Archive for October, 2016
As the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) 2016 International Conference carries on in Indianapolis through Tuesday, I have just returned home after four days and 32 hours of conference and travel time over its first couple of days. And despite what you might think of PRSA National, it was time very, very well spent. Allow me to elaborate.
An organization’s defining of and delivering on its value proposition is crucial – to delivering on its promise and mission and in retaining members. And, it is no secret that the governing body at PRSA National has been called out in recent years on exactly that. What do our dues go toward? How are we, as PR practitioners and as Chapters, Sections and Districts benefiting from the affiliation?
Jay Starr, who is National’s head of Membership, was loudly called out on this dynamic during the conference Leadership Rally on Friday. To his credit, he kept his cool, explained that new tools and resources were coming and then delivered on this promise during Saturday’s General Assembly. Announced were new online tools and templates for easily and cost-effectively creating new websites, award programs and direct mail and e-mail campaigns; a new, responsive, intuitive and informational website (with accompanying app); and a new e-portal (MyPRSA) which allows members the ability to share and discuss news, information, challenges and best practices. All look outstanding.
In addition to learning what is here and what is become, the conference serves as an ideal connector for PR leadership from across the country, as I spent time with numerous Chapter heads from everywhere from New York and Chicago to Atlanta and Silicon Valley. I was also provided with a greater awareness of and connection point for the wide range of “Sections” that allow for staying in-touch with others in specific areas of focus throughout the year and from across the country.
In 2016, I am happy to say, my time both out of the office during the week and throughout the weekend in Indianapolis was very well spent; as an organization I and other members often had our doubts about listened, stepped up at the highest levels and actually did what they said they were going to do. And, what needed to be done – for this profession and for those who are carrying it forward.
This past week, there was actually a radio show that analyzed the third Presidential Debate without screaming, name-calling or, maybe best yet, no recitation of campaign talking points from predictable voices.
The show was Detroit Today on public WDET-FM and you can listen via this link to hear what it sounded like. It was a privilege to be a part of an independent on-air panel and the audience seemed to appreciate hearing far more than what it has come to expect from guests who represent the major parties, typically armed with the party lines and purely political perspectives.
Therein lies the problem as a consumer of media during this election. So much of it has been so predictable. From this vantage point, that has long been a characteristic of political talk, where predictable can turn, in an instant, to boring.
“Hmmmm… what’s Rush Limbaugh going to say today? Oh that’s right, Republicans are good. Democrats are bad. Got it.” “What’s Rachel Maddow talking about tonight? Oh ya, Liberals are correct, Conservatives are wrong. OK.” While there’s a proven business model behind the always-take-one-side content approach, for those of us looking some cognitive challenge this time of the year, it can be hard to find.
That extends across all platforms. By now, each of us on social media has figured out where our contacts stand. Their posts have become flat boring. But nothing seems more predictable and boring than some of CNN’s punditry. In the name of “balance,” they are paying political types who have essentially become actors to recite campaign talking points on their set. It’s an quick-grab of the remote every time Jeffrey Lord, for example, is called upon to deliver his rehearsed and well-compensated lines.
I’m hearing what you are from those who know that they are “sick” of the election and “can’t wait for it to be over.” But media consumption levels are telling a different story. Ratings for news are up, clicks online are up and the election is The Story. So here are a few suggestions of places where you can get your election fix, give your brain a workout, and avoid boring content and paid acting:
-Sirius-XM POTUS Channel (124) – This is a political talk channel without a political agenda. If we didn’t have it, we’d want someone to invent it. I have been avidly listening since just before the Conventions this summer, after being an occasional button pusher the past few years. Particularly recommended are Tim Farley’s “Morning Briefing” in the early morning and Michael Smerconish’s show in the late morning (his trademark theme song is the ’70s Stealers Wheel one hit wonder “Stuck In The Middle”).
-The Axe Files – The podcast from former Democratic strategist David Axelrod is civil, insightful, multi-partisan interview and conversation. It’s simply worth your time.
-NPR – It’s often lumped into the “liberal media” category, probably more because of its audience than anything else. But take it from someone with a discriminating ear who spends a lot of time in the car, thorough political conversation has been paramount this year. Even the daily campaign news is put into context through on-site reporting. Locally in Michigan, the aforementioned “Detroit Today” and Michigan Radio’s “Stateside” talk shows are fair and, most importantly, interesting. NPR credits the election for a ratings bump.
If you’re interested in echo chambers that just tell you over and over again what you want to hear, I can’t help you. But there are a few options for those seeking something different for the coming weeks.
Knowing you can always count on me…for sure…that’s what friends are for. In the winter of 1986 that song was a huge hit for Dionne Warwick along with Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder. If I never hear that song again, it will be too soon but its message resonated like never before this past week in my (little) hometown.
30 years ago, I found myself nearly a year out of the University of Illinois joining forces with a band of other radio neophytes from Bloomington and Peoria, Illinois, respectively. Some could say we were exiled to Joliet, Illinois – a depressed (formerly booming) river town best known for a penitentiary and the Blues Brothers. For us, it was an opportunity for true, full-time on-air work at a little station that could: WJTW (formerly polka station, WAJP). We were in a strange town, a new station and away from home for the holidays. ‘Friends’ was one of the first songs we played on the station (and we played it incessantly). It still brings back memories good and bad.
John Weis joined the WJTW air staff from WBNQ in Bloomington, Illinois and instantly became a friend for life as we bonded amid separation from family and friends and worked side-by-side each day. That friendship was reinforced this week as I found myself unexpectedly back in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois to tend to my ailing mother in the hospital. Able to work largely from a room in the hospital where I was born (thanks to the hard work and support of my Tanner Friedman colleagues and friends), I found myself nearly 400 miles from the CBS Radio recording studio where, each month, I voice radio commercials for client The Suburban Collection.
A call to John, whom I would see in town on occasion during visits, soon led to lunch at famed Monical’s Pizza for radio reminiscing and an invitation to use one of the production studios at a former radio station (WLRW) where I had worked just prior to moving on to Joliet. John programs and oversees the now seven-station cluster as well as mans Afternoons as “Jonathan Drake”. It seemed like old times as that mutual respect, kinship and crazy irreverence was once again experienced with me voicing and him producing. The photo in this blog is me and John in the now (albeit different) WLRW (now Mix 94.5) on-air studio. With voice tracks laid down and appropriately edited, John was able to then email them to CBS’s Doak Breen in Detroit for final production. After John posted the photo to his Facebook page, other former Joliet colleagues and friends chimed in. A radio reunion indeed.
As of this writing, my mom is out of the hospital and recuperating in a rehab facility. For nearly eight days I was able to complete work right next to her while also serving as an in-person advocate for her care – work/life balance realized (and not necessarily in that order). And all of this thanks to the generosity of others (like John), family members, relatives (and, again, my TF colleagues) to give of and be flexible with their time, step up in a time of need and reaffirm friendship and the collaborative spirit. And, I found, I needed the camaraderie and support as much as anyone. Just like Dionne and her friends sang nearly three decades ago. Maybe the song is not so bad after all.
The tens of millions of American households who keep the TV on after the Presidential Debate or go online for analysis will be a part of something that is otherwise not allowed in journalism or PR. Consumers looking for perspective will receive it from individuals who are walking conflicts of interest.
It’s one thing for a campaign strategist whose livelihood depends on one party or the other to provide insight as part of news coverage to explain why a campaign or a candidate does one thing or another, as part of a strategy. But when it comes to analysis of debate or speech performance – how a candidate delivers a message and connects with an audience – those one-side-or-the-other political types are asked their opinions even though they fit the definition of a conflict of interest.
It’s so predictable. After every debate, the “Democratic Strategists” say that the Democrat “won” and the “Republican Strategists” say that the Republican “won.” The analysts gets to keep their business with campaigns from their selected party and the news organizations can pat themselves on the back for “balance.” But did the audience get to take away anything interesting, valuable or even credible?
It is past time for news organizations to add objective, apolitical analysis into the most-consumed coverage. One suggestion is independent PR professionals, who spend their days counseling clients on message delivery and audience connection, but don’t have a business imperative to favor one party over another.
That is how it works when that type of analysis is needed otherwise by news organizations. During the General Motors Ignition Switch scandal in 2014, for example, I had the privilege of serving as the go-to analyst for multiple news organizations, including on the day when the company’s CEO was in front of Congress. I was asked by each newsroom if I did any kind of business with GM. Only because the answer was “no,” I was able to provide independent commentary. Nor was I paid for my time by any of the news organizations, unlike many of the post-debate analysis Americans see in 2016, many of whom are hired to provide particular partisan points of view (sometimes, with a non-disparagement agreement in hand about a candidate they are supposed to be analyzing).
The other exception to the rule made for debates is “The Spin Room.” It is perhaps the only time that journalists are encouraged by their bosses to seek B.S. rather than avoid it. They know they are being fed lines of bull and they eat it up. Day-to-day, they are encouraged and look forward to finding independent sources of credible analysis. But after a debate, the herd mentality leads them to a place where those they interview are required to talk glowingly, deserved or not, about whomever they represent.
As consumers, we accept a double standard. For many, it seems, they just want to hear someone of perceived authority speak well of their “team” and ill of the other. But for the growing segment of independent voters, it’s past time for more independent voices, not on anyone’s payroll, to provide some much-needed rational perspective.
This past week, I had the privilege of working in media relations at the World Mobility Leadership Forum, a two-day conference that convened experts from around the world near Detroit to talk about the short-to-medium term future of personal transportation. The program featured the Chairman of Ford Motor Company, the CEOs of General Motors and Volvo and executives from Tesla and Lyft, along with government officials from the U.S., Finland and other countries.
The consensus among the participants was that autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are coming, as quickly as within the next 5 years. The technology is beyond most Americans’ wildest expectations. The other trend exploding and showing no signs of reversing is ride sharing. The experts predict that it will continue to grow fast – far beyond Millennials taking Uber to the bars in big cities.
All of this threatens the medium of terrestrial radio. While radio has withstood threat after threat, ever since the proliferation of television after World War II, radio has survived because of its primacy inside the American automobile. But what will happen when cars drive themselves and the driver is free to consume entertainment or information without hands on the wheel and eyes on the road? Or when a ride-sharing driver is increasingly in control of the dashboard while the passenger does work, goes online or even sleeps during the car trip?
The challenge for radio now is to make itself invaluable, especially for information formats that truly could be distinguished from music streaming services. Satellite radio has increased its level of portability, with a place on the phone/earbud combo beyond the car. But local terrestrial radio must create value to go with its audience into the next chapter of transportation. How will that happen? The largest owner of radio stations, IHeartMedia, is carrying more than $20 billion in debt. The largest owner of all-news stations, CBS, is spinning off its radio division into a new company. Could either afford to put new resources into the product to make it indispensable?
Throughout so much change, radio has proven to be powerful, personal and resilient. Now, it’s going to take what the auto and technology companies are making priorities to secure their futures – ingenuity and investment