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Friday, April 13, 2007

Imus Fired: So What Took Them So Long?

By Shakira M. Brown,

After a week of outrage from women, consumers, political and civil rights groups, Don Imus has been fired by the CBS Corporation. I would say his career was cut short, but with 40 plus years on the airwaves that seems a bit inappropriate. So let’s just say IT IS OVER for the crotchey radio man – at least on CBS. What surprises me is that his firing for uttering a truly offensive and senseless comment about a successful group of talented female athletes comes nearly eight days and many years too late. My question is – what took them so long?

This week, advertisers such as Proctor & Gamble and American Express, plus a host of others, pulled out on the Imus in the Morning program. MSNBC caved under pressure and cancelled its daily television broadcast of the radio show. And then CBS followed. I commend all of these companies for not supporting negative characterization of women and down-right ignorance – this time. However, I wonder if these organizations would have done the same thing if this tasteless incident was not covered widely in the press and various social media websites.

According to a CBS corporation internal memo from Les Moonves circulating on the internet, it seems that even CBS’ own employees spoke out against Mr. Imus. So with external and internal pressure mounting, CBS had no other choice but to let him go. I say it is long over due, because he has uttered countless other unsavory and racially charged comments over the years which seem to fall on deaf ears of the CBS brass on many occasions. But this whole scenario brings to mind the importance of who we do business with. We all should proceed with caution.

It is typical that marketing and advertising executives focus on the numbers and not the quality of content. In today’s socially conscious environment, we must begin to look beyond the numbers. Mr. Imus was no angel and his advertisers had to know this. But if advertisers really considered his track record, they would have ever financially supported his program in the first place? After all, no decent company would use advertising copy with the word “ho” or refer to Blacks as “You People.” So, why broadcast an advertisement during a program that does?

Some would argue that Mr. Imus also has committed himself to positive causes such as supporting a ranch for kids with cancer and hosting radiothons to support it. Unfortunately, throughout his career he consistently undermined the good work he was doing off-the-air by displaying bigotry on-the-air. It seems his advertisers were not alarmed at this until now. After all, their dollars supported the daily function of his program for many years.

I believe it is time to employ social responsibility in advertising. Advertising executives should have a clear understanding of what it is they are supporting when they buy time or space. Look beyond the numbers, examine the content and identify whether it complements the product or service you wish to sell. Perform your own due diligence and really think about whether your core audience would be offended by the vehicle in which you choose to deliver your message. Make all involved accountable for their behavior and commentary.

Some consumers are forgiving and can deal with tongue and cheek comments for the sake of a joke. But when similar comments are made that effect innocent people or worse, negative comments are made against individuals achieving the extraordinary, is where we all need to draw the line. I suggest before you approve your next advertising agreement, consider how your decision may impact the overall view of your brand. Remember, your advertising dollars support the medium you are using to share your messages. Make sure that the medium at the very least reflects your company’s mission and goals, so your product or service won’t get caught up in the next scandal.

Shakira Brown is an award-winning public relations and marketing professional with array of experience leading communications strategies for various entities. She can be reached at

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