Shock Marketing: The Glenn Beck Method


Glenn Beck is killing it. TIME cover story, a Frank Rich op-ed in The New York Times, and—oh yeah—his hour-long show on Fox News Channel that on a good night can attract more than 6 million eyeballs. The Beck brand fires on all cylinders, according to TIME, with a web site that more than 5 million people per month read, best-selling books, a weekly podcast seen by 1.5 million, an online magazine and a series of live performances that have attracted more than 200,000 fans. His radio program is the nation's third-most popular, heard on almost 400 radio stations and on satellite.

But “popular” is not always synonymous with “invincible”—Beck’s rapid rise may have cost his personal brand some credibility, according to some. James Rucker of claims that 62 television advertisers have told his organization they will not be advertising on Glenn Beck’s program due to a boycott the group organized. A Fox News spokesperson told news industry blog TVNewser that those numbers are “wildly inaccurate on all fronts.” The truth is that some advertisers were not initially aware their ads were running specifically on Beck’s program, though they did request that Fox not run the ads on the program in the future.  

Losing advertisers may be embarrassing, but it’s also attention-getting: we don’t hear of Larry King or Brian Williams losing ad spots—but they also don’t enjoy Beck’s level of viral pull. Dan Schawbel, personal branding guru and author of “Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success,” believes Beck shouldn’t worry about advertisers pulling away. “Beck has been able to take his platform, grow it into a national presence, while becoming a #1 New York Times bestselling author multiple times over. Few can make those claims and he shouldn’t pay attention to advertisers who have lost interest because it’s a content driven world and the right ones will find him and make money!” Schawbel told MainStreet.

At the same time, though, Schawbel suggests that “to avoid going too far and having various repercussions, Beck should have someone who watches over him” to keep his language in check—there’s a fine line between TV provocateur and mainstream media outcast (think Don Imus). For the moment, though, Beck is riding the wave and dominating bestseller lists.  

If you are looking to stir things up and cash in on your own controversy, here’s how to do it—ideally without any of the negative side effects:

DO provide first-person opinion: Opinions spread faster, and cheaper, than advertisements or marketing slogans. Put your own views out there and prepare for the response. Don’t fret a few negative responses; if everyone agrees with you, your opinion is probably too milquetoast anyway. Entirely agreeable opinions don’t get talked about in the op-ed pages of the Times. As Schawbel explains, “Small business owners typically don’t have strong enough personal or corporate brands to leverage them for media opportunities.” Luckily this can be changed with a blog, regular pithy updates, and savvy social media outreach.

DO find a way to convert controversy into sales: Controversy is all but useless if you have nothing to sell. “Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine” is currently #16 on Amazon’s (Stock Quote: AMZN) sales list, and his “Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government” is already #3, even though it won’t be released until tomorrow.

DON’T stress out: If you’re following the Glenn Beck marketing system, don’t stress over any criticism. In fact, a nasty op-ed or blog post could be just the break you’ve been looking for! All press should be looked at favorably, according to Schawbel: “Nobody pays attention to someone who is neutral in their views and ‘normal’ in how they portray themselves. All press is good press because if you don’t create awareness for your brand, nobody will know about you and you’ll lose opportunities, both financially and career wise.”

DON’T back down: Once you say something publicly, it’s inexorably tied to you. If you recant something you’ve said, you will ultimately diminish your brand and rob your movement of momentum. Ever hear Glenn Beck say, “Sorry, I was wrong about that...”?  We can’t remember ever hearing it (OK, here’s one… kind of). There’s a method to his madness.

So create that huge awareness first, and worry about refining your image later on. Above all else, make sure your fans have an easy way to throw money your way, whether it be a premium subscriber Web site, a bestselling book, controversial DVD or paid appearances.


By the way, if you were wondering how this is all working out for Glenn Beck: estimates put his earnings at around $23 million per year, and growing. A little shock marketing can really pay off.


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