Morning Show Changes Give Media Strategists Something to Think About

For clients and PRs, the Today show is a tremendous media hit. So the tumult at the show over the past couple of months should have media specialists paying close attention. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the enormity of a hit on GMA. And specialists have to keep watch to see if Ann Curry’s departure will dramatically change the Today show program.

The fact that a shift in the anchor lineup can attract so much attention speaks to Today‘s high media position. Speaking with Piers Morgan a few weeks ago, Lauer admitted that “the show is not where I want it to be right now,” but wouldn’t address whether Curry was the reason for the show’s ratings drop. (Lauer signed a “long-term”contract with the program for a reported $25 million per year.)

Today had been the morning show ratings winner for 16 years straight (!) before slipping behind Good Morning Americafor one week in April. It has fallen behind GMA a few times more since then. As with anything else, when there are signs that you’re falling off your game, you look for ways to reclaim greatness.

The New York Times, which broke the story about the plans to replace Curry yesterday, says making the change is a delicate matter with the network now giving lots of thought to who will be Lauer’s perfect partner. “Mr. Lauer and Ms. Curry notably lack the kind of on-camera rapport of Mr. Lauer with Ms. Vieira and, before her, with Ms. Couric,” the article says. Curry has only held her position for a year.

Morning programming is a rare beast among media. It has to be informative without hitting people over the head with too much before they have their coffee. It has to cater to a demographic that wants to know what’s happening in overseas politics as much as it wants to get suggestions on how to dress for the season. It’s human interest and hard news and entertainment all in one. And it’s a live broadcast.

The Today show’s ability to capture all of that is what makes it a continued ratings winner and, by extension, an aspirational goal for marketers and PRs who spend their time coming up with ways that their brand might fit in. While GMA and the CBS This Morning are great places to land a media hit — always have been and always will be — the Today show has the caché and the numbers that are sure to send clients and execs over the moon.

Though the show went on as usual this morning, the debut of a new anchor is going to generate a level of attention that will bode well for anything else that appears on those first few shows. After that, the ratings war will continue and PRs will persist in their efforts to secure a spot for their clients. The Today show is seeking a fresh dynamic. So media pros will be best advised to keep a close watch on what exactly that turns out to be in order for their pitches to strike the right notes.