When Companies Cannot Admit Failure

Jay Leno, host of the Tonight Show. Cropped fr...

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NBC took a big gamble when they moved Jay Leno to primetime and it obviously hasn’t worked out. Now they are canceling the prime time show and contemplating putting him back to late night, which itself is complex now as they gave his old job to Conan O’Brien.

What caps my hide about this story, however, is the way NBC has handled the news. NBC has said the show “didn’t meet affiliates’ needs” and that the show performed “exactly as we anticipated on the network.” NBC is saying here, it’s not our fault, the show was fine, blame the affiliates. The painful truth, however, which is clear to everyone is that the show wasn’t very good and very few people were watching. Critics didn’t like it and the general buzz was bad. So if the show really performed “exactly as we anticipated on the network.” that’s pretty sad and it’s no wonder NBC is the last place network.

I don’t know why companies feel they cannot admit failure. Customers will not punish you for failure, only continual failure and an inability or lack of desire to fix things. This is why AT&T is taking such a beating lately. Their network is failing in certain cities and they have been slow to correct the problems and even admit the seriousness of them. That’s what people are most upset about. Admit openly and honestly you have a problem and than get on it. Customers will be patient, for a time. But if you will not admit your failures and you issue trite press statements that smack of ridiculousness in the face of the facts, you will be punished. We are in a very media savvy society; people understand the game now. It would have been so easy for NBC to say something like, we are constantly innovating and pushing the envelope with our content. Jay Leno in primetime did not work the way we imagined so we are changing things up. We anticipate an exciting new line up, including our popular late night programming.

Bill O’Reilly likes so say his show is a “no spin zone”. The entire world is a no spin zone now. PR people are traditionally trained to control the story, even guide it if you can. A traditional PR approach to this NBC/Leno story would be to control the damage on what is basically a negative for the network. But of course the problem is there is no control anymore and there doesn’t even need to be any damage. By admitting your own failure and presenting a plan to correct things and move forward you take away the very weapon others could use against you. When the emperor has no clothes, he shouldn’t parade around as if he does. It’s a new media world now and we can all see you naked.

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