News Flash! 50 advertisers have pulled their ads from the Rush Limbaugh show. Updated list here.
Everyone wants to know, “What will happen next?” Some people want to know how to “fix the problem” (i.e. lost sponsors) others want to know, how can we make,”the problem” worse.
I am of the metaphorical mindset, “When your nemesis is drowning, throw him an anchor.”
There is, and will be, tremendous pressure to keep The Limbaugh Zeppelin afloat. Lots of people are scrambling to find the right words, strategy or actions to get back to the status quo. What might be surprising to some, but not to me, is that the MSM will help keep this gasbag in the air. Why? A few reasons:
1) The “They could do this to me!” fear. They might remember that Lou Dobbs is gone and Glenn Beck if off TV, not because of what they said, but because of “market forces.” The progressive left made those “market forces” happen by alerting advertisers and asking them to stop allowing these people to taint their brands.
2) Rush gives them the language for ideas that are easy to describe. One stop shopping for what “the Right” thinks. (His ability to articulate the worst impulses of the right and make them seem noble is a real talent.)
3) The MSM have to make sure to run, “Rush’s side of the story.” Rush is, of course, the real victim in all this. Their stories can cover ad experts to answer questions about the economic impact of this on Rush or Premier. Political experts to discuss the ramifications of this on the Presidential race. Social media experts on why this movement got traction vs others.
What they all know is that there is an entire community (LimbaughSphere?) that needs Rush to stay on the air.
One of the big questions that will be raised is, “How can Rush stay on the air without advertisers?”
Surprise! Rush doesn’t actually need advertisers. The people in the radio industry want and “need” that revenue stream, but not Rush. Like Glenn Beck while at Fox, he still has his contract if he has 2 or 200 advertisers. Additionally the people who want him to continue could subsidize him for months if not years if they want.
What people forget is that massive long term subsidies have propped up the Right and movement conservatism for years. Fox lost money for years. NewsCorp is so big and Murdoch’s control so strong he could hide the money losing ventures from shareholders, until they could pay off financially. Here is a link to me asking Rupert how long he will keep subsidizing Beck) In the mean time their subsidies was paying off in Right Wing messaging and political wins.
The expectation that directed messaging efforts should also make money is fairly new. The Right mocked liberal radio for “not making money” from the comfort of their money losing belief tank jobs.
When was the last year the Washington Times made money? Never. As of 2002 Moon and his businesses have plowed about $1.7 billion into subsidizing the Times, say current and former employees. (Story from the money losing Washington Post.)
Rush’s Brand is Now Bigger Than Sponsor’s Brands
What is different now is that Rush’s “brand values” have become more important than his consumer product sponsors’ brand values. His agenda has become more important than their needs. He will taint the advertiser’s brand rather than retreat from some horrific statements that advance his agenda.
This is huge problem for people who make money on Rush such a:
Radio stations, sales reps, and radio execs
Companies who get revenue sells products or services to his listeners
This is NOT a huge problem for folks who use Rush to push the movement conservative agenda. People like:
Koch, Scaife, Olin, Moon and others funding money losing papers, RW belief tanks like Heritage and American’s For Prosperity.
Brent Bozell of the non-revenue generating group, the Media Research Council who will use this as an opportunity to raise money on Rush the Victim. Of course that will be pennies vs. what he gets from his funders, Exxon, Scaife, Olin and other tax exempt right wing foundations.
However, one of the problems will be the perception problem. How do you explain keeping Rush on the air without commercial advertisers? They might admit that they support money losing shows all the time and admit that generating revenue was just a happy accident of the true goal of the show, making the extreme right’s views “normal”. Janeane Garofalo used to call it “Giving people permission to bring out their inner Archie Bunker.”)
I expect multiple methods will be deployed to change the subject from the financial consequences. I discussed some of them in my article here.
As various techniques are used I’d like to remind people of the insights that I developed when I created The Spocko Method. There will be a need to keep dogging the LimbaughSphere’s attempt to make this problem go away. I talk about some of this on Angie Corio’s In Deep Radio show, broadcast tonight, March 9, at 8:00 pm on KRXA in Monterey and March 10th broadcast in Washington D.C. at 10:00 AM on WPWC 1480 AM DC Progressive Talk Radio, @WeActRadio. Also you can listen to the Podcast of Mike Stark and I discussing this and Andrew Breitbart’s death and his impact on the media on Virtually Speaking.
If this article has become tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) you can go now.
Below is background for people who want to understand The Spocko Method and why it works vs. boycotts, appeals to the FCC or radio management. If you want to do a quick action you can go to my friends at FreePress, Media Matters or Credo who all have ways to act on this.
The Spocko Method
I learned a lot and and established a lot of principles during my early work on KSFO hosts, then advising Hate Hurts America on Michael Savage and Color of Change on Glenn Beck.
When I started my advertiser alert campaign in 2005-06 I did a lot of research on what worked and didn’t work when engaging the Right Wing media. Based on that research I determined that the leverage point was the station’s revenue stream. If you had great ratings with no advertisers, you are screwed. If they didn’t have a sugar daddy, they needed advertisers.
I looked at and discarded going to the FCC, like the Right did with Howard Stern. I looked at and discarded appealing to management since they could position themselves as, “supporters of free speech” even if they disagreed with it. Also, they easily could ignore efforts that weren’t widespread, since the audience who is offended doesn’t usually listen, therefore they didn’t really care what they thought.
My solution was to show the advertisers that the hosts of KSFO were tainting their brand. This involved finding email addresses and the right people to contact showing them the clips and letting them decide. Twitter and Facebook weren’t as pervasive as now.
My special perspective on this is a deep understanding of how to talk about the action and how to communicate to the corporations. My background is in helping companies and people tell their stories to the press, their investors and customers. I’ve media trained the top executives, founders and funders of major tech companies and consumer firms. I know what they care about. I work a lot with the marketing, PR and internal communications people.
Based on this I did some important things different.
I didn’t go to the FCC, they don’t care. (that is what the right did with Howard Stern, Brent Bozell’s Media Research Council is always happy to use Big Government to get what he wants).
Based on the liberal criticism of that action I made it clear I never wanted to silence people or get them fired. I just wanted them to be less profitable. If they modified what they said on the air or are let go because they have become unprofitable, well so be it. I explained this to other groups who then used them on Michael Savage and Glenn Beck.
Then there are some instructions I gave to my followers, basics like be polite, but also how to frame the request.
It’s NOT a boycott. Don’t write the sponsors and say, “I’m going to stop buying your product if you don’t do this.” That is a threat and advertisers don’t like to be threatened. Instead get them to see the disconnect between their own values, brand or policies and this person.
Get the corporations to see how the comments aren’t “in-line with their values.”
I did this by showing them their own policies on discrimination, violence or sexism. Then I linked them to the audio clip that aired right after the horrific comment. Imagine being Pro-Flowers after the, “women using birth control are sluts and prostitutes” comment. With KSFO they had HR companies advertising. I sent them links to sexist comments about Dana Perino and women they wanted to work in the office naked because they had “a great rack”.
Make it clear you aren’t trying to silence anyone. This is because that is censorship and there are people on the left who don’t want to have anything to do with any kind of censorship, even of someone like Rush.
They are the, ‘I’ll don’t like what they have to say, but I’ll defend to the death their right to say it.” people. They need to see that this a MARKET-based action, that way they don’t have to defend Rush under the 1st Amendment. It’s not about the host’s rights, it’s just business. The companies have a right to not advertise on a show. Nobody has a right to get rich saying horrible things.
Help the corporations explain why they are pulling their ads.
“You aren’t censoring him or silencing him. You are just removing your financial support because what he says doesn’t match with your brand image. Someone else who doesn’t have your good values can pay to be associated with him.” This information is then used by companies so that they can explain it to their customers and internal marketing people when they ask, “Why aren’t we advertising on the show with the highest ratings!” They can respond “Because, hating Muslims, gays, and vicious sexism isn’t what our company and brand are about.”
Keep your followers aware of how the other side will fight this and keep adjusting your messages to counter them.
So if they say, “Rush apologized!” point out all the other instances where he didn’t. “This is a pattern of behavior, not a one time thing. Do you want to be associated with him when he says the next horrific things?”
Avoid Media Boredom. As the campaign for Color of Change got boring to the media people wanted to “move on.” I suggested that they take the results to the next level. That was when I took it to the financial journalists and NewsCorp Institutional investors. That was a new and different story for the media. “What is the economic impact of advertisers leaving? Why was Murdoch still subsidizing him?”
(BTW that was the question I asked Murdoch during the May 2010 financial conference call. That pushed the story back into the news and got Murdoch to comment on it, which the media needed to quote on the issue.)
Prepare for Dishonest Reframing and Strawmen
You will see that in the response to defend Rush they create strawmen. “They want to silence Rush! They want to bring back the Fairness Doctrine!” But since I was very careful to never talk about firing them or bringing back the Fairness Doctrine I could easily show that this was a lie.
I think the advertisers should have a choice, and they should be able to work within the market to decide if they want to make this purchase. When they pull their ads they aren’t censoring anyone, just making him less rich, nothing wrong with that.
This is how the free market is supposed to work, but the right actually wants a monopoly. They don’t want to give companies a choice, especially if , through media consolidation, they make their guy the only game in town.
Keep up the good work everyone!
Cross posted at Spocko’s Brain.
@spockosbrain follow me around on twitter