Oprah: We Need Your Voice Outside of the White House

Neil Foote - Oprah: We need your voice outside of the White HouseNeil Foote, President & Founder, Foote Communications

During this year’s Golden Globe Awards, the legendary Oprah Winfrey delivered an impassioned speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award that spurred a buzz about her potential to run for president of the United States.  That idea would seem far-fetched if another billion-dollar TV star didn’t make a bid and win the presidency.  How’s that working out for us?  Just because an individual has extremely high brand recognition – and popularity in some circles – does not mean that they should run for political office.

Don’t get me wrong. Oprah’s success is phenomenal.  Her message at the Golden Globes was vastly more powerful than what we’re talking about here. She praised the press for its “insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice.” She made an compelling case that the press must continue to serve as a platform to give voice to the voiceless, like the multitude of women who has suffered sexual harassment in the workplace – everywhere – not just Hollywood. That’s a credible pitch from a woman who is one of the most recognizable brands in the world, and who has built a media empire that reaches a cross section of the demographics of the United States. Take a look the media kit for her O Magazine and you’ll see how diverse her readership is: 57% white; 37% black; 9% Hispanic and 7% Asian/American Indian/Other. Viewership on the Oprah Winfrey Network, according to Comcast, is 75% female with more than 50% over the age of 50 and nearly 25% earning between $25,000 and $50,000.  That’s a tremendous platform and audience to activate and engage in whatever you want them to do.

Oprah-We Need Your Voice Outside of the White HouseSo, you say, doesn’t that make it even more attractive for her to run for President of the United States?  Of course, it does. Every politician running for the presidency would love to have the brand recognition Oprah has. Oprah’s power, as we saw with her enthusiastic support for candidate and then President Barack Obama, is that she can move people to take action!  That’s why instead of coyly entertaining the idea for running for president, she needs to nip this notion in the bud. She should release a statement or hold a press conference and says something like:

I’m honored that so many saw my speech at the Golden Globe Awards as a dry run for a presidential stump speech. What got lost in all this buzz about me running for president is the women – young and old – who are stepping up and out as part of the #MeToo campaign to stop the sexual harassment in our workplaces. As I said in my remarks, there are little girls out there – like I was – who are looking for inspiration and motivation.  I plan on continuing to use my platforms to voice my concerns passionately. But I am not a politician. I never plan to be a politician. There are so many more talented people who we should be encouraging to run for president who have a track record of success as elected officials like former Massachusetts Gov. DuVal Patrick or Sens. Kamala Harris or Corey Booker or Congressman Keith Ellison and so many others that I can’t mention them all.  So, thank you all, for showing me such love. Let’s channel all this energy in protecting our free press; in protecting the great values of this nation that are under attack right now. Let’s make sure we fight for the great freedoms we have that so many people lost their lives for to protect.

Strong brands are able to connect with people because they are well known; they convey trust; they are consistent; and, they inspire passion. Oprah can leverage her brand in so many ways that could energize her diverse, broad based audience in print, on TV and online.  How about calling for people to donate to the #MeToo campaign to help women pay for legal fees to fight their sexual harassment cases? How about creating a PAC (Political Action Committee) to raise money to support female candidates seeking to get elected in local, state or national races? How about leading a major campaign to encourage people to register to vote, get out to vote and fight against voter suppression?

For Oprah, the nation and the world is not watching, and it’s a time for her to use her influence to openly support in words, in money and in ideas those causes in which she believes most strongly. That’s how she seals her legacy


About the Author: Neil Foote is a veteran journalist and media executive. He draws from his experience at the Miami Herald, Washington Post, Belo Corporation and Tom Joyner’s Reach Media. He also teaches digital and social media for journalists, media management and business journalism at the University of North Texas’ Frank W. & Sue Mayborn School of Journalism and runs Foote Communications, a media consulting firm. The native of Brooklyn, NY also is president of the board for the National Black Public Relations Society and founder of PoliticsInColor.com