Howard Stern on Public Relations

June 25, 2009

howard-stern-siriusThis morning on the Howard Stern Show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, Stern’s news correspondent Lisa G came into the studio with a big announcement – Rosie O’Donnell was joining Sirius XM with a new program set to air on the Sirius Stars channel.

Now, this is interesting for several reasons:

  • Stern and O’Donnell ended a decade-long and very public feud about two years ago, and even became personal friends after Stern voiced his on-going support of gay marriage and O’Donnell’s popular family cruise documentary that aired on HBO.
  • In recent years, Stern interviewed O’Donnell on his channels to help champion gay rights and to give her the chance to tell her side of the story in her many on-going Hollywood fights, including issues with both Barbara Walters and Donald Trump (both good personal friends of Stern – so much so that both attended his 2008 wedding).
  • Stern pitched Sirius XM executives on having O’Donnell develop a program or series of programs for his channels – Howard 100 and Howard 101 – for the past year, even going so far as to personally tour O’Donnell around and introduce her to all of the movers and shakers within the company.
  • The new O’Donnell program – as Stern found out live on the air this morning – would have nothing to do with either of Stern’s channels, and the Sirius XM executives basically went behind his back to develop a deal with O’Donnell without him.

Now, Stern – who has one of the biggest inferiority complexes one has ever seen even after a decade of seeing a psychiatrist three-plus times a week – reacted to this news by going on a rant off and on all morning – not mad at O’Donnell, but at the executives at Sirius XM for taking his idea and developing it for a non-Stern channel. He was also angry he was not part of at least a brainstorming session to announce the big news. You see, since he was the face of the company, the executives often included him in this sort of thing and always requested he interview new Sirius talent on his program to introduce his audience (anywhere from 60-80% of the 20 million subscribers depending on the day) to the new programming opportunity on their radio.

rosie_odonnella300aBut I digress. This blog is actually (or eventually) all about public relations.

You see, in the midst of his fit, Stern took the promotion department to task for their utter and complete lack of a comprehensive and strategic public relations plan to announce O’Donnell’s new program. After all, in the 1990s O’Donnell hosted the top-rated afternoon talk show in the country and currently had legions of fans in the gay and lesbian community. Wouldn’t it make sense to think through the best way to announce O’Donnell’s new program and then create a campaign to reveal it to the world?

Nope. As it turns out, Stern’s producer reported, the head of promotions was off on vacation and no plan was in place before he left. So, Stern challenged the promotion department, “With Lisa G announcing the big news on Sirius XM – how would that attract NEW users to Sirius XM?”

How would it help get the word out in a controlled, strategic way to the media at large, he wondered aloud. It wouldn’t.

Stern then did something this public relations practitioner loved – he unveiled how he would have handled the media outreach to announce O’Donnell’s partnership with Sirius and had some Copper Anvil-worthy strategic and tactical ideas including:

  • Stern himself going on the David Letterman Show and coming out with O’Donnell on his arm for a dual interview with Letterman about the big announcement
  • A dual publicity tour with Stern and O’Donnell hitting all of the major newspapers in the country
  • A dual publicity tour with Stern O’Donnell hitting all of the major gay and lesbian media in the country
  • A series of tweets, press releases and media advisories teasing the big announcement and then a grand press conference at Sirius XM with O’Donnell
  • A cover story in People Magazine or another pop culture magazine announcing the new partnership

Now, love him or hate him, Stern has always been a master at getting attention. Turns out, every outrageous thing he’s ever done for that attention had a public relations plan behind it.

Oh, and my favorite part of his rant? When he sarcastically told the audience how great it was that now Sirius XM would spend a ton of money on advertising O’Donnell’s new program rather than planning ahead and taking advantage of the enormous amount of press a little public relations planning would yield.


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