Conan the Marketer

My Tweet today read this: ” NBC, when you insult the E Street Band, you insult me. Leave Max (and #Conan) alone.”

From this, you can gather that I want Conan to stay the host of “The Tonight Show” in its current time slot.

Conan says this will not happen unless NBC leaves the show as is.

While I like Conan, I may have a different perspective on this than most people. I LOVE MAX WEINBERG. He is the world’s greatest drummer in the world’s greatest band, and he ultimately reports to a higher boss than Conan, yes, I’m talking about THE Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

All that aside, when I read Conan’s letter today to the “People of Earth,” I have to admit, my admiration for the host went up. Yes, there are greater things going on in the world than when “The Tonight Show” airs, and, yes, maybe Conan didn’t do as well as Jay did in the same time slot. Conan has a big future ahead of him, and if he decides to leave TV, he should really consider the world of marketing. Yeah, you heard me. Marketing. He’d be great at building brand and would be a social media sensation (actually, he already is that). Here’s his letter, and if you’ve read it, please skip down to see my thoughts on why he’s Conan the Marketer:

“People of Earth:

In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.


It’s great, right? So as marketers, and writers, what tips we can learn from Conan and this letter? Well, for starters:

1. Got a potential crisis or scandal, or thorny situation? State your case, be honest, and be professional. Conan doesn’t really bash NBC in this letter. He lets it be known that he doesn’t like the situation, he hates their decision, but he keeps it clean and he gets to the point. I have seen CEOs of companies, time and again, forget this simple PR tenant: be upfront and be clear. A+ Conan!

2. Twitter builds armies. Within an hour of this letter being published, it made the trending topics of Twitter and all of sudden we have a new term: Team Conan. I have been watching Twitter since this news first broke, and to my knowledge, it has not been a trending topic until this letter came out. If people are inspired enough by a particular subject, Twitter is the new gathering place to discuss that topic. The question is, how can you use it to your advantage, especially if you don’t have the Conan brand.

3. Humor can work in writing if used correctly. Most people aren’t as funny as Conan (although Camp Leno may think Conan is not funny at all), but he uses humor to his benefit. His use of it in this letter, apologizing for his hair, for example, keeps it in perspective. There were many tones this letter could have, and those touches of humor added a touch of humility. It’s easy to rant, and it’s really easy to let a big ego show. Conan used humor sparingly, and I, for one, liked him all the more for it. I think it made a lot of people want to rally for his cause.

4. Paint a picture through words: and Conan showed us the big picture. NBC, you are not just moving his time slot. You are moving Johnny Carson’s time slot; you are moving the time slot of a time-honored tradition, and more so, NBC, you are moving the time slot of two time honored traditions when you also move “The Late Show.” In fact, NBC, you are screwing around not just with Conan O’Brien, but all of America, all his predecessors, Jimmy Fallon, and by God, David Letterman. More so, to me (Conan didn’t go in this direction, but I will), you are moving Max Weinberg, which means you are actually messing with Bruce Springsteen. Shame on you, NBC. Shame, shame, shame.

I don’t know what will happen to “The Tonight Show,” but I know one thing is for certain. I’m watching it tonight.

One response to “Conan the Marketer

  1. Pingback: I’m With Coco, Too « Audacious Ink

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