How Oprah Impacted PR — And Why She'll Never Happen Again

Today’s blog post is from Hilary Allard of The Castle Group, our sister PRGN agency in Boston, Mass. With Oprah Winfrey’s final show in the can, Hilary muses on how the “Holy Grail” of PR placements — the Oprah endorsement — has changed over the last 25 years and why it will never be the same.
How Oprah Impacted PR — And Why She’ll Never Happen Again
“How can we get on ‘Oprah’?”
It is shocking to think that I will never hear this question again.
Nearly every company I have ever met with has asked this.  Start-ups. Established brands. People who had an idea but no funding. From every industry imaginable.
It got to a point where, during an introductory meeting, I would think, “Wait for it…,” anticipating the inevitable.
I’m just one PR person at one agency.  No one seemed to imagine that every PR person, in every city, was having the exact same conversation with their clients.
Oprah Winfrey, as a person, had a dramatic impact on the PR industry without trying.  Her success was built on her being herself – authentic, vulnerable, funny, honest, and one of the greatest American success stories.  She shared the best and worst of her life with millions of people, and took us along on her personal journey.
Despite her tremendous wealth, Oprah maintained the ability to be your girlfriend next door who asked you in for coffee.  During a recent show with Rob Lowe, she admitted to walking in on him during a clothing change, confessing: “He looked gooood.”  And that was the great thing about Oprah – she was a girlfriend sharing a secret.
That speaks to her magic as an endorser.  When Oprah picked her “Favorite Things” or her book club selections, it was like having your friend whisper, “This is the best.”  But even better, she did it on national television, and gave it away to the audience, and whipped them into a frenzy second only to, well, nothing.  (I define the “Oprah” audience reaction as, “The maximum reaction anyone can have to anything at any given time.”)
For all of these reasons – the endorsement, the exposure, the word-of-mouth and the inevitable product orders that would follow – the “Oprah” placement was the most coveted in all of PR land.  Everyone seemed to think that getting on the show was like waving a magic wand for instant business success.  There’s no doubt it did create enormous opportunity for many companies and authors.
But it’s over now and nothing like it will ever happen again.
The reason: technology.
Just as the show’s ratings diminished over the years – due to a shrinking pool of stay-at-home moms and an increase in viewing/entertainment options – so did the requests to be on the show. Where the desire to be on “Oprah” never diminished, the fervor with which clients addressed it waned over the years as they started to ask about other things: “How can we create a viral video for YouTube?”
While television is still important, the idea of “appointment television” has faded as people turn online for their entertainment.  There are a wealth of websites, blogs, social networks to turn to for anything at any time of day, fragmenting the audience.
Additionally, the ability to blog has allowed women across the country to, in effect, become their own “Oprahs,” sharing their good and bad hair days, tips for feeding fussy five year-olds, recipes for families on a budget and, yes, their “Favorite Things.”
Rather than trying to climb one crowded mountain for a “brass ring” placement, PR people have adapted by reading, researching and connecting with the blogger community and diving into social media to make authentic connections and create new ways of conveying their clients’ messages.
It’s a vastly different world than it was when Oprah first stepped on stage 25 years ago, and it’s exciting.
Personally, I’ll miss the show.  But I won’t miss the question.
What do you think? Anything to add?
Post your comments and thoughts below and email us at [email protected] and [email protected].
This post originally appeared on The Castle Blog.

3 thoughts on “How Oprah Impacted PR — And Why She'll Never Happen Again

  1. Thanks Hilary. I will definitely miss Oprah, even though I’m never home in time to watch her. Definitely the end of an era.

  2. Exactly right, Hilary. Oprah’s impact on PR as well as marketing will long remain. She is the ultimate “endorsement” and we won’t likely see anything similar again. Recalling the New Yorker’s Nancy Franklin who described the effect she had on her audience when giving away products on the show as “like what happens to a beehive when it’s batted.”

  3. Hilary – great post. We actually got on Oprah for our clients – twice! What a thrill. We’ll never have that high again. Thanks for contributing. Cheers, David

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