Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NPR – Brand in trouble

We can add NPR to the list of troubled media brands that includes Blockbuster, AOL, Borders and MySpace. While these others are victims of forces beyond their control – like the ruthless competition from a Netflix or a Facebook – NPR has the distinction of authoring its own problems.

Today, NPR’s CEO resigned her position after one of her lieutenants was caught on tape – between mouthfuls of lunch – maligning segments of his own audience as “seriously racist.” Ah, how easy it is for a foolish senior vice president to let down his guard when tempted by a savory pot pie on a cold March day.

So down goes CEO Vivian Schiller and, with her, her senior vice president – this following the unseating several months ago of an editor who bungled the firing of a respected analyst, Juan Williams (who dared to go on Fox News and express his own views).

These guys are working overtime to run a good brand into the ground. You would think they would at least honor their stewardship of National Public Radio! – but wait. They actually monkeyed with the name itself. Last year they replaced the dignified, republican-sounding "National Public Radio" with the mundane, bland initials “NPR.”

Think about that. Replacing “National Public Radio” with “NPR” is like replacing the name Lady Gaga with LG. It’s like turning John Wayne back into Marion Robert Morrison – and star him in the Western classic Courageous River (formerly “Rio Bravo”).

Look, the central problem at NPR is that leaders have lost sight of what the brand stands for. It’s not a bastion of political correctness – it’s not a private club for anti-tea-partiers to pass judgment on conservative voters who prevailed in the last election and are among the taxpayers dragooned into supporting NPR.

Months ago NPR could have highlighted Juan Williams as an example of diversity of views and voices. Instead they fired him for not toeing the line. Talk about strategically inept.

NPR is actually National Public Radio – a beautiful concept in its day. It promised open airways and thoughtful content for the enlightenment and entertainment of all Americans. These days the organization has sunk to petty partisanship, and the brand reveals a mean spirit. Time for a radical repositioning.



DaveT said...

I have never understood why people defend what Juan Williams said on Fox. He said words to the effect of, "when I get on a plane and I see people dressed in traditional Muslin clothes, it makes me nervous." Had someone publicly said to Juan, "when I get on a bus and I see African Americans in traditional African clothes, I get nervous," he and many others would have howled about the racism of such a statement, and rightly so. His was no different, plain and simple.

brandsinger said...

Hi DaveT:
Actually, Jesse Jackson himself once said that when approaching an ATM (or walking down the street), he was reassured to look over his shoulder to see a white face, not a black. He (like Juan Williams) was making a point that it's sad that people get stereotyped because of the violence of some -- an injustice -- but reality. Williams was making an honest confession of his own weakness -- a fear unjustified yet reinforced by the news of the day. For that (and doubtless other honest confessions not politically correct) he was fired.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You sound like someone not prone to group-think -- so keep questioning!