Wow. Very rarely do you see a media personality who appears on television a minimum of 5 hours a week look like a proverbial “deer in highlights.” That was the case when Jim Cramer appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, following what has been described as one of the best cable TV feuds. Thanks to the folks over at Comedy Central’s Indecision Forever, the entire “interview” is available, including the third that didn’t make it onto television.
The contents of this interview have been debated, blogged and argued nonstop for two days now. Full disclosure: I have pointed out Jim Cramer’s inconsistencies in the past, not necessarily in what he says, but in how he communicates differently to different audiences. Jim is an “over-the-top” personality on his Mad Money program, but significantly more contrite and reserved in other situations (when discussing his friendship with Eliot Spitzer or when appearing on The Daily Show).
There are a number of communications lessons to learn from this last debate:
1. Be Consistent – Everything you say and do sends a message, and it all sends a message about YOU. This is twice as important when you are in the public eye. The American public can deal with and forgive quite a bit, but two things the public is slow to forgive are hypocrisy and/or inconsistency (see A-Rod, Eliot Spitzer).
In this case, Cramer sees his role as a respected financial commentator when appearing on his program, but as just another entertainer when he appeared on The Daily Show. That’s an impossible tightrope when you are talking about something as serious to people as finance, especially their own. (If you think this isn’t the case, watch the last two minutes of this interview to see a lot of what may have driven this interview)
2. Have a Message…and Stick to It! - All over the map is the only way to describe Cramer’s responses. CNBC may, or may not have some responsibility, I may have some responsibility, I may not have some responsibility, I am trying to do the same thing you are doing, and the list went on and on. Painful to watch. Couple that with the fact that every time Cramer’s message changed, Stewart seemed to have a clip contradicting what Cramer just said, and what is left is a disaster.
In politics, the phrase is message discipline — see Obama Campaign - having a message and sticking to it, no matter the line of questioning. Forget discipline, Cramer did not have a consistent message, and chances are just about ANY message would have resonated better than having none at all. Cramer actually did a decent job of trying to re-frame the debate, but was completely hampered by the lack of message.
3. Practice and Prepare – Simply No Substitute - I have no idea how much or how little Cramer prepared for this interview. What I do know is that this feud had been running all week, had been escalating daily, there was plenty of past “tape” (television footage) of Jon Stewart, as well as past coverage of Jon Stewart taking a similar, more serious tone, with guests in the past.
Simply put, Jim Cramer certainly could have, and should have, been prepared for Stewart to take this tact. Solid media training, or more importantly, debate preparation, would have put him in a much better position. There was no question or statement that Stewart made that I would describe as unexpected (the tone may have surprised some, but the questions or statements would not have). Whether engaging in a debate, conducting an interview, or making a presentation, there is simply no substitute for practice and preparation.