Trump Needs a Filter -or- Speak No Evil

January 22nd, 2017 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 10.00.22 PMCan Donald Trump ever become presidential? Can he ever overcome his egotistic, misogynistic, separatist, nationalistic demeanor, posturing and dialogue? If his first few days in office are any indication he has a long, long way to go – if in fact it is at all possible. Trump needs a filter.  In that way, as a communications counselor, how would I be advising Donald Trump, moving forward? That’s a very, very good question.

First of all, he has proven that he does not take direction well from insiders. During his campaign he went through a host of campaign managers, often finding himself vocally and publicly in disagreement with those that lasted for any length of time.  Our team worked directly with some of his staffers when he came to Detroit last year to speak.  Inexperienced and indifferent to anyone and anything other than what their boss wanted, these were clearly “yes” men and women; those in no position to put forth ideas nor advice.

And that is what Donald Trump is used to. It’s how he operates. I recall interacting once with a business associate who acted similarly.  He put forth too many of his opinions and directions as though they were gospel, often with no regard for potential ramifications, often through aggressive diatribes and usually with disastrous results.  I suggested to him once, “You really should think before you speak.” He smugly looked back at me and indicated he did not care what I thought as he had been successful throughout his career using this modus operandi. The similarities with Trump are unmistakable.  He deludes himself into thinking that how he thinks, what he says and how he acts are right.  And, if you disagree with him? Well, then there’s something wrong with you.  There’s no room for discussion nor discourse and absolutely no latitude for a difference of opinion. Believe me.

How he handled the women’s rights gatherings this weekend is just one more example of how he needs to adjust his approach.  After initially saying nothing nor acknowledging the worldwide protests he finally took to his favorite pulpit, Twitter, to initially mock perhaps a million people worldwide.  He later changed his tune, writing something at least approaching professional when he talked about why gatherings of this sort were what make America special.  Too late. Damage already done.

So how would I be advising Trump? Let’s be serious – it would never happen. But if I were in a position to do so, even for just a moment, I would advise him to always consider the big picture while looking at both sides of any issue.  Get all of the facts, consider them closely and then act.  Don’t agree with others are saying? Acknowledge where appropriate but don’t disparage.  Be professional, show class, don’t engage if you’re going to enrage. After all, he is no longer a businessman acting in his own best interests.  He is not a reality TV (star?). He is President of the United States, representing we the people,  both here at home and across the globe.  Act responsibly, Donald. We’re counting on you.

White House Diatribe Worse For PR Than It Is For Media

January 22nd, 2017 by Matt Friedman

Sean_Spicer_White_House_(unofficial_press_meeting_2017)It’s impossible to do PR analysis of brand new Presidential spokesman Sean Spicer’s Saturday evening press briefing. That’s because it wasn’t PR. It was a diatribe that reeked of fascist-style propaganda, in tone and in content. Watch it here, unfiltered, to see for yourself.

As a media and PR fan, I have avidly watched and listened to press briefings for more than 25 years, when early versions of cable news showed them during the Gulf War. I have been particularly curious about how White House and other high-profile government spokespeople conduct themselves in front of the public, via the media. It is an extremely difficult job that requires preparation on an incredibly wide range of issues and daily updates. It is different from corporate communications work, but nonetheless interesting. Lest you accuse me of some sort of political bias (it happened just last week), on the Republican side, I learned a few things from watching and listening to Ari Fleischer and even paid to see Karen Hughes speak. On the Democratic side, I sat with Mike McCurry at dinner one night during a communications conference, impressed with his skill and smarts, and have listened to Josh Earnest’s briefings on satellite radio, appreciating his calm demeanor. That’s just to name a few on “both sides.”

All that means I think I write with some authority when I write that Sean Spicer and, during the campaign, Kellyanne Conway do not represent the PR business in this country. They represent Donald Trump, as Spicer would have said last night, “Period.” But their behavior and pattern of untruths – far beyond the typical (and often historically reprehensible) political “spin” and purported contempt for journalists hurts PR professionals who are expected to follow a code of ethics, widely, and that’s troubling.

What they do is as close to day-to-day PR as “Miami Vice” is to your local suburban police department. But, this is the only form PR that most Americans, even educated business people, see publicly. We are a business that, unfortunately, has worked very hard to deserve a reputation of sleaze. The marketplace doesn’t trust us to be fair our fees, after generations of gouging, and, too often, doesn’t think it needs our services because potential clients think they can communicate better themselves than the “spin doctors” of the world. What happened Saturday night makes this worse.

President Trump, via Spicer, apparently wanted to fire a salvo in his self-described “war” against the media. A consequence of that action is to hurt those of us who are just trying to sell communications services and counsel to businesses and organizations who have the potential to be more successful working with us, in order to make an honest living in this country.

Here’s What Happens When You Get Retweeted By Ron Fournier & Brian Stelter

January 15th, 2017 by Matt Friedman

29zfZY6IAs someone who advises clients on the impact of social media, I’m the one getting a lesson now.

It started late Saturday night, just after the football playoff game ended and the Saturday Night Live open began, when some news broke of great interest to me. Esquire reported that Trump transition officials, calling the White House Press Corps “the opposition party,” are considering essentially kicking the press out of the building.

As someone who has made a living because of the privileges afforded by the First Amendment for my entire career, I feel strongly about not infringing on our Constitution’s paramount principles as much as any value I cherish. I try to look for ways to communicate that feeling to those outside of the communications business, so they too don’t take this for granted. I have also taken advantage of many public speaking opportunities to talk about the difference between public entities and private businesses and how they should handle PR. So, in true modern-day form, I took to Twitter.

With this post, I tweeted, with a link to the Esquire story, “We, as citizens, own The White House. The Press Corps keeps an eye on the place for us.”

I write this 16 hours later and more than 40,000 Twitter users have seen this and hundreds have chosen to react to it, let’s just say, a variety of ways. That’s thanks to retweets from the likes of Ron Fournier, a former national journalist and new publisher/editor of Crain’s Detroit Business (full disclosure: I know Ron “in real life”) and Brian Stelter, a CNN journalist who covers the media itself and, subsequently, by Henry Blodget of Business Insider, who has more than 100,000 followers.

Want to know what’s it’s like on Twitter for someone who, even for a day, attracts a large following (on my own, I’m about 2,000)? Here’s a sampling of the responses, verbatim:

“Nobody has a more inflated view of themselves than journalists.”

“how about sexoffenders aren’t aloud to live in gov’t housing! This is a law the #DOJ should be using now!”

“Unfortunately the press corpse “eyes” have been shut tight over the last 8 years and have lost credibility”

“The press largely try to decide who we put in our WH. It’s that agenda that has lowered the esteem of journalism.”

“The lying FAKE NEWS is dead. We get our news directly from TRUMP. Journalism is dead! Gave Obama’s lies a pass.”

“I didn’t appreciate it at all, when Obama’s flooded OUR house with rainbow colors, celebrating gayness. Wrong!”

“We should demand his resignation this is a slap in the face of everything we stand for. It’s been there since T Roosevelt admin!”

“to bad you didn’t feel that way when Obama was in office.”

“Trump is a dictator commie pinko fascist.”

“ejecting the failing propaganda will be good for the american people!”

“It’s ok. Bc wall, or jobs or something. Who knows”

“Put them outside in a cold tent.”

“Press has thoroughly discredited itself. Until they earn people’s trust back, most are self-serving fake poseurs.”

“No, they don’t. They’re partisan hacks. If moving to a different room gives them so much agita, they’re coddled brats”

“Actually, you, the citizens, hired Trump to keep an eye on it.”

Is any of this representative of anything? The only certainty is that this has to be a challenge for anyone who has to wade through this every day. We have to remember that the First Amendment protects all of the above comments.

No matter your perspective on this particular issue, it’s an important reminder that all of us who depend on the First Amendment must be aware and speak up about threats to it, especially from the highest levels of our government.

Kansas Carries On Its Wayward Band

January 14th, 2017 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 3.39.46 PMOnce I rose above the noise and confusion, set a course beyond this illusion…In 1976, the band Kansas produced its swan song album, “Leftoverture” and signature single “Carry On Wayward Son”.  Though it was not their very first album (that had come two years prior), no one had heard anything quite like this art rock from the heartland.  Some 40 years later and despite the exit of most of its original members, Kansas has found itself re-energized with a new LP: “Prelude Implicit” and a piece of work on par with their best ever.  It’s a study in counterintuitives.

In a recent article on Rollingstone.com, writer Steve Smith provides more background on various aspects of this dynamic, including the fact that only band mates Phil Ehart (drums) and Rich William (guitar) remain from the early days. Of particular note is that the heart of soul of Kansas, singer Steve Walsh and guitarist Kerry Livgren are gone after both forever served as primary songwriters. How does any group survive such turnover? Such an undertaking is particularly tough without your lead singer. ELO II, as it was once named, tried unsuccessfully to make it without Jeff Lynne; the Guess Who without two main vocalists: Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.

Many groups in recent years have toured successfully with “doppelganger” lead singers culled from tribute bands, Journey and Yes among them.  Yet, it’s one thing to emulate on stage while surrounded by several original members, another to release and successfully market brand new music.  With their first album of new material in nearly 16 years, “Prelude Implicit”, Kansas once again hits the right note despite what might otherwise be creative handicaps – just as it did in the mid 1980s when singer John Elefante temporarily replaced Steve Walsh for huge hits “Play The Game Tonight” and “Fight Fire With Fire”.

And, it appears, lightening can strike twice (three times?).  This time, it’s singer Ronnie Platt who supplies the electricity as Kansas returns to two guitars and heavy organ – harkening back of course to its original sound.  And, the signature violin never sounded better. The timing is also just right for this reincarnation as classic rock enjoys a resurgence and new appreciation by millennials who grew up with their parents playing these artists.  Just look around you at your next Steve Miller or Styx concert to the audience’s demographic makeup.

What matters most, though, is the music – and these new tunes sound really, really good.  As a huge Kansas and Steve Walsh fan I was very, very, pleasantly surprised.  Reading reviews, I’m not alone. This is not a tribute band.  As writer Craig Ellis Bacon recounts in the prog report this Kansas brings a fresh, new energy that is also “comfortably confident and mature”, “totally even and incredibly enjoyable”. Give it a listen. I think you’ll agree that 2017 sounds a bit like 1976 again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time To Rethink Media Training

January 8th, 2017 by Matt Friedman

3326693-woman-presenter-holding-a-microphone-in-handMedia Training, once a staple of PR service, particularly from those of us who once worked as journalists, had become, as we put it in this 2013 post, “Kona coffee in a 7-11 world.”

Clients didn’t want to pay for special sessions to be prepared for media interviews, viewed the service as a luxury item and didn’t see it as necessary, as the chances of being interviewed by a journalist seemed reduced on a regular basis. At Tanner Friedman, though, the trend seems to be shifting.

Last week, we were flown to New York by a global brand that wanted to prepare for a new product launch. More than anything, the client wanted its spokespeople to be as effective at possible in using every interview opportunity as a chance to draw audience to its product.

We had a chance to talk to the senior communications executive from the client company after the sessions and were informed that, if not for the company’s relationship with Tanner Friedman, they probably wouldn’t have done this training. Leaving spokespeople unprepared was a real option. That’s because the PR agency community had essentially priced projects like theirs out of the market. The going rate in New York, we were told, is a budget-busting figure, twice what our session had cost, including travel expenses.

Therein lies the problem with Media Training, as an agency service. It’s not just that clients don’t see it as essential anymore, agencies have made mistakes. First, for too long, it has been too expensive. Firms realized clients would pay a premium for it, then they got greedy with astronomical, fixed “half day” or “full day” rates. Second, firms tried to capitalize on fear, particularly in the ’90s and early 2000s, when “Ambush TV” filled the airwaves. Media Training was marketed as a way to “help your executives sleep better at night,” when companies were worried about camera crews showing up in their lobby (a rare event then, that’s even more rare now). It too rarely has had anything to do with real-life preparation.

Yes, there are fewer reporters and fewer opportunities to tell your stories in traditional media. But when you have news, it makes sense to find the right “outside” professional communications firm to help whoever is going to be interviewed get the practice needed to be successful. The fact is a media interview is unlike any other conversation you’ll have. Finding the right firm is a matter of finding someone who will provide Media Training with actual news experience, at a reasonable cost, customized to your needs. It can be done.

Celebrity Death Trend Goes Far Beyond 2016

December 27th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

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

December 26th, 2016 by Don Tanner

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

December 21st, 2016 by Don Tanner

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

December 20th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

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

December 18th, 2016 by Don Tanner

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.