NBC’s Late Night Debacle: Their Own “New Coke” Experience
13 January 2010
It was 25 years ago that Coca-Cola launched “New Coke,” which quickly entered the annals of history as a collosal business mistake.
Today we may be witnessing a similar blunder with NBC’s ham-handed handling of the Leno-O’Brien-Fallon trio of talk show hosts.
And while it remains to others to judge whether the Leno prime-time experiment was a disaster or not, what is clear is that NBC’s handling of it certain is.
And herein lie some lessons for reputation managers.
While Coca-Cola took some deserved hits for rolling out a new product without really understanding what they were doing and the potential consequence, their response to that mistake was actually quite good. They may not have turned the proverbial lemon into lemonade, but their handling of the aftermath of the New Coke roll-out was admirable.
And that is where there is a divergence with the Tonight Show experience.
NBC clearly wasn’t ready to handle the fall-out from it’s seemingly rushed decision to shuffle the chairs on the deck, and it is being pounded for it. Worse so, because Leno and O’Brien enjoy the benefit of a pulpit from which they can take digs at their own employer, while NBC has to work through press releases and media interviews.
So what do we draw from this?
- Here is another example of how companies are judged not for the problem they experience, but their handling of the problem. Everybody knew that Jay Leno’s prime time show was a bit flat and expected the network to make some sort of change, but the “fire-ready-aim” approach employed by NBC has been more reminiscent of the Three Stooges than the well-oiled GE/NBC machine.
- It is impossible to overstate the importance of building goodwill before you need to draw on it. Leno and O’Brien have that goodwill; Jeff Zucker and NBC do not.
- Don’t lose control of the agenda! NBC did that when the media grabbed this before the network was ready (they originally said they’d deal with this AFTER the winter Olympic games), and NBC found itself in the position of playing catch-up to all the pundits (and it’s own hosts) chattering about this.
Looking back on the New Coke experience, we see that Coca-Cola executed the recovery better than the launch, possessed goodwill it could draw on, and regained control of the agenda.
At the end of the day, this Late Night debacle is terribly inconsequential; particularly in view of the current tragedy revealing itself in Haiti. But it serves as an abject lesson for those of us who don’t want to become the next “New Coke.”