What Biden’s Howard Stern Interview Reveals About the Importance of Storytelling & Expanding Opportunities

By Maury Tobin and Debra Zimmerman Murphey

There is an overabundance of misinformation today in the global info-sphere, which means accuracy and context aren’t staples anymore. They are luxuries, and strategic communicators should be at the forefront of rejecting the notion that it’s suitable for facts and context to be luxuries.  

Ironically, this presents an opportunity for those of us who are strategic communicators. 

In a deep dive, President Biden was interviewed last week on The Howard Stern Show — something that might have been deemed off-color years ago, but that’s no longer the case because Stern’s program has largely been mainstreamed by SiriusXM. Biden’s people understand that they need to break their orthodoxy and change up his exposure.  

That Stern episode reminded us of a moment when Tobin Communications, Inc. (TCI), and a labor and business coalition client, had a PR windfall. As part of a strategic communications campaign we created for the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition, TCI netted a rare news spotlight on the Stern show during a Radio Media Tour (RMT). 

It was 2018 and we were in the midst of a long-term public affairs initiative to win a legislative milestone investment, from Congress, for the nation’s aging transportation network. 

It wasn’t a sexy topic; it wasn’t even a well-understood issue by many Americans, but by telling stories about the state of the nation’s infrastructure all over the country, we began shaping a narrative that still has prominence. (Just think of the focus after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore and the continued bipartisan drumbeat for ongoing support for America’s bridges.) 

An audio segment from one of the syndicate network radio interviews was picked up by the show. Stern and his colleague, Robin Quivers, discussed ATM Executive Director Ed Mortimer and national infrastructure needs. At the time, Trump was president and “Infrastructure Week” had become a riff because his administration wasn’t moving on any new policy. 

Here’s a link to Mortimer’s Howard Stern audio clip.

The Stern show was a great moment and one that significantly boosted our client’s national profile and brought much-needed attention, spawning interactions with the endeavor’s communications platforms. 

Non-Traditional Media Opportunities and Some Lessons for PR Pros

In recent decades, the media universe has ruptured and is reconstituting. Constituent and stakeholder audiences are dividing into smaller and more “tribal” segments. 

In addition to the media opportunities communications professionals identify in standard legwork, it’s important to consider and mine all kinds of media endpoints (newspapers, radio, social and videos) as pathways to elevate messaging.

Here Are 4 Takeaways:

1. Flexibility matters. Don’t be rigid, and try to persuade your client not to be rigid too. We advise clients they shouldn’t get stuck on the outcomes, but rather focus on results that build relationships and position them as interesting, engaged, accessible and credible. In other words, engender sustainable PR. 

The information and “news” landscape have segmented audiences and there are platforms and players — both conventional and atypical — that require that PR strategists cannot think linearly. In some instances, pitching someone for a longer interview (more rare today) might be the right move and, in other moments, social media might provide a cost-effective route. 

2. Reach out and speak to people you may not have worked with or targeted previously, and also regularly touch base with your contacts.

Before knowing how things would unfold, Trump initially provided a smart playbook when he availed himself to many opportunities and media hosts, ushering in tremendous grassroots support. 

Now we see Biden opening himself up, too, and it works when you see a range of media operations as viable campaign channels. We are not suggesting courting “anti” or conspiracy types. We are suggesting ways of building genuine dialogue that elevates your clients’ stories. 

3. Enhance and cultivate media prospects and partners who span a range of shared interests and touch-points. 

That means you have to keep monitoring what your competitors are doing and what your budget supports, and honing how you shape spokespeople as honest influencers. It’s helpful if you see audiences as somewhat hierarchically horizontal, not vertical. 

We, for instance, are political enthusiasts and like listening to Joe Trippi’s podcast, however many people might consider him a B lister.

But that B has far-reaching gravitas because of the breadth and depth of the insight from his podcast guests. The show’s capital are its stellar content and trustworthy voices. 

Good content and careful planning help build reputation-based outcomes. 

4. Embrace building multimedia content, such as videos, podcasts, blog articles and email newsletters, that can be used in narrowcasting tactics. 

The idea is that PR execs use content distribution channels such as YouTube, LinkedIn, social media or microsites, to create proprietary publishing platforms. You can reach stakeholders, prominent newsmakers, opinion leaders and journalists. 

What we know as strategic communicators is that we still want to build a rapport with prominent information providers and we still want to rely on the skills that PR experts should have. This includes sticking to facts, educating key publics, and offering resources. 

Strategic communicators can help identify problems before they happen and understand the best way to position clients because good judgment is, unfortunately, a flagging attribute today.

Maury Tobin is the President of Tobin Communications, Inc., a firm he founded in 1996 that provides integrated campaign and digital services. Debra Zimmerman Murphey is a VP of the firm, writer and content creator. She is a former journalist whose experience includes being a senior editor of PR NEWS.