Jo Lynn Deal

PR Takeaways from Rogen’s Senate Subcommittee Speech

By: Jo Lynn Deal | March 17, 2014 | 

Two PR Takeaways from Seth Rogen’s Senate Subcommittee SpeechBy Jo Lynn Deal

Get ready for some PR takeaways, Hollywood style.

Imagine being in a situation where you have the opportunity to give a presentation about something you care about.

It’s a presentation where you are speaking on behalf of people who truly have no voice.

You’re prepared to give this presentation to 18 people. You’ve blasted it all over your social media channels. You’re pumped and you’re ready…

And only six people show up. When the person presenting before you finishes, four of the audience members leave.

Now you’re down to two listeners. What do you do?

Hollywood, the Senate Subcommittee, and Two PR Takeaways

This happened to actor Seth Rogen at the Senate Subcomittee meeting on February 27th.

Rogen was scheduled to present to senators about Alzheimer’s disease.

At one time, he, like many others, believed a common misconception of the disease – it’s when “old people forget where they put their keys.”

It wasn’t until his mother-in-law was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s that he saw firsthand the devastating effects of the disease.

He watched the once vibrant, active woman slip from her family – unable to speak, to feed herself, dress herself, or use the restroom by herself. He became a coach to his wife, Lauren Miller, while she painfully watched the mother she loved suffer before her.

Fast forward several years later when Rogen and Miller launch the Hilarity for Charity fund through the National Alzheimer’s Association.

Their mission?

To raise money for research – in fact, their first event in 2012 raised $300,000.

Rogen designed the charity around comedy in an effort to engage a “younger population,” and he stuck with this theme in his February speech to the Senate Subcommittee.

Unfortunately, as you now know, the speech didn’t go as well as he had planned. But this high-profile situation gives us two big PR takeaways.

Know Your Audience

Rogen’s speech was laced with humor, but his audience (the senators) isn’t known for having a sense of humor.

I’m not sure this strategy worked the way he hoped.

In Rogen’s speech, he sets the tone by stating he knows he isn’t at a hearing “about legalizing marijuana,” alluding to his role in the movie Knocked Up. He continues his speech with important information, but also includes what may have been a few too many jokes.

Another issue? He read his speech. If he had memorized it, he could have made more eye contact throughout, better engaging with his ‘not amused’ audience.

While he was there to support an important cause, the comedic undertone and lack of engagement with the audience seemed to water down the content.

It may have been better to see him give a completely serious presentation of ideas that related to the senators on their level – something you wouldn’t expect given his history as a comedy actor.

When You are Placed Under Scrutiny, Own it

This leads to another takeaway.

In a brief exchange on Twitter (since deleted), Rogen reaches out to @SenateApprops and vents his frustration about having such a low turnout.

Below is the exchange captured by The Wall Street Journal.

Seth Rogen Senate

Oh no they didn’t!

Doesn’t this exchange simply prove Rogen’s point that Alzheimer’s just doesn’t matter to the people with the power to do something? Where is the empathy for this devastating disease?

The PR team should have apologized for the low turnout, and offered to aggressively promote the story to ensure it is heard by those who need to hear it. They should have thanked him for his time and commitment, and not made a snarky “We hear ya, buddy!” comment. Period.

We can make amendments for our poor behavior, but there will always be a record of it somewhere – just like these tweets.

Regardless of a few PR hiccups, Rogen’s presentation was successful. He was able to draw attention to the need for research, and he reached a young demographic, which were his original goals with his charity.

It’s admirable he has taken to support Alzheimer’s. It shows that despite being a self-proclaimed man child, he cares about important issues.

About Jo Lynn Deal

Jo Lynn Deal is the founder of myMarketing Café, a marketing consulting firm and online resource center for small business owners. She is accredited in public relations.

  • I think the passion he showed was genuine, as was how important Alzheimer’s issues are to him. 

    Who is his audience?

    If it is the Senators, I’m not sure his message or delivery was most effective. As he read his spiel, I didn’t learn anything new about Alzheimer’s and I’m not sure senators on a subcommittee did either.

    Now, if it was PR value and informing a larger audience, he certain succeeded.

    Finally, I’d not complain about having the attention of two senators. Not everyone can get that.

    The ultimate winner here is Alzheimer’s awareness…he brought a lot of attention to the issue.

  • You know, I’d heard rumblings about this, but hadn’t taken the time to pay close attention to what had happened. Know your audience is SO important. The fact that his sense of humor didn’t work with this audience is both tragic and sad, particularly for such a great cause.

  • When I first read about this, I was disgusted. Such an insult to Mr. Rogen and his cause. But you make some great points about how he could have “saved” what little audience he *did* have. I hope he reads this post (lol) and learns something from it. 🙂

  • I had the same thoughts about his performance when I watched the video – the jokes didn’t seem to work well and it would have been much stronger had he not been reading. Nonetheless, I watched the video after several people shared it to Facebook and commented about how moved they were, so he clearly did some things very right.
    The Twitter conversation is a totally different beast though – and I use the word “beast” intentionally. What a ridiculous time to make a dig – not just at Rogen, but at the American people!

  • Eleanor Pierce  You are right. Many were moved by his speech, so his mission was accomplished. I was very shocked at the twitter exchange.

  • belllindsay  Oh, Lindsay, wouldn’t that be great. Turnabout’s fair play… He could critique me and put me in my place!

  • ginidietrich  It is sad, Gini. His story about his mother-in-law was really touching. He did paint a tragic picture. I’m glad he is trying.

  • Kevin_KCDPR

    As my mother has the same ailment, I hope that he can learn from this and continue the cause and maybe enlist other celebrities/thought leaders who may have more “pull” within Congress. But ultimately, I am left shaking my head at how broken and on the up and up our Congress really is…

  • Kevin_KCDPR  Yes, we could flip this post to focus on Congress and call it “leaders behaving badly.” Ugh.

  • Really interesting review of this. Great points and lessons learned on each side. 

    Next up will you please do something on Obama and Zach Galifianakis talking the Affordable Care Act? Lots of interesting take aways in that as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • LauraPetrolino  Goodness, Laura. I’m humbled you would like to hear my thoughts on what happens between those two ferns, but noooo way.

  • A nicely balanced view. Though when I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone not read their congressional testimony. I’m sure it’s not only incredibly intimidating, but there might be some requirements that the testimony matches up precisely with the transcript? Like for the Congressional Record?
    As for humor (and guts), nothing beats Stephen Colbert’s testimony. I’ll just say he treated the panel with all the respect it deserved, and leave it at that.
    Finally, my father died from early onset Alzheimer’s. Some of the projections of what our future will look like as the boomers age is truly frightening. Maybe his Rogen’s unusual tone and twitter tactics brought a little extra attention to a hearing that would otherwise be, pardon the phrase, quickly forgotten?

  • RobBiesenbach  So sorry about your father. It is tragic.  

    Great point with the Congressional Record! I did not consider that or how intimidating it would be.  At any rate, Rogen is certainly bringing extra awareness to an important cause.

  • I really enjoyed this piece and your angle … I just had the opportunity to be on Capitol Hill (as joe (jill?) regular old constituent) so the whole atmosphere is fresh in my mind. I have to admit that although the cause I was there to espouse made it logical that I had to say “diarrhea” to a congressional staffer, I still found myself qualifying the use of the term. Maybe I needed Seth Rogen there to put just the right spin on it. 🙂 But since “different audiences need different messages” was one of my main takeaways from my experience, I’d say we’re all in agreement on the “know your audience” part, for sure.

  • Very interesting situation and great points on the PR perspective. Humor is one of those tricky things even when you know your audience. But Seth also needed to be true to who he is. It’s a challenge to find the balance between who your audience may be and who you are as a person and communicator. Thanks for delving into this multi-layered scenario.

  • jolynndeal Perhaps he needs a little media training?!

  • Word Ninja  Thanks, Amanda! It is tough to find that balance. I guess you have to be able to turn it off, if in the end it will help you get what you want. I watch my son do this all the time!

  • biggreenpen  You have painted quite the picture and certainly leave me wanting to know more.  I just can’t believe I actually want to know more about “diarrhea.”  Damn, you’re good.

  • ginidietrich jolynndeal  I’ll refer him to Arment Dietrich. 🙂 That would be a fun gig.