Sesame Street has been in the media spotlight in ways it never wanted to be. First, Mitt Romney during the presidential debates, threatened to cut funding to the Public Broadcasting System, which airs Sesame Street. Sesame Street reps answered with a quick smack down of Romney’s implied assertion that the government funds the educational children’s show. Next PR task was to order the Democratic party to stop running a subsequent Romney attack ad featuring Big Bird.
While Big Bird was safe after President Obama’s re-election, Elmo, the furry red monster, was next in the media’s sights. This week, Kevin Clash, Sesame Street puppeteer and the voice of Elmo, was accused of having a sexual relationship with a man who was underage at the time. The firestorm of scandal lasted one day; the accuser quickly recanted his story when details didn’t add up.
Sesame Street maintained a terse tone when issuing the statement on Clash, saying that management had met with the accuser, conducted a thorough investigation, and found the allegation to be unsubstantiated. “Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage,” the statement reads, “and he was disciplined.” Clash has since taken a leave of absence. Who knew life on Sesame Street could be so fraught with PR dangers?
The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for Sesame Street. By maintaining an impartial tone – even toward one of their own – their image stays professional, businesslike, and neutral to all who might help or harm.
The PR Takeaway: Authority comes with neutrality. Sesame Street could have used Romney’s Big Bird slam to their advantage, but they knew the political winds could turn against them just as easily. In the Elmo-Clash situation, had they shown full support for the furry monster’s alter-ego and other accusers turned up, the whole company might have been blighted. While the public, on the record statements so far might make Sesame Street seem a chilly place, the company’s neutral and authoritative tone over the last weeks has secured its brand and singular purpose: providing the best in televised children’s education. Big Bird and friends can continue to sleep easy on the street.