From time to time Public Relations Nation posts a guest blog by a Hofstra student. Ashley Zachariah of West Hartford, Connecticut is a public relations graduate student at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University. Check out Ashley’s take on last week’s NBC broadcast of The Wiz Live!:
NBC’s The Wiz Live! that aired on December 3 certainly “eased on down the road.” News outlets such as NPR are raving about the musical. According to Broadway.com, the production gathered 11.14 million viewers compared to the previous year’s 9.13 million for Peter Pan Live! The Wrap reports that the musical was the most-social live special program in Nielsen Twitter TV history, with 279,363 people sending out 1.64 million tweets, which were seen by 6.37 million people a total of 128.95 million times. Playbill.com has compiled an example of tweets that exhibit the positive Twitter reactions.
What made the modern take on the The Wizard of Oz such a national television sensation? Based on the various online reviews, diversity played a crucial role. The Wiz Live! is an example of how knowing your key audience can result in campaign success. An article written in the Huffington Post addresses the importance of featuring an all African American cast. While there has been Twitter backlash over casting choices, the musical’s timing is very appropriate given current racial tensions in our nation with events such as The University of Missouri scandal.
In addition to featuring a star-studded African American cast, the creators wisely chose to modernize the land of Oz with new gadgets such as an iPad. The iPad was not the only modern initiative made by NBC. The story also centered around female empowerment.
Finally, a smart change made by NBC was to try a different tactic with their casting choices. As The Washington Post writes, selecting a brand new star to play Dorothy gave the show a fresh new look with no expectations, as opposed to hiring big names such as Carrie Underwood.
One could argue that the show had its flaws from camera troubles, a missing Toto, and too many commercial breaks. However, the show hit the nail on the head with its PR strategies.
It was a very tough week for journalism. The untimely deaths of CBS’s Bob Simon and The New York Times’ David Carr shocked their colleagues and followers, as did the announced departure of Jon Stewart from “The Daily Show”. While Stewart always insists he’s just a comedian, there’s no denying his profound influence on how we receive the news.
However, little dominated the headlines last week more than the six-month suspension of Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, TV’s highest-rated news program. After it was found Williams fabricated stories about his experiences when covering the news, he was removed from the anchor chair. He apparently lied about being shot at while aboard a helicopter in Iraq, and may have made up his report about seeing a floating body in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Both events didn’t happen according to witnesses, and Williams apologized for his “conflated” tale.
The highly-respected and popular anchor is now suffering from the peril of spin. Yes, he was on a chopper in Iraq but it was a nearby chopper that received gunfire. Yes, he was in New Orleans after Katrina, but there was little-to-no flooding in the French Quarter. Other allegations of lies and spinning are being investigated by NBC, with some believing there’s more revelations ahead.
My good friend and seasoned PR practitioner Bert Cunningham wrote, “Brian Williams’ primary mission was to tell the news story, not be the news. Same holds true for public relations pros. They need to remember they are telling the stories of (their) brands. They must not become a story through unethical or questionable practices or expressions of personal opinion–via social media, for example–that reflect badly on themselves and those they represent.”
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank said last week, “Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.” Squandering trust through spin and deception can ruin friendships, marriages and careers. No individual, business or institution is exempt from truth. In news, in PR and in all walks of life, trust must be earned and maintained. Can Brian Williams ever get it back? Your thoughts?
Climate change could really use some positive PR right now.
President Obama announced new steps last week to cut carbon emissions, promote energy efficiency and boost solar power. “There are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” he said. The president added that 300 organizations and companies have pledged to expand their use of solar energy, which he noted is getting cheaper and easier to use.
There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are contributing to climate change. But many Americans aren’t buying it. In a January Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, “just 27% of respondents said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority this year, with 41% saying that it could be delayed until next year and 29% saying it shouldn’t be pursued.” The same poll revealed a sharp difference in the way Republicans and Democrats view the issue, with 40% of Democrats said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority, compared with 14% of Republicans. A Public Policy Polling survey last year found 38% of Americans believe global warming is a hoax.
As part of the public relations war being waged on the issue, BarackObama.com has devoted pages and pages of Republican politicians’ quotes which ridicule how they’ve been ridiculing climate change. A small sample includes Sen. Marco Rubio in an interview with CNN this week, saying that the president was “not a meteorologist” and “it’s enormous stretch to say that every weather incident that we now read about–or the majority of them–are attributable to human activity;” and Rep. Dan Benishek. who is also a physician, saying that climate change is “all baloney,” “just some scheme,” and “unproven science stuff.”
Lately, most nightly news reports lead with weather disasters throughout in the country. And as we know, our local weather has been pretty bad in recent years. Scientists with no political agendas say we’ve been hurting the environment for years and we’re starting to pay the price. Climate change is happening and it’s time to get the public to believe it so real action can be taken. Maybe a good PR campaign will help. Your thoughts?
Because public relations practitioners often focus on forming, reinforcing or changing public opinion, I’m intrigued by the candidacies of Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. Spitzer, the former New York governor who solicited prostitutes and was forced to resign in 2008, declared this week that he is running for New York City comptroller. He already leads in early polls. Weiner, the former Queens congressman who tweeted salacious photos of himself and resigned in 2011, leads in the race for New York City mayor, according to a Wall Street Journal-NBC New York-Marist poll released last Tuesday.
There is mixed reaction from the public and political pundits about these two candidates, and their exploits have again become fodder for late night comedians. But although Weiner and Spitzer may have, at minimum, had serious lapses in moral judgment, they do have one very strong positive going for them: they both have tremendous name recognition. And just as the old political adage states that “every handshake equals a vote,” name recognition gives candidates a huge advantage over lesser-known opponents.
But what of their misdeeds? Both men have told reporters that they believe they’ve atoned for their sins and deserve a second chance. Spitzer told Jay Leno in a taping of “The Tonight Show” on Friday, “People who fall prey to hubris end up falling themselves…and the fall from grace is incredibly painful. It is something from which you can learn.”
I wonder if such humility will move the public’s opinion of Eliot Spitzer enough to get him elected comptroller. And are New Yorkers willing to vote Anthony Weiner into the city’s highest office just two years after his terribly embarrassing resignation? There can be no escaping frequent focus on their misbehavior, no matter how often they attempt to move the discussion to the issues. Spitzer and Weiner are excellent communicators, but they’ll have to be highly effective at steering the conversation away from their indiscretions. We’ve seen politicians (including Bill Clinton, of course) recover from sex scandals, so these races will be very interesting to watch. Your thoughts?
Doing the “right” thing is always the best kind of PR. Take P.C. Richard, for example. The “TV, audio and appliance giant” was closed Thanksgiving Day, and ran its annual print ads denouncing retailers who asked their employees to work. “Save Thanksgiving,” reads the ad. “We value our time with our families and we know you do, too. That’s why again this year we’ve decided not to open our doors on Thanksgiving Day.” Did this mean a loss of a few dollars? Maybe. Was there tremendous public relations value in this policy of principle? You betcha. Just check the comments on P.C. Richard’s Twitter.
Then there’s New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Some Republicans are still fuming about his praise for President Obama in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. In an interview on NBC, Christie called Obama “outstanding” for expediting relief efforts and said that Obama “deserves great credit.” He then appeared on Fox News where he was asked if Mitt Romney would be coming to the damaged Jersey Shore for a photo op, since Christie had been supporting him. “I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power, I’ve got devastation on the shore, I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state,” he responded. “If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics then you don’t know me.” Excellent PR value for the governor? Absolutely.
This week, a KROQ Los Angeles deejay announced he was donating a kidney to a co-worker who might have otherwise been placed on an eight-year waiting list. Gene “Bean” Baxter told CBS “It wasn’t a big emotional decision for me. And I don’t think that my part of this decision is all that big a deal. I honestly think this surgery is fairly commonplace, and in a few weeks, I’ll be fine.” Clearly this was way above and beyond a PR stunt, although the public relations value for “Bean” and the station is priceless.
Acts of kindness and principled decisions are most welcome on this crazy planet. And if the by-product of doing the right thing is good PR, then even better! Your thoughts?