NBC Enlists Aid on TV Ad Issue

NBC has hired a New York-based communications-strategy and crisis-management agency to help cope with mounting opposition over its decision to carry hard-liquor ads.

Sources said the shop is Shepardson Stern + Kaminsky, which focuses on corporate communications, marketing and research services.

The firm’s officials could not be reached; NBC executives were not available for comment on the hiring or what the shop may be counseling on.

However, experts who specialize in crisis management said NBC should get other networks on board and have one standard for all liquor ads. “One of their problems is they are all alone,” said one communications strategist. “Shouldn’t there be one policy on alcohol ads?”

NBC is facing growing pressure on the issue. In a letter sent to NBC Network TV president Randy Falco last week, 13 lawmakers, including Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., threatened to regulate network advertising if NBC does not change its policy.

“We would hate to see your network become … the reason that Congress steps in to protect the public interest and the public airwaves by setting up a federal regulatory system for network advertising,” the letter says.

Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-La. and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he will hold a hearing on the issue, but no date has been scheduled. “There are huge First Amendment issues, and we have to be very careful,” said Ken Johnson, a Tauzin rep. “If the liquor industry … starts airing ads that are clearly inappropriate, then Congress may act sooner.”

NBC said its 19-point plan that hard-liquor advertisers must follow assuages concerns. “We are committed to ensuring that any advertising we accept in no way targets young people in this country,” said NBC rep Kassie Canter.

Meanwhile, the Amer ican Medical Association ran a full-page ad in The New York Times on Feb. 27, telling par ents that NBC has “let down America’s children.” Copy reads, “Warning: Watching NBC may be hazardous to your children’s health.”