Archive for May, 2017

The Pros and Cons of Comic Con

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 4.36.02 PMIn recent days I was with client “Downtown Dearborn” recounting an initiative we had successfully promoted that saw the Dearborn Symphony and the city’s Green Brain Comics join forces for a pop concert of “comic book” music.  One of the participants in the meeting said she had no idea people still read comics.  With a smile I informed her, ‘you have no idea.”

In reality and after this weekend it appears I had no true idea just how much the comic book industry had grown in recent years. On Saturday I attempted to attend the 2017 Motor City Comic Con at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi only to make a hasty exit upon realizing there was no parking left for miles and there was a line of eager convention goers virtually wrapped around the outside of the building.

It really is no surprise when one considers what the industry is today. Fueled by mega-budget super hero movies, TV shows, merchandise and video games, the industry has never been hotter. The last time I attended a comic convention (I believe some 20 years ago), the lot was half full and I walked right in.  By Sunday I had learned my lesson, purchasing advance tickets online and arriving 30 minutes before doors opened. This time, there was a small line inside the venue, which moved quickly toward securing a wristband and program.

As the industry has grown, so have the comic conventions, including the annual event here in Detroit.  That has meant an even greater caliber of guest celebrities and artists.  Among those I was able to meet for the first time was Neal Adams.  Most likely you have never heard the name, but in the early 1970s he would turn comic book art on its ear – bringing grim reality and emotion to the ink-filled pages like no one had ever done before.  You’ve heard of Stan Lee? As an artist, he couldn’t hold Adams’ pen.  Adams’ turns on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow in fact ensured the ‘funny paper’s were no longer called that as his books began tackling far-ranging social issues – including racism and drug addiction – comics code be damned.

I will always remember fondly and nostalgically evenings where my dad came home from Skelton’s Pharmacy in Champaign, Illinois bearing gifts.  For me, it was a Batman comic. For my younger brother John, typically Richie Rich or Donald Duck.  The story telling joy those books brought then are even better today (if not sometimes a bit too violent) with Neal Adams (at 76) still at the top of his game.  I can tick another item off the bucket list.  Next time, I just need to do a little better job planning ahead and remembering: I’m no longer the only comic book geek in the room.

Black Hole Sun

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

f7db2b2d592dd542e7470e2307a5848060837565Was there anyone that wasn’t shocked and saddened to turn on the radio or TV this morning and learn of the tragic and untimely death of singer Chris Cornell?  After performing last night in Detroit at the Fox Theater with the reformed Soundgarden, early media reports indicate he may have taken his own life.

An artist beloved to many leaving this world much too soon is certainly nothing new; we have experienced this all too often in recent years, from Prince to David Bowie. Yet the prospect of suicide can take any death to a different level. Certainly, the feeling of helplessness and confusion can become even more daunting to process and overcome.

Over the course of his long and successful career, Chris Cornell has been both beloved and reviled.  Coming out of the grunge era, along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, his was the voice of a flannel-shirted generation. Lightning would strike twice with Audioslave as his powerful, gravelly, despair-tinged voice continued to move and resonate with millions of fans.  As he matured and took to solo work he also took chances – most notably with Timbaland – delving into pop music, much to the dismay of many of his followers.

Providing a degree of comfort this morning were several Detroit radio stations, most notably 89X and WRIF, who eschewed their typical programming of all-talk, jokes and revelry for thoughtful discourse with fans interspersed with Cornell’s music.  Music is personal and emotional. These radio pros did their industry proud.

And so we listen back and remember, including to perhaps Chris Cornell’s most well-know song, “Black Hole Sun,” searching more some kind of meaning, insight or sign in his words: In my eyes, indisposed, in disguises no one knows

 

 

 

The City Coming Off Bankruptcy May Be Investing More In Communications Than Your Company

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Detroit-City-Council-Districts-Map-1The City of Detroit is still emerging from bankruptcy. But chances are, the city government is embracing creativity in communications much more than the place where you work. Let this be a wake-up call.

Tanner Friedman had the privilege of providing analysis for this Detroit News article on how the City of Detroit is investing in writers and platforms to tell the stories that traditional media, which has contracted in Detroit and across the country over the past decade, can no longer tell. While this effort, like anything you do, must be credible to audience. It must not come across as propaganda. As Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press points out, as a government entity, it must not be a re-election campaign effort for the Mayor. In this case, Mike Duggan has a history of communications innovation. Early in his tenure as CEO the Detroit Medical Center, it was among the first hospitals in the country, if not the first, to offer patients a video library of professional videos that helped ease concerns prior to surgeries and other procedures.

Often, we counsel prospective clients on the opportunities – if not the need – for telling their own stories over platforms that they control to complement whatever bona fide news their organizations can generate. They nod their heads and act like they understand. But when it comes time to provide budget for this type of proactive work, too many scoff. They still think they can generate reach for their information like they did 20 years ago through traditional media alone.

The world has changed. Communications have changed. There are very few opportunities for “mass media” in a personal media world. But companies, nonprofit organizations, even cities have stories that are worth connecting with audiences, even if they fall short of news thresholds or there just are not the news resources to cover them. If the city coming out of the worst financial crisis in U.S. history can find the means to communicate in new ways to its audiences, so should you.

Guest Blog: Inside A Crisis

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

jeff picIt was a crisis that grabbed the nation’s attention. In August of 2015, a Roanoke, Virginia TV news crew was ambushed, shot and killed on live TV. As a former TV news producer, it really hit home and stayed in my head for days. Those could have been my co-workers. That could have been my newscast. That Sunday, I heard an interview with the station’s General Manager, Jeff Marks, on CNN’s Reliable Sources. He handled it, and seemingly the situation, perfectly. He sounded like the ideal leader for an organization and community enduring circumstances that were exceptionally challenging. Marks articulated everything leaders should communicate in a crisis – facts, reassurance and concern for the people affected.

Now retired from full-time work in the TV business, we asked Marks to offer Tanner Friedman’s readers insights and lessons learned from that ordeal. Here is his guest blog post:

Yes, I’m that guy.

Despite all the other mass shootings in the last two years, people still seem to remember the two journalists shot and killed during a live broadcast.

You recall: Alison Parker and Adam Ward were interviewing the woman from the chamber of commerce when they were all ambushed by a “disgruntled former employee.”

The interviewee lived. My two dear souls died. For days after, as general manager of the television station, I was inside our building consoling and outside being the face of WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia for media from Ukraine to Japan.

I hate clichés unless they are accurate and this one is: not a day goes by that I don’t think of Alison and Adam. When I am back in Roanoke, I make a point to visit the beautiful memorial to them which the people of WDBJ7 completed after I had moved on.

People have all sorts of questions and observations, prominent among them is the notion that you just can’t prepare for something like this. I tell them, gently, that they are wrong. Management is all about preparedness.
Here is what I mean.

For many years, I had had a game plan for the inevitable day one of my employees were to die on the job.
• We CPR trained many of the staff.
• We installed a defibrillator.
• I knew what clergy and counselors I would call.
• I had a plan for notifying family of the victims and communicating with our staff members.

On that terrible morning, the most important element I could bring to the business was calm. I was the first manager to reach the television station, and I immediately set out to gather as many facts as I could. At the same time, I offered consolation and hope to the most deeply affected people.

I concluded quickly, from my journalism background, that my employees were almost certainly dead but I did not let anyone know what I thought.

People stepped up:
• One middle manager took it upon himself to be the liaison with the families.
• I called a senior manager who lived near the shooting scene to ask him to go to the scene to provide a first-hard report. (I did not adequately consider the traumatic effect that identifying the bodies of our colleagues would have on him, but someone had to do it and I felt that my place was with the employees.)
• The photography team examined the view from Adam’s camera and found a single frame that caught the image of the killer, someone they knew from his employment that had ended more than two years earlier.
• Employees from other departments brought food, consoled their colleagues, answered the phones and filled many other gaps.
• Not knowing whether the shooter would be going after former colleagues who had moved to other cities, our employees reached out to several of them in nearby markets to let them know of the possible danger.
We had been stepping up security for our main studio for several years. Television stations had become targets, so we had turned our reception area into something of a friendly fortress. We had invited a police expert in to assess our vulnerabilities and we had followed his key suggestions:
• We put mirrors at hallway junctions so that police could see around corners, should someone get loose in our building.
• We put room numbers on door frames inside each office so that anyone holed up in an office could let authorities know where they were on the map of the building.
• We drilled peepholes into side and back doors.
• We started to enforce a name tag rule and to require that visitors be escorted.
• We offered to provide additional people, including security, to anyone with concern about an outside assignment.
• We ordered bullet-proof vests for anyone to use.
• We told journalists that they could call off an assignment that appeared dangerous.
• We stopped promoting online and on the air where our a reporter would be conducting a live update, and we made it policy that a reporter would move to a new location after each live report.
• We brought in our police expert to advise the team on how to stay safe in the field and at their desks.
After the shootings, and even after I left the job seven months after the event, the station took more steps:
• Fencing part of our property to discourage people cutting through our back lawn where they could not be seen.
• Ordering additional concrete planters to prevent vehicles driving up our walkway into our lobby. (It had happened at another station.)
• Tinting windows.

In more than 30 years of supervising, I had never lost an employee on or off the job. I was a few months from retiring on August 26, 2015, when the awful thing happened.

The fact is that a television station has to send people out every day, to work with advertisers, to repair towers, to cover the news. They are as vulnerable as children in school or families at the movies, and we cannot protect everyone all the time.

Nevertheless, in the United States journalism is a largely safe profession. These two were not killed because of what they reported, but because a fellow with anger issues had gone off the deep end and blamed others for what he could not control in himself.

A few weeks after the killing, a man came to our building to buy a cookbook our team had authored. He saw me and said, “You know, if those kids had been armed, this wouldn’t have happened.”

I nearly jumped through the glass as I said to him, “Those kids were ambushed, and if even if they had had an armed security guard with them, there would have been three dead, not two.”

The one thing we did not consider was arming our people.

Marks can be reached at jeffamarks@comcast.net