Friday, March 13, 2009

Jim Kramer vs. Jon Stewart - PR Stunt or Real War?

If you’re a devotee of the Daily Show, and these days who wouldn’t be, you’ve heard/read about the war between its host Jon Stewart and Jim Kramer of CNBC’s Mad Money. It started when Rick Santelli, idiot extraordinaire had a temper tantrum at the Chicago Stock Exchange over the federal government bailing out people who are losing their homes. He railed against people who took subprime mortgages and couldn’t pay them.

Stewart was incensed by Santelli’s outburst especially because CNBC, which purports to “Have the financial expertise you need,” blamed the people who are losing their homes. At the same time, the network appeared to have had no clue that the market was about to blow up.

Stewart has been playing clips of Kramer recommending people buy General Motors and some of the investment banks right before the stock market went into a tailspin.

OK, I’m not a Wall Street person, and have certainly lost my fair share of money in this mess, but as a PR person I’m really impressed. Stewart starts complaining, the talking head newscasters on the broadcast networks and the bloggers turn it into a “war,” and suddenly everyone is watching. Last night when Kramer came on the Daily Show, it had one of its biggest audiences in a long time.

Was this a PR stunt, or Jon Stewart echoing the rage of the American people that we’ve all lost tons of money, while the “experts” and the “financiers” walked away rich? Probably a bit of both.

But it sure goes to show how much media you can get if you hit the nation’s emotional center head on. And Stewart has.

The actual face-off wasn’t that dramatic. The first 10 minutes Kramer stuck to his talking points which were all mea culpa, etc. and Stewart waited. Kramer's talking points reminded me of Ronald Reagan's "I can't remember."

Kramer’s messages -

“We all got it wrong.”

“I’m chastised.”

“I am trying to expose this stuff and get regulators to do their jobs. Don’t you want people like me to expose that?”

“Absolutely we should do better.”

“The market was going up for a long time, and we all thought it would continue.”

And my personal favorite – “I thought Bear Stearns was honest.”

It’s amazing to me that a comedian like Stewart could be so incredibly smart. He went after Kramer in the best possible way – far more strategically than any of the reporters who cover the financial markets these days.

First he let Kramer talk for awhile – interjecting a few lines here and there when he almost couldn’t stop himself. Some included. . .

“Stop talking to me like I’m five,” as Kramer tried to explain that he didn’t really understand what was going on in the market.

“It seems to me that there are two markets, Stewart said, one that real people invest their 401Ks and futures in and we’re told to get in and stay in for the long-term, and another where there are piles of money being exchanged. The second one is done in back rooms by people who will do anything to make more of it as quickly as possible.” I’m paraphrasing but the point is right.

“You are pretending that you are some dew-eyed innocent, don’t pretend that you didn't know the tsunami was coming.”

“You have a show called Fast Money – I’ll teach you too be rich,” said Stewartwhen Kramer tried to explain that he really isn’t an expert.

Then Stewart showed clips of Kramer when he was a hedge fund manager saying all of the things that he’d explained in the beginning of the show he didn’t do. The clips basically talked about how you must manipulate the market, and the minds of investors and the media, to get stocks and funds to go up and hedge your bets.

So as a PR person what do I take away from this?

The “I didn’t know, they hoodwinked me too, I’m on your side” approach that so many PR people think will make their talking head look sympathetic doesn’t work anymore. The country is tired of it. Welcome to the new world order. We have a president who doesn’t evade, make excuses, hide from the truth and his responsibilities. People are starting to expect honesty - what a refreshing concept.

Kramer would have been much better off if he’d borrowed from Obama’s approach and just said to Stewart, “You know what, you’re right, I screwed up, good people are hurting and I lost a lot of money too (which is probably not true) and I’ve learned from this experience. . . blah, blah, blah. Next time I will do it differently."

Of course, Kramer’s ego would never have allowed him to do that. Nor would the people pulling the puppet strings behind the curtain.

Wake up communicators. The rules of the game have changed. People are tired of the bullshit. We’ve had eight years of it and we’re done. If you want to be a successful PR person in these tough economic times tell the truth – even if it’s ugly.

Here's your link to the show:

1 comment:

  1. Whether we are involved in commercial marketing, politics or show business, there appear to be three immutable rules that govern over the long haul:

    1. You can't always get what you want (But if you try sometimes...)

    2. You can't out-stink a skunk.

    3. You'll never win a perfume contest if your entry is a skunk.

    Nothing good comes easily; we have to work for it. This whole "easy money" "fast money" ideology that has bankrupted the world economy has been sold by political hucksters, financial hucksters and spiritual hucksters for years. The truth is this: it doesn't work that way. When we make heat flow from a cold body to a warm body (as in your kitchen fridge) we need to expend some energy - do some work. When has this been otherwise?

    Over the years, the radio talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh have found themselves in a position where they have had to say more and more outrageous stuff just to get noticed. Hence, we see Limbaugh claiming to be the leader of something and Ann Coulter proclaiming that anyone who disagrees with her point of view is disloyal to our country. Even Harry Truman was a traitor, according to Coulter. The whole thing tends to get more and more stinky - and more and more destructive. And the bottom line is that nothing gets accomplished.

    Finally, we need at least some substance that rises above the political noise level. These should come in the form of alternatives that create the possibility of an attractive outcome. "Tax cuts" that simply pass taxes on to our children are not tax cuts. A nihilistic approach to government does not admit the possibility that government can solve problems - and as a result, we get the response to Katrina that we got. We get wars of choice. We get a manipulation and distortion of science. On the world stage, we get international scorn. There needs to be at least some substance.