Archive for September, 2016

Special Delivery: PR Advice After A Miserable Failure

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

UnknownAs a business-owner, you don’t put yourself in too many opportunities to use the #sundayfunday tag on social media. We’re not the type to spend Sundays amid mimosas and half-day meals. Sunday is often a day to be with the laptop, catching up from the previous week and trying to eek ahead of the next one.

While, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to buy food for my family each week, the practical reality is that a weekly grocery shopping is a time-sucking exercise. Let’s face it – the system that was setup for “Mad Men” era housewives who theoretically had all day to shop for their families endures today. You walk a big store, picking what you want, put it in a cart and then wait in line to pay for it.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Meijer, a regional chain of 24-hour “superstores.” While the private, Michigan-based charity has proven to be a good corporate citizen, it’s frustrating that it usually takes 60+ minutes to shop for a family of four. On Sundays, the deli counter alone, buying school lunch ingredients average about 20 minutes and checkout averages about a half-hour. Shopping there is the enemy of productivity.

So imagine my glee when on September 1st, Meijer announced a partnership with a tech company called Shipt for online grocery home delivery. The company staged an enviable PR blitz with a release embargoed for that morning, followed by a large advertising campaign. They captured the Detroit market’s attention, built “buzz” and motivated use of the new service starting September 15th. There was just one problem: Meijer over promised and under delivered. They, along with Shipt, now can’t meet the demand that they created. I know because I tried to order delivery this morning, to save myself an hour or more, and was told, online, no delivery windows were available.

I went to Shipt’s online customer service chat and was told this by “Jasmine”:
“Unfortunately, there are no delivery windows in your area at this time, I sincerely apologize for that. We are experiencing a much higher demand these first couples of days after the launch and we are actively hiring shoppers to keep up with this demand. I know it is frustrating and we really want to make things right for you. I do apologize for the inconvenience, but we ask if you could please bear with us these first couples of days as we hire and add more shoppers as quickly as we can. Again, I’m so sorry about this.”

That is an admission of guilt.

So when do I try again? Next week? Next month? Never (and ask for a refund of the annual fee)?

At Tanner Friedman, we have extensive experience in communicating new product launches. One of the pieces of advice we always give clients is not to communicate widely until a concept becomes a product for real. If you’re going to create demand for a product, it had better be available to meet expectations. If not, roll it out gradually with “soft launches” to ensure 100% that it’s “Ready For Prime Time.”

When it comes to timing PR right on the concept/product continuum, Meijer failed. That’s the takeaway for any business: it is better to wait to do something right than rush to wear the “first to market” tag and alienate customers by not meeting expectations.

So what did I do? I went out of my way to Meijer’s arch rival Kroger, where I dropped three figures as well as lost, with drive-time included, nearly 90 minutes of my day. But at least I now have groceries at home.

For WXYY, Sports Is Just The Ticket

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

sports-ticketsIn my many years working in and observing the business of radio I have pretty much, done, experienced and seen it all.  Yet, I was still struck in recent days at the miniscule level of discourse being afforded a key morning show personnel change at one of this town’s top stations, as Bill McAllister exited CBS sports juggernaut “The Ticket”.  Far be it from me to question the move, although it does beg a bit of examination.

First of all, there is no denying that, love him or not, McAllister is a true broadcast talent.  With CBS and previous iterations of WXYT-FM for more than a decade, he proved himself able to adapt and jive with a myriad of on-air co-hosts – from Jay Towers to Mike Stone – and formats – from music to sports.  His true strengths lie in an uncanny knowledge of music and pop culture.  And, having had the opportunity to guest with him on the music podcast, TrackAddicts, I can attest firsthand that he knows both well.

So what happened exactly? Why did we hear one week ago during the “Valenti and Foster” afternoon show that Jamie Samuelsen would be part of a new, revamped, all-sports morning program dubbed, “Jamie and Stoney”, which put McAllister out on the steet? There are a couple of theories to consider.

One is virtually every radio group’s #1 morning nemesis: WRIF’s “Dave & Chuck The Freak”. Their male-dominated, lewd, all-talk humor fest has proven too hot to dent for many. The Ticket often delved into similarly tasteless material albeit without the same level of crudeness. And if you can’t beat ‘em at their own game, you alter the game plan and play to other strengths – in the Ticket’s case: sports.

Another theory has to do with a ratings system that the industry is still working to adapt to: The Portable People Meter (PPM). With this tool, programmers can view online at any broadcast moment, what listeners are responding well to (and continuing to listen) and what is not resonating (and resulting in tune out).  So, this theory might follow, when the morning show talked sports (which it did on occasion) the PPMs showed that time spent listening went up, while, perhaps, non-sports talk was demonstrating more button pushing.  And, thus, the decision to go ‘all sports all the time’.

Finally, while former sports/talker 105.1 was never a real factor in the ratings, they did eschew sports in recent weeks for classic hip hop.  That move left crosstown WDFN (“The Fan”) as the only station in town focusing on sports in the morning. Why let that station get all the 105.1 fan fallout?

Only CBS knows for sure but no matter the true reasons or rationale, it is yet another example of how, in radio, talent does not always translate into longevity – at least not in one spot.  Samuelsen is also great at what he does yet started elsewhere (at “The Fan”). He will thrive while McAllister will revive and survive somewhere else.  In the end, this industry truly lives and dies not by the sword but by a little transmitter, worn by a very small sampling of listeners, recording, via soundwaves, who listens to what and when with the ‘why’ quite often a mystery.

Ghosting Doesn’t Just Happen In Movies and Dating

Monday, September 5th, 2016

ghostingThe time from the day after Labor Day until mid-December is really the last lap of business for the year. In the PR world, event season heats up quickly in September and goes through just before Thanksgiving. But across industries, projects procrastinated during the summer must be completed at the same time as planning for the coming year. Over the past decade, it has become clear that this dash to the finish line is the most intense time of the year.

It’s an annual challenge to look at the longest to-do lists of the year while also planning ahead. The one thing that simply can’t be done is to look backward as every milliliter of energy is required to be successful during “crunch time.” So, I share this story now:

In May, we received a referral to a company facing an uncertain business future because of some new competition. The referral source thought a strategic, focused PR campaign could be helpful. I met, on very short notice, with the company’s CEO and, after a friendly and thoughtful discussion, agreed to work together on a specific project to begin communicating in a new way. That initial project, as it should have, focused on developing a plan for a campaign.

Once engaged, we met to discuss the company’s situation, in more detail and protected by confidentiality, how that campaign could work. They had a relatively high sense of urgency, so we committed to a one month project, taking us through June. Within just a couple of weeks, my colleague and I developed a draft of the plan and sent it to the CEO and the company’s in-house legal counsel, who had become involved. That was the week before Father’s Day. I was on vacation the next week and was surprised not to hear anything back when I returned, so I checked in. On June 30th, I received this email:

“We are still reviewing your proposal and will be in touch after the holiday.”

That would be the 4th of July. I responded that was OK, but I thought they had a sense of urgency and tried to explain that I was not preparing a proposal, I was preparing a plan, as we had agreed.

By July 12th, I contacted them again with language that included the following:

“It has been another couple of weeks, so I’m just checking in.

My intention prior to Father’s Day was to present you with a draft of a plan that encapsulated our conversations to date and included a suggested roadmap on how to accomplish what we had discussed as the goals, which I also outlined, along with a draft of a “script” that would be needed (REMOVED TO PROTECT CONFIDENTIALITY).

At this point, I’m curious if you had a change of direction, a reprioritization or maybe what I provided did not meet your expectations. My intent was to give you something that would advance, not end, our conversation. If I did not set your expectations properly, I apologize.

I would appreciate an update, if you are able…”

That email received no response. On July 30th, I sent a handwritten note to the CEO along with an invoice for the time incurred in June. As of this writing, that request had not received a response.

I have heard from single friends about “ghosting,” when they’re dating someone and then all of a sudden, the other party just stops responding. That’s what happened here. I was professionally “ghosted.” This is yet another piece of evidence that business people today would rather do anything than engage in difficult conversation.

It probably would have been fulfilling to have been able to finish the plan, act strategically and help this company solve its problem. Instead, it’s time for them just to pay the bill and move on. It’s the end of the year and we have good, collaborative, communicative and dependable clients who need our time. We don’t have to call Ghostbusters because we ain’t fraid of no ghosts. We just don’t have time for them.