that DC Comics (originally known as National Allied Publications) has been around since 1935, it has never before featured two of its superheroes – let alone its most iconic – in one feature length motion picture.  In the newly released movie, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which opened in theaters Friday, not only we do we get to see two of comicdom’s oldest and most storied characters, we are also presented with Wonder Woman and, (spoiler alert) a glimpse at Aquaman and (it is rumored) The Flash (I have yet to see the film).  Obviously DC is looking to take on Marvel with a league of its own.

As I have written previously, when it comes to the Silver Screen, Marvel has forever ruled the roost (Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Iron Man) with DC possessing a monopoly on the boob tube (Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow).  Now, DC plans to borrow a page from their cross-town publishing rival’s playbook and release two movies a year over the next five years, building toward their super team team-up.  Where Marvel has the Avengers, DC has the Justice League; but first we have to get to know the players. Wonder Woman will be the next to star in her own film. One would assume Aquaman is next.

What is perhaps even more intriguing about “Batman v Superman” is what the story is based on.  Frank Miller (he of “3000″ and “Sin City” movie fame) is also widely recognized as one of the best comic book writers of our time and, indeed, his top grossing movies were based on his graphic novels.  Along with “Watchmen” (which he did not write), “The Dark Knight Returns” comic book series, originally published in 1984, is hands-down the greatest Batman graphic series ever, featuring an aging, retired Bruce Wayne who confronts a bought-and-paid-for by the federal government Superman.  You’ll even see certain scenes in “Dawn of Justice” that come directly from “Dark Knight” (including this blog’s featured image). The plot might be different in “Dawn” but its foundation is pure Miller.

And that’s a good thing.  Once again, the celluloid creators who have been entrusted to stay true to the characters and their lore are showing they deserve it.  Watch “Arrow” and “Flash” on TV and you will see it: references to events and names and obscure characters that demonstrate show writers have done their homework and respect comic history. It’s basically Marketing 101: know who you are trying to reach and then create and message a product or service that will motivate your audience to action.  If the trailers for “Batman v Superman” are any indication, we are in good hands once again.

 

 

A True Friend is a Friend Indeed

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 3.51.39 PMI’m a big fan of old adages. When it comes to friendship, there are a couple that spring immediately to mind.  One is, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  I totally disagree.  I prefer to keep a few close friends and avoid anyone even close to being potentially deemed an enemy.  More interesting is the phrase: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” That is what I would like to examine more closely.

Over the course of my career in media and public relations I have continually sought out mentors while also seeking to serve as one.  Even more regularly and on perhaps not as ambitious a scale I am continually looking for ways to help individuals – close and casual/professional friends alike – especially in cases of career transition and business connections.  I’ve been around for awhile now and have built up a network I am happy to share with the right individuals. It’s giving back.

And while I never assist someone seeking to get something in return, it is always interesting and eye opening to see who is actually there for you when times are tough, in life or career.  Just as the cream rises to the top so too do your true friends and associates. Despite their trials and tribulations. Despite their work pressures and family responsibilities. To be sure, it sure is nice to get back sometimes.

In the end, it should not be about you; a dynamic all too often lacking if not absent entirely in these all too often self-absorbed times. It is about looking beyond yourself. Being selfless. Being thoughtful beyond your world.  Perhaps author Ralph Waldo Emerson had it right when he wrote: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” That should hold for business and life outside of it.

 

CBS Is Getting Out Of Radio? What About You?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

cbsradioCBS Radio owns many of the best radio stations and employs many of the best broadcasters in the country. Its top stations generate profit margins so large they almost don’t even seem real to business people when they learn about them. But yesterday, CBS announced to investors that it plans to get out of the radio business.

CBS? Out of the radio business? The business that started it all, as its logo brags, in 1928? Wouldn’t that be like Ford getting out of selling cars or Kellogg getting out of cereal?

Maybe it would, except ABC got out a decade ago, with Disney selling its radio division to a company called Citadel, which ended up in Bankruptcy. And NBC has been out of owning and operating radio stations since the late ’80s.

For CBS, like just about everything traditional media, radio has moved in recent years from “slow growth” to “no growth” to “declining revenue.” That means it has been treated as a failing business. There are many reasons for it across the board, including dramatically changing media consumption habits and a “moving target” approach by advertisers chasing elusive audiences, unsure of where to get the most for their dollars. But, among the reasons is a lack of investment in product and the inability to introduce the product to new audiences. Stations have seemingly been in cost cutting mode for almost 25 years.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I posted this on Facebook last night: “Question for those younger than 40 who drive a car: What if there was a way for you to get updated on live news without a particular political focus – more than headlines but less than long-form reporting – get updated weather forecasts and traffic information and even sports information, all while you’re safely driving, rather than looking at your phone, piped through the speakers in your car. Cost to you? Nothing, as long as you’ll be exposed to some advertising. Would you be interested in such a thing? Why or why not?”

I got a few serious responses but the punchline here is that product exists in CBS’ largest markets in the all-news radio format, which has been a money maker and audience grabber for decades. But its audience is getting older and it makes me wonder if the younger audience was ever given a chance to find it and experience its usefulness and ease. Is there any chance there are more of them listening, just not being measured? Do they really want to carry around a pager-sized Portable People Meter? Those could be, quite literally, billion dollar questions.

All-news radio, when done well, can be the greatest form of media in the moments when you need it most. I think of last summer, driving from the Chicago suburbs to Detroit, trying to get in front of a storm that included a tornado. I could actually see the storm in my rear view mirror as I drove through Downtown Chicago in traffic, trying to get south then east as soon as I could. CBS’ WBBM kept me updated every step of the way, keeping me informed, calm and reassured between traffic updates, weather updates and “all hands on deck” coverage, with reporters, even those on days off, calling in from across the region. This all happened live, on a Sunday afternoon, while every other station in the market was playing music or syndicated programming. If CBS doesn’t do live news, who will? That’s a scary question. For some of us anyway.

Radio was my first communications love. The first paycheck I ever earned in communications was cut by CBS Radio. I remember an old timer telling me then, “As long as you stick with CBS, Westinghouse or Infinity, you’ll always have a job in radio news.” For the past 20 years, those have been one company. Soon, they won’t be a company at all. That, above all, illustrates the profound changes in media that just won’t stop.

How Should Trump Make You Think About Your Communications Strategy?

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

UnknownA few days ago, I met with a longtime client with whom we are privileged to share a model relationship of trust and respect. The president of the company had a simple question that went something like this: “I’m watching Trump and what’s happening. Should we be doing anything different?”

The answer was ultimately “no,” but it requires much more than a soundbite response. That’s because, as we have written about many times, there are significant differences between political and business PR. And in Trump’s case, his PR, such that it is, has followed a celebrity PR script for 30 years, which is closer to political PR but even farther away from business PR, as celebrity PR is all about making and keeping an individual famous.

There are examples in presidential elections for which everyone in communications has benefited. For example, 1992′s election of Bill Clinton proved for all that Baby Boomers were a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace. 2008′s election of Obama proved the power of the Internet, even to those still skeptical at that point. A similar broad lesson may be learned in 2016. But that is still very much unclear.

While Trump is obviously tapping into “something” in the marketplace (we’ll leave that to the political analysts and sociologists), it’s hard to imagine a business that would benefit from emulating his antics, so matter how successful in the political arena they may be to date. What kind of business would gain market share mocking the disabled or proposing that individuals of a different religion be banned from the country, as just a couple of examples?

What Trump shows us clearly, however, is that America’s obsession with celebrity is alive, well and perhaps more powerful that ever. Trump has spent countless dollars across a generation, building himself into a household name, wanting you to think of him as the embodiment of success and the East Coast lifestyle of the rich and famous. Through bragging biographies, tabloid marriages, talk show appearances and a highly-rated Prime Time network reality show, he has made sure you know who he is and what he wants to stand for.

So I told the client “No…but.” Their company should keep doing what it’s doing, clearly communicating at every opportunity who they are, what they do and how they’re different, remaining true to their values. Years ago, they capitalized on the culture of celebrity, using a household face and voice as a spokesperson for their country. That ran its course but is worth remembering. For now, I say, leave “The Trump Effect” to the game of election politics. The client agrees.

Why Our Books Have Lost Their Spines

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 1.18.18 PMThere have been times in recent months where I almost feel like a kid again; and not in a good way.  I am an avid book reader and always have been.  Yet, if I want to go out and pick up a new book to read my options continue to dwindle. Which rhymes with Kindle. And therein lies the rub.

When a friend of mine recently learned that another Barnes and Noble had closed near her house, she was crestfallen. Until I reminded her that she and I were part of the problem.  She hadn’t bought a book in years, opting to always visit the public library.  I, on the other hand, was choosing the downloading route more and more.

Growing up pre-Internet and before the advent of the big box bookstores, I did have access to books via smaller bookstore chains. Yet, when Borders debuted some twenty or more years ago, the tome-buying experience was taken to another level.  With amazing, seemingly endless selections of new and classic offerings.  As importantly and akin to the Starbucks recipe for coffee enjoyment, there was the experience. Browsing over scones and hot chocolate. Discovering new authors and topics amid a sea of wooden bookshelves with nearly unimaginable magazine and newspaper offerings. Storytellers reading picture books to wide-eyed children.

Today, my bookstore options, and perhaps yours as well, are a good 10 miles away in either direction.  The Kindle, meanwhile (or the Nook is you are so inclined – and at least that benefits Barnes & Noble) is always inches from my fingertips with a selection, available 24-7, that would rival fifty bookstores combined.  It’s how we consume more and more. Like our movement from CDs to MP3, we want what we want, when we want it.  Yet, there’s no denying that something is missing: The sense of community.

It is a dynamic lacking all too often in our society today. It is why we are still drawn to city centers and old-fashioned downtowns like those in Rochester, Ferndale and Plymouth while developers and DDAs continue to work to emulate them – in Wixom, Novi and Dearborn – quite often with mixed results. People still need people and shared experiences; or at least have the option.  Let’s hope that never changes.