This summer I became something I never thought I would be, or want to be. In fact, I’d never before used the word in a positive light, let alone aspire to become one. Yes…I’ve become a..a..a..consultant!
Some of you may have seen the really flattering news release, tweets and Linkedin posts from the kind folks at Detroit public relations firm Franco PR announcing my engagement with them as an “Integrated Media Consultant.” That’s lofty language for someone with a lotta miles on them in a position to perhaps share some guidance and insight based on 45 years of experience in journalism, broadcasting, social media and corporate public relations.
So why the initial turned up nose at the word “consultant?” To be honest, it started at my very first television job as a weekend weather guy at KGUN-TV in Tucson, Arizona, where I worked while earning my MA in journalism back in the late 1970’s. Our station had a kickass staff of reporters and videographers and actually paid better than our competition. The problem was, our ratings were awful–last in the market. How bad were they? If my memory serves me, reruns of MASH had a 40 share. The share for our early newscast, which followed directly after MASH was a measly 18. Now those were the days before remotes. Viewers had to actually get up off their chairs or sofas, walk over to the TV and switch channels. That’s how much they hated us. What to do? Call in consultants!
My station employed a pair of consultants–a fired news director and a woman who’s fashion sense could only be described, kindly, as, um, “industrial.” The first thing these idiots did was destroy everyone’s confidence. They spooked our anchor guy so much and made him so self-conscious he actually wrote himself a reminder on the set that said, “Don’t over-emote, don’t over gesture, don’t touch your pee-pee.” He’s not an anchor man anymore.
In my case they were borderline anti-Semitic. One of my signature things to say when only a light rain was forecast was to use the word “spritz.” My audience loved it since it’s not a word often heard in southern Arizona which made it memorable. When I was recognized on the street somewhere, often a viewer would smile and ask, “hey Ed, is it gonna spritz today?” It’s always helpful to have your own buzzword. But not according to our genius consultants. I was told to drop “spritz” because, they said, “it’s just too..um..Eastern!” I countered, “do you mean it’s too..um..Jewish?” The dynamic duo could only look at their Kmart shoes and stammer..”uh..no, of course not..um…why don’t we talk about your wardrobe?”
Ah..wardrobe! The woman consultant who’s favorite designer may have been Coleman, as in tents, deigned to offer advice on how to appear on television. Her sense of fashion leaned towards what someone like, oh, Oleg Cassini may have categorized as “tres fooking boring!” Then they told me to act “natural.” When I explained that I was, they offered, “well, try acting naturally a different way!” Hey..thanks! You morons.
The upshot of all this great advice? Our ratings sunk even lower, and they were fired. So was our news director and shortly thereafter, I was lucky enough to escape after landing a job with the then, up and coming CNN to help them launch their second network, then known as CNN2 and now HLN.
Well, that was my first, scarring experience with consultants and it always stayed with me. I know there are many, many fine consultants out there. I just had a bad first experience. Now it’s my turn in that position and I’m using that experience to help shape my approach. I know full well that people are always a bit suspicious of “that outside guy” and may feel threatened. I plan to be as good a listener as talker, simply offer some respectful insight into different ways of doing things, perhaps some advice and a lot of information. Use it as you wish, or not at all. Hopefully I’ll be helpful and at the least, get folks thinking and spark some creative ideas, all in the service of satisfying clients and of course, making money.
I just plan to act naturallly…in my own way. Hope it helps.