Nemo is about to wallop the East Coast.
This is not the adorable Disney clownfish, nor is it the vengeful captain in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
Nemo is a winter storm, and The Weather Channel took it upon itself to assign that moniker—which has created a storm of quite a different sort.
Last fall, TWC said it would begin naming winter storms. Depending upon whom you ask, the practice is either smart branding or questionable spin.
“The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety,”
AccuWeather founder and president Joel N. Myers said in a statement
The National Weather Service has been naming tropical storms since the mid-20th century. Its statement said:
“A winter storm's impact can vary from one location to another, and storms can weaken and redevelop, making it difficult to define where one ends and another begins. While the National Weather Service does not name winter storms, we do rate major winter storms after the fact.”
The mixed reactions did not surprise TWC.
“Our meteorologists expected a little bit of back and forth,” said Jazmine Maddox, a communications coordinator at Atlanta-based TWC. “We reached out prior to making the announcement. We definitely want them to join us.”
Maddox told PR Daily
that The Weather Channel’s main goal is to ensure that people are prepared for storms and to get them out of harm’s way. Giving winter storms a name is part of that effort.
“It’s a great communications effort and helps save lives,” said Maddox.
Plus, it boosts the social media buzz.
“What we’ve noticed, especially on social, is that [names] stick,” said Maddox, who mentioned weather events such as “snowmaggedon” and “snowtober,” which became trending topics on Twitter.
“What our meteorologists said is, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to give these storms a name, instead of giving it a boring name afterward like the Blizzard of ’79?’ So they sat down and came up with this list.”
The list of names
includes historical figures such as Caesar, Brutus, and Plato, as well as Greek gods (Zeus) and fictional characters, among them Gandolph, Rocky, and, of course, Nemo.
According to media trainer Brad Phillips, naming a storm after a character beloved by children was not the best idea. “I have visions of deflated children all over the Eastern Seaboard saying, ‘Why did Nemo take out our power lines and leave us freezing, Mommy? I hate Nemo now,’” Phillips said.
A branding coup?
At least one PR professional thinks the naming convention follows an important piece of advice he learned years ago when working at Burson-Marsteller: Brand everything.
“When creating client programs or seeking to build a lasting impression, attaching a name to the phenomenon makes it much more media-friendly, and thus more memorable,” Peter Himler
told PR Daily
For instance, the name “Fiscal Cliff” became the designation for the Capitol Hill policy battles over taxes and spending cuts, and on social media the hashtag #SuperBowlBlackout was shorthand for last Sunday’s power outage at the Superdome.
There is a negative side to branding everything, according to Himler, who founded Flatiron Communications.
“Some nefarious communications pros, especially in the political realm, have made the purposeful distortion of language into an art in order to advance their clients' interests,” he said. “As for The Weather Channel naming storms, I see no such comparable deception that warrants a condemnation of the practice.”
Others disagree with Himler’s assertion—even those who aren’t in the business of predicting the weather. Max Read, a writer at Gawker
this morning that “if you call this storm Nemo you’re letting The Weather Channel win.”
Tom McKay, an associate editor at PolicyMic.com
, offered a more damning critique.
“The Weather Channel seems to be using named storms as a marketing vehicle—and doing so unilaterally,” he wrote
. “In an age of extreme weather, naming regular storms seems like a fear-mongering tactic designed to drive traffic and views to the Weather Channel instead of a scientific consensus.”
Apparently, it is also driving traffic to PolicyMic
, where many of its posts carry “Nemo” in their headline.
Jazmine Maddox at TWC said the network usually sees a bump in page views and traffic whenever there’s severe weather, but naming storms has given the station more “social media buzz.” It’s also boosted their Google juice.
This week, Christopher Penn, the vice president of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications, made note of The Weather Channel’s Google dominance.
In a blog post
, in which he called the naming scheme “savvy,” Penn wrote: “Go Google for ‘winter storm Nemo.’ Who owns the prime position? TWC, of course.”
‘24/7 right now’
The Weather Channel’s PR team comprises seven people, two of whom specialize in social media, according to Maddox.
With such a historic winter storm taking aim at the East Coast—possibly the biggest since the Civil War—the PR department at TWC is electric.
“We’re live 365 days a year, but I can definitely say that this team is buzzing,” explained Maddox. “We’re certainly 24/7 right now.”