The Question for Bill Flanagan: What’s the Driver Behind “Our Region’s Business?”

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Bill Flanagan

If you’ve watched television in Pittsburgh for any length of time, chances are pretty good you’re familiar with Bill Flanagan. These days you’ll find him on WPXI-TV on Sundays as producer and host of Our Region’s Business, a Sunday morning business affairs program. Many people may know Bill for his many years as a reporter for KDKA Television.

Bill is the kind of guy that when you see him on TV you feel like you already know him. He’s a buddy. He has that Pittsburgh friendliness and a demeanor that seems to put his guests at ease talking about the things of which they are most passionate, usually their work.

Our Region’s Business is co-produced by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and WPXI-TV, and in their own words, the program “aims to play a positive role in the Pittsburgh region by providing business news, information and commentary in a lively and entertaining format.”

When not recording programs at the WPXI studios, Bill spends a lot of time in the community at any number of events, meetings and functions as part of his capacity as Chief Corporate Relations Officer for the Allegheny Conference and its affiliated regional development organizations. These include the Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce .

On any given Sunday morning, and now at other times on WPXI’s cable station PCNC, you’ll see Bill talking to entrepreneurs, business and civic leaders about topical issues and developments that involve businesses from emerging start-ups to some of the region’s Fortune 500 companies. They talk about issues and challenges – policy matters that influence the economic climate and quality of life in the area.

The show has a solid following. It is with this in mind, we asked Bill a question that may shed some light on why and how the program could be a fit for anyone with a compelling story to tell the region:  What is the driver behind Our Region’s Business?

Our Region’s Business takes a relatively broad view of the impact business has on our region, so we can cover capital investment, finance, job creation, management strategies, economic development, and business climate, all within the context of what’s happening within the regional, national and global economies,” Bill told us. “We like to feature individuals who are having an impact on our region through business activities, whether they are entrepreneurs, innovators, managers or workers, so guests will run the gamut from CEOs to blue collar workers.  We cover both for- and not-for-profit organizations, although in the nonprofit space we tend to focus less on social services and more on ‘eds and meds’ and cultural organizations.  We only do politics and policy when they affect the region’s economic climate in some way.  ‘Our region’ is always the filter — unless the story connects with and affects the future of our region we probably won’t do it.  Even where personal finance topics are concerned, we always interview somebody local, not a generic national expert.  The idea is to showcase how business shapes our region, economically, culturally, and philanthropically.”

Featured Guests

The program seeks guests who can talk about issues and developments that affect the region in some way. As Bill says, “the more direct the impact the better.  We focus on guests who are decision-makers, whether they are innovators, entrepreneurs, or private sector for-profit or not-profit leaders. We strive for C-level guests and in general don’t feature communications or PR people.  We do feature elected officials from time to time, but it’s usually in the context of some event, regulation, policy or legislation that will affect the ability of for- and not-for-profit employers in the region to be more successful.”

The audience for the program is “decision-makers, business owners and managers, both senior and middle management, people who run organizations, and entrepreneurs.”

From the Board Room to the Deli Counter

“I’ve been stopped on the street by CEOs and in the supermarket by the woman behind the deli counter who also watches the show.  What all of them have in common is a strong interest in where the region is and where it’s headed and how they might be able to benefit or contribute to its success. They are definitely interested in our region – Pittsburgh – or they wouldn’t be watching the program.”

From Bill’s perspective, the program is integral to his work at the Allegheny Conference.

“My responsibilities cover three big areas – overall development, fundraising and membership for the conference; strategic communications oversight, with organizational and regional brand and image aspects; and partnerships with other organizations around improving perceptions of the region. The program helps in all respects. It’s one of the most powerful communication channels the Conference has to highlight the issues that we believe are critical to the region’s future and it provides time to talk about them – at least more time than would be available on the evening news. The ability to stream our video online and on-demand expands our reach.  Our mission is to improve the economy and quality of life of the Pittsburgh region and Our Region’s Business helps us to achieve those goals.”

Bill notes that the program, which has been sponsored by PNC Bank for the past 25 years, is uncommon on commercial television.

“I don’t think there are many like it on local, commercial TV in the United States. In other markets similar programs associated with a chamber of commerce or membership organization might be on cable or simply online.   The partnership with WPXI-TV is unusual as well.  It helps to make the program more balanced and broadly representative of ‘our regions’ business’ – not a business program in the traditional sense.”

Our Region’s Business airs on Sundays at 11:00 a.m. on WPXI-TV and is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. that day, and 3:30 p.m. on the subsequent Monday.

Here is a clip from a recent show.

 

2016: A Year of Anniversaries

2016Every year is a year of anniversaries. Not one passes without some event of historical of social significance taking place.  We tend to like anniversaries with round numbers best, and usually, but not always in increments of ten – 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 40th and 50th.  When it comes to 100th anniversaries we have special designations, like “Centennial” or “Centenary.”

If the commemorative event is of unprecedented and relatively recent significance, like September 11th, the anniversary doesn’t need to be an every-ten-year-thing to matter. Every year matters.

In the PR business, we often center some of our work on an anniversary. Too often, the anniversary has what we call a “weak hook” because the anniversary itself may only matter to a handful of people.

And in an era where news travels at the speed of light to smart phones everywhere, yesterday’s news can be seen as ancient history and irrelevant.  A flood of information on new events has quickly put that news into the past.

Case in point, if a furniture store celebrates its 25th anniversary, that won’t matter to anyone but the owners, so trying to draw attention to the milestone in itself is tough sledding.  But if the store owner of the store decides to celebrate the 25th anniversary by walking or better yet, running, 25 miles for a charity, that could get some attention from a local newspaper.

There is no rule of thumb on this but chances are, if you want an anniversary to matter in a public relations sense, you have to think beyond what the event means to you, and more in terms of what it could or should mean to others. That may take the creation of an entirely new initiative, project or event that makes the anniversary relevant and current.

To be sure, not all anniversaries are celebratory. In fact, some of our most important ones are very somber and serious but very worthy of remembering.

So, as we proceed with full force into 2016, here are a few anniversaries that someone may want you to know about:

January

  • Jan 1st is the 50th anniversary of the requirement that all cigarette packs in the United States feature the words: “Caution Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health”
  • January 9th is the 25th anniversary of when Major League Baseball officially banned Pete Rose from election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
  • Jan 12th marks 50 years since “Batman” began to air as a parody series on ABC television.
  • January 16th is the 25th anniversary of when the U.S. and 27 allies attacked Iraq for occupying Kuwait.  Operation Desert Storm commenced the next day.
  • January 28th marks the 30th anniversary of the NASA Challenger Space Shuttle exploding right after launch.  Aboard the Shuttle for that mission was a school teacher from Concord, New Hampshire named Sharon Christa McCauliffe, slated for the mission to become the “First Teacher in Space.”
  • January 28th is the 20th anniversary of Super Bowl XXX where the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-17 in Tempe, Arizona.

February

  • February 5th is the 100th anniversary of  Enrico Caruso recording “O Sole Mio.” He performed this service for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
  • February 5th is the 10th anniversary of Super Bowl XL where the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10 at the Ford Field in Detroit.
  • On February 11th, it will be 50 years since baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays signed the highest contract for a baseball player at $130,000 per season.
  • On February 21st, it will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Verdun in World War I.  The battle was one of the largest in the war and pitted German troops against French forces on the Western Front.  It has been estimated that this single battle led to roughly half a million casualties.

March

April

  • April 1st will mark 25 years since the Warsaw Pact officially dissolved.32155-1916logo-6-v2
  • April 24th will be the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising in Dublin, which is largely regarded as the pivotal event that led to Ireland’s War for Independence and the establishment of what is now recognized as the Republic of Ireland.

June

July

September

October

December

  • December 18th is the 50th anniversary of the debut airing of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” on CBS television.
  • December 21st is the 25th anniversary of the official dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Eleven of 12 republics formed the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • December 26th marks 25 years since Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Chuck Noll retired after four Super Bowl wins, one Super Bowl loss, numerous playoff appearances and coaching a slew of Hall of Fame players.

Of course these are just a few of the kinds of minor and major anniversaries you may hear more about as we get into the year. Some may be marked by nothing more than a news feature, while others could be commemorated through a series of events, programs and advertising.  If one of these events means something to you, just mark the date.

Eat’n Park “Christmas Star” Creator Reflects on Iconic Commercial

Craig Otto remembers a veteran commercial music composer watching the final product of Craig’s first television commercial and telling him to pack it up and take a serious look at working in children’s television.

“’You’ll never be able to top this,’ he told me,” said Craig of the spot that earned such high praise.  The year was 1982, and the ad in question was the now iconic Eat‘n Park  “Christmas Star” commercial.

“That assignment was one in a million.  It was the best creative assignment I ever got,” Craig said recently of the familiar animated, 30-second commercial where a Christmas star struggles to make it to the top of the tree.  But with a little help from the tree itself, the star is able to shine brightly sending holiday greetings to the region the restaurant chain calls home.

For a little perspective, at the time this commercial was created, viewers watched on television sets that relied on heavy tubes to serve as screens.  Thirty-three years later, new generations of Pittsburghers may see the commercial for the very first time on smart phones, flat screen televisions, or even on their Apple Watches.

This all serves to prove that regardless of changes to technology and the emergence of new delivery systems, timeless messaging that touches the heart endures.

Eat’n Park tells the story of the commercial on its own blog this way:

“It all started in early 1982. Eat’n Park was just beginning to blossom into the family restaurant chain that you’re now familiar with, and the company was prospering. Our CEO at the time, Jim Broadhurst (who recently retired), wanted to create a holiday card on video to thank the city of Pittsburgh for their support of Eat’n Park.

So, Jim charged Ketchum, our ad agency at the time, with creating a message that would ‘last for 20 years.’ Easy, right? Craig Otto, then a young Art Director, and Cathy Bowen, a fledgling Copy Writer at the time, lead the project. The pair worked for 3 weeks to generate over 30 ideas, none of which were met with approval. Eventually, they hit upon the idea of an animated commercial, but they still weren’t sure where they were going with it.

One Sunday shortly thereafter, Craig decided to come into the office. He sketched out a star, a traditional holiday image, and then stopped. ‘How does the star get to the top of the tree?’ He played around with a few ideas until deciding that, of course, the star would need some help from the tree itself. In a fateful coincidence, Cathy had also decided to come in to the office that Sunday. So, while Craig worked out the illustrations, Cathy devised a simple, yet perfect sentiment to wrap up the commercial.”

From a communications standpoint, animation seemed to work best.  If it had featured actors and scenes that reflected the period when the commercial was produced, due to changes in fashion and production values, the ad would have quickly become dated.  But animation or not, no ad stands the test of time like this unless there is something more.

Craig Otto Photo

Craig Otto presently serves as on the team at Elliance, a Pittsburgh-based digital marketing agency.

“It’s about giving and receiving,” said Craig.  “For Pittsburghers, it’s a holiday tradition.  It’s such a big part of the regional culture.  Pittsburghers have just taken ownership of it and truly made it a part of their own holiday tradition.”

As evidence of this, in 2012, on the 30th anniversary of the commercial, Light-up Night organizers and Lightwave International, a company based in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, created the commercial in laser show format.

And local personality “Pittsburgh Dad,” paid his own tribute to the Eat’n Park advertising tradition.

“I’m not sure how many brands could have sustained this kind of tradition for so long,” Craig said.  “The genuine connection that exists between Eat’n Park the local community reinforces everything that the commercial was about. “

He said that he still sees young children, born decades after the commercial first aired, respond favorably to the ad.

“I’m still amazed and humbled by how this commercial touches people of all ages.”

10 Things to Know about Doing PR in Pittsburgh

From its own special language, Pittsburghese, to an exceptional pride in its sports teams and a yellow ”terrible” towel, Pittsburgh is unique.  With this in mind, doing PR in Pittsburgh carries with it some very region-specific challenges and characteristics.  Here are ten:

  1. Unless it’s Steelers-related, never plan an event on Steelers’ game day. I’ve been told that the best time to do your grocery shopping in Pittsburgh and avoid the crowds is when the Steelers are playing. If you want to verify, just ask all of the people who’ve done this – both of them.
  2. If you live in Pittsburgh and you meet someone from Pittsburgh, chances are you know someone who knows that person. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon has nothing on three-degrees of Pittsburgh.
  3. When planning an outdoor event have a tent. It rains here. A lot.
  4. Business news matters most when it involves jobs. Ever since the decline of Big Steel in the region nothing matters in business news more to Pittsburghers than new jobs, saved jobs and lost jobs.
  5. Nothing newsworthy happens after 6 p.m. That’s when the next day’s news deadlines hit. Unless it’s a shooting, a car accident, a fire, a broken water main, or a shouting match at a school board meeting.
  6. Pittsburgh media are more likely to travel 39 miles to Portersville than 39 miles to Steubenville for a story. State lines are an issue sometimes. This has more to do with “media market” boundaries than distance.
  7. If you want to be interviewed for a “people-on-the-street” interview, go to Market Square. That seems to be the place where TV crews have questions for you.
  8. IMG_20150605_053144_933-1Pittsburghers don’t just embrace you, they take pride in ownership.  Just ask Primanti’s or A.J. Burnett.
  9. As a writer, it’s important to know that even beyond Pittsburghese, our formal names aren’t pronounced always the same as other places.  North Versailles is pronounced (Ver-sales) not the way the French originally intended (Vair-sai).  And it can be important to know that one person’s Washington’s Landing is another person’s Herr’s Island.
  10. Steelers’ players are “news” 24/7, 365. That also applies to Pittsburgh Penguin Sydney Crosby, Pittsburgh Pirate Andrew McCutchen, and an increasing number of Penguins, Pirates and former Steelers’ players, too.