Tim Russert — a lesson in branding

Russert The world, but especially here in the United States, is still stunned by Tim Russert’s sudden death yesterday.  The accolades and eulogizing has begun as people grapple with his passing and I have no doubt much will be written about the native New Yorker and political junkie.

I must admit, this is not an entirely objective commentary.  I liked Tim Russert a lot.  I respected him for his knowledge and ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.  I trusted him.

I trusted him.  There’s the key sentence.

Tim Russert earned the country’s trust.  Which is the sign of a brilliant journalist but it is also the foundation of a brilliant brand.  How’d he do it?

He was passionate:  Tim Russert loved the political process.  He loved asking tough questions.  The crazier it got, the happier he got.  His passion was contagious.  His reporting took us past the hype and the circus and got us interested in the real deal.

He was authentic:  He never tried to be anything other than what he was — a kid who grew up in Buffalo, NY.  The son of a sanitation worker.  A working class Irish Catholic.  He brought his life’s experiences to his work.  It made him tangible to us.  He wasn’t all that different from us.  Even though he hung out with Presidents.

He was likable:  He was affable.  He talked like a normal person.  He used stories to explain complex topics.  He wasn’t over-polished or perfect.  His hair was always a little mussed.  He reminded me a a big, friendly dog.  There was nothing scary or intimidating about him.  He was a guy that you knew would be cool to just hang out with.

He wore his emotions on his sleeve:  While his reporting stayed objective, his enthusiasm for the whole thing was apparent.  He loved what he was doing, he loved talking politics.  He loved the battle and the debate.  That was a big part of how we knew he was authentic.  He didn’t try to keep us at arm’s length.  He invited us in to share in what he loved.

He was consistent:  Tim Russert was grounded.  He had a code of ethics and morals that created his course of action.  He defined his own professional (and I suspect personal) right/wrong meter and he used it to guide him.  He understood his own brand and the beliefs that the brand was built upon.  That allowed him to deliver a consistent product every time.

There will be much talk about Russert’s impact on politics and journalism over the next few days.  And rightly so.  He was brilliant at his craft. 

But I suspect many will mourn his passing for the same reason that I do — I liked and trusted him.  That’s rare in today’s over-spun media world.  And it’s equally rare among brands.

The sign of an extraordinary brand is that we can’t imagine what we’d replace it with.  The next few months are going to be very heated as the United State’s next president is elected.  I can’t imagine who could possibly take Tim Russert’s place.

He will be sorely missed by me and by many.

Update:  Jim Kukral used this post as a launching pad for his own thoughts on Russert in his daily video series, The Daily Flip.

Jann Freed adds her thoughts to the discussion, calling Russert a sage.

Steve Cranford shouts out to this post over at Whisper Brand.

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15 comments on “Tim Russert — a lesson in branding

  1. Jim Kukral says:

    Tim was exactly the type of person I try to model myself after. Although I didn’t know him personally, you could tell he was “that good guy” that everyone liked and respected. Plus a good dad and family man.

    I think it’s pretty apparent that this feeling came off to many people like us as we see posts like yours and others all over the place, outside of the political arena.

    I will miss Tim’s voice saying “our issues this Sunday” on MTP for sure.

  2. David Reich says:

    I always liked Tim Russert because he seemed so genuine… and, of course, smart. The outpouring of tributes to him from fellow journalists and politicians alike confirms that the “genuine” really was just that.

    I feel for his family, but it’s nice that they had some quality time together on their vacation. I’m sure they’ll have lots of good memories to help them through a tough time.

  3. Jim,

    I think that’s how the world saw Russert. He was the guy you could trust. The guy you wanted to hang out with. And he was the one we all wanted to listen to, when it came to getting the straight scoop on our country’s politics.

    I can’t imagine this upcoming political season without him. And I’ll bet he’s ticked that he’s not going to be here to tell us all about it.


  4. David,

    I thought the same thing — I was so glad he had just spent vacation time with his son and wife.

    Genuine. That’s the word that everyone seems to use when describing him. No small feat, considering what he did for a living.

    He truly was a rare man. No wonder we’re all so shook up about his death.


  5. Jann Freed says:

    Drew–I, too, have been blogging about Tim Russert because I am so sad at this loss. He was a sage and I don’t think everyone can be replaced. The world will be less in the ways you mentioned above: less trustworthy, less authentic, less emotional, less passionate, less consistent, and more.

    Thanks. When are the branding breakfasts again? I can only make the ones downtown. Thanks. Jann

  6. Thank you for putting into words…and very succinctly, considering the topic…the gist of Tim Russert. Who he was. Why he mattered. Why we loved him. I can’t imagine the world, let alone the upcoming election process, without him!

  7. Jann,

    I think the world is talking about Tim and his legacy. What I find myself wondering is if he was aware of his impact. And if he was…how did that change him? And if he wasn’t — I wonder what he’s thinking now.

    He lived his life with authenticity. And we loved him for that. I put a link to your post in mine.

    As for the branding breakfasts — the next one will be the first Wednesday in August. Both a morning session downtown and a noon session out west.


  8. Elaine Fogel says:

    Hi, Drew. I truly admired the man. He had a knack for simplifying a complex political system and making it understandable for the masses.

  9. Meg Guiseppi says:


    Thanks for such a heartfelt and insightful tribute to Tim Russert and how his brand worked.

    I confess that I didn’t follow Tim closely, but when I did check in on him, his brand was immediately and consistently evident.

    Even though I wasn’t a devotee, he got to me. I relied on him and I will miss him.

  10. Excellent post
    Will be including a reference to it in our column, The Weekly B.S., this Friday

  11. Elaine,

    I agree with you completely. Somehow he not only made sense of it all, but his enthusiasm for it was contagious.

    With the crazy election season we’ve entered into, I don’t think we’ve yet begun to understand how much we’ll miss him.


  12. Meg,

    I think many people who have been affected by his death probably didn’t realize how much a part of their life he was.

    He was always there, always helping us sort through the complex, and always consistent.

    I don’t think it occurred to us that he might not be there any more.


  13. Thanks Steve,

    I’m looking forward to seeing your column!


  14. Jann Freed says:

    Drew–Thanks for linking to my post. I actually was so mesmorized by the whole thing that I have several posts on Russert. We are gone in August, but I hope to connect again. You are brilliant. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Jann

  15. Jann,

    My (and the world’s) reaction to Tim’s death really took me by surprise. I didn’t realize I valued him as much as I did.

    Which I think was perfectly in line with his personal brand. Enjoy your time away! We’ll see you when you get back.


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