Katzenberg’s Quibi Media Tour Provides Lessons in Messaging and Preparation

By Kevin Sullivan

As I followed Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg’s media tour in advance of the April 6 launch of the new short-form video platform, it was clear to me that he went into the interviews with a very specific message game plan.  

This may seem obvious, but there are executives with as much media experience as Katzenberg who simply rely on their knowledge and expertise in interviews.  Over the years during prep sessions, I’ve heard very accomplished leaders say, “remember, I know more about this than they do” and “it’s rude not to answer the questions, I’ll be fine.”

I had the occasion to meet with Katzenberg a couple of times many years ago as a consultant to Weber Shandwick on a DreamWorks Animation message and branding project.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I was impressed by how thoughtful he was about the best way to talk about the company.

As a mini-case study on the Quibi media launch, I examined nine stories and video interviews that appeared in mainstream and trade publications – from the Washington Post to TMZ Live.  I listened to Katzenberg on Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode podcast. There were three clear takeaway messages that Katzenberg found a way to deliver in virtually every media opportunity:

  • Quibi is out to entertain and inspire, with content from the best storytellers and creative talent in Hollywood.
  • The content is created specifically for your smartphone, to be viewed during the “in-between moments” such as waiting in line at Starbucks or during a break while doing chores around the house.
  • There is nothing else like Quibi.

Let’s cast Katzenberg’s messages against the interview prep roadmap we use with KSC clients:

•    Who’s our audience?  While Katzenberg was primarily speaking to industry reporters, his messages also work with the Quibi target demo of 25-to-35-year-olds. An all-purpose message is the best way to go when possible.

•    Prep with a mindset of being on offense.  Ask yourself, “what’s my purpose here?” Always be responsive to the questions, but be ready to conversationally weave in key messages.  Katzenberg consistently did this naturally and seamlessly, using anecdotes and data to enhance and support his messages.  A telltale sign that Katzenberg went into each interview with a specific message goal appears at the end of a Newsweek Q&A that was focused primarily on Quibi’s news offerings.  Check out his power move to get to an important point he hadn’t already made during the interview.  Here are the last two paragraphs, as written by Paul Bond:

Katzenberg ended his interview with Newsweek with a plug for "Daily Essentials," a Quibi block of programming for consumers interested in the latest news, sports and cultural trends. "I cannot emphasize enough how valuable I think this will be to you," Katzenberg said.
"People are making decisions about how to part with their money. If we give them high quality at a good value, they will come. That has never not been the case in this business. Our goal is to inform, entertain and inspire," he concluded.

This works – and Bond included it – because it was interesting and added insight.  Had Katzenberg just answered the questions, two key messages would have been lost.

•    Envision the headline (or YouTube caption) you would like to see if you could write it.  Katzenberg scores points here, too, with his interviews generating the following headlines:

  • Katzenberg: Quibi is the next generation of storytelling (Yahoo! Finance)
  • Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg Says People Will Be Blown Away by Quibi (TV Insider)
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg brings DreamWorks, Disney experience to hot new app Quibi (WTOP)
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg on his new Quibi venture: We’re ‘proud to be doing something that can lift spirits’ (Washington Post)
  • Katzenberg: Quibi is the next wave ...And It's Free for 90 Days!!! (TMZ Live)

•    Anticipate Questions.  He was ready for questions (and skepticism) about the wisdom of launching during a business and production environment severely challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.  He framed it as the opportunity to “lift people’s spirits” as the most important consideration.  Quibi shrewdly made the service free for 90 days.  

He also never took the bait when regularly asked to compare Quibi to YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and other platforms, always praising them and pointing out that Quibi is unique. When Swisher took him on about being sued by a company that claimed Quibi had misappropriated its technology, Katzenberg responded firmly, concisely, and in one case set the record straight with Swisher that her question was based on inaccurate information. 

•    Have a Story Ready. Katzenberg has been a gifted storyteller since his days at Disney in the 1980s and he uses those skills in his interviews, smoothly dropping the names of A-list filmmakers such as Stephen Spielberg, Sam Raimi and Antoine Fuqua who have signed on to create content for Quibi, at times telling the backstories of their involvement.  He effectively tied the Quibi origin story to author Dan Brown disrupting publishing in 2003 with The Davinci Code and its 105 very short chapters.

While I have no idea how Katzenberg prepared, I’m convinced he put in considerable time and energy getting ready for his media tour. No matter how skilled and knowledgeable an executive is, following a preparation roadmap will deliver better results – and headlines.

KSC associate Lauren Wyatt contributed to this post.