The man who hired him to go on-camera revealed in USA Today last week that Tim Russert repeatedly refused because, he said, he was ugly. Finally he gave in and said yes. He didn't change the way he looked.
But if the camera didn't love him, the people sure did. I'd like to talk to you today about why Tim Russert engendered such affection from such a large swath of the population, and see if there might be a lesson or two for us in the marketing business.
Before I continue, let's be clear: Despite what you may have seen on TV, not everyone loved Tim Russert. There are those on the right who believe, and have stated loudly in recent days, that Russert carried a leftward media bias and attempted to shield it under the premise of journalistic impartiality. I can see some validity to their point of view. I want to acknowledge it and dispense with it, because it's not what I want to talk about here.
The thing about Mr. Russert I do want to talk about was his personal commitment to the truth -- as he saw it -- and the difference that made in the way people responded to him and felt about him.
When Mr. Russert died of a heart attack working in the NBC studios in Washington last Friday, you could almost say than an era ended. He was a law-school graduate and for the Sunday morning news show Meet the Press, which he hosted, he would prepare just as a winning prosecutor would prepare for a case. Week after week, Mr. Russert would spend hours digging through files, news clips, interviews, speech transcripts, and probably whatever else he could get his hands on to be over-prepared for one hour on television that about four million people were said to watch.
No one else reporting or analyzing news on TV could measure up. Not even close.
Tim Russert was tough as nails when he found contradictions between what a politician had said at one time and what the politician had said at another. But unlike some of his more insecure and intellectually lazy media counterparts (on the left, in the mainstream, and on the right alike), Mr. Russert was always civil, and yes, you could say, respectful in tone.
And off-camera, in his career as a reporter and Washington bureau chief for NBC, it was said he was both a fierce competitor and a career benefactor. He helped rookies get into the swing of things. He helped his NBC colleagues do a better job. Some brave politicians, like Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, even said that Mr. Russert made them better politicians because of his tough and uncompromising standards in the interviews he conducted.
As someone who grew up in the Washington suburbs and worked in rough-and-tumble journalism in D.C. and New York, I can tell you it's no bed of roses and there are probably some aspects of Mr. Russert that aren't quite so laudable, that we'll never hear about. No matter. I'm pretty sure that, just like the media publicity machine has been proclaiming since his death last Friday, Tim Russert really was one of the good guys.
I think that came through, over the airwaves and through the cable boxes. There was an essential optimism and generosity to the man, and people could sense that. He was the quintessence of goofiness with his sports mania, and the diametric opposite of cool and hip in his personal style, but you could just tell, he was a regular guy. He cared and he did what he thought was right. Just about all of the time, it seemed.
Now how this applies to marketers and marketing is in two ways. The first one you're sort of stuck with. If you happen to be a caring and generous person, that will work in your favor. If you're not, well, what can I say? Nobody's perfect, after all. This is a big world and there's room for all of us to succeed on our own merits. You've got to play your best cards, whatever they are.
But there's one thing about Mr. Russert that anyone can use to their advantage -- it they're willing to work for it. Mr. Russert did his homework. Not occasionally. Not half-heartedly. He did it 100%, 100% of the time.
(Now you could say that he did too much, too often, and that was part of what led to his death by heart attack at age 58. But if he had spent less time working and more time taking care of his health, he might have lasted a lot longer AND he still could have given 100%, 100% of the time during the hypothetical fewer hours he was working.)
With my private mentoring clients, I repeatedly point out the truth sells better than a bunch of persuasive-sounding concoctions -- but you have to work harder to sell with the truth. You have to really do your homework and put all of your effort into the copy you are writing.
If you have ever had the privilege of hearing John Carlton describe how he creates a sales letter, you will instantly know what I mean. John's copy is very emotionally evocative, but it is based on facts, which come from research. Hard, methodical, detective-like research.
He takes his time and he doesn't cut corners.
And the copy makes millions.
A couple of other top, top, top A-list copywriters who have registered their names as trademarks, so I won't risk trademark infringement by naming them here, do exactly the same thing. Dig, dig, dig.
In case you're curious, this same work-habit, and its same highly profitable effects, have held true over time.
In fact, many years ago, the piano ad that caused a six-year backlog in orders for a piano manufacturer was the result of poring over the facts and searching for that one gem that would cause the dam to break (the dam of customer demand). I wrote about that in the first issue of the World Copywriting Newsletter. (If you haven't subscribed yet, you can now by clicking here.)
So that is the lesson. Most people think advertising is filled lies and half-truths. And -- let's be blunt -- a lot of it is. Even some of the most successful ads are, but, eventually, the people behind them get penalized, sometimes fined, and sometimes put in jail.
Selling with the truth is not easy. But it is possible. The most successful sales letter I ever wrote, which grossed $40 million for a six-person company, was based on a handful of facts I dug out of hours and hours and hours of research about the company.
Note: The company wasn't lying in its advertising before, but it wasn't including any of the facts I found either. And its previous advertising was delivering a big fat zero in results.
So, to sum up: Tim Russert may have had, as they say in the trade, "a face made for radio," but his devotion to the truth, as he saw it, was legendary -- and beautiful. And that devotion was the major contributing factor to his being the most influential and revered journalist of his generation.
Could your work-habits and approach to marketing benefit from that revelation?
Publisher, World Copywriting Blog