How much would it be worth to have fans voluntarily Tweet about your brand — for free?
Noel Nitecki and Steve McCann have been doing just that for former sports columnist and radio and television host Tony Kornheiser since June of 2010.
Nitecki, an Illinois-based IT consultant and McCann, a golf instructor, hatched the idea to launch @MrTonySays as a way to learn about Twitter and attract a following. But they never expected their feed would catch on to the degree it has, with more than 21,600 followers (and growing).
Since launching their feed, MrTonySays has been embraced by Kornheiser’s radio show, and mentioned by notable figures such as NBC’s Chuck Todd. Just this week, Gary Braun, a regular part of Kornheiser’s radio show family, mentioned the feed on the show.
Of course, there was always the danger that they would be cast as a bogus Twitter feed pretending to be Kornheiser.
“Once we got out there, there were already a lot of people pretending to be Tony Kornheiser, says Nitecki, who manages the day-to-day operation of the feed. “We were trying to make it very clear from the beginning that we’re not trying to be a fake Tony Kornheiser.”
In many ways, MrTonySays is more like a “tribute” band than a band trying to rip off someone else’s original material. There is a key difference between the two. And clearly, this is a labor of love.
Indeed, their Twitter bio is quite clear: “Mr Tony doesn’t tweet, so we share his best quotes with the blessing of @PTIShow” — but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from mistakenly thinking they are reading Kornheiser’s feed. This is a frustrating fact of life.
“If you listen to Tony Kornheiser for a week,” says Nitecki, “you’re going to hear him say he’s not on Twitter.” (In fact, Kornheiser recently joked about how being on Twitter would likely result in his committing too many gaffes.)
“We do have a responsibility to be respectful of his reputation. I take that part seriously,” says Nitecki.
Most of the Tweets are direct quotes from Kornheiser’s radio and TV appearances, but some are not. When directly quoting Kornheiser, the protocol they have adopted is to use the hashtag #MrTonySays.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Kornheiser is a lovable curmudgeon who isn’t afraid to say controversial or off-beat things — and that he is on air 2 1/2 hours a day, five days a week. There is no dearth of material for the Twitter feed.
The feed’s success has been a surprise, but it was also the result of guerilla marketing. In the beginning, McCann took the lead in reaching out to Gary Braun — the most prominent member of Kornheiser’s circle who was on Twitter (@BraunFilm).
Eventually, they started noticing celebrities like ESPN’s Tony Reali and Pat Forde — and even some NFL players were following them. “It’s always kind of neat when you see someone who’s name you recognize pop up,” says Nitecki.
But their major breakthrough occurred when when NBC’s Chuck Todd asked about the feed during an interview on Kornheiser’s radio show. This opened the door for Nitecki and McCann to email the show, and make their first official contact. Since that time, the show has wisely embraced this organic Twitter feed.
Nitecki, who is in his 30s and didn’t grow up in the DC-area (where Kornheiser was a notable columnist at The Washington Post) or have cable TV as a child, became a fan of Kornheiser later in life. He tells me that Kornheiser’s radio show, which he listens to via podcast, is a better source for Kornheiser quotes than the ESPN show Kornheiser co-hosts with Michael Wilbon, “Pardon the Interruption” (Note: A similar feed @MikeWilbonSaid actually predates @MrTonySays). Nitecki notes that Kornheiser is “less scripted” on the radio than on PTI.
Kornheiser’s radio show appealed to Nitecki for a variety of reasons, including the fact that “maybe 50 percent is about sports — and the other 50 percent is about funny things he’s experienced, the news, or pop culture.” He also says that Kornheiser is about the same age as his late father, and that gives him “some insight about what it must have been like being a teenager in the 50s or 60s.”
“Our goal is to entertain,” says Nitecki. “Sometimes it’s been tempting to quit. But to me, it’s fun.”