Open Mic

Being There: You Want To Rebrand, But a Lot of Your Customers Have No Faith In The New Name You’ve Chosen

Chuck Ross Posted August 23, 2010 at 6:52 AM

That seems to be the dilemma Krista Tippett faces.

Tippett is the creator and host of one of the most enjoyable, enlightening programs I’ve ever heard. It’s not on TV—it’s on radio and available as podcasts on the Internet.

Most regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of National Public Radio. Here in L.A. we’re in our cars a lot, and I listen to a lot of NPR.

What’s interesting about a lot of NPR stations is that they also take programming from the nation’s second largest producer of public radio shows, American Public Media.

American Public Media produces Garrison Keillor’s popular entertainment program “Prairie Home Companion,” the financial show “Marketplace,” the food show “The Splendid Table,” and Tippett’s program.

Like a good many of Tippett’s fans, I found the show by accident years ago. It’s called “Speaking of Faith.”

Shows dealing with religion are generally a tough sell—unless you are really into religion. But before you click your mouse to go to another story, stick with me a little longer.

What so many of us find appealing about Tippett and her show is that it may be the most intellectually stimulating program in media today, but not in a boring, didactic way.

Thanks to Tippett, it’s damn entertaining as well. Besides being blessed with a voice that almost shouts out to you “this is compelling and don’t touch that dial,” her choice of subjects and subject matter is practically flawless. Most of the shows are interviews, and in the way some music critics say that country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons never made a bad record, Tippett may never have done a bad interview or asked a question that wasn’t spot on.

Many of the guests on “Speaking of Faith” I’ve not heard of before I hear them on the show.

The subject matter on “Speaking of Faith” is exactly what it should be as it encapsulates the name of the show in both the most specific and general of ways.

From the show’s website, here’s an explanation of what I mean by that: “From elephant vocalization (Katy Payne) to quantum physics (John Polkinghorne), from the Sunni-Shia divide (Vali Nasr) to the novelist as God (Mary Doria Russell), from forensic pathology (Mercedes Doretti) to torture (Darius Rejali), from parenting (Sandy Sasso) to play (Stuart Brown), from the meaning of intelligence (Mike Rose) to Obama's theologian (David Brooks + E.J. Dionne), what we cover as "conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas" drives towards ancient, animating questions at the heart of the great traditions and beyond them: What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to love? How to be of service to each other and to the world?”

The show has been airing on a weekly basis for the past seven years. It’s won everything from a Peabody to a Webby. The show's website can be found here, at www.speakingoffaith.org.

One of the biggest surprises to regular listeners like myself came several weeks ago in a blog Tippett wrote on the show’s website. The blog itself that she wrote can be found here.

Tippett wrote that come Sept. 16, 2010, the show she created would be rebranded from “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett” to “Krista Tippett on Being.”

Tippett explained in the blog that, “We believe that Being is also a title with room to grow into, while Speaking of Faith has taken us as far in public media as it could. As much as we filled it with new meaning, the program’s title remained an obstacle for many programmers and listeners. The story we have heard again and again is that people have had to get over the title, or find themselves listening to the show by accident, before they were ready to give themselves over to our content. We have heard that, for religious and non-religious people alike, the title Speaking of Faith makes it hard to talk about the program with friends and family — to spread the word “virally,” as word spreads in our time.”

Tippett also said she wasn’t crazy about the “Being” at first, but that it’s grown on her.

She also made this statement, “This process of discernment that we might want and need to change the name of the program has been one of the most surprising learnings of the past year, which has been a period both of solidifying the program’s strengths and of continuing to experiment.”

I’m not sure what that means. Sounds like perhaps she hired a consultant to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all aspects of the show, and one of the recommendations by the consultant was to change the name of the program.

As you might expect, since Tippett first posted that blog several weeks ago, all hell has broken loose.

There are a number of one-off comments to the blog supporting the name change. Not a lot of other users then check off that they “like” these comments. .

On the other have there are a lot of negative comments that get checked by about two dozen or more people who agree with the negative comment.

A sample of the latter:
DFerrar commented, “I've been listening to the show for some time, so I understand the reasoning behind the title change. I am, however, not in favor of it. ‘Speaking of Faith’ clearly delineates the subject matter of the program: discussions of faith, belief and philosophy, and I know from my experiences of the program that this subject matter is also discussed in terms of its impact on daily life.

“ ‘Being’, however, is impossibly vague. No potential listener will understand the oeuvre of the program from this title. It could be a diet or exercise program. It could be a listener call-in program about relationship problems or psychological health. It could be about poetry. It could be about a lot of things, and does not succinctly depict the focus of the show at all. Yes, it is a title to ‘grow into,’ because it's so hopelessly vague that it can encompass thousands of disparate things.

“Is Krista Tippett now such a global celebrity that people will instantly understand what it means to hear her discuss ‘being’? I don't think so. The fact that my local NPR station ‘downgraded’ the show from a Sunday 11 am slot to a 6 am slot rather demonstrates that people weren't actively seeking it out with the original title. The title change will, I think, cause the unwitting to shrug their shoulders and move on, without having listened to a single episode of this enlightening and uplifting show.”

In fact, a number of people who have commented are appalled that Tippett’s name comes first with the rebranding.

Kate Moos, the show’s managing producer, has repeatedly responded on the blog that “The idea of Krista's name in the title is not about celebrity. Our research showed that her name was as closely associated with the program as the title SoF itself, and we felt it was important to let people know that Krista remained the host, and central to the program's editorial vision. "Being with Krista Tippett" didn't work, for many reasons.”

One of the main reasons it doesn’t work, Moos writes in other posts, is what she says is the unfortunate double-entendre meaning of “Being with Krista Tippett.”

Moos also says that the plan is for the show to really be referred to as “Being” and not “Krista Tippett on Being.”

Here’s another comment from someone not in favor of the rebranding. This is from someone calling himself Prince Lackadasia: [“ ‘Speaking of Faith’ ] has always been about speaking with passion and creative engagement about those things which are of central importance but exceptionally difficult to talk about in our culture.

“Even the name itself challenged conventional categories and simplistic meanings about the boundaries of religion, belief, spirituality and ethics. Given the show's content, the name “Speaking of Faith” was as much a challenge to Christians as non-Christians, believers as well as atheists. The name change feels a bit like you are caving in to the narrow categories of our culture, searching for the lowest common denominator that puts no one off. Disappointing....”

We’ll quote one more commenter, Frank Toia: “My first tendency is to say ‘Anything Krista Tippett does is OK with me.’

“But when I'm honest with myself I really don't like the new name AT ALL!

" ‘Speaking of Faith’ with its subtitle stretches the meaning of the word ‘faith’ for religious and non-religious people alike. It is precisely because so many of us have too narrow a definition of the word ‘faith’ that I would like to see it stay in the title.

“By using that title and then having people on the show who have something important to say to us, even though they may not be interested in religion, says something important to believer and non-believer alike about what it means to be faith-full.

“Krista, I tune in to ‘Speaking of Faith’ for two reasons: First, because you always have somebody on who has something important and insightful to say, and second, because you have an incredible skill at drawing out that person, probing meanings beneath the surface and underlining the insights. You frequently contribute some important insights yourself and I'm grateful for those.

“But what draws me to your show is not ‘Krista Tippett... on anything; it's Bill McKibben on, or Allan Rabinowitz on ... or Shane Claiborne on ... or Sandy Sasso on ... or a hundred other people of whom I would never hear if it weren't for Krista Tippett. I am deeply indebted to you for these introductions and for stretching my own faith in a multitude of directions. But I hope it never becomes ‘The Krista Tippett Show.’ ”

[Note to self…You might wanna put the brakes on consideration of “Crain Communications Presents Chuck Ross’ TV Week.”]

Count me among the naysayers regarding the name-change. I love the title of the show being “Speaking of Faith With Krista Tippett.” Sorta like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Or “With” Leno or O’Brien.

Yes, it was Tippett’s idea to create the show, but she had the good sense to put the name of the show before her name. For one thing, it allows others to carry on with the brand at some point if Tippett moves on to other projects.

And I like the name “Speaking of Faith” for all the reasons those commenters have mentioned above.

Rebranding is always tough. To this day, the most comments TVWeek has ever gotten about a story was one Jon Lafayette wrote several years ago about the Sci-Fi Channel changing its name to Syfy. We received close to 1,000 comments on that story, most of them complaining about the name change.

And we’ve gone through this ourselves. For most of our close to 30-year history we were known as ‘Electronic Media,” and were primarily known as a publication about the business of TV syndication.

But about a decade ago, as the syndication marketplace became more consolidated, we broadened our coverage to cover other areas of the TV marketplace in a more serious, concentrated manner than we had previously.

So to reflect that, both editorially and on the business side, we became TVWeek.

Of course the irony is not lost on us that we now publish 24/7, are online only, and really cover a marketplace that is better reflected in the phrase “Electronic Media” than TVWeek.

Fortunately, our loyal readers have remained faithful to us as we have evolved, and we have picked up a lot of new readers along the way.

I dunno, maybe it’s time for us to rebrand again as well. I sorta like the idea of having readers who have kept their faith in us.

Hmm. I understand the title “Speaking of Faith” might be available in a few weeks…#