Another week, another high-profile news personality down in flames. This time it’s not #MeToo claiming another career; it’s actually a onetime #MeToo accuser herself, broadcaster Megyn Kelly.
While at Fox News, Kelly famously accused Roger Ailes of sexually harassing her early in her career at the network. In January 2017, she left Fox for NBC, where she was given a prime morning slot on the Today Show.
Now her show’s been cancelled at NBC, days after defending the practice of dressing up in blackface on Halloween during an on-air panel segment. Her comments resulted in a social media uproar and were greeted with dismay by her colleagues at Today, several of them African-American.
In her tearful apology the next day, the onetime lawyer said she was unaware of the shameful history of blackface and how it was used for decades to demean, degrade and dehumanize black people.
Is her formal exit from the network, expected this week and just half-way through an eye-popping $69 million contract, political correctness run amok? Did NBC act too harshly given her public apology? Or, as some have suggested, is the network simply using the incident as an excuse to fire Kelly in the face of declining viewership for Today since her arrival?
And, most importantly for us here at Provident and our clients, what lessons can we glean from what’s happened to Kelly? What would we have advised NBC and Kelly?
First and foremost, our message to NBC officials would be to know your audience. What viewers have they lost since Kelly’s hiring, and who do they want to bring back? Would firing Kelly send a powerful message that NBC values their patronage? And what about the customers, or viewers in this case, who might be lost if a company takes the drastic step to fire someone who might be considered by some as a brand ambassador?
A good communications advisory firm can help you answer those pressing questions, and quickly. By gauging public reaction and drilling deep to figure out what your customers care about -- including where they reside ideologically, financially and politically -- a savvy crisis management team can move with speed to assess what needs to be done. We suspect NBC already had internal marketing information that showed them Kelly was unpopular among the growing American demographics they and their advertisers are trying to build upon, like young people of colour.
As for Kelly? Her apology, unfortunately, couldn’t undo her history of making equally inappropriate statements on race over the course of her career at Fox. We suspect she may find herself back at Fox given her ideology seems more at home there, and Ailes has left the building, although Fox has initially suggested they don’t want her back. But for Fox News, it could prove to be a big get, given their viewers would likely sympathize with her plight, view her as a martyr and cheer her return.
But if Kelly wants to rebuild her reputation post-NBC in order to land on her feet at another mainstream broadcaster, our advice would be to dramatically rebuild her image.
A start would be to genuinely educate herself on the sensitive, simmering race issues that are nearly at full boil in the United States right now, and to try to make amends to those she’s offended over the years.