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I normally don't do reviews of films or shows here, but a Broadway show we saw the other night is worthy of mention.
Amazing Grace, which opened a week ago, didn't get great reviews and the dismal box office numbers in its first week since opening might mark this show for an early demise.
That would be a shame, since we thought Amazing Grace is a good show, well-performed.
The writers' notes in the Playbill say the show is based on a true story, although some characters and timelines have been altered or combined for the sake of storytelling. It's the story of John Newton, an Englishman who in 1772 wrote the iconic song Amazing Grace. (I had always assumed it was an old spiritual repurposed as a folksong by Judy Collins or Joan Baez.)
Newton, so the story goes, was the son of a British slave trader who, after a stint as a sailor to escape his domineering father, returns and tries to prove himself by getting into the slave business himself.
Set in 1744 and onward, the show doesn't whitewash the inhumanity and brutality of slavery. It has scenes that show the cruelty. A key character is Newton's childhood girlfriend, who joins the abolitionist movement. And the show let's us see special relationships between master and slave, especially between whites raised by slaves who acted in many ways like teachers and parents. It also shows how quickly a lifelong bond like that can be severed, when Newton sold off his friend and constant companion Thomas, who after all was still Newton's slave.
After nearly perishing out at sea on a slave ship, Newton sees the error of his ways and sets out to make things right, including a cross-ocean search for his old friend Thomas.
It's a great story that makes for good theater. Although not memorable, the music is good and there are some outstanding acting and musical performances by Newton (Josh Young), Thomas (Chuck Cooper) and an African princess (Harriett D. Foy) who becomes Newton's partner by enslaving her own people.
I recommend it, but you may have to get tickets quickly before the mediocre reviews force it to close.
Amazing Grace is playing at the Nederlander Theater.
When it comes to preferences in music, movies and media, different age groups don't agree on much. But a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials do agree on which news sources they feel they can least trust.
All age groups say sources they trust least for accurate reporting are Buzzfeed and three widely-syndicated conservative radio shows hosted by Glenn beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
Although many listen to the opinionated radio shows, they may tune in more for the entertainment value than for trustworthy news reporting.
The Pew study found more of a discrepancy by age groups when asked which news sources they can trust. Millennials (ages 19-34) say they rely on two faux-news shows, The Daily Show and the recently-ended Colbert Report. Almost as scary is that this group also lists Al Jazeera America as one its most-trusted sources of news. Boomers and Gen Xers, maybe with wisdom that comes with age, said they don't rely on any of those programs for reliable information. They say they get much of their news from local TV.
Troubling, to me at least, is that newspapers didn't figure into the picture for reliable news. (And where do you think local TV gets many of its story leads? The morning paper.)
July was a busy travel month for me. I was out of the office more than I was in, with client trips to Austin, DC, San Antonio and Wichita. It was topped off by a great week in rural Maine for family vacation.
Through it all, I was able to conduct business seamlessly thanks to a few technologies that weren't around when I had travel for business or pleasure 25 years ago.
Thank goodness for cell phones with email and internet capabilities. Before cell phones, I'd always have dimes and quarters on me so I could access pay phones, which were on every corner in the city and readily available pretty much anywhere you went. I eventually got an AT&T calling card so I didn't have to carry change and keep adding coins as minutes would go by.
And then there's email. It's just about the first thing I look at (on my cell phone) when I get up, often before I brush my teeth. Since I get email on my phone, I find myself checking email while I'm walking in the city, while waiting for a light so I can cross the street... even in the elevator. (It's amazing how many emails you can read as you go up or down 11 floors.)
The phone's come in handy in places where I didn't have internet access, like on a recent Amtrak ride from NY to DC. I activated the phone's WiFi hotspot and, bingo, I had full internet access so I could work on my laptop during the ride.
All this is great, especially for smaller businesses that don't have legions of people back at the home office to cover us while we travel. Younger people may wonder what it must have been like in "the old days" before constant connectivity, and I often find myself talking with friends my age who recall the days of pay phones, costly long-distance calls, fax machines (originally called telecopiers). Somehow we managed, because everyone else had to function with the same limitations.
Constant connectivity means the days of 9 to 5 (or 8:30 - 6:30 for us agency folks) no longer exist. The office may shut its doors at 5:30, but business doesn't stop. How often do you see emails sent to you at crazy hours of the night, early morning or weekends? Many of us now work when we want to, or when a thought strikes us. If we get an email from someone at 10 at night and we hear the ping, we often check the message and respond on the spot. So much for 9 to 5.
During the vacation week in Maine, I handled my emails in the morning before we got started for the day. I'd check in to the office voicemail early and late in the day, and sometimes mid-day just to be sure there was nothing urgent. My clients have my cell number, and I had one client call during the week, which I was able to handle easily. And when the client realized I was on vacation, she said it could wait till I was back in New York.
So I'd say connectivity is both good and bad when you're in business. I realize we need to set our own limits on how connected and how accessible we want to be on our personal time. A few times, I made the decision to let a call or email wait, and I felt good about it.
I love work. But I also treasure my personal time, especially moments with my family. Those moments, as the ad says, are priceless and I try to keep that balance in mind.
In addition to convenience and the ability to do things we never could have imagined, technology has given us new words and phrases. Every year or two, the Webster Dictionary folks officially add new words to the dictionary. The AP and New York Times recently added new items to their style books, many of them springing from new technology. Cellphone, for example, recently became a single word.
Here's another one that should be added -- butt call.
Unlike "booty call," a butt call happens when you mistakenly make a call on your cellphone by bumping your phone in your pocket or purse, causing it to call the last number dialed. I get a few butt calls every week -- most of them from my wife and from my friend and co-worker Bambe.
If you've received them, you know how annoying butt calls can be. You answer and then you end up saying, a few times, hello -- with no answer. Sometimes you'll hear swishing noises from muffled street sounds and conversation.
Butt calls can be more than an annoyance. The NYPD recently reported that nearly 40 percent of the calls to 911 in a recent month were unintentional butt calls. Toronto reported similar statistics.
In the car yesterday with my wife, she got a text from our daughter. It read: "Another butt call from you. I must get at least one day from you."
A few minutes later, another text came through from her. It said: "Another butt call from Gram? Jack (our 6-year old grandson) says Gram has to get control of her butt."
It was late January of this year. I was on the beach in St. Maarten, alternating between dozing and reading. My wife was on the chair next to me, engrossed in a book. I noticed she was wiping her eyes, so I laughed and made a dumb comment about the trash novel I thought she was reading.
Roz said, "No, this is an amazing story. You have to read it when I'm done."
When she finished, she gave me her e-reader and I started reading, not knowing what to expect. I couldn't put it down. It was the story of a successful businesswoman who did what so many of us in New York City do when we see a homeless person asking for money or food – she walked past him.
But, the book tells us, on that particular day 26 years ago, some- thing prompted Laura Schroff to stop, turn around and walk back a block. She asked the 11-year old boy who had asked her for money if he was hungry and if she could she buy him something to eat. Maurice, who lived with his drug-addicted mother in a welfare hotel, told Laura "yes" and the two went to the nearby McDonald's.
That's how a 26-year friendship began between two of the most unlikely candidates for friendship. As I read, the book took me through weekly lunches at McDonald's where the two slowly got to know each other. The businesswoman eventually ventured beyond the fast food restaurant with the boy, teaching him things most 11- year olds know, but which Maurice didn't – like how to use utensils to eat or how to blow his nose.
There were times when Maurice didn't show up for the weekly lunch – sometimes disappearing for weeks or months and causing Laura to wonder if he was alright. But eventually he'd show up and the friendship continued over the years.
Laura's friendship and guidance helped keep Maurice from drugs and gangs and the other dangerous temptations in his world. And the talks and times with Maurice helped Laura come to terms with challenges she had faced growing up in middle-class suburbia where, behind the closed doors of her own home, lay the terror of living with an alcoholic and sometimes abusive father.
The book has a wonderful ending, and I found myself wiping away tears on the beach as my wife chided me for having teased her the day before when she finished the book. What made the story especially hard-hitting is that it is true.
I was so moved that, while still on vacation, I sent an email to one of my clients. I told her -- the head of a non-profit group called The Christophers – that she had to read this book. But in this case, it wasn't just telling a friend about a book I thought she might enjoy. I was recommending the book for consideration for a Christopher Award, given every year to the creators of books, feature films and television programs that tell stories of how one individual can make a difference. Over a period of more than 15 years working with The Christophers, this was the first time I had ever made such a suggestion.
So I was thrilled a few weeks later when I was given the informa- tion about the Christopher Award winners, and I saw "An Invisible Thread" on the winners' list. It was the book I had read on the beach in January.
In the course of doing advance publicity for the Christopher Awards ceremony, I contacted the publishers of the winning books and, in a few cases, the authors themselves to get background and arrange for media interviews. So it was a strange thrill that day last month when I made the call to Laura Schroff, to talk about her availability for press interviews. And I told her how my wife had given me the book to read on the beach and how it made me cry. We struck up a friendship by phone and email, which was easy for me since I already knew this woman's personal life story.
Last Thursday night, the Christophers held their 63rd annual awards ceremony. Nearly two dozen people were honored for their work in books, films and TV, and special awards were given to former New York Jets player Marty Lyons for his work over 30 years of helping fulfill the wishes of seriously ill kids, and to Mother Dolores Hart, a cloistered nun who is the subject of a book and a film, but is best- known from her days as an actress who shared the first on-screen kiss with Elvis Presley.
For me, though, the night was made extra special by finally meeting Laura Schroff (and her co-writer Alex Tresniowski) along with Maurice Mazyck, who is now a charming, soft-spoken man in his late 30s. As we hugged, I knew that my circle of friends has been expanded in a special way.
And it started with a book on the beach.
It's been called America's own classical music, even though its roots come from Africa and the Caribbean, with some key stops in New Orleans and New York. It has become popular worldwide, especially in Europe and Japan. It's not for the masses, but those who like it are passionate about it.
JAZZ is truly America's great music and April is Jazz Appreciation Month.
So go buy a jazz CD or download some jazz. Listen to a jazz radio station, or check out some jazz at a club in your area. If you're in the New York area, here are two suggestions for next week. Monday night, April 23, at Dizzy's Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra will be playing two shows at 7:30 and 9. It's a chance to hear some of the music stars of tomorrow in a fantastic club setting overlooking Central Park South. The band is led by Latin Grammy winner Bobby Sanabria, and the show will include a special salute to legendary conga player Candido, who will be celebrating his 91st birthday.
Also on Monday at 8 is a fundraiser to help trumpet master Clark Terry, who just had both legs amputated (I think due to diabetes). A who's who of jazz trumpeters will be at St. Peter's Church on Lexington Ave. for the salute to Clark.
So if you're not a jazz lover, give it a try this month. I'm willing to bet you'll begin appreciating jazz every month.
The bagel is as American as pizza, tacos... or apple pie.
Originally thought of by many as a "Jewish English muffin," the bagel came to this country from eastern Europe -- particularly from Poland -- with the migration of Jews from that part of the world in the late 1880s and into the early 20th century. And for decades, bagels were pretty much a Jewish food. Beyond major cities with large Jewish populations, you would never find -- nor even hear of -- a bagel.
Before the advent of bagel stores (seemingly on almost every corner, at least here in New York City), bagels were produced in bagel factories and delivered in the early morning hours to bakeries, delis and restaurants. I remember, as a teen, driving down to the Bronx on a Saturday night to the bagel factory on Jerome Avenue to get a bag of a dozen bagels to bring home. The bagels were steaming hot and tasted fantastic.
Supposedly, New York bagels were the best. It was the water, we were told. My cousins in Cleveland, Baltimore and L.A. readily admitted the locally-baked bagels just weren't the same as the real thing from New York. My Montreal blogging friend Mark Goren challenged me to a taste test a couple of years ago, and I must reluctantly admit that the Montreal bagels he brought down to me were pretty damn good. So I'll re-do that last sentence to read... they weren't the same as the real thing from New York or Montreal. (I wonder how they compare to the original real thing from Krakow.)
And then Murray Lender came along. He took a business started by his father Harry in a New Haven garage and, with his brothers Marvin and Sam, made bagels available to the heartland. Harry, who came from Poland and hand-rolled the bagels himself for years, began freezing some of his product in the 1950s so he could sell it to bakeries and stores farther from New Haven. Fresh bagels, you see, don't have a long shelf life, as anyone who's ever bitten into a stale bagel will attest.
Murray led the company as it expanded its reach and became a staple of frozen food sections in supermarkets everywhere. Lender's frozen bagels became a popular sandwich bread, perfect for whitebread America to enjoy with peanut butter & jelly or ham & cheese. (Oy!)
Of course, real bagel aficionados frowned upon Lender's. And the idea of putting PB&J on a bagel was disgusting to those who felt a bagel just had to hold cream cheese and lox.
Murray and his family eventually sold Lender's to Kraft (just this week renamed Mondeeza, or Mondoleeza or something like that). And bagels, frozen little replicas of the real thing, became an American staple. Americans last year bought more than 140 million Lender's bagels, worth just under $41 million. That's a lot more than how many bagels were sold in Israel or probably even Poland.
Bagels -- even the frozen New York (or Montreal) wannabees -- are now a true American food. They've been mixed into what my friends Bob and Steven Frissora call America's salad bowl.
Alan Hirsch, a now-retired PR pro and my former boss and partner, offers these thoughts from his years in the PR business. He calls them bad PR stories, although I'm sure similar cases of bad behavior can be found in any industry. Bad behavior isn't unique to the PR business.
Here are Alan's stories...
PR people tell a lot of stories. Some of them are good and some of them are bad.
The following stories are bad. I wish they would be good, but they are not. If you are a PR veteran, which means you have worked in the PR industry for at least 5-8 years or more, then you will be able to add to these stories which only make you sick when you think about them.
1. This story hurts me every time I think about it. When I had my own PR agency in NYC for 18 years, two of my best employees got very friendly. They were both talented and hard workers who knew how to do the job needed.
After they both left my firm, they shared a few PR accounts. They were together for at least 10 years and did very good work for their clients. They were legit. You could call them good friends and associates.
One day friend A asked friend B if he could use his PR Newswire account. Of course, just pay me back whatever the cost is, friend B said. You can determine now what happened.
Friend A decided not to reimburse friend B. He also decided he would use friend B's PR Newswire account,this time without getting permission from friend B. He used $1,400 worth of services, which he didn’t pay for and stuck friend B with the bill, which friend B paid in order to keep his credit clean. Now, eight years later, friend A still hasn’t reimbursed friend B for the money he laid out for friend A.
Friend B knows he will never receive the money he laid out for friend A. He notes this experience not only as a loss of $1400, but as the loss of a supposed friend. Friend A today does not return phone calls from friend B. The only thing he does is not pay his debts. Friend A is a creep, who one day will be called upon to explain his bad behavior.
By the way, this pathetic, corrupt guy lives in a beautiful joint with his wife and son, belongs to a fancy club and sits on the board of his synagogue. No one knows this person A is a bum and thief, except for friend B.
2. Once I had a friend who was good friends with a PR guy from Baltimore, who rose to the highest ranks in the insurance industry. This guy was at the top of the pyramid.
He went from a PR industry job with a major player to the top job at a top U.S. insurance company. This guy was smart. This guy was clever. This guy was looked up to from everyone he met. He was king of the castle.
He only had one flaw. He collected autographs. That's not the flaw. The flaw was that some of the autographs were obtained from a blind autograph dealer. The PR honcho had a weakness in that he stole autographs from the blind dealers. No one ever discovered the thefts, so no one ever found out about this disturbing behavior, except for the thief and my friend, who saw the crook take the items.
3. Once my PR agency worked for a very big tobacco account. We did the job quite well for more than 15 years. Some problems occurred when the client advised me that they were unhappy with the AE assigned to their account.
I said it won’t be a problem if we have to change the AE on the account.
The client, with his arm around my shoulder, said not to do that. Don’t worry, the client said. If there is a problem, you will be the first to know and we will work it out. That was in 1982.
It was the last time I spoke to this client. We were fired a few months later and it was done by a minor player, who at least had the courtesy to do it in person in NY. The guy who had assured me, with his arm around my shoulder, never said peep.
4. When I was younger, the Carl Byoir agency (largest in the U.S. at the time) told me in December of 1965 they wanted to hire me to work on the Hallmark account. Or so I thought. I told them I would love to do that, as I had admired Hallmark for a long time and it would be a great assignment. And Kansas City, the location of Hallmark Cards is a great place. The Byoir honcho said he was glad I liked the assignment.
My first day at work at Carl Byoir at 800 2nd Ave. turned out to be quite a surprise. They didn’t say Hallmark; they said Omark. The difference was that Omark made the saw chain used on chain saws. A far cry from sentimental greeting cards.
5. The worst thing I had to do in business was fire a guy with four kids. I liked this guy a lot. That was in 1982. Now 30 years later, I still can’t get it out of my mind. It will be something I think about forever.
After about nine months, this guy went on to better things and got a good job with a major agency. Until then, though, he never told his wife he had been laid off. He kept coming to the office while he looked for a job. When he started his new job, he never said goodbye or thanks for the free space we provided for nine months. I didn’t want roses, but goodbye would have been enough.
I have a lot more bad stories, but I’ve said enough for now. The objective is to have more good stories than bad ones. I don’t know if I can say I achieved that in 40 years in the public relations industry. I don’t know if I achieved anything, other than to survive, which if you think about it is the true objective of this public relations game.
by Alan Hirsch, president of G+A Communications, 1982 to 1999
I've written here before about one of New York's hidden gems, the Manhattan School of Music. I try to get to all of the concerts put on by the school's Jazz Department, which is headed by my friend Justin DiCioccio, assistant dean and one of the world's top jazz educators (so says Downbeat Magazine).
Last night at MSM, I was privileged to hear some music that hasn't been publicly performed in 60 years -- the groundbreaking orchestral music of Stan Kenton.
Until last night, I thought of Stan Kenton simply as another of the popular big band leaders of the 1940s. That's true, but he stunned the music world in 1949 and into the early 50s with a type of music that is still radical today. His Innovations Orchestra melded big band jazz with modern classical music, which had rarely been done, and he added some complex and, at times, atonal sounds that made it challenging to listen to. Challenging maybe, but certainly worth it. The 48-piece MSM Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra did an outstanding job with some very tough charts.
In honor of Stan Kenton's 100th birthday, Manhattan School of Music plans another special concert that will feature better-known big band sounds of Kenton. That show (a bargain at $10; $5 for students and seniors) will be on Friday night, March 2. If you're in New York, check it out.
The elevator pitch... a phrase that describes what you might say -- quickly -- to someone with whom you normally wouldn't get much or any face time when you want to convince him or her of something, such as hiring you or your firm, or buying into your idea, whatever it may be. You're riding in an elevator with that person, whose decision can have a major impact on your life. You have 20 or 30 seconds or, depending what floor you're going to and how slow the elevator is, maybe a minute.
The person you want to pitch has nothing else to do except stare at the floor numbers as they change, so you have a captive audience.
Not any more.
The days of the elevator pitch are gone. They died quietly over the past two or three years, as more of us got iPhones, Droids and other smart phones.
I got onto my elevator this afternoon after lunch. Two other people got on with me. Even before the door could close, all of us had our phones in our hands, checking email, texts, stock quotes or the weekend weather forecast. Not one of us looked up; not at the floor numbers nor at each other.
To try to strike up a conversation in that environment might be considered rude... or certainly intrusive and perhaps not well-received.
So much for the elevator pitch. Unless you can come up with an app that can instantly send your elevator pitch to the phone of someone else who's in the elevator with you.