About Silence, Megyn Kelly and the Struggle to Control Your Story

After becoming sole owner of my business, I asked my staff to give me some ideas on how to solidify our brand in the public affairs market. High on their list – a regular blog about what we do at Rapp Strategies. 

For the first edition of About 500 Words, let me shed a little light on how we encourage clients to manage their story.

Recently, Star Tribune political reporter J. Patrick Coolican asked his morning blog readers whether the silence of Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, was a good idea in the face of a tweetstorm from President Trump. My answer to Patrick, which he was nice enough to republish, was basically, “Silence is rarely a strategy.”

In my experience, silence is used to avoid making any other decisions, and people rationalize that they will only make things worse if they speak.

In fact, silence is an invitation to lose control of your story by allowing others to shape public opinion of you and your organization. The modern information age will spread those opinions with great speed and reach. That means when you change your mind about speaking, you will be responding to the way that others have defined you or your issue.

But speaking out doesn’t mean you have to babble endlessly. You should control what you say, when you say it, where you say it and how often you repeat it. An undisciplined or inconsistent story can be as risky as silence.

Which brings me to Megyn Kelly, who has seen a significant loss of viewership during her first eight months hosting the third hour of NBC’s Today franchise. To some extent, Kelly is not to blame. The network made a huge change in the format of its flagship program and by doing so, risked giving viewers a good reason to check out what Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest are saying on another network. 

Megyn Kelly has reached a critical moment of self-analysis – how can she reconnect with The Today Show’s core audience? When interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about her ratings struggles, Kelly’s response was a head scratcher that caught my attention:

“There are definitely some who only know me through some caricature they learned about on ‘The Daily Show’.”

I’m not sure if The Daily Show’s audience overlaps with the demographic losses The Today Show faces. However, if Kelly’s quote accurately reflects her challenge, she needs to look a little closer in the mirror to find the real problem.

After seven years hosting for Fox News, publishing a bestselling autobiography and benefitting from a massive NBC promotional campaign, there are only two reasons why Megyn Kelly would be defined by a caricature on The Daily Show:

  1. The Megyn Kelly story, after all this time, sounds incomplete or self-contradictory; and/or
  2. The Daily Show’s caricature is more believable than NBC’s promotional campaign.

I’m not looking for The Today Show’s business, as Rapp Strategies doesn’t promote entertainers. But Rapp Strategies does help clients shape understanding. Sometimes we help with an issue in the public domain, while other times we help build and/or protect reputations of companies and organizations. 

In either situation, the basic strategy is the same. First, if you expect others to listen and care about your concerns, you need to speak. Second, the story that you tell needs to be honest, consistent and connect with audiences.

Finally, if you want others to step up and support you, they need to know that you are willing to step up and support yourself. 

After all, you can’t shape understanding through silence, or by using a story that your audience doesn’t believe.

In future blogs, I will write about what makes me passionate about my job – developing strategy, managing issues, preventing crises and building capacity to communicate successfully. 

I will also write about politics. Minnesota Public Radio gives me a great opportunity to analyze today’s political landscape, but sometimes I will have something to say that can’t wait until my next appearance.

And from time to time, I might write about some things outside of work that interest me – sports, my family or 70’s music. It will be interesting to see if I can work in a Meat Loaf reference.

I hope you will join me. I will try to keep it to About 500 Words next time.

Todd Rapp