The 'nerve-racking' experience of placing a client on 'The Daily Show'

Booking a client for an interview with Jon Stewart wasn't for the faint of heart.

Jon Stewart with US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen (Image via the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Flickr page)
Jon Stewart with US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen (Image via the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Flickr page)

NEW YORK: When Jon Stewart told an unsuspecting audience on Tuesday that he plans to leave The Daily Show after 17 years as its host, aside from upsetting fans it also jogged the memory of PR pros about the high-wire act of pitching and placing a client on the program.

Trey Ditto, CEO of Ditto Public Affairs, said he was responsible for getting the "first acting cabinet-level official to go on [the program]" in 2007 in former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Aware of Stewart’s young audience demographics, his goal was to get Spellings in front of students.

Ditto called it "the best and most-nerve-racking experience" because, in addition to it being a first, Stewart was a vocal critic of the Bush administration but also a proponent of education reform.

Despite doubts, Ditto recalled that the taping "went great," noting that Stewart focused on education.

Later, it became more common for a cabinet secretary to appear on the Comedy Central program, but Ditto said Spelling was a "litmus test for putting high-level politicians on The Daily Show."

Stewart told his audience on Tuesday night that he will leave the show later this year. Comedy Central has not named a successor, which has led to speculation from various media outlets.

Stewart also thanked his "hate-watchers" during his opening monologue.

Ann Pryor, senior publicity manager at McGraw-Hill Education, had an unusual booking – and re-booking – experience placing an author on The Daily Show.

She successfully placed Peter Tertzakian, author of a book about future energy challenges, on the program, but after he got on a plane to New York, word came through that Stewart’s wife had given birth. The pilot left the cockpit mid-flight to give him the news – and a heads up that he would have to travel back home. He was rebooked and made it to the taping on Valentine’s Day 2006.  

Pryor called the program a "perfect fit for a book and guest that educated and advised."

"Stewart was always an insightful and funny host willing to let his guest have the floor, and the audience always engaged no matter what the topic," she recalled.

In some cases, the ultimate goal isn’t to place a guest but to educate the audience. Communications consultant Susan DeVico was part of a task force during the 2012 campaign, after the failure of solar energy company Solyndra, emphasizing that it was being used as a "red herring" and that "one failure did not signal the demise of the whole solar industry," she said.

DeVico recalled one of Stewart’s "Winners and Losers" segments in which he took apart Mitt Romney’s comments about President Barack Obama picking "loser" companies such as Solyndra. The host pointed out that there was only an 8% failure rate among 63 companies that received Energy Department grants, not the half Romney claimed.

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