Archive for December, 2016

Celebrity Death Trend Goes Far Beyond 2016

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

690_oak_3d_2017_half_2016As has been written here before, nothing gets traditional and social media going like celebrity deaths. In an era of media done on the cheap, it’s an easy story to tell. In an era of lowest common denominator connections, it’s an easy story to share. This is all natural.

With respect for those who have felt emotionally stung by the death of a celebrity or multiple celebrities, I apologize if this message may be received as insensitive, but, as always, the goal here is to explain.

The popular narrative that seems to suggest that with the turn of the calendar, some sort of anomaly of celebrity deaths will come to an end appears to be driven by factors ranging from wishful thinking to online snark to flat-out ignorance. Celebrities will continue to die in what seems like large numbers because, quite simply, the evolution of media over the past five decades has simply created an enormous number of celebrities.

Once, there were just movie stars, radio stars and politicians, with maybe a few “stars of stage and screen” thrown in. Then, there were TV stars layered on top of that. Then, music expanded, creating rock stars, pop stars, soul stars, rap stars, country stars, jazz stars and opera stars (just look at the sheer volume of #1 hitmakers – it’s staggering). Then, TV expanded creating shows on dozens of channels of genres. Sports expanded, creating star legacies in new markets and in new sports, along with champion players and coaches every year. And so on and so on, to the point today where there are reality show stars, YouTube stars and household names that nobody in your household has ever heard of.

When the celebrity era really stared booming, with the proliferation of TV and the segmentation of music, those who became stars in their 20s and 30s are now in their 70s and 80s. The average life expectancy in the U.S. now is 78.74 years. So what is the chance of someone famous dying tomorrow? Pretty good.

Yes, some music icons died much younger. The reality is, sooner or later, living the way many of them chose to live is going to take a toll. It’s just not because of the year on the calendar.

Another factor is that the celebrities of the World War Two generation have mostly already died. So those who are remembered by Boomers and GenXers are now starting to die. That, in part, makes it seem like more celebrities are dying because we all tend to pay more attention to news that feels relevant to us.

The fact is that celebrity deaths won’t stop in just a few days. Losing an “all time great” or “all time favorite” will be commonplace, but still news, in 2017 and for the foreseeable future.

One More Try

Monday, December 26th, 2016

GeorgeMxlThat’s what George Michael appeared to be preparing for in 2017.  A new documentary film, a new album – all to come nearly two decades after exiting the record charts and moving largely into reclusiveness.  It is a return (redemption?) that will, sadly, have to be realized without him.

I love writing about music but hate writing about an artist leaving us and, in 2016, this happened all too often.  For many of us, George Michael is still in his 20′s or 30′s, singing his heart out and moving about, arguably among the top, true talents to come out of the MTV era.  And while he was a singer, the words he sang spoke to millions of fans across the world.  He knew his audience and they loved him for it.

George Michael could have easily been dismissed after first appearing as a member of Wham! with the bubble-gum pop, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” in 1984 and yet we watched (often in awe) as he not only moved feet but hearts with the haunting “Careless Whisper” and “A Different Corner”.  As a solo artist, his growth as an artist – singer/songwriter – increased exponentially as he also matured with this audience.  From controversial sex object (“I Want Your Sex”) to existentialist (“Father Figure”) to romantic (“One More Try”) Michael connected with his fans – giving them what they wanted but also keeping them guessing with beats and melodies the likes of which many had never heard.

In a Facebook post yesterday someone noted the cruel irony of Christmas Day being George Michael’s last Christmas, ala his holiday song of the same name.  I prefer instead to refer back to a few of his other tunes (“Heaven Help Me”), (“Praying For Time”), (“Jesus To A Child”),  and, considering his often tumultuous life, perhaps even “Freedom”.  He has turned “a different corner” than expected yet we can still be thankful for the good fortune to have met him. (We) gotta have faith.

All I Want For Christmas Is More Clients (Friends) Like This

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

10bbafbf53a71d06491c64c34de0caf5-1There may be times throughout the year that Matt and I spend a little too much time pontificating on what should be happening in the world of business and communications as opposed to donating more space and thoughts to people and best practices we should be celebrating.  I know we strive to provide a healthy balance. Consider this is one of those times.

Without getting too sentimental, year-end is for many a time of reflection with a scrutinizing look back and a hopeful look ahead.  It is also a time to appreciate stations in life and work and people who have been instrumental in getting you there. Today restored my faith in the latter. A client with whom our firm has enjoyed a mutually beneficial 20-years of collaborations today informed me that they were amenable to flexibility on a project budget gone astray; in other words, they expressed a willingness to pay for costs incurred over and above a previously agreed upon budget.  There were a range of factors at work here. They could have said no but after thoughtful discussion, they didn’t.

A year ago, that same client, after a once again transparent and honest dialogue, allowed our firm to begin working simultaneously with one of their competitors. It is unheard of in our industry.  It was as selfless an act on their part that I have ever experienced in my 30+ years in business (with today coming a close second).  It also came at a dark time in my personal life that this client talked me through over dinner.   I am not too “manly” to admit that I was literally moved to tears. This is not just a valued client.  This is a friend.

They say relationships are all-important and they are.  But, as Matt and I discussed today’s events, he suggested it was also something more – a client who operates in-step with our values; one who lives and breathes integrity and mutual respect with its clients, its business partners and its employees.  Such a tone is set at the top and that dynamic is definitely in play here.  It is a modus operandi all too rare but one to be emulated, celebrated and inspired by.  Perhaps a New Year’s resolution for those not already there.

 

 

A TV Guy Helps Radio Break Its Losing Streak

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

UnknownSometimes, being a fan of radio feels like rooting for a perennially losing sports team, decades removed from its glory years. The wins haven’t come often and when they do, you have to savor them. Now is one of those times.

This example of a victory for commercial, terrestrial radio is WJR-AM in Detroit, billed as “The Great Voice of The Great Lakes.” The station’s 50,000 watt signal can be heard in 38 states and much of Canada. In its heyday, it was a powerhouse of local flavor, national-caliber hosts and billings, lots and lots of bills. But under corporate ownership, the past decade has seen the station shrink, like just about every other across the country. While the station boasts strong talk personalities Paul W. Smith, Frank Beckmann and Mitch Albom, much of the airtime is taken up by syndicated national programming or paid shows.

WJR’s current owner, Cumulus, though, seems to be emerging from bankruptcy with the beginnings of a plan to stay out of it. Unlike others that have cut and then cut and then cut some more, giving new listeners hardly a reason to tune in, WJR is showing signs of investment. It bid on and won the rights to Detroit Lions broadcasts for this season. And now, they are dumping a nationally syndicated political show, Michael Savage, and hiring a trusted, proven local voice, really a household name, to host a daily, local news talk show. (Details in this Crain’s Detroit Business story, featuring Tanner Friedman analysis).

Guy Gordon is a professional news broadcaster. Prepared, polished, inquisitive and fair, Gordon has spent more than 30 years on Detroit TV. I competed against him when he was at WXYZ-TV (his 6pm newscast and the one I produced at WDIV-TV were neck and neck in the ratings, but we eeked it out more nights than not) and I have worked on stories with him at both WXYZ-TV and since his move to WDIV-TV over the past 18+ years. He asks great questions and tells great stories, with high respect for the audience. For the past two years, he has filled in as a host on WJR and has made it sound easy.

For now, Guy will be on 3pm to 5pm but I hear that could expand once syndicated programming contracts expire. Cumulus wants WJR to be more local and it’s a safe bet that advertisers and listeners will respond well to this void being filled. When was the last time we could say a station like this had something new to sell that customers actually want, not settle for? There just aren’t many places for news that emerges during the day to be explored on the air for commuters and even time-shifted podcast listeners. Guy’s reputation and Rolodex will mean his show will be a go-to place for newsmakers to talk beyond the headlines by answering his questions.

This is something for other radio stations and their owners to consider. What are you doing, other than cutting salaries, to sustain, or maybe even grow, your business? What investments in product could lead to more audience and more ad dollars?

Newspapers, you’re due for a win too. There’s something to think about here.

Mayor Jim Fouts in Crisis: If He Did It, He Should Admit It

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

img This morning I appeared on Fox-2′s “Let it Rip” with Charlie Langton to discuss Warren Mayor Jim Fouts’ supposed egregious comments about the mentally and physically disabled. Not one to beat around the bush, Langton opened the 30-minute segment by asking me point blank if Fouts should resign. “Yes.” I said – if he did in fact say those outrageous things. Yet, it will never happen and here’s why.

In the world of communications, politicians are often held to a different standard – and that’s sad. But the fact is, we have become largely immune to the “out of line” things that politicians say and do. Just look at our President Elect and his crazy campaign. Politicians attack other politicians all the time. And when they do or say something improper, it is much different than a CEO of a public or private company saying or doing those things. You can’t fire them; you can’t sue them; and you can’t boycott their product. We can handle Fouts attacking Mark Hackel, yet, this time, he may have crossed the line.

Despite a history of bizarre behavior, Mayor Fouts is a popular mayor whose constituents reelected him most recently by 85%.  That also can give someone more of a “pass” in “bad times.”   Consider L. Brooks Patterson as another example of someone who is incredibly successful at what he does on behalf of the residents of Oakland County. He also has a history of making un-PC comments. This is akin to the dynamic in sports, where athletes who excel at the game and are of value to their team are much less likely to be suspended or cut than a backup or also-ran. Again, sad – but true.

On the other hand, politicians, as with any public figure, are constantly in the spotlight and a target of scrutiny; even more so today with smart phones that record audio and video and post anything to social media in seconds. We don’t know where or when Mayor Fouts said these things (if he did) but a public figure should know better. Some would argue this was locker room talk, ala Trump talking to Billy Bush. Yet, once again, who came out seemingly unscathed and who lost their job? Lauren Podell at WDIV-TV Channel 4 reportedly made improper comments in the newsroom. No audio. No video. She resigned, reportedly under pressure. Back to that double standard.

At the very, very least, I indicated on Fox-2, Mayor Fouts should apologize if that is, in fact, him on the audio tape. Honesty, transparency and taking responsibility, even though painful and embarrassing, are truly the best policies.  Instead, Fouts, never shy about approaching the media to fit his agenda, has instead avoided traditional media; instead taking to Facebook to deny and further attack Mark Hackel with conspiracy theories. As with Bill Cosby, who has consistently and sheepishly issued denials over his past behavior, it just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Mayor Fouts should be concerned with his legacy. If he did it, he should admit it. He should apologize and do something exceptional to benefit the mentally and physically challenged in his jurisdiction. If he didn’t do it, an independent party should be hired to analyze the tape with voice recognition software. Bottom line: He should do the right thing and live to fight another day on behalf of those he should be most concerned with: the citizens of the City of Warren.

Time For Media to Rethink Customer Service

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 6.35.56 PM I don’t want to pile on.  Lord knows both print and broadcast media are seeing their share of problems today.  I also don’t want to come across negatively in this blog.  I’m looking for solutions, suggesting a few even.  That said, this week I faced a double conundrum that, unfortunately, seems endemic – customer service (or lack thereof) that has prevented me from doing what every media outlet out there wants me to do: consume their content.

I love media (no surprise there) and have worked on both sides of the print and broadcast journalism equation. I’m also old school. I like holding a newspaper, thumbing through a magazine, going to a bookstore! I also do everything I can to support a range of media by subscribing to their periodicals and publications. Yes, I pay for news and information!  That said, in early November I noticed a dearth of reading material in my mailbox. I subscribe to and was receiving Sports Illustrated but had stopped getting Time even though the label from my most recent issue indicated a March 2017 expiration date. Oh, the dreaded call to customer service.

There, after dealing with call center hell, I reached a real person who, upon investigating the situation, informed me that I had canceled my subscription to Time in mid-October.  Um, no, I replied, I had not.  After some time I was able to reinstate my subscription with the assurance that I would not miss another issue and that I would, within a few days’ time, receive back issues (including those covering the presidential election).  Weeks later, I have received zero back issues and have since learned that I will not be receiving my first “reinstated subscription” issue until December 17th – nearly a month from my call.

But wait, there’s more. A call just completed a few minutes ago on my similarly wayward Rolling Stone subscription also uncovered a cancelled subscription in October. Wrong again. When informed that a reinstated subscription might not provide me with a next issue until January or February I declined. It’s just not worth it to me any more. To be fair, both subscriptions were, if memory serves, 2 for 1 deals offered through a local bookstore chain that I took advantage of.  The Rolling Stone customer service representative said that he could not sleuth out exactly how the subscription was canceled as it was through “another agency.”  Then again, the publisher was obviously involved with (implicit in) this deal being offered.

No matter who or what is exactly to blame the irony is hard to miss here.  A dedicated subscriber who wants to keep reading but, through technological glitches or timeworn policies (why does it take several weeks before a longtime subscriber can be reinstated?) cannot. Hasn’t technology improved since the 1970s (when I first started subscribing to publications)? It’s hard enough to hold current readers and nearly impossible to cultivate new ones.

A possible solution? If I were among the powers that be, I’d be thinking long and hard about developing new methodologies aimed at one-on-one reader retention and attraction.  And it wouldn’t involve call centers and voicemail. If someone wants to subscribe, get them the very next issue possible, not one a month or two from now. I’d also examine delivery, whether via post office or paper boy/girl.  After our building employed a new mail person, we started receiving a Monday business publication on Tuesday, Wednesday, even Thursday, necessitating a call to our city’s Postmaster General.  Another neighborhood daily, delivered by carrier, rarely arrives every day.

Some is controllable, some perhaps not.  But how do you keep, at the very least, your core consumers – your low hanging fruit – loyal, or even interested, if they can’t consume? It’s just one more sore on a festering wound aimed at rendering traditional media irrelevant.  Loyalists will remain loyal but only to a point.  Indeed, we are begging for solutions and resolutions. Time to whip up and apply a strong salve before it is simply too late.

 

 

 

 

When News Organizations Make Cuts, Others Have To Speak For Them

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

1462736-hand-with-scissors-cutting-out-an-article-from-newspaperOne of the first things I learned in the PR business was “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

Companies that have nothing to say in times of bad news will have the comment vacuum filled quickly. It was true then and even more obvious now as social media can empower just about anyone to be a de facto company spokesperson.

We’re finding, in this time of multiple crises for media organizations, that their lack of PR acumen is biting them once again. As we have written about in recent weeks, around the country, the end of the year is meaning more cuts in newsrooms that can ill afford them. But plunging revenues, changing audience habits and other factors are leading to job eliminations across the industry. In one case, privately-owned business news outlet Crain’s Detroit Business, the outlet outlined its changes for its customers in this story placed on its website. But in most cases, especially corporate-owned entities, the news organizations are, ironically, leaving the storytelling to others.

As we have written, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are in the process of making cuts. At a client meeting the other day, I heard that situation spoken of as “what the Free Press and News announced.” Actually, they didn’t announce anything. Other outlets got their hands on internal memos. The news organizations themselves have said nothing to customers. Word about who is accepting buyouts is coming out in drips on journalists’ personal social media pages.

Contrast this with when news organizations are on the other side. When companies they cover make changes, journalists demand detailed information on behalf of the communities they cover. I remember one time when a client closed a facility, and didn’t yet know how many exactly jobs would be affected because of a combination of retirements, layoffs and open jobs not being filled, several reports accused the company of “hiding information.”

This is even happening at the national level. Word leaked Friday night via the New York Post that CBS Radio News would push several well-known anchors into retirement. The company did not comment. The next morning though, one of the company’s journalists, Steven Portnoy, did. The company lucked out that a thoughtful, respectful employee was the one to step forward and fill the void. Here is an excerpt:

“You may have read the news that we’ve been wishing some of our very best friends and colleagues at CBS well as they enter retirement with a bit of corporate encouragement. A word on that —

The people we’ve hailed are, frankly, irreplaceable. They represent a big chunk of the institutional memory of our newsroom and their departures leave us feeling quite sad.

It’s important for radio fans to understand why this is happening. It is NOT because fewer people are listening. In fact, just the opposite is true! Nielsen and Edison Research tell us that radio now reaches more people than any other medium, including the social one you’re reading right now. Many of our stations are at the very top of the ratings in their markets. Tens of millions of Americans of all ages learn about our world from network radio news — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, we’ve got the data that proves it’s just not true.

The trouble is, marketers — the companies that buy advertising, in the hopes that you’ll buy the things they sell — are always looking for the newest, most cost-efficient way to reach people in a crowded media universe. They’re spending less money on advertising generally and are trying to figure out whether that will work for them. The jury is still out, but network radio in particular has taken a pretty tough hit from the shifting dollars. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the idea that fewer people are listening isn’t one of them.

It’s with this backdrop that CBS has, however, been forced to make tough, careful decisions about our staffing. My understanding is that no more cuts are planned.

What’s important for you, a fan of radio news, to know is this — each hour, 24 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days each year, the that proudly introduces our newscast will continue to signal the very best in broadcast journalism.

The people of CBS News are as committed as ever to living up to a legacy that began with Robert Trout and Ed Murrow, evolved with Douglas Edwards, Dallas Townsend and Christopher Glenn, and continues today with Frank Settipani, Steve Kathan, Dave Barrett, Pam Coulter and countless others who have made it their life’s work to bring the most up-to-date news to you, a member of one of the largest audiences any media entity in America can claim…

…Thanks for keeping our colleagues and what we do in your thoughts, and thanks for listening.”

If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you. Others won’t get as lucky as CBS and will continue to suffer via public opinion.