Oct 22, 2012
Guest post by Marissa Wasseluk (opinions reflect that of the author)
As we anticipate the last American presidential debate of this election season, I look back to the first and the communications crisis that almost came out of it. I just want to be sure to give big kudos and a powerful, slow clap to the communications team at Sesame Workshop.
The nonprofit behind the beloved children’s educational television program Sesame Street unwittingly found itself a central figure of political discourse when during the first U.S. presidential debate of 2012, candidate Mitt Romney declared his plan to cut government funding to PBS in spite of his personal love for one of the show’s mascots, Big Bird.
Almost instantly a wave of Big Bird memes exploded across the Internet – the hashtags #bigbird and #savebigbird trended on Twitter, while pictures of the muppet attached to political propaganda phrases took up web real estate. It seemed everyone in America was googling “Big Bird”.
They needed to make a statement, and quickly. Inaction would mean losing control of the brand they had worked over thirty years to create.
Less than 24 hours since the bird became even more famous, the Sesame Street twitter account sent out this tongue-in-cheek message:
Big Bird: My bed time is usually 7:45, but I was really tired yesterday and fell asleep at 7! Did I miss anything last night?
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) October 4, 2012
The Twitter account then retweeted another tweet from Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit has a separate Twitter account, which makes a lot of sense since the show itself is popular enough to have its own audience and can stand in the social media sphere as its own entity). It stated:
We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. We do not comment on campaigns, but we’re happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird!
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) October 4, 2012
Another tweet followed with a link to the Workshop’s longer-than-140-characters statement, which took end users to their blog. As far as nonprofit crisis communications go, this plan was incredibly executed. Sesame Workshop did not shrink from the spotlight, but instead used it as an opportunity to shed light on the work that they do.
From one Workshop to another, I say, well done.