Archive for July, 2016

The “Next” Ice Bucket Challenge? Good Luck.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

ice_bucket.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeThe best PR coup in recent days is the stealing of the headlines from the Democratic Convention by the national ALS Association. They marked the two year anniversary of the Ice Bucket Challenge craze, that significantly raised funds for their mission, by breaking the news that money raised during that time period led to an important new scientific discovery.

Two years is an appropriate amount of time to reflect on the phenomenon that had people all of the world taking videos of themselves dumping water on their heads and challenging others to do the same. Nobody watched it all more closely than the nonprofit community. “This changes everything,” one nonprofit CEO told me at the time. But now, with the benefit of perspective, the Ice Bucket Challenge is more of an anomaly. It’s one that should be celebrated but it’s time to admit that it likely won’t be replicated.

Fundraisers nationwide are still looking for the “next” Ice Bucket Challenge. They haven’t found it. About a year and a half ago, one of our nonprofit clients, a terrific organization funded by exceptionally generous individuals, wanted to try. I explained to them that it’s like music promoters trying to find “The Next Beatles” or basketball scouts looking for “The Next Michael Jordan.” Everyone wants it, but it’s not likely to happen. The Ice Bucket Challenge was a product of a moment in time and everything clicked far better than if a group of PR people sat around a conference table trying to plot it out. What it made it authentic, different and, perhaps most significantly, unprecedented, made it successful.

Our client heard all of that and asked that their staged version happen anyway. We tried it, starting with videos featuring a group of kids because, who doesn’t like sharing cute stuff that kids do online? It bombed. Hard. Just like The Bay City Rollers and Harold Miner.

“The Next Ice Bucket Challenge,” as predicted, just couldn’t gain momentum. As expected, as hard as everyone tried, it felt like a knockoff. In this case, it’s virtually impossible to see how something like what happened in 2014 could ever happen again.

But there are some takeaways from the Ice Bucket Challenge that should stay top of mind. It showed the power of online video. It showed how friends can take cues from friends via social media to donate small amounts of money that can add up to make a difference. It showed that serious subjects can be handled in a fun way and still be respectful. If you’re going to imitate anything, think about that.

Texting and Driving: A Trend That Must Become Extinct – Before we Do

Monday, July 25th, 2016

imgresThis past weekend I was stopped at a light with a line of cars in front of me for at least 20 seconds when I heard screeching tires behind me.  Looking into my rear view mirror I saw a newer, midsized car barreling down on me. At the last minute, they swerved into a shallow ditch just behind and to the right of my vehicle. Inside, a younger girl glared at me.  I suspect she was embarrassed and frightened. At the same time, I am sure she had been texting.

Consider these alarming 2016 statistics from distracteddriveraccidents.com:

  • 1 out of every 4 car accidents are caused by texting while driving
  • Every year, 421,000 people are severely injured in accidents involving texting and driving
  • Every day, 11 teenagers die because they were texting and driving. That’s approximately 330 per month and nearly 4,000 per year. (To put that into context, 37,000 individuals of all ages perish in auto accidents annually).

Pedestrian deaths by car are also on the rise.  Clearly, we have an epidemic.  Cleary, we need solutions.

Face-to-face communication is obviously not always feasible. Not in our hectic, time-sensitive and geographically far-ranging world.  Email has largely replaced snail mail and, especially for millennials, texting has replaced talking on the phone as the preferred mode of one-on-one and/or group interaction.  It has gotten to the point, in fact, that many in the younger generational demographic never use the phone; they have become so text dependent. What to do about this?

I have suggestions. With two twenty-something children in my family, I am constantly striving to get their attention on this issue.  If you can’t avoid communicating from the car, I tell them, then use Bluetooth and talk. Pure and simple. Today’s generation must recapture the ability to talk by phone and enhance their interpersonal skills – whether for school, business or their personal lives.

Now a suggestion for the Department of Transportation, NHTSA, automotive safety suppliers and the cellular phone companies: Get together and put legal mandates and high technology to work to save lives.  How about tech in every car that renders the cell phone of the individual in the driver’s seat unable to text? The phone still works for Bluetooth calls. Others in the car can still text, just not the driver until the car is turned off.  Impossible? There is technology out there such as sensors in a driver’s front window that can detect when a driver’s eyelids are fluctuating such to indicate they are falling asleep and then set off an alarm. This can and should be done.

Otherwise, it is only going to get worse. In the span of three weeks, Matt Friedman, one of my daughters and I were all rear-ended in three separate accidents, two causing injury.  Look at anyone driving oddly (slowly, swerving) and you will see them texting.  Communicating is important – only in the right way, at the right time. Anything else is dangerous, even deadly.

What To Ignore About, Learn From Presidential Campaign PR

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Trump__Clinton-2If you’re looking for media relations guidance this summer, whatever do you, don’t take your cues from the Presidential campaigns.

If you want news attention, don’t do what the campaigns are doing. Last weekend, Donald Trump announced Mike Pence as his running mate in a “news conference” that wasn’t a news conference in any way, shape or form. In fact, the campaign excluded certain journalists while reportedly letting in tourists off the street. Journalists who were allowed inside were not permitted to ask questions. Yet, in its reporting of the event, the New York Times referred to it as a “news conference.” That’s not going to happen if you pulled in the same stunt in the market where you do business.

The same goes for the Hillary Clinton campaign. According to The Washington Post, she has not answered questions in a press conference format since December 2015. There is no scenario that comes anywhere close to mind that would allow anyone in business to get away with any kind of equivalent.

Collectively, national news outlets are spending millions of dollars to cover these campaigns and will do so regardless of the level of access they are provided. That’s not going to work for whatever you do. If you ignore the media who may cover you (if there are even resources left over from a decade of consolidation and cuts to do it), then it would result, at best, in you being ignored by journalists and, at worst, negative coverage.

Over the years, we have heard would-be clients who try to compare their communications challenges to campaigns or even White House scenarios. The fact is that there’s more different than there is in common between whatever type of strategy you need and those that are employed in the national political arena.

But if you’re consuming election coverage at a high rate and want some sort of takeaway to chew on, go online and consider PR in the broadest sense. Even though every news organization is expending resources at covering the campaigns, and that is significant and contributes to the effort to reach audiences, they know that is only one way to communicate. They understand that social media should be more than just a checklist item, it can be a way to craft compelling, shareable messages to individuals. They understand that video can be a powerful, credible storytelling tool that can bring to life the stories that traditional media can’t or won’t do. Those are the lessons from the campaigns, among many other entities, that you should consider emulating, regardless of whether you embrace the messages.

The “Little” Station That Could – And Is

Monday, July 18th, 2016

imgresIt might not yet be the ‘little station that could’ but it sure is the radio station that’s trying.  And, however you choose to look at things, Kevin Adell’s self-anointed “Superstation 910 AM” is showing up in the Detroit radio ratings after a relatively short time on-the-air.  Bill Shea goes into great detail in the latest issue of Crain’s Detroit Business.

Adell has populated his station with top-notch talent including the likes of Steve Hood, Cliff Russell, Karen Dumas and others.  At the same time, the oft-controversial owner has also brought in what some might refer to as a “cast of characters” including disgraced former Michigan lawmakers Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser for separate shows.  Talk radio should be insightful but also entertaining and such additions bring both a curiosity factor and ‘wow’ level that can motivate listeners to tune in.

What is also impressive about the upstart is the level of promotion that is being utilized.  Billboards, live appearances (including the recent Detroit Chamber Mackinac Conference), snazzy station vehicles (including a metallic-painted broadcast-ready mini-trailer) ensure high-profile awareness. This harkens back to radio’s heyday of the 60s and 70s when stations and their personalities were “everywhere” and promoted heavily.

Most importantly, they say timing is everything and certainly “The voice of the urban community”, as the station positions itself, has come along at the right time.  No matter your politics and no matter your position on recent and on-going tragic police/African American events across this country, a dialogue is necessary – vital.  Right now, 910 AM is doing this as well as anyone. Providing a forum, a platform, to talk, debate and, one would hope, move toward understanding and resolution.

It is what media is supposed to do – act in the public interest.  And while it is early, the Superstation is an interesting one to watch and listen to.

Carlson-Ailes Lawsuit Could Teach Litigation Communications Strategy

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

9780525427452_large_Getting_RealLitigation communications can be a challenging subset of our industry. It is often handled poorly, because lawyers can be resistant to anything that feels like giving up a fraction of control.

But, over the years, our relationships with multiple leading law firms have led Tanner Friedman to a significant track record of successful litigation communications, working with both plaintiffs and defendants on a consistent string of high-profile cases.

The recent lawsuit that seized attention within the media business should also serve as example of how a law firm and a PR firm can work together in the shared best interests of a client. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Fox News chief Roger Ailes, one of the biggest names in the media world, for sexual harassment that she says led to her firing. Carlson’s New Jersey law firm obviously trusted her New York PR firm and the two, in concert, seized the opportunity provided by the process to plaintiffs, who typically enjoy an inherent advantage in litigation communication.

As this Politico story details it, Carlson’s teams worked together to carefully plot a strategy and timeline and then seemed to execute it all flawlessly. They selected the right day, two days after a holiday when business news can be relatively quiet yet still draw an audience, and were able to get the news out before the defendant even had a chance to see the suit. The defense could only respond to a long list of impassioned allegations with the typical litany of cliches in a statement, “The suit is baseless and without merit and will be defended vigorously,” or something along those lines.

Now, Fox News is faced with a PR challenge, which is part of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ legal strategy. Sometimes a win in the court of the public can put pressure on a defense team in the court of law. The key for defense is to be prepared and it seems they could have seen something coming when the didn’t renew Carlson’s contract. But, it seems this didn’t happen here.

The lesson for anyone on either side of a potentially high-profile case can be learned here. Have a strategy, commit to executing it and make sure, above all, that your legal and PR teams can work cohesively with mutual respect.

America Must Think, Talk, Act as One

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.54.43 AMScary. Disheartening. Tragic. Wrong.  All of us can come up many, many more words and sentiments to describe what has transpired not just in past days but years and decades in this country. But what do we do with those words and sentiments – most recently with possibly race-related events in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas – in terms of putting thoughts and potential solutions into action? And, let’s not forget Orlando.

Detroit Free Press reporter Rochelle Riley’s article in this morning’s paper suggests exactly that in its headline: “Tragedies Should Fuel Conversation.” Importantly, she describes the senselessness of all of these deaths including those of the police offers gunned down, terming them acts of ‘domestic terrorism’ against ‘community soldiers’. Rochelle Riley is an outstanding columnist with a large following and reputation for telling it like it is.  She is also African American and, for this article at this time, that is important.

If you saw the movie “Selma” you saw recounted a pivotal time in the civil rights movement led by perhaps one of history’s greatest advocates for equality, Dr. Martin Luther King, King worked tirelessly to affect change – albeit accomplished peacefully. Violence, as he espoused, is never the answer on either side of this equation. Neither is merely conversation.  Positive, corrective action, however, is essential.

So how is this accomplished? Can racism ever be vanquished once and for all? We must start with an overriding principal and understanding that all lives matter. We must move beyond stereotypes based on race and socioeconomics. Communities and police need to come together to talk and listen to each other; to work to understand each other in an effort to un-do dangerous adversarial dynamics. And, of course, that coming together needs to happen at all levels of society.

As far as police procedures and tactics go (and I realize I am way out of my element here), stops and approaches have to be handled with a different mind set.  Any stop can be potentially dangerous for a police officer, however, if they are based on unfounded racial profiling, the potential for force is already there.  As for weapons (again, no expert here), what about (in particular for “routine” events) giving law officers a greater range of options, such as tasers and rubber bullets – articles designed to stun and incapacitate rather than maim and kill? More intense training overall appears to be sorely needed as well.

I am an expert in communications and, bringing this full circle and back to Riley’s column, it starts there: with communication.  Rational, open-minded individuals can find a common ground.  By talking. By educating. By working together. By identifying a shared purpose and potential solutions.  People are people. The key is to treat each other that way.

 

 

Here’s How Not To Fire Your PR Firm

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

unnamedThere are two kinds of owners of PR firms. One will admit that the firm has been fired by a client. The other is lying.

When you spend all day trying to build and strengthen relationships, you don’t want to think about when and how they will someday, somehow, inevitably end. But when they do, it’s hard not to let the postmortem occupy your thoughts, especially when a longtime client does exactly what you shouldn’t do if you ever have to fire your firm.

Recently, a 12-year client ended a relationship with us in a way we did not expect or deserve. This was a client that, once legally able, joined us after a multi-year track record with us at our previous firm. Much of our work with this client focused on serving as direct communications counsel to the CEO. This client, because of the strength of our relationship and a mutual feeling of trust, donated a portion of our professional time to the community where it is headquartered to help raise awareness for the business and living opportunities there. This is a client that also entrusted us to work closely with its Board of Directors on some of its most sensitive matters.

At no point in the 12 years of working together did anyone working for this client provide any constructive feedback about our performance. We never heard “We’d like you to do this differently” or “We’d like more of that instead.” At no point was any dissatisfaction about work product communicated whatsoever. When we would suggest new ideas, we were often met by budget concerns, but that didn’t deter us from trying to add as much value as the client would allow us to provide.

In fact, after our contract was terminated and we were informed there would be a search process, we were told that it was because “we’re examining all of our outside contracts.” It was reassuring when we were hired soon after that for project work, which yielded results. Then, when an RFP was issued and I called the CEO asking if there is a change mandate and, if so, should we even take the time to complete the process, I was strongly encouraged to submit a proposal. So, after 12 years of working together, I gathered our team, critically evaluated our performance and re-pitched the business in a written proposal.

We didn’t even get an interview.

A few weeks later, I received a voicemail from the in-house marketing person. It said that they had hired another firm, one from a city even farther away from the client than where we are located. It said that they were particularly impressed by that firm’s research capabilities. “Research?” I thought. “Research?” There was nothing in the RFP about research. 12 years of working together and the need for research never even came up in conversation. We have a terrific relationship with an outstanding market research company with particular experience in this client’s sector. If only they had asked we could have told them, but, for some reason, they didn’t even want to know.

12 years was reduced to a voicemail. Well, that and an email “making sure” I got the voicemail.

I don’t know what happened on the client’s end of this story. I likely never will. Probably, they grew dissatisfied with our work, but didn’t have the guts to tell us. Why? Was I going to yell at them? Argue? Swear? Cry? Sue? How bad would it have been?

Or maybe they just thought the grass would be greener someplace else. So why couldn’t we talk about it? What’s so scary about a tough conversation?

As the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. But after a long, successful relationship, do it from the top and don’t do it with a voicemail. Show some class and some stones. Have a real conversation, answer questions, clear the air and then, both sides can move on.

The Publication of Independence

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 7.23.08 PMToday, news dissemination and consumption are virtually real-time and immediate. Social media, cell phones and the internet all ensure what is posted can and will be seen as soon as certain information is written and shared.  Of course, not all that long ago that was not the case.  Go even further back to earlier centuries and the passing on of particular news could take weeks if not months – typically moving via letter and, later, newspapers.  So, how long did it take for the colonies, England and the world to learn of America’s independence in 1776 – and who and what spread that news?

A fascinating look comes from AllThingsLiberty.com and a piece by Todd Andrik, researched and written in a recent year. The article recounts how, on July 2, 1776, Congress voted for independence and approved the text of its official declaration two days later on the holiday we celebrate. This news of independence from England was first reported in the July 2nd Pennsylvania Evening Post and on July 3rd by the Pennsylvania Gazette. Full text of the Declaration of Independence was then made available on July 4th.

Across the pond in England, however, news moved a bit slower, with the announcement coming via ship-sent letter, written July 7th from a stateside General to a London Lord, arriving the second week of August. As such, the August 10th issue of the London Gazette reported for the first time to the English masses of the decision by the colonies to break away from the motherland and of the resulting Declarations of War.  It wouldn’t be until 1777, however, that the American public would learn the names of all 55 signers of the Declaration via a printed broadside (or pamphlet) commissioned by Congress. (Note: the 56th signature came later).

And so word of perhaps the most momentous occasion in American history was communicated to the masses in not an immediate yet still surprisingly short period of time.  The power of the press had previously informed the people of tyrannical actions by England and fervently stirred the Patriots to revolution.  The great thirst for independence could then only be quenched by action – and the timely and accurate reporting of that action; a free press and soon-to-be free country working hand in hand toward liberty.