Advertisers need Imus, no matter how crude
By Robert Trigaux, Times Business Editor
Published April 16, 2007
Next week, General Electric - owner of NBC and MSNBC, which until several days ago was the cable home of morning talk-radio host Don Imus - holds its annual shareholders meeting.
I doubt the Imus fiasco was on GE's meeting agenda. It probably will be now.
That Imus, at 66 a master of the nasty remark, has lasted so long on the airwaves seems remarkable. That MSNBC and CBS decided that his apology for a comment about the Rutgers' women's basketball team was inadequate, and that Imus must go, is largely a business decision.
Imus generated a lotta dough for his corporate partners. And a lot of publicity for his guests, even those insulted by Imus.
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and his wife, Suzy Wetlaufer- no pushovers, this couple - were interviewed by Imus this month about their book, Winning. As noted by BusinessWeek's David Kiley, Imus joked before and after about Wetlaufer: "Suzy," Imus panned, "has been around more times than a fan belt."
Why put up with that nonsense? Welch told Kiley: "We have a book to sell and Imus is great for selling books."
People can get away with a lot if they can deliver an audience.
Imus advertisers were never in short supply, even during the many past flaps when Imus took some heat for off-color remarks.
Answer this. Had the Fortune 500 companies that supported Imus with advertising chosen this time not to drop their ads, would Imus be out in the cold?
And how long will things take to cool before a risk-taker like satellite radio decides Imus is too much the golden goose and signs him to a juicy contract to be back on the air?
The Imus show was supported by a Who's Who of Corporate America. It was led last year in ad dollars by GM's $691,700 and Sprint Nextel's $363,000. His top 10 advertisers combined to spend nearly $3-million.
For corporations seeking the biggest bang for their ad dollar, shock jocks like Imus can be irresistible because they attract so many loyal viewers and listeners. But when they step over that wavering line of public decency - at least when a fickle public pays attention, as it did with the insult to the Rutgers team - then companies pay a price.
Among the big Imus advertisers, Procter & Gamble was among the handful to quickly disassociate itself from his remarks and then his show. Other corporations soon followed, expressing appropriate indignation.
But privately, somewhere in those corporate halls, there is fretting. Imus just cost his advertisers plenty of inconvenience "now where will we advertise and get such an audience?" and undesired publicity.
Tampa Bay readers may recall the public outcry over our own former radio shock jock, Bubba the Love Sponge, and his infamous on-air castration of a pig or his show's depiction of cartoon characters discussing sexual activities. Advertisers eventually fled, but not without regrets at the loss of marketing efficiency.
"Personally, I couldn't stand Bubba," Cherie Wenstrom, a vice president of ad agency Wenstrom Communications in Clearwater, told this newspaper in 2004. "But there's nobody else offering what he did."
Audience. That's the rub. Imus will be back.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8405.
[Last modified April 13, 2007, 22:57:58]
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