Wed. Sep 19th, 2018

The Gorilla Channel

I have written before about the importance of seizing opportunities when they present themselves. Today, I want to talk about one very specific missed opportunity. It didn’t come from the sports world, but a media outlet was involved and I think we can all learn a lot from the decisions that were made.

Last week, much of the national news surrounded Michael Wolfe’s book Fire and Fury about the first year inside Donald Trump’s White House. Many of the stories inside are salacious and have generated literally hours of content for media outlets of all types on both sides of the aisle. Whether or not you agree with the President that the book is pure fantasy doesn’t matter. You had an opinion about it.

On Friday, cartoonist Ben Ward, who tweets using the name @pixelatedboat, posted a fake screenshot that he jokingly claimed was from Fire and Fury. This phony snippet claimed that Donald Trump believed there was a television network that showed nothing but gorilla videos, and when his staff assembled the channel, Trump complained that it was too boring, so the staff edited out everything but the gorillas fighting.

Ward’s fake screenshot provided more details that made it clear this was satire. It didn’t matter. People and institutions of every political persuasion fell for it to the point that Ward had to change his Twitter headline to “the gorilla channel thing was a joke”.

#GorillaChannel was a trending topic all weekend. People were posting jokes about what might be on the Gorilla Channel. They were tweeting cable providers and DirecTV and asking why they didn’t carry the Gorilla Channel. It was a silly pop culture moment.

Saturday morning I woke up and thought for sure someone would cash in. I turned on Animal Planet. No gorillas. I flipped to National Geographic. No gorillas. Discovery? Again, 100% gorilla free.

Now, because of my time in rock and talk radio, I have good contacts at TV networks of all sorts, so I texted a friend who works in the media relations department of a network that runs a lot of nature themed programming and jokingly asked how they missed the golden opportunity to temporarily re-brand as The Gorilla Channel. I thought we’d exchange a few jokes and that would be that. Instead, I got the subject of today’s column.

My friend told me that the idea of a Gorilla Channel re-brand was kicked around. It didn’t happen for three main reasons.

  1. The network’s corporate ownership is not interested in ruffling feathers in the White House right now.
  2. The promotions and programming staffs could not agree on how to execute the idea.
  3. It became easier to dismiss the idea as an unnecessary way to cater to a niche audience on the internet than commit the resources necessary to bring it to fruition.

Let’s take these point by point.

There is really no lesson in point one. We’ve all been in a similar situation at some point. An idea you are passionate about makes management nervous and so it gets killed. You might get pissed, but what can you do? So let’s put that one in a box.

Points two and three are symptoms of each other that so often stand in the way of striking quickly to take advantage of a moment. Turning a large cable network into The Gorilla Channel in less than 12 hours take a lot of work. If the various staffs involved disagree on how that work should be divided or even what the end goal should be valuable time is lost. When valuable time is lost, it becomes easier to justify reasons for not executing your big idea than trying to succeed in a now shortened time window.

When a local team makes news for either the right or wrong reasons, when a trade goes down or a championship game at a far away location is coming up, start your planning with the end goal in mind. What do you want to accomplish? What message do you want to send? Next, determine what resources you’ll need. If my friend’s story about why The Gorilla Channel didn’t come to fruition taught me anything about interdepartmental collaboration, it’s that there has to be a single cohesive goal and vision for how to accomplish it. Otherwise, too much time is lost to brainstorming and potential bickering.

Local media should never stop swinging for the fences in being timely, topical and clever. Sure, you have less resources to work with than my friend at a large cable network does, but that also means less bureaucracy to deal with. Don’t let disorganization or stubbornness stand in the way of creating unique content or promotions.

I thought Ben Ward’s gorilla channel tweet was hysterical. Maybe you thought it was childish or even disrespectful. That is really inconsequential to the big picture of this cable network. We would all have been talking about them on Monday morning if they could have pulled their re-brand off. I can tell you for a fact that my DVR would have been running too. Now, it is a good idea that can never be used and valuable exposure the network can never get back. That’s all because the network wasn’t prepared to bring a timely idea to fruition.

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