In the ongoing battle over late-night entertainment slots at NBC, consider the brilliant public relations move by Conan O’Brien in airing his grievances with the network’s behavior. For those who haven’t followed, sagging ratings for Jay Leno’s show encouraged NBC’s executives to ask Conan to move his show back to a later start time. Conan’s statement in response is deft, witty, concise, sublime, aggressive without being arrogant – in other words, a publicist’s dream tactic.
The view from the world of DC PR firms, who regularly deal with issues debates and strategic campaigns, must be one of awe and envy. If you don’t believe how effective Conan’s statement was, let’s see what NBC said in response. Oh wait… can’t seem to find anything in plain view on their site that addresses this matter… I sincerely hope that the ostrich-head-in-the-sand isn’t NBC’s PR strategy.
With that said, let’s analyze the statement to summarize the chessboard public relations tactics employed:
• “People of Earth.” Conan’s introduction reaffirms who the messenger is: A comedian. That it’s also a funny and original way of beginning doesn’t hurt. Lesson: People appreciate when you own up to your identity.
• “I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me.” Everyone loves a tip of the hat to an industry idol, and Conan shows humility and respect in his homage to Carson. This makes the statement less about him and more about saving the late night franchise.
• “After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.” Conan puts the ball directly in NBC’s court, by explaining that he has no control over the fate of his show. This puts NBC on the defensive and forces them to react, instead of going on offense.
• “The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show.” Strongest line in the whole statement. This sentence boils the whole ordeal into ten words, one that conveys clear literal and figurative meaning and speaks volumes.
• “My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.” Conan closes by taking the high road, putting a nice positive end on his rant.
Overall, Conan’s statement reinforces the negative thoughts about the network, while at the same time promoting the positive steps he’s taken to preserve the integrity of the late night franchise. Well played!