Commentary

O.J. Sidebar, Not Really

What could I possibly write that you haven’t already read, seen or thought about O.J. already?

In a week in which some likely stared too long into a total solar eclipse, O.J. is burned into the metaphorical retinas of our collective consciousness, and I for one don’t need to see any more.

But more than anything else, O.J. Simpson was a media story and it's my job to at least try and give you something you don't already know. And the best I can do is share a personal anecdote about my time covering O.J. as a trade reporter.

I mean, think about that? Why would the O.J. Simpson trial even be something people in the ad industry would care about? Other than his role as a celebrity spokesman athletically hurdling stanchions in commercials for Hertz?

But there I was in 1994 covering The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson in a Los Angeles Superior Court as the media editor of Advertising Age. No, I wasn't sitting in the courtroom watching it, but like most Americans, viewed it on television courtesy of Court TV.

Well into covering the trial, I received a phone call from a media and marketing researcher named Mark Weiner, who asked me: "Did you ever wonder what the media value was of the Sony computer monitors in Judge Ito's courtroom?"

Lance Ito was the judge who presided over the trial and made the decision that it should be televised, effectively making it the trial of the century. At least until next week or whenever the next trial of this century happens.

"How would anyone know what the value was?" I replied to Weiner.

"That's what we do," he replied.

At the time, Weiner was president of the research division of Medialink (no, not that MediaLink), which was a company servicing the public relations industry, including helping big brands understand the impact of their PR campaigns, as well as their organic news coverage.

It would be years before the term "earned media" would be invented, but that's what Weiner and his team were analyzing, using techniques to organize, rank and analyze "the media that matter" and quantifying it in a variety of ways -- including what the equivalent value would be if you bought the same media impressions via paid advertising placements.

I wrote a number of news stories and columns sourcing Weiner's research while covering the O.J. trial, and we went on to become good friends and collaborators, including a column we created "Spindex" that we created for Ad Age, which ran for a couple years, even after I left as its media editor.

Spindex utilized Weiner's analytics to measure the relative media value of news coverage -- and news cycles -- involving big brands.

We even found that there was a strong correlation between press coverage and the performance of big brands long before digital data -- both big and small -- was even a gleam in the eye of an attribution modeler.

We tracked the pre-release coverage of big studio movie opening and their success at the box office, as well as a number of other cyclical or breaking news events.

My favorite columns involved when we tracked the impact of news media coverage on political brands -- you know, candidates running for office -- and we found very high correlations between news coverage of their campaign rhetoric, policies and issues and their rankings in Roper and Gallup polls.

Like the public relations practice itself, our analyses were not 100% scientific, but this was long before the ad industry began developing more sophisticated methods like Pete Blackshaw's "BuzzMetrics" at Nielsen, and the cottage industry of social media monitoring, and influencer marketing analysis.

But if you ask me, Weiner was a pioneer in the field as well as other sophisticated methods for understanding the role and impact of public relations, marketing communications, and what we now call earned, owned and paid media in the mix.

He even published a couple of books on the subject -- his 2006 contrarian manifesto Unleashing the Power of PR, and his 2021 ROI-focused update for the martech age, PR Technology, Data and Insights: Igniting a Positive Return on Your Communications Investment.

If you want to understand the role analytics play in public relations -- in all its various forms -- I recommend reading both.

Weiner retired from the business a while back and moved down to Florida and I'm ashamed to admit that I lost touch with him and only found out recently from a mutual friend that he passed away late last year.

I know this column may not have shed much new light on O.J., or the impact he had on the advertising and media industries, but at least now you know how it inspired me to think about and cover the business in a more expansive way than paid advertising impressions thanks to Mark Weiner.


2 comments about "O.J. Sidebar, Not Really".
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  1. Steven Cohn from Ex-Media Industry Newsletter, April 12, 2024 at 7:55 p.m.

    Joe:  Terrific O.J. Simpson remembrances from you, Barbara and Adam.  From a magazine standpoint, 'Time' generated controversy with its June 29, 1994, cover of a 'sinister'-looking O.J. allegedly enhanced by airbrushing.  The Internet was nascent 30 years ago,  but--applying today's technology--an activated smartphone carried by Nicole Brown Simpson and/or Ron Goldman or a video camera from Nicole's building could have made the infamous 'glove doesn't fit' irrelevant. 

  2. Ben B from Retired, April 12, 2024 at 11:36 p.m.

    Good story Joe. I wasn't glued to the OJ Simpson Trial only saw parts of the trial from time to time and the verdict was off sight from high school at the time for work experience being in special ed, wasn't old enough to get paid and worked with the plants and planting them I know no cares. Everyone was watching the TV for the verdict being read we all know it was not guilty I'll admit I thought OJ was not guilty not until a year later after the verdict I changed my mind that OJ was guilty and a murderer.

    I think that OJ Simpson had CTE not making that as an excuse for OJ killing his wife Nicole Brown Simpson & Ron Goldman who Ron was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I get the Goldman family saying no big lost to the world and honoring Ron as well to the Brown family as well honoring Nicole. When OJ died the murders were going to be mentioned along with his USC & NFL along with the Hertz ads. I wasn't born when OJ was playing for the Bills & 49ERS just known of OJ from the ads the actor in the Naked Gun Franchise along with his studio work for NFL coverage for NBC.

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