Katie, you’ve made a few mistakes as you’ve prepared to take over the anchor desk at CBS next week, but others can be avoided.
This is unsolicited advice from a veteran of the TV public relations business. I have spent my life representing clients in TV to the media. It is also free, which may indicate its value.
You and CBS have already made the biggest mistake possible in your transition from Today to The CBS Evening News. You became bigger than the news. I do not think that this was your intention. Remember, this is a change of job, not a coronation.
Becoming, rather than reporting, the story is what hurt Dan Rather. The highlights include walking off the set when the tennis matches ran late, “Courage,” the sweater and finally the bogus George Bush National Guard memo.
Bob Scheiffer is the opposite. Follow his example. Just report the news. Avoid any statement suggesting that you are anointed to change the face of TV news, make it more “relevant” or give us something that we have been missing. Do not believe your own publicity. Above all, avoid drama. It is not for nothing that the ratings for The CBS Evening News have climbed since Scheiffer took the anchor chair. There is much to be said for doing what one does with a minimum of fuss. It inspires confidence. There are plenty of competent journalists and readers out there, many of whom can pick up the ball if you drop it. The public know this. If you take yourself too seriously, they will smell it, and they will avoid you the same way they avoided Rather.
It is not too late to reverse some of the mistakes that have already taken place. Among them is the “listening tour.” You are not running for office. Lose the Hillary Clinton playbook. The “listening tour” was a bad idea badly executed. How does it look for a journalist to bar journalists from public events? Pretty awful. Your response to questions at the CBS affiliates meeting in June falls under the same heading. Not all journos are geniuses. It is legitimate to ask how you will handle the transition from feature-laden Today to the more compressed Evening News. While it should be clear to any observer of TV that your role on Today spanned the full range of TV news, it is not a good idea to get hot under the collar at that question or at any other question. If you expect the public to buy it when you dish it out, you have to take it.
Do not isolate yourself behind a wall of flacks. It is unbecoming in a journalist. A good publicist will advise you, promote you and defend you, but will not form a phalanx around you. In your role, you have to be accessible to the press. Anything less is hypocrisy. After all, you are the press. You have a boatload of public good will as you start your new job. Don’t squander it.
All good wishes and good luck in the new gig,
Ted Faraone is an old New York-based PR man. He can be reached at 212-489-1313 or [email protected].