I was very pleased and gratified to see the Spocko Method being used on Bill O'Reilly this week. (Up to 70 so far!)
Now he announces he's taking a vacation amid the sexual harassment scandal (My friend Jeff wondered where, "Thailand?")
I was thrilled to hear its principles, and some of the specific language I created over a decade ago, being spoken by Anita Hill on Saturday's Weekend Edition on NPR. (And no, it's not plagiarism when she uses my language, so bite me wingnuts.)
"I think the message is clear from advertisers as well as from consumers - direct consumers of the media that this is not tolerable, that the advertisers and consumers understand that they have a vested interest in this. The realization from advertisers, of course, is that the ads being associated with the show is not good for their brand. It's not good for their bottom line. And it also, perhaps, doesn't reflect their own business values internally." --
Anita Hill, Brandeis University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
I've been following the stories about this, and, believe it or not, reading the comments about it all week. I read them to understand what people who comment think about it and how they talk about it. What I'm pleased to see is that people on OUR side now understand what this action is and what it is not.
1) It is not a boycott
Even though the media keep trying to call it that, this is not about people calling up advertisers and saying, "I'm not going to buy your product or service unless you do X." (My friend Sara Robinson said when my method is used it should be called being "Spockoed," sadly it didn't take. Sometimes you just can't make fetch happen.)
2) This is about advertisers being alerted to what they are sponsoring, so they can choose what to do
As they get the whole picture, they can choose to leave or continue to sponsor the show. The key is to point out what they say internally about themselves, then they can decide. I would helpfully provide links to the appropriate sections on their own web page
3) This is about ALL of their stated values
What does their mission statement say? What do their HR guidelines say? If they are a public company, do they have corporate governance documents?Regulation that they are legally required to follow? Vendor ethics agreements? Core brand value statements? They can then answer the question: "Are we true to our values? Is this what we want people to associate our brand with?" Then, if what they are sponsoring doesn't line up with their own stated values, they can decide to make a change.
4) The advertiser is not the enemy, they can be an ally
When I was first writing advertisers I realized I didn't want to punish them for something they might not have even been aware of. This was because I knew the people who worked at these companies. They were my friends and colleagues. I also knew that threats from outside aren't usually appreciated. (Even from a beloved character from Star Trek!) So first I wanted to them to investigate themselves and then make a choice. Some chose to stay, that's fine, it's a free market! (For example, the Glenn Beck show never lost their gold advertisers.)
If advertisers chose to leave, they would then have multiple reasons to give if questioned why. Part of this process is making it easy for people inside to explain to others why they made a decision. Having them point to their own values, guidelines and rules makes it easier.
Values Smalues. What's the Bottom Line?
I also knew that there are people inside companies who believed that while those stated values are nice on paper, the ultimate value is money. These people can only see how other values mattered if they can be shown they either increase the bottom line or, if not followed, would cost the company more money then breaking them can earn.
Part of the education process of the Spocko Method is to remind the company about how it talks to itself already, and what happens to morale and external perception when what they say doesn't match what they do. The HR, PR and marketing people understand this. But in many companies you will find people who look only at the stock price, or quarterly earnings as representative of value. For them it takes what the financial people call a "material event" to get them to notice.
Then these people will look to see if the event will have any long-term impact. (And for them long-term, usually means next quarter.)
You will find that when companies talk to investors they bury bad numbers using multiple Generally Accepted Accounting Principle techniques. Big media companies don't have to disclose details because they are so big.
Pay outs for Sexual Harassment cases from Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Exec A, B, C, D, E and F)
They might have a line item for hush money, but they won't call it that on the books. You won't see the costs of: The private investigators digging up dirt on women or the people hired to plant the dirt in tabloids.
Last week on the Majority Report, Michael Brooks and Sam Seder commented on how Fox News corporate attacked O'Reilly's sexual harassment survivors, the ones whose cases they weren't able to seal with a financial settlement. Nasty stuff.
5) The government is not violating O'Reilly's 1st Amendment rights
I had to keep reminding people on our side that advertisers leaving the show is not a 1st Amendment issue. A sponsor deciding to not buy ads was not the same as the government making a law. (Ironically broadcast talk radio actually DOES have government regulations on what hosts could say, like profanity, the right-wing Christianist group Focus on the Family used it against Howard Stern.)
Taking The Fight To the Next Level
I said at the beginning of the Trump era that this will be a great time for activists. And it is. Sometimes it takes a monster for the village to awaken.
Part of the Spocko Method involves figuring out the next level of the fight. My friend Angelo Carusone, now at Media Matters, and my friends at Color of Change did amazing work convincing 81 advertisers to leave the Glenn Beck show back in 2009/2010, then the effort stalled.
I spent three months researching News Corporation Institutional investors and contacting them to point out that hours of prime ad space were not generating revenue. I suggested they ask their contacts when the show would return to profitability. I also researched and contacted financial analysts who covered News Corp and suggested they ask how this loss of advertising revenue is going to impact the earnings of News Corp.
Then I asked the question of Rupert Murdoch that any normal financial analyst would ask of a public corporation during a financial conference call, when what was an asset had become a liability.
"I know that you don’t break out revenue numbers for Fox News beyond the top line, but with 81 advertisers leaving the Glenn Beck show following the Color of Change action, the show now seems limited to in-house ads and gold ads. Do you have a time frame for how long Fox will subsidize the show until it to starts to generate revenue in line with its ratings? "
I wonder if some intrepid analyst will ask the same this quarter? Because this does have an impact on earnings. Carusone explains here on The Last Word with Larence O'Donnell: They should ask the question, but as a huge public media company, they don't have to break that data out. Smaller media companies couldn't hide the loses like News Corp can. (Did you know the New York Post loses about 110 million dollars EVERY SINGLE YEAR?)
I also contacted the business press and suggested they dig a little deeper into this story. If Beck wasn't making money, who was subsidizing him? Was this coming out of News Corp's revenue or Murdoch's pocket? Was there a Roger Ailes slush fund? Also, how many advertisers have left?
I knew, from my previous experience, more advertisers leave than are willing to admit or I could confirm. This means a bunch of pissed off ad sales reps at Fox News weren't making money on the Glenn Beck show. They were happy to leak and like a sieve they did. The New York Times reported that as of Sept. 21, 2010, 296 advertisers had asked that their commercials not be shown on Beck’s show.
I still didn't know exactly what that meant in millions of dollars, but it was more information to get to institutional investors. They would want to know "Who is paying for this money losing show and what are you doing to fix it?"
Coming next week, "What to do next about O'Reilly." Hint- Institutional investors