It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But in television news, imitation is usually the sincerest form of panic and desperation.
Case in point: On June 3rd the Today Show’s Al Roker planted a prize in a park in Dallas, Texas, then gave out clues on Twitter and on the Today Show. This was a sad, weak attempt concocted by some producer to try to imitate the wildly successful and highly publicized good deeds of a mystery person in San Francisco. With the Twitter handle @HiddenCash, the mystery man hid cash in envelopes all over town and gave out clues via Twitter. He then moved on to other cities and other people copied his generous actions.
But the copycat effort by the Today Show made me truly embarrassed for NBC. Imagine the humiliation of knowing that very few people actually participated in the Today Show scavenger hunt. This dumb copycat imitation reconfirms my decision to leave television news in 1993.
The original mystery man told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had just closed a half-million dollar real estate deal and wanted to create a social experiment for good. The Today Show, however, was only attempting to create a social experiment for good ratings.
The lesson for those of you in PR and communications is that if you can be the first to imitate the success of someone else, you can likely get easier media coverage for it. If something big gets publicity at the national level, you can bet your local television news media is looking for a local angle. Just be warned, do it right, because doing it as poorly as the Today Show did it is just embarrassing and sad and opens you to mockery.
For proof of mockery, watch my favorite television program, The Daily Show. Here is a perfect example of The Daily Show observing some of the same ridiculous behavior that I observe.
The biggest difference between The Daily Show and television news is that The Daily Show has a better research team and is more committed to accuracy than any television news outlet on the planet.