Archive for the ‘Make Media Your Friend’ Category

The Last Decade & Mediocrity……A Look Ahead

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

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There’s a Kurt Vonnegut short (very short) story called Harrison Bergeron. In it the United States Handicapper General, under the auspices of the 211th, 212th, and 213th Constitutional Amendments, has stamped out individual talents and characteristics for the sake of total unimpeded equality. The population is fed mindless entertainment, all their memories periodically wiped clean. It isn’t torture, not exactly, nor is it intolerable. It’s just mediocre. Imposed, entrenched mediocrity.

And it is terrifying.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that our current moment is anything like this Vonnegutian nightmare. But it was close to this for the last decade. We weren’t physically burdened by actual weights meant to “level the field”, nor did buzzing alarms trigger mass distraction and short-term amnesia. Intelligence and beauty are not outlawed. We still had our wits and our various beacons — in politics, culture, athletics, the arts, and so forth. And yes (or no), we were not suffocated by comprehensive, dystopian egalitarianism.

Things did seem during the unfriendly 2000s to be damn mediocre! We seemed to be waiting, on pause, not necessarily with bated breath so much as with Lunesta and an Us Weekly. It was as though we’d been treading water beneath mostly gray skies for a seriously long time, without a “Look, land in sight!” We were weary, we’re wary, and rather than swim for shore we floated straight-laced and glazed. Our so-called entertainment stood in for our current events (quotes left out for obviousness). Our political anger was sooner directed toward straw men than funneled into substantive policy debate and prescription. And while we don’t loll about hamstrung by the Handicapper, world citizens did tend to diminish or ignore our most natural advantages. Our enormous opportunities — many of them unique to America — for renewable alternative energy. Our once-prodigious diplomatic capital. Our heavy industry. Our edge in scientific and technological innovation.

So ready for good news: We did not die out nor did it turn out we were living a post-American life. And Newsweek was sold for a dollar to an old geezer destined to destroy its whiny words of nothingness and bold headlines that made us feel worse. Now we are starting to scrape the sky. We’ve since become — not in every way, but in a lot of ways — just a wee bit more than average. In our actions and in our expectations, we stop this toeing of that safe, paunchy middle.

Look back. Kennedy promised the moon by a decade’s end — it happened. WW II’s Greatest Generation was asked to tighten belts and roll up their sleeves — they did. And while these admittedly cherry-picked examples might have been nothing more than a function of their unique times, is it easy to imagine us reflexively rising to the moment in ours? Look where we stood for nine-and-two-thirds endless years: on a precipice, always told of danger and devastation. But even with terrorism, climate change, one or two constantly-simmering wars, genocide abroad, a credit crunch affecting us till we cried “Uncle”, and countless other messes the newest century has brought..what precisely defines US (not Us)? Had we struck out with renewed vigor? Had we succumbed to fear? Neither. We are slowly becoming less mediocre. We’re embracing a new term.

Like our heroes, a lobotomized couple who are at the center of Harrison Bergeron, we sensed something wasn’t right from 2001-2010. We knew we ought to be breaking inertia. And this unease wasn’t just a tickle in the recesses of our minds because, behold, it has pushed itself front and center. But what will do the trick and wake us all from the stupor (stop checking your email while reading this)? Could it be another catastrophe? Web 7.0? One of those Tea candidates that actually won? Or will it not be so dramatic, this eventual extrication from the muck of mucks? Might it be more like the car you rock back and forth until what had been an inconspicuous gathering of momentum launches it back onto the road with a heart-starting roar?

Let’s forget the 2000s. Things today aren’t so terrible; they are (to use a teen word) ‘meh’. I know that most of us feel that: plateau coasting is better than a downward spiral. But the Internet-savvy 1990s were notable ONLY for jejune prosperity. Those unnamed 2000s are remembered for the steady unease we could never shake.

I proclaim a promising decade starts in 2011. It will be nothing like its immediate predecessor–because that would be the saddest sign ever. Means we’d be living inside a pattern of room temperature mediocrity that hasn’t soured us but kept us looking down, at our laps gazing at the latest text or news. (Taylor Swift has a new CD out; it’s everywhere.)

Look forward. . . only forward.

Like-minded ideas are found in the book 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade, now out in whatever you want it to be.

[On twitter via @laermer for laughs and reportage.]
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The NBC PR Disaster & End of Corporate Speak

Monday, January 18th, 2010

conan-heller.jpgI would have thought that all conglomerates have learned how quickly they can be damaged by “not checking in” with their customer base. Doesn’t anyone remember a year ago when Tropicana disastrously changed their carton without asking if anyone loved the old one? But no one at NBC Universal Comcast GE Microwave got a whiff of the orange-flavored catastrophe so they stepped right back into shit with their heads in the air. And no matter how they paint this pig, the last-place network has lost a huge swath of TV watchers (and we all watch TV, no matter who says “Not me”) by telling us how the Leno drama will end up.

It’s as if they thought we would somehow accept their final answer.

A statement along the lines of “Don’t worry, we’re fine moving Jay into Conan’s slot” was a classic that worked great before we became our own TV networks. That is, we are now the people who make the news. Water coolers are no longer where the action is–it’s on our handheld Black-i-Pres where we wouldn’t dream of quoting a major news story we didn’t have an opinion on. And yes, there was a time when we might be swayed by the machinations of an evil (but persuasive) newsmaking machine.

Back in the days of The Cosby Show being moved opposite Magnum P.I., a powerful media corporation could dictate a success by aggressively shoving a plethora of ads down our shrugging throats. (Even in 2005, when Grey’s transferred to Thursdays, it worked because “Choose Thursday” was plastered behind every toilet!) But now we do the shoving. We are the tweeters and status-updaters and IMers and G-talkers who make opinionated decisions based on how we feel about the deciders. Zucker & Co. will find their unsubtle ways emulated by the people as we take our fight to the well-oiled Internet.

And so this will be an unwinnable public fight that an old-fashioned conglomerate will regret.

It only gets worse for NBC who has to wince as side-show celebrities take sides in an ugly, unfettered way. The slot winner (Jay) has a single star in his corner–and Mr. Seinfeld is already on the payroll cause NBC’s committed to his tacky reality series soon to be renamed Jerry Is a Whore. Rosie O and Jimmy K have been nastily telling Jay to do “the right thing” so Conan can retain the throne–Kimmel went so far as to say “We have children–you have cars.” Alas, NBC has become so righteous and indignant that if Leno did say I’m out of here there’s simply no way NBC could keep the 11:35 brand from dom. Really, this is a circus created in less than a month that should never have gone this far.

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NBC played it too close to the chin–er, vest and did not look our way. It’s a corporate error still mass-produced by many media companies as they leak news to same-size media companies and believe we will accept the verdict because it’s all business and nothing is personal. But NBC chieftains (like those orange dudes) are not cognizant of how much personal time we spend laughing at the disasters powerful people make every day. We laugh at the news–we laugh at the way it is covered–we laugh at the tone. Our thought is always, “As if we don’t already know what’s going on.”

We already know NBC is scared witless they made a mistake. And they never bothered to come to us for advice. And that is PR 101.

NBC Universal needed to concoct an online forum using the requisite tools–Twitter, Facebook, a popup micro-site, Linked-in, even colorless NBC.com - to gather ideas given them by a few who care who hosts what. If they had, they’d be in a powerful position to say “We got this data from knowledgeable, helpful participants.” The results might have surprised them.

What we have here is a unique dilemma. Two big players on one network is normal–but one is always more popular by far. Jay Leno is the handy standby that luckily signing a decent contract allowing him to work until he drops dead. Conan O’Brien is the risky business decision–quirky, unbalanced, nervous-to-a-fault, freakishly tall–now being thrown out like yesterday’s omelet because his early show didn’t rise to hit levels by usual standards. These are two separate stories that should not have competed for public attention. Leno should have been put on hiatus–isn’t that word that everyone uses for cancellation anyway?

I’m surprised, too, that GE has such a short memory about Tonight. Doesn’t Zucker have copies of memos about how poorly Leno performed post-Carson? NBC stood firm with carefully crafted press statements until Leno started winning. The holders-of-the-pink-slips did same for an unknown O’Brien when he took Letterman’s 12:35 show with little notice. [NBC was always the evil empire. They started the Irishman with 26-week contracts.]

In 1993, remember that Letterman was god, but the notion that of canning Leno after seven months and playing musical time periods was unfathomable. It’s insulting to the host and the well-honed staff that has just gotten going; still, but it would have been seen as a slap to viewers who may not be watching but waited to see what others thought about the change.

In 2010, anyone who reads knows O’Brien ratings are low, granted, but Nielsen is only a part of the story today. The “viralness” of some of the current Tonight stunts have been gaining ground and people began to talk…which always leads to an increase on TV and a lot of sponsored Hulu hits. Simultaneously, NBC ruined Jay Leno at 10 by forcing him to be a PR guy whose guests were network stars of their own troubled (read stale) programming. Zachary Levi is colorful on Chuck, but come on!

Now the online/offline/phone-addicted public has their arms firmly folded (and will remain that way) because NBC drop-kicked the redhead and never checked with 24/7 tweeters to ask how would you feel about a switch.

Doesn’t NBC know anyone over at Tropicana?

Funny thing is–asking people (”in an Internet chat where we discussed our problems”) gives these suits an ability to claim, say a year from now, that O’Brien was paid out because the viewers spoke up and said it was time for a change. Key word: time.

And the current big-rating monologues are silly (”Guess what,” murmured O’Brien, “I’ve been offered a role in a porno…and I’m considering it!”) and are helping no one. It’s fun like a poke in the eye! Keeping the fisting skit that Conan did about NBC on its own ad-supported Hulu isn’t a sensible strategy. It’s also not funny for new owner Comcast who has to clean it up.

Don’t you find it uncomfortable watching two corporate stooges poking fun at one another while competitors use their public fight to bring viewers in? (Seth Meyers on SNL: “This week you didn’t need Cinemax to see someone get screwed on TV.”) The pit bosses know the two Tonight hosts’ careers have been irreparably blown and still neither’s camp has done anything but cower–and bitch. “Team Conan” concept is a tween-era marketing boon for the Twilight set that won’t mean more people turning in after he moves to E!.

In a few short weeks the dust is sure to settle. Leno will pop back up at 11:35 (wistfully, with his lips smacking); Conan will get a million viewers who can locate him after Chelsea Handler or Wanda Sykes; The Late Show host will be crowing like mad and winning, I guess; and no one will care. By then Charlie Sheen will be jailed, hospitalized or dead and we’ll all be jawing about the new laugh riot Toby Maguire on 3 and a Half Men.

After the Vancouver Olympics no one will be talking about NBC–a boycott will be underway–and I’m sure young Fallon will be blamed, tarred and feathered. Those pride-filled peacockers will have a big hole to fill. It will be their mouths. Because no one in our networked world wants to be told who is good or bad. And as far as numbersl, in the DVR Culture world Nielsen no longer holds the cards to what succeeds.

We have them. We deal them every single day.
******
Twitter @laermer

Television In 2009: Desperate Attempts At Nothing

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Tell The Truth: You’re a Real Storyteller

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Lost in the shuffle of what I guess is the more important news was the fact that Irish writer Frank McCourt passed away at the age of 78. McCourt’s opus, Angela’s Ashes, was an unlikely success: an autobiographical tale of one hell of an impoverished family in Limerick, Ireland.

Rest in Peace

There is nothing earth shattering about the book, which is why McCourt was awarded a Pulitzer for telling it straight. It is written in the voice of a child who recounts sordid story after sordid story. For example: After little Frank’s drunk father left the family, supposedly to work in a munitions factory, Frank was the sole breadwinner in the house by stealing milk and bread. The whole block shared a single outhouse. Frank’s grandmother scrubbed him to within an inch of his life on the day of his first Communion. On and on these wonderful vignettes go.

These are anecdotes of no particular import that formed one of the best selling and most loved books of the 1990s, spawning a profitable and well-loved movie transformation in 2000.

The success of Angela’s Ashes and other books like it (and there have been copycats!) did teach how the most popular stories that seem to resonate with readers and affectuate new and positive changes are often the true ones. Sound like a good blog? See, people want to hear how things actually do work and how they have worked. People want to share their experiences with others who might feel better (or touched) by them. We want to hear what has happened, not what may have happened.

During this deep recession, anyone telling tales — customers, prospects, or friends — is well advised to give it to them without ice: no chaser. I try to do that and am often told to be more subtle. (Like that’ll ever happen.)

Work of the best storytellers are, like McCourt and Bukowski and others before and since, the type that make you go “Crap, I didn’t think of that!”

Many moments within McCourt’s tales of life in Limerick have given us a bit of hope for brightness. You know that is something we all can’t wait to talk about.

…..For less wistful tweets, do the Twitter dance @laermer and don’t forget to check out Bad Pitch Night School (During the Day)!

Much Ado about So Little It Hurts

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Supreme Court confirmation hearings are the ultimate made-for-TV event. The

Can

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

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By now, we

The Real Blogs Stand Up

Monday, July 7th, 2008

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Blogs have become cultural beacons, sculpting public opinion and the whole of the landscape. I have come to love the blogosphere. What

Emily You Little Fool!

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

gouldie.pngLike, gee. Emily Gould’s much-maligned cover story in this week’s Times Sunday Magazine may not win the Gray Lady awards but it did garner what any self-respecting newspaper wants in the age of severely diverted eyeballs. Attention. Lots of attention. The article became a sensation and it

Getting Ahead of the Story, Volume 1000

Monday, May 19th, 2008

As the CEO of a PR agency, I can

Publishing….Truly Makes No Sense

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

mewritingdoodle1.jpgIn

Buy the Book - 2011

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