Lessons from Late Night TV: Relevance when it matters

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The recent death of comedian Robin Williams was a tragedy and the loss, in my opinion, of a very talented man. I was a big fan of his shocked when I first heard the news. It was sitting on the sidelines of my 6-year-old son’s football team practice when the news came through on my Facebook feed.

On a personal level, I was sad when I heard this news. As a journalist and PR professional, I couldn’t help but notice how many responded to his death. “Robin Williams” began to trend as a news item almost immediately, but I quickly saw that comments by anyone and everyone began to explode as well. It seemed as if so many people, especially through Facebook, felt the need to comment just to comment. It made me wonder if we are in a point in our society in which everyone is compelled to comment on everything, and is that really okay? We had to answer this question for our clients, as many didn’t know if they should comment as well and sought our counsel. From a business standpoint, it’s critical to be relevant and have a direct reason for a message other than to just “get something out there.” Commenting just to comment just doesn’t make sense. If there is a tragedy or a situation where a comment or statement makes sense, it’s important to be relevant and expedient.

Late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien serves as an excellent example. It was during his live show that he learned of Williams’ death. Williams was a friend/colleague of O’Brien so would be appropriate to comment. O’Brien did so, but he did in a way that was both succinct and relevant. He didn’t go into a long monologue or tribute. He announced the news, telling the audience, “This is unusual and upsetting, but we got some news during the show that Robin Williams has passed away. I'm sorry to anyone in our studio audience that I'm breaking this news. This is absolutely shocking and horrifying and so upsetting on every level. We're at the end of the show and it just felt like we needed to just acknowledge it…”

O’Brien and show guest actor Will Arnett then said a few words of tribute and then promptly ended the show.  This was a very appropriate and relevant way to handle such a tragedy. The short tribute and then ending the show, which was close to the end anyway, was an excellent way to comment when appropriate and show respect. (To see the video of how O’Brien handled the news and for a transcript, click here).

Lesson learned? From an organizational standpoint, be sure to identify what the objective is of every communication and whether or not you are the most appropriate source of information. Need help identifying the message? Contact us - we are happy to help!  

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