NPR: No Fun Allowed

We’re living in a red-hot news cycle, and no media outlet has benefited more than NPR. Their reliable, unbiased reporting has given stations a huge ratings boost.

All well-deserved.

I just wish NPR’s presentation weren’t so stiff and elitist. It’s intentionally obscure, geared toward old, white, highly-educated listeners. I feel like I’m being talked at, not talked to. I’m an outsider who’s not bright enough for the smart kids’ club.

At a time when people crave authenticity, NPR hosts can be aloof and humorless. That classic SNL skit about Alec Baldwin’s Schweddy Balls isn’t far off.

Why must NPR be so deadly serious?

It’s hard to listen with a straight face when reporters explore the mating habits of dung beetles. And don’t get me started on pledge drives. I feel for those poor hosts who must shill for donations in exchange for a cheap tote bag.

Here’s My Take. A few years ago, NPR was looking for a strategist to help evolve beyond their loyalists. I knew their reputation for rejecting advice from outsiders. But I had some ideas and took my shot.

I proposed making newcomers feel more welcome. Start by letting hosts sound more conversational and spontaneous. Be more quotable and less predictable.

Instead of a deep dive into Chinese yak farming, create topical, short-form features. Offer life lessons from respected thought leaders. Or get advice from CEO trailblazers like GM’s Mary Berra or Spanx’s Sara Blakely.

NPR’s writing can be so dry. Why not hire clever satirists to poke fun at current events? Several of their most popular shows are hilarious. Car Talk and Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me are downright funny – but decades old.

More of that, please.

In the end, the strategy position was never filled. Clearly, NPR prefers to breathe their own air.

Beau Phillips is President of Rainmaker Media. 
He’s a creative marketing consultant, strategist and speaker.
Reach him at 203-256-9347 

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