Is your business an entertainer or adviser?
Brian Williams is a storyteller of a caliber that we at Woden could only hope to match – and we don’t mean that sarcastically. Ditto Jon Stewart. Whatever your personal feelings about these two outsized media figures, it can’t be denied that they’ve got a knack for captivating and engaging audiences and those who they interview.
What interests us are the parallels and differences in their respective departures from their signature posts – Williams has been placed on a six-month suspension from the chief anchor role at NBC News and Stewart announced recently that he would be leaving the Daily Show at the end of this year.
That these announcements came on the same day is certainly random coincidence, but their synchronicity lets us reflect on the importance of credibility and expectation management; not just for celebrities or journalists, but for individuals and businesses looking to communicate in a landscape where small errors or oversights are quickly caught and, sometimes, amplified.
Williams became embroiled in controversy after it was revealed that he embellished an anecdote about an experience he had while reporting in Iraq in 2003, claiming his Chinook helicopter was forced down after being hit by an RPG, when, in fact, it was not. He recounted his tale not during his nightly news broadcast, but during several talk show appearances over the years and, most recently, during a memorial service at an NHL game. The level of scrutiny under which Williams works and the sensitive nature of his embellishments aside, we’ve all exaggerated a story or two at a party or among friends – science backs this up.
Nonetheless, his lapse in judgment and exaggeration, even in a less-formal context, threw his credibility into question, and an acclaimed decade-plus of reportage along with it.
Williams’ exit is one of contrition and embarrassment, and he’ll be lucky to resume his post as chief anchor of the program he’s helmed for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, Stewart’s surprise departure brought with it praise from all corners, despite having himself been no stranger to criticism from policy wonks and journalists about the integrity or technical soundness of his own on-air claims. He recently issued a factual correction for a report of the San Bernadino DA that quickly passed with minimal outrage or controversy, outside of his usual critics on the right. Stewart has long deflected any criticism against him by replying that he is a comedian, not a newsman, despite being a primary source of news for many (young) Americans.
Still, his legacy will remain unblemished and he’ll begin the next chapter of his career roundly well respected and, in some circles, lionized for his work.
Why these two wildly different outcomes? Simply put, Williams is, first and foremost, a journalist whose charge is impeccably factual reporting. Stewart is primarily an entertainer whose goal is getting a laugh.
So, what lessons can businesses and marketers draw from all this?
Most obvious in our eyes is the elemental importance of understanding your organization’s primary role and objective, for this ultimately dictates the content and theme of all your messaging. Is your firm a trusted adviser, whose sterling reputation accords it considerable influence in sensitive matters, or are you an entertainer, whose primary goal is showing your customers a good time? In the wake of Williams’ scandal, commentators have noted the folly in blurring the lines between these roles.
Next, marketers need to be diligent in ensuring that all their presence across all communication channels aligns with their role. The technical particulars and character of different media channels (social, digital, print, etc.) necessitate different messaging approaches, but they should all be undertaken with a holistic mindset – i.e. if you adopt a more casual approach on Twitter compared to your corporate blog, you should be sure not to be too informal on the former, lest you damage your credibility across the board.
Finally, it follows that marketers should stay true to their primary role, and ignore, or at least temper, the urge to be something else. In the digital marketing space, attempts to be something you’re not smack of inauthenticity and come across as wooden or awkward, especially to younger, tech-savvy consumers. This is not to say that you can’t be entertaining if you’re an adviser, or vice versa, but rather that any deviation should keep your primary role clearly in mind.
Not sure where to start? If often helps to go back to square one, and Woden helps clients along this journey. From defining your role, aligning all your properties under this umbrella, and then executing with messaging that’s true to it, we ensure that our clients don’t find themselves in the same mess as our friend Brian.
Whether you’re an entertainer or adviser, give us a call today to learn more.