Humor, parody and satire have been around since classic Greek literature. It permeates music, politics, movies and popular culture. And as of late, it's now made it's way into one of the last bastions of non-satirical holdouts--the mainstream news media.
Saturday Night Live has 30+ years of background in this. The've poked fun at everything from presidents to popular culture and their Weekend Update has been the satirical news of record. The Onion took a further step at creating new humorous antidotes, stories and otherwise and placing them out as a news media outlet (print, video, online, blog) like any other.
Then came the popularity of shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report . The Daily Show taking what was started with Weekend Update and expanding to new audiences and The Colbert Report taking on the political blow-hard pundits who are gaining in popularity as of late.
But the traditional news media continued to stand firm. They did not even acknowledge the other avenues existed. The news was paramount. And important. Important enough that humor, parody and satire had no place. And those that delivered the news? Just as important. There were no humorous angles to Dan Rather or Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow.
And thus, public relations as an industry followed suit.
But things are changing now. I'm sure there is no one instance that was the tipping point, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was the Daily Show. An IU study found the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to be as substantive as network news. A Rasmussen Report showed 32% of adults ages 30-39 believe that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are capable of replacing traditional new outlets. And nearly one-third of younger Americans see Colbert and Stewart as true alternatives to traditional news outlets.
That's a big impact. So how did traditional news outlets respond? They started slowly. They played clips on their shows (well, the cable news guys did--they have a lot of time to fill) to get a laugh, to prove a point that fit their political agenda, or attacked the satirical shows in retribution.
But then Brian Williams from 'NBC Nightly News' started showing up as a repeat guest on The Daily Show. It was humorous, genuine, and a reach to cross into the audiences that watch the program.
But last night was a new milestone in my opinion. If you haven't seen the piece on Chatroulette, you must go now and watch it. (I'll wait). Did you count the media personalities in that piece? At least 5. All 3 major new network anchorpersons (ABC,CBS, NBC) as well as some cable news for good measure-- MSNBC and Fox Business. And they weren't just mocking the video roulette site. They were poking fun of themselves. They were poking fun of their industry. And they were doing it on The Daily Show's terms.
They showed that the news doesn't have to always take itself so seriously.
Why? Well, for one, to get viewers. But it's more than that. It's an attempt to show that they are human. They are endearing themselves to their audience, or better yet, a new potential one.
And they did it through humor and self-deprecation.
So, if you made it with me this far into a long blog post, my question is this: why hasn't the Public Relations Industry followed suit? Why have they continued to act as if they are above the fray? Why have they insisted that the news is more important than any humor based program you can think up. (And by news, I mean EVERY press release every written for any client need--big or small) Why would they not follow the actual media they are working with?
This is not an indemnification of the industry as a whole, only to say this: lighten up, you may just actually be more effective as an agency/industry if you do.
We have found at Elasticity that humor, parody, and the lighter side of human nature have phenomenal appeal. Stories are placed more frequently. Programs take off and go "viral" with greater frequency, and we're able to break through the clutter. We're able to endear our clients to their audiences.
Another example we talked about this week. Ole' Miss is replacing their beloved Col. Reb with a new mascot. The story is that Admiral Ackbar is a leading contender. We all heard this story and it took off like wildfire. Do you think you would have heard about this story had they been thinking about replacing their mascot with a bear, or an eagle? (though it may have been picked up by Colbert since he hates bears)
This is a highly controversial topic right now, and those who practice this type of communications are not taken serious. But it is catching on. There are more and more every day that see this. And in time, the larger agencies may just play ball on our terms, much like the major news networks participated in Chatroulette.
Now, this is not to say that the news is all humorous, nor to say that no news is actually legitimate. Only to say that humor often times breaks through clutter and the news media is starting to catch on. You don't' have to be 100% serious 100% of the time. Having a "human" face often times endears you to your audience.
And isn't that what "public relations" is all about? Endearing yourself to your audience?