Interview: Chicago Tonight & NASA Feedback

Marketing the Moon co-author Richard Jurek recently visited the set of the popular "Chicago Tonight" nightly news show on PBS hosted by Phil Ponce. The program also conducted a wonderful online Q&A with co-author David Meerman Scott to complete the perspective on the book from both authors. It was a great visit in the studio, talking about the book's themes, highlighting some personal artifacts that flew to the moon, and answering questions about NASA's need today for a global imperative to focus a fragmented audience base for support.

This fragmented approach is currently NASA's greatest challenge from a marketing and communications perspective. NASA has a great communications and public relations staff. They create tons of amazing content and know social media marketing, cold. NASA of today has hundreds of programs competing for audience attention and support, unlike during Apollo when there was just one major program dominating the news. Without a mandate to market, and with such a fragmented content array, it is almost impossible to create a ground swell of support like was generated during the laser-focused days of Apollo.

Bob Jacobs, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications in Washington, D.C., pointed out to Richard, after viewing the Chicago Tonight video interview: "You are so dead-on in the last part of that interview. And as you clearly pointed out, the resources today are a fraction of what they were in the heyday of Apollo. Add that to (the mix), and you capture the scope of our challenge."

Indeed, the challenge is embedded in NASA's operational structure and mandate -- with Congress and the White House holding the responsibility to set NASA's agenda. It has been this way since the agency's formation.

"People think we (NASA) need to go out and sell America’s space program. I don’t see that as my job. The President proposes and Congress disposes (i.e, accept or rejects, positions and funds). In fact, it’s frowned upon when someone suggests it’s NASA’s job to make space popular with the American people."

As NASA's 1958 charter indicates, it is NASA's job to disseminate information, just as Walter Bonney, Julian Scheer, Shorty Powers, Paul Haney, and the legion of Public Affairs officers, both past and present, have done and continue to do, admirably. They produce brilliant content. It is a reminder that the outside world often judges NASA as if it were a private company like Coca-Cola or Pepsi, where marketing (within a marketing-driven, packaged goods product management infrastructure) has a larger say in a company's strategic direction. And they forget that NASA must operate within the strict guidelines of its governing operational mandate.

"I frame it this way," says Jacobs. "My job isn’t to sell anything. My job is to clean the windows so America gets a better view of its space program."

Posted on April 5, 2014 .