By Michaela Lawson
A local hashtag became the top trending topic on Twitter and even received national response on Friday amid other big ticket news items – Russell Westbrook’s extension and the 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony to name a few.
The hashtag #ShopEdmond was besieged with responses on Twitter Friday after the lifestyle magazine Edmond Active said it had trademarked the phrase.
The Twitterverse heartily rejected this assertion, and the hashtag was used by outraged users posting everything from silly pictures to heated screeds about marketing and intellectual property law.
The long and short of the dilemma stemmed from the publisher of the lifestyle magazine Edmond Active, Sherri Hultner, trying to defend a trademarked phrase when used for marketing and advertising purposes. Hultner said the tweet was intended for businesses trying to leverage #ShopEdmond audiences for their own business without advertising with Edmond Active.
However, the tweet requesting people not to use the hashtag was seen as an attempt to keep the public from using the hashtag as well, which is what seemingly fueled the negative conversation.
“It’s not even really a hashtag that the public uses,” Hultner said in a phone interview with The Oklahoman. “It hasn’t been an issue except for three or four people grabbing it for marketing.”
Not only did the original tweet offend, though, but the initial responses between the brand and upset Twitter users – including the blocking of local reporter Brianna Bailey – caused the controversy to continue growing until was a nationally trending topic and garnered a response from the man who created the hashtag, Chris Messina.
So, how could things have gone differently?
In any misunderstanding or issue involving brands, the biggest factor to a successful resolution ultimately lies in the immediate response by the brand. Here are a few things to keep in mind when responding to a crisis on any scale through social media:
- Step back and look at the whole picture
By allowing yourself a little bit of time to figure out the best response to whatever is happening, you automatically decrease the possibility of making the problem worse through hastily drafted responses. Allow yourself the time to have consistent, thought-out responses to defuse the situation.
Often times, having the right people in your corner can make the difference. Seeing a situation from multiple perspectives helps identify your blind spots for an overall better response. You may even need to consider having a marketing firm to consult with regularly to prevent and effectively respond to situations like these when they occur.
- Be upfront, honest and transparent
Own up to your shortcomings in the situation. If you said something you shouldn’t have, apologize wholeheartedly to those you upset and try to right the wrong. If there has been a misunderstanding, apologize for being unclear and reconsider your message. Understand where the outrage is coming from and address that concern directly. People are more graceful when you admit wrongdoing than trying to defend it further.
- Respond as quickly as possible
Once you figure out the right approach to resolving the issue, you want to respond to the problem as quickly as possible to try to get in front of the problem before it becomes overbearing in responses. Shaping your own messaging is important for being able to frame the issue correctly before someone else can write their version of your story for you.
- Consider what you could do differently
For ongoing issues, see if there is another viable option to resolving the problem without going to social media about the concern. For #ShopEdmond specifically, we suggest reaching out to the few brands using the hashtag without advertising with the magazine. By approaching them directly, you have the opportunity to express your concern and possible establish a relationship that would lead to a partnership opportunity with those businesses as well. The entire Twitter backlash may have been avoided using this approach.
Ultimately, if you need help in a situation like this, know who to call. Oftentimes, there is a fine balance between dealing with crises effectively and making them worse. By having a plan in place for difficult times, you are able to learn to effectively handle issues when they inevitably rise for your business.
Since working at Smirk, I don’t think a single day has gone by (okay, maybe that’s a little exaggerated) without hearing Allie say something about the necessity of putting money behind brand content on social media.
And, low and behold, a recent study by the American Marketing Association has found that to be absolutely true.
The Journal of Marketing reports that, based on their findings regarding company-generated content, social media is “most effective when combined with ads.” Even more than that though, they found that brand messaging on social media “indeed increases sales and customer profitability.”
Of course the report was quick to emphasize that other forms of marketing – the more traditional routes – are not to be neglected. Although 90 percent of customer responses were found to be generated from digital ads, “marketers should strive to achieve a synergistic approach so that ads in all platforms work together to reach audiences in cadence to an established tone and message.”
So, how do we integrate social media – backed by marketing dollars – into our overall marketing campaigns?
The first step to all marketing decisions starts with defining your target market, followed by framing messaging for optimal performance among those audiences.
Only then can you locate where the desired audience spends most of their time, which in the past few years is oftentimes social media platforms. Knowing where and how your target audience communicates allows you to engage customers according to their preferences.
Various features have rolled out in the last few months and years on social media platforms that allow for more specific demographic reach within those networks. These tools allow us to know who we are communicating with in very real and quantifiable ways more than ever before.
To neglect social media is corporate suicide. So, it’s about time marketers recognized the importance of spending money where the audiences are – social media. And with that, making sure the right people with the right training are running those messages and ads on social platforms for the best results.
In the last 12 years of the evolving social media world, the number of users on platforms are ever-increasing, while marketers lack the confidence and skills for effective messaging on the different networks. The missed opportunities and lost revenue continues to build as the social media skills gap goes unaddressed.
By taking note of some of the causes of the social media skills gap and providing solutions to each, businesses and brands can move from baffled marketers to skilled managers.
Cause: Ever-changing platforms and features
It seems that every few months, at least one social platform has changed a feature – usually Facebook’s algorithm is the culprit of this cause of the increasing skill gap. Some months, it seems as though every platform is rolling out something new: Instagram’s account switching, Twitter’s optional algorithm, etc.
With ever-changing platform features, it can be difficult for brands to keep up with the latest trends on each social hub while still running their business efficiently and effectively.
Solution: Staying informed
Make time to stay informed on the latest trends in social media platforms. Set up Google Alerts for social media news to be pushed to you, rather than seeking it out yourself. Get connected with social media marketers on various platforms to see what they’re talking about in the social media news.
Cause: Lack of understanding social media expectations
Where users previously expected brands to only talk about their products and services, social media allows for two-sided relationships between brands and consumers. The wide adaptability of social media among consumers comes with their expectations to get answers to their questions on whichever platform they decide.
Solution: Know what is being said about your brand, respond
When consumers have either an extremely positive or a negative experience a product or service, they often times take to social media to tell their followers about it. Knowing where your brand is being talked about and what is being said is half of the customer service model on social media. Platforms give brands the opportunity to respond to their critics – and fans – in real-time with their complaints or praises.
Cause: Not receiving the proper education on social media
Unavoidably, many business owners and brand managers did not have a course on social media when they were in school. As a newer trend, these courses didn’t exist, or if they did, they were not comprehensive.
Solution: Social media and younger work generations
As social media becomes more and more prevalent with every new platform, their importance is being taught to the next generation of business owners, marketers and brand ambassadors. For current brand managers and business owners, there are various seminars and courses offered throughout the year educating on the latest and greatest of social media.
Smirk New Media is dedicated to keeping information channels open between brands and audiences. Through media training sessions and workshops for small business owners, Smirk aims to help bridge the social media skills gap.
Facebook’s Reactions feature rolled out globally in February and was met with excitement and criticism – as most things are – by people everywhere. After the initial dissatisfaction of Facebook still not having a “dislike” button, the Reactions available to users were embraced with excitement… and some confusion. Like all new things, it will take a little while to fully utilize the new feature. Ultimately, however, Facebook Reactions allow for more authentic engagement with posts.
The Smirk team sat down to discuss their favorite reaction, least favorite reaction and the advantages of reactions for brands and marketers.
What’s your favorite new reaction?
“I love the idea of the multiple reactions because as a user, it gives me more appropriate responses. I think people have already gravitated to that idea.
So far, I like “wow” and “haha” the best, because I think that is going to give us the most insight on how we make content better for these audiences. You want to elicit emotions in order to get engagement and, for lack of a better word, stickiness in the relationship between the brand and the audience.” – Mike Koehler, CEO and Chief Strategist
“Since the smirk isn’t an option yet, my favorite new reaction is the “love” sign because it’s a much more powerful sentiment than the original “like” and can help us gauge what content is resonating with the audience.” – Allie Carrick, Managing Director
“I honestly like all of them, but I think the “wow” and the heart are a tie for me. As marketers, you want to create content that moves people. It’s easy to get a “like,” but to create something that someone loves or takes them by surprise is a powerful thing. And now we can more accurately measure that.” – Kevin DeShazo, Senior Strategist
“I think my favorite reaction so far is the sad face. Not the most positive reaction, I know, but I’ve seen too many statuses and news articles over the years that has a certain mood that doesn’t quite fit the “like” reaction.” – Samaiyah Islam, Strategist
“My favorite Facebook reaction is “love”. The shape and color are the most distinct and it appears to make a wholly positive impression wherever it is left. I have seen it used primarily in three ways so far: people posting life events (such as engagements), people posting that they’re feeling sad (the “love” then being used as an “I love you”/”I am here for you”) and people posting screenshots of conversations in which they are being funny/arguing with someone and the “love” being used as a reward (“love the way you shut them down”, “love your sassy response”). The uses are so varied! Side note: I love that all of the reactions are animated on mobile.” – Kailey Emerson, Sales Strategist
“My favorite is the “love” reaction because it shows so much more emotion than just a simple “like”. As a user of Facebook, I appreciate the ability to show a wider range of response to a post beyond just a like. It’s nice that I can show that I saw the post without saying I “like” something sad or serious that may have happened in a friend/family member’s life.” – Lennon Patton, Sales Strategist
What’s your least favorite reaction?
“I guess I like the “like” reaction the least then, because that isn’t giving us as much information to drill down with.” – Mike
“I don’t think I have a least favorite, as all have a place. There are times when a post will make you sad or angry, and it should, so while some may see those as fueling negativity, I see them as a way to respond to posts that, for good reason, make us sad or angry.” – Kevin
“Because I am already used to seeing the “love” reaction used in a comforting way, I just can’t get behind the “sad” reaction. It’s too simple. I almost think the appeal of the other reactions is that they can be used in a wider variety of contexts. Maybe I just haven’t seen “sad” shine yet.” – Kailey
What can Facebook Reactions add to brands and managers?
“If we have a brand that can be a little cheekier with, these nuanced responses will help us do more of one kind of content and less of another. More real-time insights on Facebook are always great, because they allow us to pivot faster on the content creativity.” – Mike
“We’re always looking for new and improved ways to measure brand sentiment for our clients and the prospect of going beyond the “like” in a quick, easy format is exciting. For years, users have expressed that “like” just didn’t go far enough when they feel passionate about a piece of content.
I’m hoping the new reactions are just the tip of the iceberg in Facebook’s efforts to help users and brands connect and understand each other better. When brand managers have a deeper understanding of a Page’s digital audience, we can elevate our content — resulting in a better overall user experience. Plus, the easier it is for users to engage with our content, the more valuable this platform is for advertisers.” – Allie
“I like the 6 they have now, but one option would be too add a “confused/confusing” emoji reaction, for those posts that just make us scratch our heads and wonder what in the world we just read/saw.” – Kevin
“The new reactions feature will be great for managers because it gives them an idea of how their content is performing. Rather than just relieving a “lazy like” from your audience, you can see if people thought your content was funny or offensive. If you are getting a ton of “wow” or “angry” reactions on content that you didn’t mean to be controversial, you can get in front of the crisis and handle it accordingly.” – Samaiyah
“I think it will be another interesting aspect of engagement to measure. Right now, people are using the reactions in such varied ways, but I think over time there may be a more standardized usage and from there we can figure out how best to measure them. I am excited to see what it will reflect.” – Kailey
Smirk New Media is changing today.
That sentence has been many months in the making.
When I launched “a company” in 2010, it couldn’t even really be called that. It was just me, a used laptop and a bag full of hope and gumption.
Fast forward to today: We have a great team. We are trying new things while working on audacious goals. But Smirk New Media isn’t big enough to do all that we want to do.
Today we are launching two new companies. The first is pretty exciting. Doble R Media is a new brand which will take all of the best practices we’ve learned about marketing and deliver them to clients who are part of (or who are trying to reach) the Spanish-speaking market in Oklahoma City. This idea grew out of needs our clients had in 2015 and blossomed when we brought Liz Ramirez on board. Response has already been great to this brand, even before its official launch today. Liz will serve as Doble’s managing director. Please check out the new Doble R website at www.DobleR.Media
In conjunction with the Doble rollout is the creation of another new company – Smirk Solutions.
Smirk Solutions is my attempt to be Warren Buffett. 🙂 Smirk Solutions will serve the umbrella over all of our brands – Smirk New Media, Doble R Media, ‘Merica Media (which serves political campaigns and clients) and Social Network Staffing. This will allow me to work on an overall vision for all that we do, while empowering our team to execute and work closer with clients.
This is a great day. I couldn’t be happier with the work everyone has put into the success we have had in 2016. If you have any questions about working with us, for us or beside us, please feel free to reach out.
Onward and upward,
Twitter Flight School? What is it? Twitter launched Twitter Flight School, a free online education program, in 2014 “to help agencies learn how to build buzz, launch products, drive sales, and instantly connect with a highly engaged audience on Twitter.” In 2016, Flight School is now available to advertisers around the world in 16 languages despite their affiliation with an agency.
Eager to see what it was all about, I decided to enroll in classes. The first step was to choose a flight path: Buying & Execution, Account Leadership, Executive Leadership or Planning & Strategy. For my first set of lessons, I chose the “Planning & Strategy” flight path.
Lesson 1: Twitter 101
Twitter Connects You to the World: The motivationally moving look into what can be achieved through using Twitter is set up in a continuous scrolling lesson format. The “lesson” depicts a community of people tweeting about like interests and includes a high-energy video compilation of tweets during the World Cup. Finally, Twitter 101 explains what Twitter is, how the timeline works and the mechanics and anatomy of a tweet. The fundamental understanding of the way Twitter works segues into how people use Twitter to connect to brands.
People Connect to Brands on Twitter: The social media platform uses tweets and videos from brands like General Electric and Paige Denim to emphasize the idea that brands can connect to their audiences through Twitter by making their messages engaging and novel. One way that this is highlighted is through the use of video, specifically native to Twitter itself. Finally, Twitter breaks down the importance of online research for marketers on twitter into a sleek and simple bar graph that indicates stronger customer intent to buy based on their emotional response to brand messaging.
Twitter Drives Business Results: Research has shown that people want to find out about new products and brands on Twitter, showing that 64 percent of people on Twitter report having purchased a product, and 57 percent of people report having used Twitter to choose what stores to visit. This section of the Twitter 101 lesson features various case study snippets in which Twitter drove higher business results for brands, including Samsung, Audi and Budweiser. These results were shown to strengthen message association, expose brand favorability and lift, produce direct action and show advocacy of followers for the brands the love.
Tweets from the Top: To wrap up the first lesson, Twitter Flight School includes a section of tweets from large brands that talk about why using Twitter for brand promotion has been key for their company’s success. (Hooray!)
Flight Check: Finally, the part of the lesson where Twitter sees just how much I was paying attention to the lesson. Three hypothetical questions are asked about how you would respond to people saying certain assumptions about a brand’s proper use of Twitter. My result: I passed, of course, by picking the most positively worded and jargon-filled options.
I passed Twitter 101 and it was a breeze, but then again I’ve been using the platform since its inception in 2006. So, perhaps this section of Flight School is better formulated for the Twitter novice. I guess we’ll see next time as I fly through the next lesson: “Ultimate Guide to Content Planning”.
Goodbye little league, here I come MLB.
The “most wonderful time of the year” starts with the recognition and thanksgiving for all the little things. This Thanksgiving, we’re thankful for the benefits digital marketing gives businesses and folks like us who manage social media for our clients’ great brands. Here are some of the things we’re thankful for:
1. Shared experiences
“I am thankful for shared Twitter experiences. Whether it’s the latest rumbling of an Oklahoma earthquake, the last seconds ticking down on a Thunder game or whomever is stumbling up the steps at the Oscars, being able to joke, snark, question and cheer on Twitter is now and always has been a blessing. I strongly believe that Twitter has strengthened our community’s muscles over the past few years and 2015 was no different. We keep growing up as an online community – we support folks who lose their jobs, help new events find their footing and keep talking in 140 characters or less. Just this year we did it with more photos, more GIFs and more moments.”
– Mike Koehler, president and chief strategist
“I’m thankful for community. That’s what social media is to me. Groups of people passionate about similar causes, ideas and industries who connect, interact, share, support and spur each other on. It’s opened my eyes to people and perspectives I otherwise wouldn’t have known or considered, helping to build empathy. Community is a powerful thing, and I’m thankful for the community that social media provides.”
– Kevin DeShazo, senior strategist
3. Higher marketing standards
“I am thankful that social media has not just changed the marketing game, but raised the bar. The traditional sales pitch is dead and I’m not sad to see it go. Unlike media outlets of the past, platforms, like Facebook, design their advertising standards putting the customer experience first to cultivate a captive audience. They limit overly promotional content and reward brands for creativity, originality and relevance to their target audience. Some see this change as an inconvenience, but I see it as a big opportunity. Those willing to adapt stand out amongst their competitors and are experiencing the benefits. Brands using social media well are creating more personal, conversational customer relationships than ever before, resulting in a positive impact on in their customer service, sales and community.”
– Allie Carrick, senior strategist
4. Local connections and information
“I am grateful that we live in a time where we can witness connections being fostered and help being given over social media platforms. It has been heartwarming to see local restaurants/suppliers reach out to nonprofits to supply food for Thanksgiving dinners across the state – like Other Options.
I am also thankful that businesses of all kinds are increasingly active on social media, as it allows us to find their Thanksgiving plans with ease; restaurants are tweeting their specials, their holiday hours, and generally connecting with their followers. Take Pie Junkie for example!”
– Lennon Patton, sales strategist
5. Creative sharing
“I’m thankful for the wealth of free or low cost creative sources available to the public. Artists of all forms contribute free resources of photos, graphics and fonts to make good content stand out. Programs like Canva give users with limited graphic design experience the ability to create professional graphics in preset dimensions for all of the digital platforms – social media, email, blogs, etc. Other low cost and free resources provide easy access to photography, mockups or graphics. More than the visual representations, however, the free resource of ideas, information and studies make content creation easier. By observing the digital world around us, these resources give us the ability to expand on ideas and create new trends.”
– Michaela Lawson, intern
Social media and the digital age have given us much more to be thankful for than just these perks, and the upcoming year will bring even more to be thankful for.
In an attempt to “give the people what they want”, Facebook announced a new update to the news feed for users. Individuals can now prioritize their news stories to show their friends, family and favorite pages before seeing stories from everyone else they follow.
The rest of their news feed will still update as normal beneath the prioritized information, but now people don’t need to see the mindless updates about spiders on porches and their former roommates’ seventh kitten before seeing their cousin’s engagement photos and favorite band’s newly announced tour dates.
The update also gives users the ability to unfollow people, reconnect with people they previously unfollowed and discover new pages based on previous liking activity.
As always, this change to the platform can be either harmful or helpful for brands. The challenge brands now face is being relevant enough to be deemed a priority by your audience . In that challenge, though, is the opportunity to be seen above the clutter by the people that care the most about your brand and the people that are more likely to take action based on your messages.
In the struggle of being heard among the masses, loyalty is key. Loyal followers are more likely to deem your information important and prioritize your posts above your competitors. So, you don’t get lost in the crowd of brand page posts and your treasured audience’s attention is all yours.
Last year, Facebook started making changes to the news feed based on user complaints about the promoted content of pages they followed. These updated news feeds resulted in pages being penalized for overly promotional and unoriginal content.
As Facebook continues to weed out overly promotional content from pages, brands have the opportunity to reform their sales pitches into genuine transparent relationships with the people that care about their message.
Brands have the opportunity now, more than ever, to give individuals personal relationships. People are increasingly interested in the behind-the-scenes exclusives that brands have to offer.
Facebook keeps digital marketers on their toes, to say the least. New ways of reaching audiences are constantly surfacing or being redefined. The once photo-dominated platform is now responding more and more to video content. In fact, photos only reach half of the audience that videos can, according to MarketingLand. Granted, the content still needs to be engaging, creative and unique to the audience. Here’s a breakdown of how much organic reach each mode of communication is receiving on Facebook:
But this landscape is ever-changing with Facebook’s announcement that the platform will now be supporting GIF (pronounced “JIF”) animation in the news feed. Now, users are able to express themselves in one of the Internet’s purest forms of expression – short, animated images played on a continuous loop.
These short snippets of hilarity seem endless in all their glory from social media to text messages, GIFs rule communication circles everywhere. Adding this ability to Facebook’s timeline allows users to continue expressing themselves through others’ captured expressions as they deem fit.
However, this option is not yet available for brands, but the inevitable extension to brands will ultimately change the face of organic reach on Facebook again. The use of animated GIFs, however, open new opportunities for businesses to succeed or fail.
GIFs on brand Pages have the potential to:
- Add personality to tweets and customer responses.
- Make content more viral and share-worthy.
- Creative way to feature new products or exclusives.
- Highlight brand culture with your own content.
Ultimately, Facebook has added another step to the pathway of communication today. And it’s a step that brands are desperate to be a part of to try and reach their audiences with one more outlet of communication.
Editor’s note: A little bit of self-indulgence today and, I think, a gift to all of you. I asked my dear friend Matt Derrick to write a blog about his thoughts on David Letterman. Matt is a public relations and marketing pro from Kansas City, who sometimes works under the Smirk New Media banner. We bonded as teenagers over our shared love of Dave. That bond has lasted to this day as we see the way Dave has shaped the roots of the way we work, write and live. Thanks to Matt. Enjoy this great piece. – Mike Koehler.
BY MATT DERRICK
As we count down to the final hour of the television era headlined by David Letterman, there are countless tributes and accolades coming from every corner of the entertainment world.
Letterman inspired generations of comics, actors, writers and even everyday dumb guys like yours truly. Even though many others have delivered incredibly brilliant odes to Dave (check out Conan O’Brien’s salute to see what I mean), I think it’s worth telling my story.
I grew up as the child of a single mom, and fortunately my mom had a great job to help take care of us. On the downside, the job required her to travel a lot during my youth. I stayed with my grandparents during the week when my mom traveled.
From my earliest age, I was a night owl. My grandparents old farmhouse had three bedrooms for themselves, four of their kids and me. Until I graduated from a crib, I slept in my grandparents’ room, which meant I kept their schedule. Even when I moved up to a big boy bed, it was always a battle to get me to sleep. Everyone discovered the best way to get me to down for the night was to let me crash in the living room with the TV.
That’s where I first started picking up my sense of humor and appreciation for comedy. I would fall asleep to the sounds of Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” and even the occasional “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” Like many of you, I’m completely perplexed why my Ozarks grandparents ever watched “Mary Hartman.”
It was on one of those nights that I saw David Letterman for the first time. I can’t tell you the context. Dave was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show” in those days, and even hosted the show himself 51 times. All I know is that I thought this guy was funny, and it stuck with me.
Flash forward to the summer of 1980. I was eight years old, and that summer my mom got a promotion at work. For some strange reason, her new job didn’t start for a few more months, so they told her she didn’t have to come back to work until the new job began. We spent a lot of time together that summer, and it was one of my favorite childhood summers.
That was the year that Dave hosted his ill-fated morning show. “The David Letterman Show” was one of the most wonderful TV disasters of all time. I think my mom and I were the only people to watch the show, along with a few thousand future comics and prisoners who had lost their library privileges. It was groundbreaking television that almost no one watched and even fewer people understood. But it was awesome.
In my fuzzy memory, my mom and I watched almost all 90 episodes. It probably wasn’t that many. We watched enough for me to remember bits featuring the likes of Edie McClurg and Rich Hall along with future late night staples Stupid Pet Tricks and Small Town News. Venerable newsman Edwin Newman was there for some reason, since we all need the occasional news update in the middle of a comedy show It was on just long enough to set me on a path for the rest of my life.
By the time Dave made the move to late night in 1982, I was still a night owl. But even my mom wasn’t crazy enough to let me stay up late enough to watch Dave. In Springfield, Mo., back then, the show didn’t even come on until midnight, due to reruns of “M*A*S*H” and other assorted syndicated sitcom reruns. It was a few years before Dave moved to 11:30 in Springfield and the show extended to five nights a week so that I could watch on Fridays when there was no school the next day.
Lucky for me, my mother was ahead of her time when it came to technology. We had a VCR, so I was able to record Dave for watching the next afternoon. Eventually even that was not enough; I would sneak out of bed and place a tape recorder next to the TV when Dave came on so I could listen to the tape on the bus ride the next morning.
I still have one of those tapes, and that tape is the Rosetta Stone to understanding my personality and sense of humor. The show is from 1986 and features guests Howard Stern and comedian Steven Wright. There was a tie at No. 1 on the list of Top Ten Cool Things About the Druids: they died out in the early fifth century and they partied like it was 1999.
In those early days, my obsession with Dave was a lonely pursuit. I didn’t have a lot of friends who watched the show and appreciated his brand of comedy. The first friend I made who loved Dave as much as I did was Mike Koehler. I met Mike our freshman year of high school, and we quickly struck up a friendship around Dave. We would make our own top ten lists, passing them back and forth during class. Mike had a copy of the “The Late Night with David Letterman” book, which I believe I borrowed and accidentally drowned when a pipe burst in the basement. (Did I ever make that up to you? I managed to later obtain a fully dry version for my personal archive).
Once I realized that I wasn’t alone, it was easier to show my love of Dave on the outside and express my humor outward rather than keep it to myself. I was never a class clown and I know even my friends thought I was goofy, but it felt better knowing I wasn’t alone. Liking Dave suddenly became a litmus test for me — if you like Letterman, I like you. If you don’t like Dave, I needed to dig deeper to see if I can trust you.
On June 7, 1991, I was driving up to Kansas City with my mother. The plan was to spend the weekend watching the Royals and do a little shopping.
Since Johnny Carson had announced his retirement for May 1992, the speculation regarding his successor was intense. I was a student of the broadcasting business, so I wasn’t ignorant of the case for Jay Leno. Leno was funny, and had handled being the permanent guest host on the show quite well. But Jay wasn’t Dave. To me, the decision was quite simple.
Carson was the King of Late Night, but by 1991 it was in name only. Carson’s earlier time slot delivered the bigger audience, but Arsenio Hall’s success had showed there were dents in the empire. Letterman’s audience was smaller, but his share of younger viewers craved by advertisers was much larger; as a result, “Late Night” was a bigger cash cow for NBC than “The Tonight Show.”
As we were driving along Highway 13 near Osceola, Mo., the news broke on our radio — NBC had named Leno as the new host of “The Tonight Show.”
I was perplexed and angry. This was long before we knew about the machinations behind the scenes that Leno and his team had pulled to get him the gig. It baffled me that Leno would even pursue the job knowing that Letterman was Carson’s rightful heir.
Long before they were network TV stars, Leno and Letterman were just another couple of comics on the standup circuit. Leno was the bigger name in the clubs, and many comedians coming up in the ‘70s owed a lot to Leno setting the tone for modern standup comics, Letterman chief among them. When Letterman got his own show, he didn’t forget who his friends were.
Leno appeared on “Late Night” more than any other comic, and his visits to studio 6A were must-watch events. Without that exposure, Leno never gets the guest hosting gig on “The Tonight Show.” In the ‘80s, Dave made Jay a star.
It was baffling that Jay would steal “The Tonight Show” chair from Dave. This was an act of betrayal. It was a life lesson for me. I learned that success in the business and broadcast worlds took more than just doing the best job. I learned that even among your friends, sometimes you have to watch your back.
Seeing Dave not get his dream job was a punch in the gut to me. It was another reminder that maybe I was outside the mainstream. Sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn. And what happened next changed my outlook for the rest of my life.
From the ashes of losing “The Tonight Show,” David Letterman went on one of the greatest streaks ever seen in television.
It took some time before things heated up, but once Dave took the heartbreak of his loss and channeled it into his art, amazing things began to happen. Dave had tested the chains of NBC before, but that had more to do with pushing the boundaries of television than with the restrictions of a stodgy corporate owner.
Dave getting free of the NBC leash was like seeing a flame-throwing pitcher going out for the 7th game of the World Series — there was no tomorrow, so he left everything he had on the field. The last year of “Late Night” was among his best, even compared to the groundbreaking early days when everything he did was brand new.
Letterman’s free agency also coincided with the early rise of online content delivery. It wasn’t exactly the Internet we know today, but through Prodigy, Compuserve and America Online along with Gopher and Telnet and whatever else we could use to connect online, more information was available than ever before. Every day had new rumors and reports. One week Letterman seemed bound for ABC, another day it was Fox. Rumors even began swirling that NBC was realizing the error of its ways and still might dump Jay for Dave.
The news that Dave would bolt for CBS was oddly bittersweet. The dream scenario was always that somehow Dave would get “The Tonight Show” back and have his name etched alongside Allen, Parr and Carson. But the reality was that “The Tonight Show” was damaged goods. It wasn’t Carson’s chair anymore; it was Leno’s. Since the Golden Era of Television, “The Tonight Show” had been the only franchise of late night. That era was coming to an end.
The move to CBS seemed like a Herculean task but one full of such incredible promise. For the better part of five decades, NBC owned late night in dominating fashion. The best CBS could muster had been the run of “Crimetime After Primetime” that saw the launch of “Silk Stockings,” which later helped bring the USA cable network to prominence. But Letterman, on Broadway, in the Ed Sullivan Theater? It was either going to be a runaway smash or a colossal failure, nothing in between.
In public relations-speak, there’s a phrase called “winning the press conference.” It’s largely a concept of the cable and Internet era, when press conferences stopped being aimed at the media and instead targeted consumers as well. I’m not sure anyone has ever studies the etymology of the phrase, but I think it’s safe to say the first person to ever win the press conference was Letterman.
Within the span of ten minutes, Letterman transitioned from the no-good punk kid always breaking the rules to the $14 million man ready to restore prestige to late night. Self-deprecating, confident, gracious and humble all at the same time, Letterman turned in a performance at the press conference that was one of a kind.
Dave’s move to CBS added another phrase to the pop culture lexicon: intellectual property. In the drama and acrimony of Dave’s departure, NBC threatened to sue Letterman and CBS if any of his old NBC material was used on the new show. Boy meets girl, girl tells boy she wants to date other people, boy meets new girl, old girl threatens to boy for intellectual property theft. It’s a classic America love story.
Letterman’s good-bye at NBC was the late night talk show at its best. Tom Hanks delivered one of the greatest appearances by a talk show guest ever. Dave could barely contain his giddiness in introducing surprise musical guest Bruce Springsteen. The Boss and the World’s Most Dangerous Band jamming “Glory Days” was a mic-dropping moment.
In the fall of 1992 I transferred to the University of Missouri in Columbia to study broadcast journalism. At Missouri, my fandom of Dave was no longer a liability. I made friends who understood me and appreciated Dave like I did. Well, maybe not like I did. But close.
When “The Late Show with David Letterman” premiered in August 1993, I held a watch party in my dorm room with my closest friends. KRCG in mid Missouri continued airing a rerun of “M*A*S*H” at 10:30, so Dave didn’t come out until 11. I called and wrote the station repeatedly to complain, along with enough other people that they eventually caved and moved the show to it’s God-given time slot.
NBC made the genius counter-programming move of airing the first “Late Night” episodes as reruns in Dave’s old time slot. Ever the archivist, I wanted to tape both shows. My friends Beth Keithly and Laura Hammock helped me out by recording the old “Late Night” episodes on their VCR. I still have those tapes today.
One of my fellow Close Personal Friends of Dave was Bill Beustring. We found out how to send for tickets for the new “Late Show,” and requested seats for spring break 1994. Bill got tickets in the mail but I didn’t. We had made a pledge that we would go together but for a variety of reasons, Bill couldn’t go and our friend Beth got the other ticket. Beth was from Philadelphia, which meant I could drive to Philly and stay with her family. We would take the train to New York City for my trip to Mecca.
Episode No. 126 on March 15, 1994 was everything I hoped it would be. All-around great talk show Jay Thomas was on the show, followed by the soon-to-be-legendary Kevin Spacey and musical guest Crash Test Dummies. Thomas was great, but the highlight of the show was Spacey doing his Johnny Carson impersonation. It remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in person.
Beth and I (mostly me) desperately wanted to get some attention from Dave. Knowing he’s a big sports fan, we picked up a sweatshirt before we left campus celebrating the Missouri Tigers basketball team’s perfect 14-0 season in the Big Eight. During the train ride to New York, we wrote a note to Dave to go along with the gift. The general gist of the note was begging for a canned ham.
Upon arriving in the city we went to Broadway and scoped out the theater, checking in to see when we needed to get in line to get the best seats. We headed to lunch at the Hello Deli around the corner to meeting Rupert Jee and then hit K&L’s Rock America to meet Mujibur and Sirajul (Mujibur was off that day, but we got our picture taken with Sirajul).
Our next stop was the CBS gift shop at Black Rock for Dave mugs, t-shirts and other souvenirs, then we made the trek to the GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to take the NBC tour. With Dave-mania well underway, the NBC tour had turned into the Dave tour. The tour leaders knew the drill by now that almost every question was going to be about Letterman. “Did Dave every walk down this hallway?” “Did you ever meet Letterman?” “Is there anything of Letterman’s still here?” When we walked in to studios and offices, the tour guide would lead off with any Letterman-related trivia or sadly tell us, “David Letterman never came in here.”
When we got back to the Ed Sullivan Theater, the line had already started to form. We wouldn’t be in the front row, but we would get decent seats. The ushers and pages came out and told us that if anyone had any gifts for Dave, they would take them. We handed off our sweatshirt and the note addressed to Dave.
As we entered the theater, we were told new pages had started that day and the training and line setup was taking longer than usual. There wouldn’t be as much warmup as usual and we would need to quickly take our seats. The pages started filling up the theater on the right side (stage left). It looked like we would be in the first 10 rows for sure. As we were walking down the aisle, one of the pages came up to Beth and I and said, “You two follow me.” Instead of taking us down with the others, we took a left and walked to the end of the aisle near the end of the aisle closer to the band and behind the cameras.
I of course knew my theater geography. This was a prime camera position, a shot that was always on TV and where Dave would come when he entered the audience or Pea Boy would run screaming through. Thoughts of playing Know Your Current Events or Know Your Cuts of Meat danced through my head.
Watching the production of the show live enriched the viewer experience. Inside gags with the audience became crystal clear. Dave came out before the show and asked if anyone in the audience spoke Italian. A guy in the back raised his hand and Dave shouted some Italian phrases at him. Throughout the monologue, Dave would occasional say a word in Italian and we would laugh hysterically. During commercial breaks, Dave recorded promos for local stations.
Returning from one break, Dave said directly to the camera, “Sometimes during commercials, I read to the audience.” More laughter.
During the monologue Dave made a joke about the McDonald’s shamrock shake and the Whitewater scandal, then said, “Will the last Arkansas attorney leaving the White House please turn out the lights?” Then it happened. Beth and I were on national TV. It was just a few seconds, just a shot of us clapping and laughing.
What can I say. I choked. Out of the corner of my eye I saw myself on the monitor. I got self-conscious and flinched, straightening up a bit. My laughter turned to a slightly more serious pursing of the lips.
When the camera came back, Dave was staring at the monitor too. It looked like he wanted to make a joke about the dumb guy in the audience. He strolled toward the camera and after a moment started speaking Italian again. My moment was over. But the day lives forever in my heart.
Letterman’s first year at CBS was nothing television had ever seen. “The Late Show” was a streaking comet. Despite some affiliates still delaying the show’s start by a half hour or more and a weak CBS primetime lineup, the ratings were still through the roof. The first weeks and months saw ratings rivaling primetime audiences. I clipped a newspaper article about a study of the “The Letterman Effect,” which claimed that the number of people staying up later to watch Letterman was reducing American economic productivity in the tens of millions of dollars.
Suddenly, everything Dave was cool. As a Dave fan, I felt cool. It was great to be at cool kids’ table.
When you reach the pinnacle, there is unfortunately nowhere to go but down. First was the 1995 Oscars hosted by Letterman. I thought it was hysterical and classic Dave. But Hollywood likes their hosts less impudent and more one of their own (think Billy Crystal) I still don’t think Dave’s performance was as bad as they critics did, but I’m obviously completely biased. Oh, and yes, I still have the 1995 Oscars on VHS.
By the time Hugh Grant appeared on “The Tonight Show” in July 1995, the ratings race had gotten much closer. While Jay never had the DiMaggio-esque hit streak Dave had during his first 18 months at CBS, he consistently won the ratings war.
I’m not sure there is a definitive reason why Leno won out in the long run. Cable TV absolutely fractured the audience — Dave wasn’t competing as much against Leno as he was against a generation of performers, writers and comics he inspired. I like to think that in the long-run, America loves McDonald’s even though filet mignon is better. I liked Jay when he appeared on “Late Night” in the ‘80s, but I think he sold his soul to the devil to play to common denominator. I like that Dave never did that.
But while Dave maybe not have been the ratings champion he was once, he was still the once and future king of late night. That was never more evident than in the new century.
January 2000 was one of the most stressful months of my life. It started with great optimism — I landed a new job. I had been laid off in November, and was fortunate to find a great job that I would come to love. I was to start on Jan. 17.
On Jan. 13, my mom called me to let me know she was at hospital. She had been having abdominal pain and they were going to admit her to the hospital. I’m an only child to a single mother, so I’m a huge mama’s boy. The idea of my mother being in the hospital and not knowing what was wrong drove me crazy.
It was a fitful and stressful week. It took several days of tests and procedures before the doctor’s finally determined it was my mother’s gall bladder causing the problem. The lowlight of the hospital stay was when I was on the phone with my mother’s insurance company as they were rushing here into surgery to remove her gall bladder. The woman on the other end of the phone said they could not authorize the procedure without verbal consent from the patient. I explained that my mother was in severe pain and already heading under sedation. To make sure they would pay the tab, I had to put the phone to mother’s mouth and tell her, “Just say the word, ‘Yes’.“ It was mind-boggling.
It was in my mother’s hospital room when we heard the news. David Letterman had been rushed to emergency surgery for a quintuple bypass. I’ve never met Dave Letterman. He’s just a guy on TV. My own mother was in the hospital, and my priorities were clear. It broke my heart to hear about Dave, but my mom’s my mom. The two situations were not even comparable.
But yet in ways they were. My memories of watching Dave over the years with my mother forever intertwined the two. Today, my mother lives with us due to her health, and we still occasionally watch Dave together. Watching the Christmas show together is one of our favorite holiday traditions. It’s just not Christmas without Jay Thomas’s Lone Ranger story, knocking the meatball off the tree and hearing Darlene Love.
There was an eerie parallel to have my mom and Dave in peril at the same time. It rocked my foundation and was my first real face-to-face look at our mortality.
Just like every other American, I’ll always remember the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I was driving on Interstate in Kansas City heading to work when the local talk radio station cut to live updates regarding reports of a small plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers. I was on Interstate 435 driving through Baytown when a reporter was interviewing an eyewitness of the earlier crash. Suddenly the witness cried out, “Oh my god!” The second plane crashed and it was clear the world had just changed.
We all walked around in a fog for a week. No one knew what to do. Going about our jobs seemed pointless. Even as we fatigued from the news coverage, it seemed impossible to move about with life as normal since nothing was normal anymore.
I was never more proud to been a Dave fan than the night of Sept. 17, 2001. That night, Dave made it OK to go to work again. He made it OK to watch TV again. He made it OK to laugh again.
Dave’s conversation with America that night was one of the most critical performances in TV history. America is resilient, and we would have recovered without a guy hosting a late night TV show telling us how he feels. But it’s exactly what we all needed to hear. It was what I needed to hear.
Throughout the first decade of the new century, Letterman was the elder statesman of American culture. Nothing was significant without Dave’s input. “The Late Show” even played a pivotal role in two separate presidential elections.
Even for Dave fanatics such as myself, we know the man is not perfect. Some of his imperfections I understand. In some ways I think we are similar people. In other ways we are quite different.
The criticisms of Dave as being prickly or mean spirited never bothered me. The prickly part I understood because I appreciate from where it originates. By all accounts, Letterman is incredibly self-critical. I’m the same way. Nothing I do is ever perfect or good enough. I can find fault with everything I do. I’ll be sending this blog to my friend Mike for publishing soon, and after that it will be hard for me to read again. I will find errors and thoughts that could be expressed better that will embarrass me to the point that I won’t want anyone to see them. It’s just the way I’m wired.
Where we differ is that my inner critic attacks only me. I think my friends and colleagues would generally describe me as likable and respectful, and I take pride in that. While Dave may have influenced my sense of humor and how my creativity works, my family had a great influence on my temperament. It’s important to me to respect others.
In 2009, Letterman found himself in a situation I could never understand and I wish had never happened. Letterman announced on his show that he was the victim of a blackmail scheme centered on threats to reveal his inappropriate relationships with several women who worked on his show.
The revelation hurt for many reasons, chief among them the pain this had to inflict upon his family. It also hurt because Dave had disappointed me. For the first time, I couldn’t condone or defend what he had done.
But there were two takeaways from the the incident that made an impact with me. One was how Dave handled the situation. In his position, it would have been easy and perhaps even tempting to pay off the blackmailer and deny what he had done. That’s the preferred PR play of the American celebrity. But he didn’t do that. He went to the authorities, he did the right thing, he came clean and he apologized. I couldn’t exactly say I respected it, but I appreciated he took responsibility for his actions.
The other takeaway was how I judge my family and friends. I have friends who have cheated on their spouses. I have friends who have engaged in inappropriate workplace behavior. I have friends who have made mistakes. I may not love what they did, but I still love them. I wouldn’t be the person I want to be if I did forgive them and find a way to support them. That’s how I felt about Dave too.
I entered denial about Dave’s retirement a few months ago. Life is busy, and things happen, so I have been as regular a viewer in recent years as I once was. I still DVR the show every night, but I don’t watch every episode.
You would think I would be watching every episode with baited breath as Dave says goodbye, but I haven’t. I don’t want to say goodbye. I’ve been watching clips posted on Facebook and reading about the show, but I haven’t been watching. I’ve been recording all the shows so I can watch them in the weeks to come. I don’t want to wake up Thursday morning and realize I’ll never watch Dave again. I want to put off that feeling as long as I can.
I will watch the final episode Wednesday because I want to share the experience as we all say goodbye to Dave. A few weeks ago my friend Lori Collier sent me a copy of the cookbook by Dave’s Mom, and I’m going to make a meal inspired by Dave. I’ll watch the show and let it sink in.
As I mentioned before, I’ve never met David Letterman. But he’s been one of the most influential people in my life. The last 35 years watching Dave have been a blast.
As the ride comes to an end, I have only one regret, which is why I’m writing this.
Thanks, Dave. Thanks for everything.