The weather, marketing and communications communities are slowly absorbing the announcement made earlier today that the Weather Channel (TWC) will begin naming winter storms. My quick read on reactions (navigating Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, email, etc) is that they average out luke warm (which is where I stand).

But one of the more convincing criticisms of the storm naming initiative I’ve seen originates from Chris McMurry, public relations director for MGH, a Maryland-based advertising agency. His thoughtful blog post - headlined “At the Weather Channel, It’s Marketing First, News Second” is worth reading. The gist of his argument is that TWC may do its audience a disservice by (intentionally or unintentionally) prioritizing “branding” over substance.

A key excerpt:

What makes this Weather Channel decision more about marketing than news is that it, as a ratings-generating television network, gets to set the parameters for what makes for a “name-worthy” winter storm. In essence, there is a profit motive in exclusively branding severe weather events that have the ability to destroy homes and claim lives.

. . . this situation, it appears The Weather Channel is driven more by creating a branded product, complete with fancy graphics, than in delivering weather news in the clearest, most commonly understood way, which is what The Weather Channel should stand for. Marketing is important for any business, but when it gets in the way of your mission, perhaps it goes too far.

TWC would probably counter by saying that by creating a brand, it helps it more effectively reach people and communicate related information. The rebuttal to that argument would be if the process for creating a brand is subjective and potentially biased due to profit-making motives, then the quality of the information provided is compromised (e.g. named storms may be overhyped and unnamed storms not played up enough).