An epic branding failure prevented Al Jazeera America from ever gaining traction and ultimately contributed to its demise, a nationally recognized public relations expert says.
Al Jazeera America said it would be shutting down at the end of April, leaving its more than 500 employees with uncertain futures.
“The Qatar-owned Al Jazeera America launched as an unknown startup cable network in America with an exceptionally foreign looking logo, music and news set that put its Middle Eastern connection front and center,” says Glenn Selig, founder and chief strategist at The Publicity Agency, a national PR firm. “It was called Al Jazeera America but didn’t seem at all American. In its two-plus years, the news operation may have produced award-winning news reports and earned critical acclaim for storytelling, but the branding of Al Jazeera America I believe turned off Americans and prevented many people from ever tuning in.”
Backed by the energy-rich country of Qatar, Al Jazeera debuted in 2013 with the goal of biting into the viewership of CNN, Fox Newschannel and MSNBC by producing high quality, hard-hitting journalism. But media critics raised questions about whether there was a propaganda factor that weighed into the editorial judgment at the network. Ratings were low from the start and the fledgling network never got traction.
Al Jazeera Network hired familiar faces to anchor and report the news, including former NBC Nightly News weekend anchor John Seigenthaler and former CNN business anchor Ali Velshi, but Selig says the anchors could not mask the foreign branding of the network.
Management at the network said what’s the blame for its closure is an inability to become competitive and make money.
“The economic landscape of the media environment has driven its strategic decision to wind down its operations and conclude its service,” Al Jazeera said in a statement.
Selig, a crisis management expert, believes viewers never tuned in to Al Jazeera America, or quickly tuned out, because they felt uncomfortable watching the network given its foreign and very Middle Eastern feel.
“The network does not feel American in any way. It feels foreign,” says Selig. “The network, in my opinion, should have Americanized, or went more neutral, with the branding.”
During its run, Al Jazeera America’s work was recognized with nearly every major award an American broadcast or digital news organization could receive, including the Peabody, Emmy, and the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University awards.
“Unfortunately even great journalism doesn’t trump bad PR and branding,” says Selig.
SOURCE: The Publicity Agency
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