Hillshire Brands CCO Jon Harris is making the leap from a career in communications to one in entertainment, as he prepares to join The Meredith Vieira Show as its announcer starting with its September 8 debut. Harris told PRWeek why he’s taking the risk, and how he expects his background in PR to help him in the new role.
Q: Tell us about The Meredith Vieira Show.
A: The great thing about this show is we are celebrating ordinary people who do extraordinary things, in addition to having celebrity involvement. So we will be going after big interviews, from dream guests like Prince William and [Dutchess] Kate [Middleton] to Will Ferrell, who actually dropped [Vieira] on her head years ago at the Rockefeller Center skating rink, live on air on the Today show. The audience will also get to weigh in on the most wanted guests.
Although the show is going to be goofy and outrageous at times, we will also talk about things like issues moms, wives, and caregivers face and tell the stories of courageous, everyday people. There will be surprises around every corner and giveaways for the audience. The goal is for each show to leave the viewer with something.
Q: How did this opportunity come about?
A: About a year ago, [Vieira] approached me about being an announcer on her show. She wants the show to be an environment that is like her home. The set will contain actual furniture from her home, like her living-room chair that has been scratched up by her cat. She will have pictures of her kids on the wall, also from her real home. So she asked me to be on the show because I have known her for 20 years. She wanted to have a friendly face. She felt I have good energy, will bring a great point of view, and I also know all of her secrets.
This is definitely a departure to what I am doing as CCO of Hillshire Brands. I have loved my time at Hillshire, but they could not have been more excited for me and supportive of this great new part of my journey.
Q: What does an announcer do? Give me a rundown of what your day will be like.
A: I don’t exactly know how it will work yet. But I do know that part of my responsibilities will be to support the team and do everything I can to help the show move in a positive direction, provide my point of view when necessary, and bring energy to the show. On this show, we want to cover the spectrum of human emotion. We want people to laugh, be inspired, share frustrations, or just vent, and I am hopefully going to be a part of all that.
Q: Although you have spent the majority of your career as a PR pro, you have a background in entertainment. Tell us about that.
A: I am a trained musician and singer. In my youth, I performed before I got into PR. I played Huck Finn in a Kodak commercial when I was 12, and throughout my career I have appeared on shows like Today, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Steve Harvey, and Rachel Ray, as well as the reality show Giuliana and Bill.
I don’t think I will be doing any Huck Finn bits on the show, but I am psyched about the opportunity to jam with the program’s band, led by Everett Bradley. But I could not be more pleased to work at 30 Rock on this show. We have neighbors such as Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, Saturday Night Live, and Access Hollywood. This whole opportunity is a dream come true for a kid from Wayne, New Jersey.
Q: How does a comms background help you going into entertainment and vice versa?
A: I grew up performing and entertaining and working with people and really understanding and listening to audiences. And that is what we need to do as communicators: be great listeners. That will be no different in my new job. I will need to be a great listener, counselor, and also, at times, help things move along, which is exactly what my role is as a CCO. My job is always to protect, serve, and build my brands, executives, and my company. In this case, it is no different.
A: I never say never. I will always be a PR person at heart. But my goal is to make this next effort a big success, to go after it with the same energy, intensity, and passion that I have used throughout my career. I love communications, and to return to it would be a pleasure as well.