Monday, July 7, 2014

Some Free PR Advice to Joan Rivers

Over the weekend Joan Rivers walked out of an interview with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield.

And in fact, Joan continues to defend her behavior.

So is it true, is there no such thing as bad publicity?  And what really went wrong?

What went wrong was that Fredricka's questions caught Joan off guard.  Joan simply was not prepared for Fredricka's line of questioning, and here's why:

Typical Bell Curve Distribution

The bell curve of mathmatical distribution applies to most instances of human behavior.  Simply put, whenever anyone makes an offer: an opinion, a product, a service, around half of the general public will like it, the other half will dislike it.  Most people's opinions are moderate, meaning they may be swayed when presented with information that supports the opinion being offered.  That's the 68% shown in the chart above.  However, a very small percentage -- roughly 2 to 3% -- will need no convincing, they agree no matter what.  An equally small percentage will never agree, no matter how much information is presented.

Joan Rivers' comedy is a brand.  People know what to expect from her.  If you like her brand, you'll watch her tv show, laugh at her jokes, and understand her thinking.  If you really like her brand, you'll buy tickets to her performances, which you will enjoy.

So Joan has become accustomed to performing for people in the 14% and 2% categories shown in the chart: People who know her brand, and like it enough to buy tickets to her performances, including extreme fans.

Another way of explaining it, her audiences are the core of her comfort zone.

But the general public's perception of her is as the bell curve chart shows.  About half of the population likes her, the other half doesn't.  It's just the degrees that vary on both sides.

Joan's problem over the weekend was that she ignored the overall picture, particularly that there are people who dislike her, at varying degrees.

Lack of Preparation for the Tough Questions

Before entering a live interview situation, a guest needs to be prepared not only for the easy questions, which is what Joan was expecting, but the difficult questions as well, which she was not prepared to answer.

It would have been very easy for Joan to simply deflect Fredricka's questions, by either having specific prepared answers, or just being generally prepared by saying something like "well, I can't argue with you over that, I guess I'm just another human being afterall" then just laughing, and allowing Fredricka to move on to the next question.  Another approach could have been "well Fredricka, I'm here today to talk about my book, I'd be glad to come back again soon and discuss that subject with you."

The interview would have concluded without incident.  More importantly, the interview would have played well to Joan's core audience, who no doubt would have bought her book.

Instead, Joan has tried to turn the attention to the interviewer, which never works.  The result is that Joan's future publicity opportunities with media outlets that reach that critical 68% shown above may have narrowed, (where she could have possibly gained some additional following) and her chances of landing new endorsement deals may also be reduced.
None of her supporters like her any more than they did before the interview, and those who did not like her, probably like her even less now.

My Free Advice to Joan

Always consider the relationship of your brand to the media outlet, and prepare accordingly.  

Sarah Palin will always be treated well by Fox News.  Hillary will always be treated well by MSNBC.  But Hillary also did well on Fox, because she was well prepared.

Joan, your brand has little relationship to CNN, so your brand's acceptance by CNN is far more subject to normal bell curve distribution: at least half of the audience isn't going to like you, but that's OK, as long as you are prepared.

Brush away the tough questions with laughs, don't take anything personally.

So that brings us to the fundamental question: is all publicity good publicity?  I don't think so.  I think well managed publicity works well for the subject, but an interview like Joan's over the weekend will be remembered more by the people who don't like her, with some predictable consequences.

What do you think?

Steve Thompson

July 7, 2014

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