Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy Leap Year!

Like Presidential Elections, a Leap Year strikes every fourth year.  I was explaining why we have Leap Years, found myself confused, and turned to the Interwebz for this video explanation.

This guy's channel says he explains complex things.  I think I'll as him to explain why so many potential employers don't return my calls or e mails.

Enjoy all the fun of the quadrennial Leap Year.  Remember, this is NOT the "green beer holiday".  That one comes on March 17th.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Night Radio Became Irrelevant FROM MARK EDWARDS WORLDWIDE

This entry is reposted from the Mark Edwards Worldwide blog.

A fallen tower, no more effective than a

radio station that doesn't let its listeners

know what's going on in their world
February 11, 2012 will always live in my mind for two reasons.  First, the tragic loss of Whitney Houston, one of the greatest singers I've ever heard and in the same league as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and other iconic singers throughout music history.  But that's not the only thing that happened that night.  It's the night that radio, as a medium, proved itself irrelevant because Houston's untimely death happened on a Saturday night, a time when the majority of American radio stations look like this.

Nice studio, but nobody is in the chair. Automation is in control.
It doesn't have to be that way.  Over the years, the companies who own radio stations, especially the biggest companies with the biggest stations in the biggest markets, have been forced by economics and debt to run much, and in many cases, most of their programming using automation and a practice called voice tracking, where a faraway Air Personality records the things said on the radio days in advance.  Many local radio stations only are live weekdays from 6AM-7PM, prime time for advertisers, and a growing number of stations are moving to automation in parts of that time period as well.  And few if any stations have a real contingency plan for situations like the death of Whitney Houston.

Whitney Houston 1963-2012
So what does all this have to do with February 11, 2012?  Plenty.  Whitney Houston's death was announced shortly after 8PM Eastern that evening, and thousands of radio stations were already running unmanned from empty buildings, airing voice tracked local-sounding shows if they were lucky, but most likely broadcasting pre-recorded oldies shows, reruns of talk shows that aired already, dance mix shows assembled days or weeks before, or some other kind of "it's Saturday night and nobody is listening" content. And without a contingency plan or someone willing to take control of their stations in times like these....

What they weren't running in most cases was the news that one of music's all time greats had died in a bathtub in Beverly Hills.

I'm not making this up, I heard it.  While updating the story on The Music Meeting website, I listened to the streams of over 100 radio stations, in multiple formats, with multiple owners, and in markets ranging from New York City to Minot, North Dakota.  Less than a dozen of those stations either played Whitney Houston's music or talked about her untimely passing.  Yes, there is an argument that a Country station shouldn't talk about the death of a pop star, but Whitney Houston was bigger than a normal pop star, she was a Pop ICON.  Every radio station should have at least mentioned her death.  Or at least that's what I think.  You can tell me I'm wrong in the comments below.

Sadly, people who were in charge of the few radio stations who did do something about Whitney Houston's death were busy giving themselves high fives and not helping the other stations in their local cluster or chain to get the word out.  Here's a tweet from a Boston radio programmer.

Proud of @Kiss108 and @JAMN945 - on live tonight with Whitney tributes @iHeartRadio

So who DID cover the death of Whitney Houston best?  Who stopped everything and devoted all their time to the biggest pop culture story in a very long time?  CNN and Piers Morgan.  The network's Don Lemon told the story on the air that he had finished his usual Saturday shift and as he was leaving the CNN Center in Atlanta he got the word to go back upstairs to the CNN studios because Whitney Houston was dead.  Lemon had no time to prepare for the story but did a tremendous job of covering it in the early moments as the news was literally being fed to him in his ear and he was reading it from his Blackberry.

In time, Piers Morgan showed up from his Los Angeles studio.  He was on his way to the annual Clive Davis pre-Grammy party at the same hotel where Whitney Houston died.  Along with his showrunner Johathan Wald, Morgan did a tremendous job of doing interviews with Houston's friends and entertainment business heavyweights, getting live reports via phone and from reporters on the scene around Los Angeles, and telling the story of Whitney Houston's death with respect, sensitivity, and compassion.  He and the CNN team did what radio used to be great at no matter what time it was, clearing the decks and providing complete coverage of a story that certainly was news, but was also pop culture and certainly would be the only thing people would be talking about for days, probably weeks.

It isn't too late for radio to reclaim the position as the "go to" place when a musician or pop icon dies, or even when severe weather hits.  

We all remember the stories from last summer of radio stations who waited too long to broadcast severe weather alerts because there wasn't anyone in the studio to quickly get them on the air. With a little thought and a commitment that starts at the top and filters down to the entire radio station staff, radio can be ready to deal with whatever comes up, no matter when it happens.

If you're a radio owner, manager, programmer, or the newest "Baby DJ", here are some things you can do now to be ready for the next "big thing":

  • Make a written plan, with copies in every studio, the engineering department, every department head's office, and on the station's computer network with plans on what should be done in the case of big events, including severe weather, serious local news event, major power outages, national emergency, national news, news of interest to each station's listeners (by format and location) and more.
  • Decide who has the authority to interrupt regular programming to get the news on.
  • Know what resources are available to each station: other stations in the cluster, local news partners like TV stations or newspapers, national news networks, and local experts on different types of mayhem and pop culture.
  • Have a plan for someone to come into the radio station to deal with the situation.  Whether it's a tornado warning or the death of an artist, someone on staff should be on call at all times to drop everything and do what Piers Morgan did as soon as he learned that Whitney Houston had died.
  • Work with sister stations in nearby markets, especially larger markets, to see if they can help you get content on the air when you can't do it yourself.
  • (Sorry, this may make engineers and some Managers cringe) Investigate a way to get on the air from outside the station when the studios are unstaffed.  Can you use a remote control and code to break into programming via telephone?  Do you want to get fancy and do it over the internet?  Can the news/talk station in the cluster, the one most likely to have people on staff for the most hours, take over the air of all its sister stations?
  • Don't forget, radio is now more than just radio. What's the plan to update text message subscribers, social networks, and your website?
  • Finally, discuss with all the stakeholders in each station what qualifies as important enough to break in to each station.  Music format can help you decide how big a star from another format should be before you break into a totally different format.  There may be other considerations as well, like what if someone from your area is in the news or passes away?  Sometimes there's no set answer for this question, but thinking about it will make the decision to interrupt or not interrupt much easier.
I still believe that radio can fix many of the things it has messed up over the last few years.  One of them is reclaiming the place in listeners' minds as the first place to go for the latest news and information.  What do you think?  Please feel free to comment below.  Let's come up with some ideas every radio station can use.  
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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Proctor And Gamble Brand Synergy At Its Best

In the media world, we always talk about "synergy", which is a nice way of saying "what have you done for me lately?". For example, if a company owns a radio station and TV station in the same market, they promote each other for free, creating "synergy".  At one time, I was even paid a "synergy bonus" for having my radio station play nice with other things the company owned.

Proctor And Gamble has taken the notion of synergy to a new level with these commercials.  Truly BRILLIANT!

There may be more, but these two have now set the bar, as it were, for brand synergy.  P&G owns Bounce, Charmin, and Old Spice, and mixing the brands in these commercials is creative genius.

I know we'll be seeing a bunch of great commercials around the Super Bowl, but I'd venture to say that these spots are every bit, if not more, creative than the annual parade of Super Bowl ads.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

UPDATE: Backlash Continues To Build Against Susan G. Komen For The Cure After They Cut Off Funds To Planned Parenthood

If you believe that what the Susan G. Komen For The Cure organization did to Planned Parenthood was wrong, I encourage you to visit this site and share it with everyone you know. 

This post was originally written late in the evening of January 31, 2012 and published on Mark Edwards Rants.  Updates to the story are at the end of this post.

I was stunned this evening to read that the Susan G. Komen For The Cure organization has decided to stop funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics with the obscene money they get from their guilt based fund raising efforts.  Here's the crux of the story, courtesy of the AP:
NEW YORK – The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates — creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women.
The change will mean a cutoff of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams.
Planned Parenthood says the move results from Komen bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen says the key reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress — a probe launched by a conservative Republican who was urged to act by anti-abortion groups.
We're not talking about Komen funding abortions, we're talking about them funding breast cancer screenings for women who can't afford them.  In my opinion, this is an outrage and the Komen Foundation should be called out for this.

I've worked with the Komen Foundation for many years across the country, and I think their intentions are, as a whole, good.  However, they constantly spin the story of their mission by making breast cancer seem like the end of the world.  Yes, breast cancer is a terrible disease, but more women die of heart attacks every year than breast cancer, and the American Heart Association doesn't get the kind of attention and funding that Komen does.

I remember going into a grocery store last October and being in a sea of pink as seemingly every packaged goods manufacturer slapped a pink ribbon on their product to support breast cancer awareness in general and Komen in particular.  The money that the Komen Foundation collected from sales of all those items, their ubiquitous races across America, and their hijacking the month of October to educate and, oh yeah, raise millions of dollars, money which will no longer go to help some of the neediest women get screened for breast cancer.

My mother has had a bout with breast cancer and beat it.  I know countless other women who have been affected by breast cancer, and have lost some friends to the cancers that develop AFTER breast cancer.  I hate breast cancer. But I hate the fact that the people who run the Komen Foundation caved in to pressure from groups who have issues with Planned Parenthood that have nothing to do with breast cancer.  So now, I'll never support the Susan G. Komen For The Cure, their huge list of sponsors, or any of their events, and I encourage you to share this post, click on the links and see who is aiding and abetting the Komen people in this horrific action, and do the same as me.
Interestingly, a check of the Komen Media Center late on the night of January 31 doesn't yield a news release about their cowardly action.  But Planned Parenthood has plenty to say about this slap in the face in their newsroom.

I'm tired of being held hostage every October by the Komen people, and I will say it out loud, I can't stand the St. Louis Race For The Cure and the self righteous attitude that the local Komen people take in regards to that event.  This year's race is June 23, and it will be my pleasure to be as far away from it as possible.

Again, this isn't about breast cancer.  Breast cancer is bad, affects far too many women, and leads to other diseases that kill indiscriminately.  This is about freedom of choice, EVERY woman's right to early breast cancer screening, and how political forces can make organizations bend over just to stay away from anything controversial.   The Komen Foundation is spineless and has overlooked their mission in favor of staying out of a very political issue.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  And those of us who disagree with their decision should show our displeasure by not patronizing Komen's sponsors and  donating to the American Cancer Society, organizations like Gilda's Club,  or Planned Parenthood.

If you believe that what the Susan G. Komen For The Cure organization did to Planned Parenthood was wrong, I encourage you to visit this site and share it with everyone you know. 

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