Broadcast Meteorologists and Personal Branding: An Exploratory Study after a Hurricane Crisis

Staci M. Zavattaro aUniversity of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida

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Kelly A. Stevens aUniversity of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida

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Abstract

Television station and on-air talent marketing and branding has been studied with increasing attention because there is recognition that the people are part of an overall brand strategy. In this paper, we focus on broadcast meteorologists and their views of their personal brands and how those work to engage audiences. With Hurricane Dorian in 2019 as the background major weather event, the paper focuses on how on-air meteorologists develop their brand identities. From these interviews, we find 1) personal branding to build trust is paramount, 2) social media are game changers for personal branding, and 3) station branding can influence personal branding. Our findings shed light on the tension some on-air meteorologists experience when seeing themselves as a commodity while also trying to build trust as an expert crisis communicator.

Significance Statement

The purpose of our study is to examine how on-air meteorologists understand the role that personal branding plays—if any at all—in helping them deliver information to viewers. In previous research, Daniels and Loggins noted that, as the landscape for communicating lifesaving information changes, understanding how on-air meteorologists understand their roles and personal identities becomes paramount. If weather is a product, the people delivering the information become part of the product and overall brand strategy, according to Daniels and Loggins. Our exploratory study indicates that personal branding poses some opportunities and challenges for on-air meteorologists, who sometimes see an internal conflict between station branding strategies and their roles as scientists.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Staci Zavattaro, staci.zavattaro@ucf.edu

Abstract

Television station and on-air talent marketing and branding has been studied with increasing attention because there is recognition that the people are part of an overall brand strategy. In this paper, we focus on broadcast meteorologists and their views of their personal brands and how those work to engage audiences. With Hurricane Dorian in 2019 as the background major weather event, the paper focuses on how on-air meteorologists develop their brand identities. From these interviews, we find 1) personal branding to build trust is paramount, 2) social media are game changers for personal branding, and 3) station branding can influence personal branding. Our findings shed light on the tension some on-air meteorologists experience when seeing themselves as a commodity while also trying to build trust as an expert crisis communicator.

Significance Statement

The purpose of our study is to examine how on-air meteorologists understand the role that personal branding plays—if any at all—in helping them deliver information to viewers. In previous research, Daniels and Loggins noted that, as the landscape for communicating lifesaving information changes, understanding how on-air meteorologists understand their roles and personal identities becomes paramount. If weather is a product, the people delivering the information become part of the product and overall brand strategy, according to Daniels and Loggins. Our exploratory study indicates that personal branding poses some opportunities and challenges for on-air meteorologists, who sometimes see an internal conflict between station branding strategies and their roles as scientists.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Staci Zavattaro, staci.zavattaro@ucf.edu

1. Introduction

Broadcast meteorologists are at the forefront of science communication daily but especially when disasters are looming. Not only do they need to be conscious of their broadcast style but also of how to use social media in today’s digital, connected age (Cordero 2012; Mulvey et al. 2020). How broadcast meteorologists distinguish themselves from others and connect with viewers is part of their personal branding, which can affect how well their messages to viewers are received.

Increasingly, journalists and on-air broadcasters are being pushed toward developing strong personal brands as a form of increasing not only ratings, but the person’s social and professional capitals (Christensen 2018). This also holds true for weathercasters. Sutter (2013) argues that broadcast meteorology is a public good given that local news media, especially television, is the main place from which people get information during a crisis. “Weathercasters are very visible members of a news team, and warnings, advice or reassurance during threatening weather can provide an enduring bond and create brand loyalty among viewers. Severe weather is life threatening, and weather coverage is a potential life saver” (Sutter 2013, p. 465).

Given the vital role that broadcast meteorologists play in crisis communication processes as trusted scientists (Engblom et al. 2019), coupled with the increasing marketization of news, the focus of this research is to examine how personal branding affects (if at all) the way that broadcast meteorologists engage in their roles. Necessarily, literature focuses on how people receive messages before, during, and after a crisis (Austin et al. 2012; Liu et al. 2019) or the tools used to share information (Eriksson and Olsson 2016; Sherman-Morris and Lea 2016). Our contribution is asking key crisis communicators—broadcast meteorologists—how they perceive their personal brand and its relationship to sharing crucial life-saving information before, during, and after a weather-related crisis.

Specifically, we focus on in-depth interviews with six on-air meteorologists in central Florida in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. The storm, which seemed to be tracking for a direct impact on Florida in early forecasting, turned into a difficult-to-forecast storm given its changing trajectory. The era of “fake news” and media distrust compounded efforts to share preparation and life-saving information with viewers on television and social media. Despite this focus on Hurricane Dorian, the meteorologists often brought up examples from other tropical and severe weather events from the last 5–10 years, providing a broader consideration of personal branding during crisis events.

On the basis of a content analysis of interview transcripts, we found that 1) personal branding to build trust is paramount, 2) social media are game changers for personal branding, and 3) station branding may influence personal branding. The purpose of this study is not to generalize to a broader audience; instead, our goal is to better understand how these science communicators understand their roles via a branding lens. Our findings can ideally lead to more in-depth studies in this growing area of importance, because many studies about on-air talent branding tend to focus largely on social media (see Brems et al. 2017; Mulvey et al. 2020; Olausson 2018), and we expand that by asking the creators themselves their perceptions of personal branding.

2. Branding and television personalities

The journalism landscape is everchanging, becoming increasingly competitive and individualistic (Olausson 2018), and engagement with audiences by on-air talent is growing in importance (Engblom et al. 2019). Indeed, this shift has caused some journalists to turn toward what Olausson (2017, 2018) terms the “celebrification” of individuals themselves, entering into a discursive process between the on-air talent and viewers cocreating the journalist-as-celebrity. Finneman et al. (2019) trace the history of television journalist branding, starting with the 1960s and coverage of pivotal U.S. events such as the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and Kennedy assassination, which ushered in a push for profits in the 1970s. When metrics and statistics came into play, a movement was now on for the brand of the journalist themselves, finding the entertainment factor in news (Finneman et al. 2019). With an increased focused on entertainment and news as a product, it makes sense that stations imported concepts such as marketing and branding that are bastions of private-sector corporatization (Chan-Olmsted and Kim 2001).

Like other constructs, a brand defies a single definition. Doing a meta-analysis of branding scholarship, de Chernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley (1988) found 12 distinct themes in more than 100 published articles about brands and branding: “as: (i) legal instrument; (ii) logo; (iii) company; (iv) shorthand; (v) risk reducer; (vi) identity system; (vii) image in consumers’ minds; (viii) value system; (ix) personality; (x) relationship; (xi) adding value; and (xii) evolving entity” (p. 418). For example, a brand as an image in consumers’ minds sheds light on the relational and constructive aspects of brands, like that of celebrities and celebrity journalists (see Christensen 2018). Brands become mental shortcuts that help people to make decisions that are based often on those emotional connections with certain favored brands. In other words, a brand’s success often exists in other peoples’ minds—an interplay between brand identity (what a person or organization creates) versus brand image (how people perceive a brand) (de Chernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley 1998).

The next logical question is, can people be brands? Again, this is a tricky question that belies a single answer, but personal branding often is “a way for individuals to differentiate themselves by identifying their unique value proposition and communicating it effectively and consistently. Like a company’s brand, a personal brand is a perception held in someone else’s mind that must be managed effectively in order to influence how an individual is viewed by others” (Stanton and Stanton 2013, p. 81). Essentially, personal branding takes many of the same concepts in corporate branding and applies them to understanding how people can shape a personal brand identity. An idea is to create brand equity, whereby one brand is preferred over another alternative. For television, that means a consumer chooses one on-air talent or station over another (Chan-Olmsted and Kim 2001).

Personal brands can be shaped through time as a person grows and changes, whereas product brands are usually distilled and then communicated (Rangarajan et al. 2017). The term personal branding is a relative newcomer to the scholarly literature (Scheidt et al. 2020), but the concept of how one presents oneself is not new. Indeed, Goffman (1956) describes the frontstage and backstage, with the former being how one showcases oneself to the world whereas the latter means a more guarded, “real” version of the individual. From their analysis of the emerging literature, Scheidt et al. (2020) found that personal brands usually encompass a person’s knowledge, skills, and abilities, coupled with a focus on the audience and their needs.

Television is serious business. There is intense competition between stations for market share, and one way that stations can differentiate themselves from others is through branding. For television stations, weather and traffic reporting are key items viewers want, so product differentiation becomes critical in a crowded market (Daniels and Loggins 2010). While there is a long history of understanding branding in television in general (Johnson 2011), our focus here is specifically on broadcast meteorologists. “It is worth noting that the meteorologists or weather presenters themselves may be a product differentiation factor” (Daniels and Loggins 2010, p. 33, emphasis added). Research into broadcast meteorologist branding usually examines station-related materials such as the slogan, graphics, network affiliations, and news-related promotions (Chan-Olmsted and Kim 2001).

Henson (2011) offers a detailed look at on-air weather forecasting, focusing on its evolution to professionalized science. In one sense, the broadcasters balanced their roles as entertainers with that of scientists. In the 1950s, Henson (2011) explains, there was a broader emphasis on entertainment, and in weather that meant usually having “weathergirls” sharing forecast information. This “weathergirls” lingo still is around today with sometimes detrimental effects on women in the business (Perryman and Theiss 2014).

Despite the increased variety of sources for weather information, including websites and smartphone weather apps, broadcast meteorologists remain an important mainstay for weather communication (Pew Research Center 2019; Reed and Senkbeil 2020). Previous research has identified that weathercasters, like journalists, are sometimes trusted advisors for how to act during a crisis (Sherman-Morris 2005). Small changes in visual graphics such as the extended forecast (Reed and Senkbeil 2020) and radar images (Sherman-Morris and Lea 2016) can affect risk perception by viewers. Since effective communication is so important during a crisis event, we also want to consider how personal branding influences communication methods by broadcast meteorologists.

3. Method: Semistructured, in-depth interviews

Our study began by attempting to find the connection between forecasting Hurricane Dorian and personal on-air meteorologist branding. Broadcast meteorologists are critical actors during crisis communication (Littlefield and Quenette 2007), interpreting forecast models and providing model accuracy and forecaster confidence along with life-saving information. Trust is a key element that influences what response the public will make to a recommended action during a weather event, which could potentially save lives (Sherman-Morris 2005). Sherman-Morris (2005) found that the more that viewers trust a particular broadcast meteorologist, the more likely it is that the viewers will alter their behavior, such as seeking shelter, when recommended by the broadcast meteorologist. Further, Sherman-Morris identifies that viewers with a higher parasocial relationship index, or a feeling of friendship with the weathercaster, are more likely to trust them.

Hurricane Dorian emerged in the Atlantic Ocean on 24 August 2019. Eventually, the storm became category 5 as one of the worst storms in the Atlantic basin, causing great damage to the Bahama Islands. Initial forecasts projected a weak tropical system that would reach Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and then dissipate. However, as days went by, forecast models increased the storm’s intensity and shifted the track toward southern Florida. Some scientists warned that the storm could reach category 4 as it approached the U.S. coast, which would make it the strongest storm to hit Florida’s east coast since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

Larger global steering conditions made the storm difficult to forecast, and, after making landfall in the Bahamas, a weak steering front caused it to stall and thrash the Bahamas for two days before moving on again toward Florida (Fig. 1). Again, the track changed from a direct hit to Florida to one that might see Hurricane Dorian skirting the coast —yet it could still potentially cause billions of dollars in damages (similar to Hurricane Matthew years prior). By the time that the storm dissipated around 9 September, the National Hurricane Center had issued advisories for the storm for 3 weeks, an unusually long duration (Avila et al. 2019).

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Satellite montage of Hurricane Dorian from 24 Aug to 7 Sep 2019. [This figure is provided through the courtesy of the University of Wisconsin–Madison (Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies 2019).]

Citation: Weather, Climate, and Society 14, 2; 10.1175/WCAS-D-21-0139.1

The duration and uncertainty surrounding Hurricane Dorian made it particularly challenging for forecasting and emergency management communications (Abukhalaf and von Meding 2020). A New York Times article about Hurricane Dorian explained challenges that professional broadcast meteorologists face given this increase in sharing of misinformation online by “social mediarologists” (Bogel-Burroughs and Mazzei 2019, spelling in original). The problem is that the public usually wants granulated forecast information coupled with wanting it quickly in a digital-media era in which everything is instantaneous.

Given the complex forecasting challenges with Hurricane Dorian, we interviewed six broadcast meteorologists in central Florida about personal branding and communication during the storm. Because of the exploratory nature of this study, we relied on in-depth, semistructured interviews during September–December 2019, months after the storm made landfall in the United States. In this way, we ensured the broadcast meteorologists in our study remembered details of forecasting the event, and each interview had the same set of questions. However, the semistructured nature allowed room for a natural flow of dialog between us and the meteorologists, which led to 35 pages of interview notes and data. We recognize, as stated in the introduction, that a total of six interviews is a small number, but the point of our study was to gain insights into the personal branding aspect of broadcast meteorology from the perspective of the on-air scientists. The personal brands could become more important during a crisis situation when their task is to deliver life-saving information that audiences heed (Doherty and Barnhurst 2009).

We attempted to contact and interview all broadcast meteorologists in central Florida using their public station websites. Each person was sent an email by a member of the research team, but only six responded with permission from their station managers to participate. Follow-up emails were sent again, and each meteorologist we spoke with was encouraged to ask their colleagues to participate. Interviews were recorded, and each member of the research team took extensive notes during the conversations, which lasted approximately 1 h each. Interviews took place via telephone or in a private room at the news station, based on the interviewee’s preference. We asked questions such as the following: How long have you been in the profession, and what attracted you? What does personal branding mean to you? What role does personal branding play in how you communicate forecasts? What was it like to communicate about Hurricane Dorian?

A combination of inductive and deductive coding was used to discern our patterns (Miles and Huberman 1994). For instance, findings about personal branding were an obvious pattern given that was the focus of our study. What emerged more inductively were findings about social media and gender dynamics. Each member of the research team did an individual coding of the data, noting patterns. Then the authors came together to compare initial codes and make sense of the patterns, in line with Miles and Huberman’s (1994) recommendations. Table 1 includes some quotations from participants and how they were coded for this study, as detailed further in the findings section.

Table 1

Example quotations from our study participants and how they were coded on the basis of theme and category.

Table 1

We model the presentation of our findings after Liu et al. (2020), who used a smaller sample to conduct interviews about citizen science. For their study, the authors interviewed three citizen scientists about their role in weather forecasting and interacting with certified meteorologists. This, along with field observations and nine interviews with National Weather Service scientists, they found patterns such as science translation of complex weather-related information, community building among scientists and citizen scientists, and message redundancy as a benefit. The “small N” study was able to provide powerful insights into the symbiotic yet complex relationship between National Weather Service scientists and citizen scientists, a topic growing in importance given ready access to social media platforms.

In this journal, small-N interviews also were used to gain insight into perception of tornado risk (Broomell et al. 2020), storm-related power remediation for nursing homes (Hutton and Allen 2020), and severe weather implementation systems (Potter et al. 2021), to name a few. The purpose of our study, like these others, is not to generalize to an entire population but to gain critical insights on a topic. In this case, our insights can yield future studies about personal branding related to broadcast meteorology in terms of building trust, digital engagement, and the influence of station branding.

In line with King et al. (2021), theory and research are connected in this project. We rely on the realization that broadcast news is becoming increasingly corporate and nuanced (Christensen 2018) so that both station and personal branding is important in that profession (Chan-Olmsted and Kim 2001). While researchers are studying on-air journalist branding, much of that knowledge focuses on social media use and presentation (Brems et al. 2017; Olausson 2018). By using a small number of broadcast meteorologists, our findings are meant to provide depth and detail rather than to generalize to an entire population. The study can be replicable (King et al. 2021) given that other researchers can ask about personal branding in different weather contexts.

A small-N sample as presented herein is not in itself a limitation for this kind of work, which focuses on learning about a concept from those experiencing this reality (Crouch and McKenzie 2006). The tool is appropriate for uncovering themes that are based on these lived experiences, so purposive sampling was used to focus on broadcast meteorologists in central Florida. The point is to take a study that is based on a small number of respondents and place it in context within a larger social situation (Crouch and McKenzie 2006), as we have tried to do here.

The six meteorologists we spoke with (1 female and 5 males) had between 18 and 30 years of experience in broadcast meteorology, as well as the American Meteorological Society’s Certified Broadcast Meteorologist Seal of Approval, and two have the title of chief meteorologist. All of the meteorologists with whom we spoke had a Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram profile and between 2000 and 35 000 Twitter followers. This information was obtained from social media and public websites, including the station’s or other professional websites such as LinkedIn. Note that while the research began with an eye toward personal branding during Hurricane Dorian, the findings were more broadly interpreted as reflected in our patterns.

4. Findings: Patterns related to on-air meteorologist personal branding in Dorian’s aftermath

a. Finding 1: Personal branding to build trust is paramount

The first pattern to emerge from our interviews is that building trust was the meteorologists’ priority. In this sense, the personal branding aspect was a tacit way for them to build trust with audiences. A trustworthy personal brand helped them to connect with viewers, which is critical during a crisis event such as Hurricane Dorian. Related to Hurricane Dorian specifically, we learned the meteorologists wanted to express a sense of calm and professionalism as the storm continued to change track and grow in intensity. Conveying fact-based information based on scientific modeling was key to communicating calm and building trust with audiences.

Trust is an oft-used term that sometimes is difficult to define—“one knows it when one sees it.” In a strict definitional sense, trust is usually understood as firm belief in someone or something. For on-air meteorologists, trust can be fickle, with audience members frequently blaming private on-air meteorologists for government-model forecast errors (Keeling 2011; Henson 2011). In today’s digital age, with reliance on social media and even the burgeoning artificial intelligence field, building trust is even more crucial because the market is more crowded. For example, using an experimental design, Spence et al. (2021) and Rainear et al. (2021) found that study participants enjoyed watching professional meteorologists and trusted forecast information from them more when compared with a “bot” or an amateur meteorologist. Their findings support the notion that different mechanisms of message delivery can be used by broadcast scientists to build trust with audiences.

Meteorologists in our study expressed using personal branding to build trust in several ways. First, they had to be aware of changes in the field, similar to those that Spence et al. (2021) were investigating. For example, one meteorologist in our study who began his career more than 20 years ago said, “the field is night and day from when I started . . . the hardware of the business has changed.” Social media, he said, has clouded the communications channels, making cutting through the noise more important for his on-air broadcasts. However, being left off social media platforms would cut off a crucial audience. Reflecting on this approach of using social media to share forecast information, he said, “I do think that would be a brand, and that is deliberate on my part not so much because I care about the brand, but because I care about the message.”

Second, for major hurricanes or other weather crises, building trust is vital because on-air meteorologists often share life-saving information. Indeed, when people trust the broadcast information, they are more likely to take risk mitigation strategies against the predicted hazard (Losee and Joslyn 2018). In addition, Losee and Joslyn (2018) found that when a viewer perceived the severe weather risk as great, they also took more life-saving actions. This reveals the tricky line on-air meteorologists face—be straightforward with the science but also communicate in a way that indicates the risk and severity of the threat.

A story from one of our participants illustrates this well. During Hurricane Dorian forecasting, he told a story of walking into his boss’s office as the storm was still tracking toward the Bahamas. “I showed him a map and I was like, this is going to stall.” At that point, it was still too early to determine what effect that would have on central Florida—and what he needed to share with viewers at that point. Communicating information too early could send people into unnecessary panic whereas waiting until too late could result in fatalities. “So, my big thing with a hurricane is, what do people need to know? . . . With Dorian, it was hard to make that distinct call of like, okay, now it’s action day. I think on Sunday before Dorian hit . . . I had to tell people I don’t know if it’s coming here, but the window of opportunity for us to prepare is closed.”

Another broadcast meteorologist from a different station in central Florida echoed similar sentiments about forecasting Hurricane Dorian. The storm’s ever-changing path and the long forecasting window before the storm approached the U.S. coastline meant encouraging viewers to keep checking back. He said, “What you see today is not going to be the same forecast track tomorrow. We were very open about that and the range of possibilities.” The storm stayed about 80 mi (∼130 km) off Florida’s coast, but with major hurricanes, even the outskirts of a hurricane can have a major impact on communities. At the heart of both of these stories—of communicating crucial information in a timely, calm manner—is wanting to build trust with audiences. While our interviewees might not see this as directly related to personal branding, literature shows that this is important to news stations and individual talent (Chan-Olmsted and Cha 2007; Ryan and Rosenfeld 2001; Sutter 2013; Sherman-Morris 2005).

At a different station, another meteorologist explained:

I do not really think too much about my personal brand other than I hope people know I’m trying to be honest and trying not to scare people. As a human being, not so much brand, I do not want to be an alarmist. I do not need to be an alarmist when there’s a giant hurricane coming at you. If anything, you need to be calmer. Personally, I do not know if it’s my brand, but I try to be calmer and more direct because that’s what people I would think need.

Related to that point, personal brands emerged in a variety of ways. For some, a personal brand emerged organically, while for others they tried to embody an overall station brand identity. One person shared a story of how he became associated with sleeves. This person is famous for rolling up his sleeves, and people use his sleeves as a gauge for the weather event’s severity. Sleeves down equals calm, while sleeves rolled up means it is a serious situation. This originated in 2004 during an exceptionally active hurricane season during which he chose not to wear his jacket as much. After that season, members of that station’s marketing department encouraged him to keep his jacket off during severe weather. He explained, “It’s a message. It’s a sign, so I started doing it.” The sign was taken a step farther when he rolled up his sleeves. Now people watch his sleeves; if the sleeves are up, there is a problem. He remembered:

I can recall during Irma, especially, that we needed people to start talking. I mean, the storm was category 3 [when it] made landfall and was coming north, and people were still like, “his sleeves aren’t rolled up yet,” so I’d go, “[Expletive redacted] my sleeves aren’t rolled up.” It’s kinda silly, but whatever helps get the message out within reason . . . I do not want to become a caricature . . . I remember during Dorian I had taken my jacket off because it was a serious situation, but I never rolled my sleeves up . . . It hasn’t gotten silly. It’s kind of like it’s an identity. People identify me, and if this is something simple that gets their attention and lets them know the threat level [that’s fine].

b. Finding 2: Social media are game changers for personal branding

The next pattern we found related to social media. For those in our study, social media are a double-edged sword. On one hand, anyone can become an “armchair meteorologist,” but the tools are also ways, on the other hand, that meteorologists can cut through the noise and share information directly with followers. The online space is rife for creating personal branding opportunities, but sometimes the station needs clashed with what, when, and how the person was willing to share.

It is no surprise that broadcast meteorologists see social media as vital tools for science communication, because a key part of the job is sharing life-saving information in a timely fashion (Ferrell 2012). However, with the rise of “armchair meteorologists” and “Twitterbots” delivering weather-related information, the job of a broadcast meteorologist is becoming more challenging (Spence et al. 2019). The meteorologists themselves in this study shifted to a visible online presence in addition to their on-air time slots, using tools to communicate to people where they are. While some in our interviews see the tools as vitally important, others devote less time to developing a strong online presence.

Several patterns emerged on broadcast meteorologists’ social media use as it relates to branding. First, as noted above, was the rise of armchair meteorologists and associated “fake news.” To show how the patterns here are closely related, this direct person-to-person interaction is a way for meteorologists to build trust with audiences by offering their own professional forecasts or responding to comments sharing false information. Our findings support research from Bica (2020), who found that spaghetti plots circulating online without context from expert meteorologists can cause confusion and increase a person’s risk of not heeding life-saving information. Spaghetti plots are often hard to understand and show a lot of forecast uncertainty, so social media become spaces where expert scientists can jump in and provide additional guidance for their followers (Bica et al. 2020).

To illustrate this, one meteorologist explained how someone sent an image supposedly from a local weather event. The meteorologist explained it as

this very real looking, this just happened kind of thing, and we had to save it on a desktop and do a Google image search on it. It pulled up some other thing. The guy was like, okay you got me. So, we get that kind of crap. It makes our job twice as hard. But for the most part, we get reliable information.

Second, the platforms might be a good way to communicate with wide audiences, but they also provide challenges when it comes to personal branding. From our sample, we found that some meteorologists were hesitant to share much about their personal lives even though station managers encouraged it. What to share became a source of concern for some, whereas others were more open. We do not attempt to generalize, because someone might be more comfortable being “an open book” online while others might think sharing too much reflects poorly on efforts to build trust. This is an area worthy of further study.

To illustrate, one person said he met with a social media consultant that the station brought in to share posting strategies with the weather team. The consultant recommended what the weather team members should be posting. This particular meteorologist told us his social media feed included posts about what he was doing in his yard or patio, along with photographs of him enjoying a beer. The consultants, he said, told him that “unless you’re making craft beer or critiquing it, I would take down the posts on craft beer . . . Then I was like, I don’t want to post things that get too personal [like drinking a beer]. There are things that are none of their [the audience’s] business.”

A meteorologist at the same station said the same consultants encouraged her to take surfing lessons because she reports on the surf conditions. “I was like, can I bill the station for this?” she said. Instead of sharing personal endeavors, she explained that she is more willing to post photographs of going to a school visit or giving a community lecture on weather safety. The public social media pages of our participants include many community outreach activities, which is less focused on them as individuals and more on their role as expert scientists. This ties into our pattern above about building trust, and part of the personal brand is to come across as a reliable expert who can cut through the noise.

However, social media is one area to which station management pays particular attention. Said one person: “They [the station management] are kind of corralling us into professional [social media] accounts, and they are keeping an eye on the professional accounts. They will say something if they see something they don’t want out there, or they’re not seeing a ton of posts. They’re steering us a little bit.” At another station, consultants were brought in to find optimal times to publish posts to reach the widest audience. Said one meteorologist: “Sometimes I have a good post, and while some consultant might be like ‘don’t post that until 7 [a.m.],’ and I’m like, ‘screw it’ and post at 4 in the morning.” Given there are no hard-and-fast rules, he chooses when to post, what, and why. “My job is to try to keep people safe and tell people what the weather is going to be. I don’t need to hit them over the head with science. I saw a lot of my colleagues putting out almost too much when there’s a big weather event. I thought they were putting out too much stuff.”

c. Finding 3: Station branding can influence personal branding

In addition to explicit direction on social media engagement by station management, station managers often consider how well someone’s personal brand fits with the station brand, which in turn may influence personal branding decisions by the meteorologist. This makes sense, given that weather and forecasting have long been seen as entertainment and part of the television station’s success (Henson 2011). Previous research finds that station branding is often the guiding force when it comes to how on-air meteorologists might think about the practice (Chan-Olmsted and Cha 2007). One meteorologist explained that the station brand is usually discussed in the interview process, and so candidates know it right away, and it allows the station to judge potential fit. “Does this person fit being a weather expert?” he said, alluding to the station’s weather branding.

Station managers can have a granular view of branding with the aim of audience growth and retention. One meteorologist further explained the degree of influence of station brand while making hiring decisions:

In TV, in my experience, the brand is really decided by management. It’s not so much in many ways a good analogy, but [all] I can think of is in sports . . . the management or the manager or the coach decides, “I’m running this offensive scheme or this defensive scheme, and I’m going to get players who match what I want.” Now there are some exceptions to that rule, but definitely in my tenure that’s been the case. Management decides the weather expert brand then seeks meteorologists for that brand.

Several of the meteorologists we spoke to shared insights on how broadcast meteorologists may mix their personal brand identities with the station’s. One meteorologist said a lot of weather teams and stations have brand slogans like “the weather experts” or “the weather authority,” but, as she noted, when she became a broadcast meteorologist nearly 20 years ago the meaning of those words was different. Before she arrived at the station in 2013, there was a brand refresh that included a set redesign. After that, station ownership changed, thus also changing again the station branding focus, which in turn influenced her own personal branding decisions. Now there is “weather on the ones” and “news now.” She explained, “these are things we will say to kind of drive in that branding, to let people know what we stand for and what our product is capable of providing.” Said one of her colleagues in affirmation, “Management decides the weather expert brand, then [we] seek meteorologists for that brand.”

The station and personal branding relationship also seemed to differ by market. Central Florida provides a large media market, especially when compared with stations where some of the meteorologists in our sample started. One man said he began his career in a smaller market in Mississippi. He stated, “The only reason they hired me was the general manager made the decision that he wanted more of an entertainer for morning weather.” He clarified that he also got the job because of his degree and credentials, which differed greatly from the weekend weather personality who was a radio disc jockey.

He contrasted this experience with his time at his current station, which drills down into all aspects of station and personal branding.

In term of how they select the meteorologists, again a market of this size it would not be shocking to have a focus group installed before you hire a candidate. It can go to the extreme in that case. There have been, especially with women, they will hire you on a condition of “well our focus group didn’t like that blonde hair so we want you to go to brown.” Or the focus group didn’t like the dresses that you wear, so you’re going to wear pants suits moving forward.

A colleague put the relationship between station and personal branding in terms of economics: “The one thing that sets TV apart from almost every other industry is what we’re producing is not what we are selling. What we produce is news. What we sell is advertising.” For this reason, if someone’s personal brand is not fitting well with the station’s identity, then the person could be let go.

The examples in this section illustrate the importance of station brand to developing personal brands, but that the nature of the relationship between the two is contextual and deserves further study. By contextual, we mean different stations have varied brand expectations, so what one station manager defines as a “weather expert” might change when applied to another station (Daniels and Loggins 2010). As such, further study should examine this relationship and its effects on the meteorologists as science communicators.

5. Conclusions

In this research, we identified several commonalities across interviews with broadcast meteorologists in central Florida as they consider how personal branding affects their approach to communicating weather-related information. Oftentimes, personal branding for broadcast meteorologists comes down to communication styles, which are shaped by purposeful choices to communicate in a certain way or fit with the station’s style. Trust is generally the primary concern that broadcast meteorologists consider while relaying information during crisis events. This is especially true given how social media has deeply affected scientific communications, in both positive and negative ways. While some elements of personal branding, such as age and gender, cannot be controlled, we hope that this research sheds light on how broadcast meteorologists consider branding while deciding how and when to communicate during crisis events.

Our research is based on a small sample of semistructured interviews. Future research could consider reaching out to viewers to determine the impact of brand image on those receiving forecast information from broadcasters and whether some personal branding decisions are more effective at conveying trust than others. Interviewing meteorologists that forecast for other severe or extreme weather events, such ice or snowstorms, may add to our findings that focus on tropical weather. Other work could look farther into how gender, age, and other identifying characteristics influence personal branding or brand image with a larger, more diverse sample of study participants.

The small “sample” size could be considered a study limitation, but indeed the purpose here was to generate knowledge situated in a specific context rather than to generalize to an entire population (Crouch and McKenzie 2006). Another limitation is focusing on one particular hurricane event rather than several, but at the time that this project was under way Dorian was the strongest storm forecast to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew. Since then, the country has experienced Hurricane Ida slamming into Louisiana in 2021 as a strong category 4. Other storms such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Barry—to name a few—have slammed into the United States, and these kinds of events continue (along with other natural disasters such as wildfire, blizzards, and tornadoes) to highlight the importance of trusted science communicators.

Our exploratory study highlighted the tension some on-air meteorologists might feel when it comes to their role as experts and also brands. Based on our findings, we offer some questions for future research: 1) What is the connection between personal branding and audience perception of the meteorologists? 2) How do the on-air meteorologists handle the stresses that come with being seen as commodities? 3) How prevalent are branding strategies in different kinds of stations? In other words, what is the difference between larger and smaller stations and why? 4) How can on-air meteorologists find a balance on social media between their expertise and personal identities? 5) What do audiences prefer when it comes to the social feeds of weather experts?

Acknowledgments.

This work was supported by a Quick Response grant (QR310) to the authors with Christopher Emrich at the University of Central Florida from the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Data availability statement.

Because of the nature of this research, participants of this study did not agree for their data to be shared publicly so supporting data are not available.

REFERENCES

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
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    • Export Citation
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Save
  • Abukhalaf, A., and J. von Meding, 2020: Communication challenges in campus emergency planning: The case of Hurricane Dorian in Florida. Nat. Hazards, 104, 15351565, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04231-1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Austin, L., B. F. Liu, and Y. Jin, 2012: How audiences seek out crisis information: Exploring the social-mediated crisis communication model. J. Appl. Commun. Res., 40, 188207, https://doi.org/10.1080/00909882.2012.654498.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Avila, L. A., S. R. Stewart, R. Berg, and A. B. Hagen, 2019: Hurricane Dorian. National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Rep., 74 pp., https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL052019_Dorian.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bica, M., J. Weinberg, and J. Palen, 2020: Achieving accuracy through ambiguity: The interactivity of risk communication in severe weather events. Comput. Supported Coop. Work, 29, 587623, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10606-020-09380-2.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bogel-Burroughs, N., and P. Mazzei, 2019: For forecasters, Hurricane Dorian has already been a handful. New York Times, 3 September 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/us/hurricane-dorian-florida.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brems, C., M. Temmerman, T. Graham, and M. Broersma, 2017: Personal branding on Twitter. Digital Journalism, 5, 443459, https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2016.1176534.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Broomell, S. B., G. Wing-Parodi, R. E. Morss, and J. L. Demuth, 2020: Do we know our tornado season? A psychological investigation of perceived tornado likelihood in the southeast United States. Wea. Climate Soc., 12, 771788, https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0030.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chan-Olmsted, S. M., and Y. Kim, 2001: Perceptions of branding among television station managers: An exploratory analysis. J. Broadcast. Electron. Media, 45, 7591, https://doi.org/10.1207/s15506878jobem4501_6.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chan-Olmsted, S. M., and J. Cha, 2007: Branding television news in a multichannel environment: An exploratory study of network news brand personality. Int. J. Media Manage., 9, 135150, https://doi.org/10.1080/14241270701632688.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Christensen, C., 2018: Journalists on social media: Politics, privacy, personal branding. Pop. Commun., 16, 245247, https://doi.org/10.1080/15405702.2018.1548019.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, 2019: Hurricane Dorian satellite montage with track. University of Wisconsin–Madison, http://tropic.ssec.wisc.edu/storm_archive/montage/atlantic/2019/DORIAN19-track.gif.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cordero, E., 2012: The use of social media to improve climate literacy. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Assoc., 93, 18131816, https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-93-12-1813.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Crouch, M., and H. McKenzie, 2006: The logic of small samples in interview-based qualitative research. Soc. Sci. Inf., 45, 483499, https://doi.org/10.1177/0539018406069584.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Daniels, G. L., and G. M. Loggins, 2010: Data, Doppler, or depth of knowledge: How do television stations differentiate local weather? Atl. J. Commun., 18, 2235, https://doi.org/10.1080/15456870903340472.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • de Chernatony, L., and F. Dall’Olmo Riley, 1998: Defining a “brand”: Beyond the literature with experts’ interpretations. J. Mark. Manage., 14, 417443, https://doi.org/10.1362/026725798784867798.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Doherty, R., and K. Barnhurst, 2009: Controlling nature: Weathercasters on local television news. J. Broadcast. Electron. Media, 53, 211226, https://doi.org/10.1080/08838150902907710.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Engblom, A., K. Timm, R. Mazzone, D. Perkins, T. Myers, and E. Maibach, 2019: Local TV news viewer reactions to weathercasters reporting the local impacts of climate change. Wea. Climate Soc., 11, 321335, https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-18-0066.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eriksson, M., and E. Olsson, 2016: Facebook and Twitter in crisis communication: A comparative study of crisis communication and professionals and citizens. J. Contingencies Crisis Manage., 24, 198208, https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-5973.12116.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ferrell, J., 2012: Social media: A new horizon for forecasting. Weatherwise, 65, 1217, https://doi.org/10.1080/00431672.2012.689584.

  • Finneman, T., R. J. Thomas, and J. Jenkins, 2019: “I always watched news just to see your beautiful smile”: Ethical implications of U.S. women TV anchors’ personal branding on social media. J. Med. Ethics, 34, 146159, https://doi.org/10.1080/23736992.2019.1638260.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goffman, E., 1956: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Anchor Books, 327 pp.

  • Henson, R., 2011: Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 256 pp.

  • Hutton, N. S., and M. J. Allen, 2020: Challenges in upgrading emergency power in Florida nursing homes following Hurricane Irma. Wea. Climate Soc., 12, 805814, https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-19-0064.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johnson, C., 2011: Branding Television. Routledge, 317 pp.

  • Keeling, S., 2011: Weather forecasts—A matter of trust. Geography, 96, 1621, https://doi.org/10.1080/00167487.2011.12094304.

  • King, G., R. O. Keohane, and S. Verba, 2021: Designing Social Inquiry. 2nd ed. Princeton University Press, 272 pp.

  • Littlefield, R. S., and A. M. Quenette, 2007: Crisis leadership and Hurricane Katrina: The portrayal of authority by the media in natural disasters. J. Appl. Commun. Res., 35, 2647, https://doi.org/10.1080/00909880601065664.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Liu, B. F., M. Egnoto, and J. R. Lim, 2019: How mobile home residents understand and respond to tornado warnings. Wea. Climate Soc., 11, 521534, https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-17-0080.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Liu, B. F., A. A. Seate, I. Iles, and E. Herovic, 2020: Eyes of the storm: How citizen scientists contribute to government forecasting and risk communication. Wea. Climate Soc., 12, 263277, https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-19-0131.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Losee, J. E., and S. Joslyn, 2018: The need to trust: How features of the forecasted weather influence forecast trust. Int. J. Disaster Risk Reduct., 30, 95104, https://doi.org/10.1016/J.IJDRR.2018.02.032.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miles, M. B., and A. M. Huberman, 1994: Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook. 2nd ed. SAGE, 338 pp.

  • Mulvey, G. J., K. Deleon, and B. Sowder, 2020: Social media ethics for the meteorologist. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 101, 723725, https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-19-0226.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Olausson, U., 2017: The reinvented journalist: The discursive construction of professional identity on Twitter. Digital Journalism, 5, 6181, https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2016.1146082.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Olausson, U., 2018: The celebrified journalist. Journalism Stud., 19, 23792399, https://doi.org/10.1080/1461670X.2017.1349548.

  • Perryman, N., and S. Theiss, 2014: “Weather girls” on the big screen: Stereotypes, sex appeal, and science. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 95, 347356, https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-12-00079.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pew Research Center, 2019: For local news, Americans embrace digital but still want strong community connection. PRC, www.journalism.org/2019/03/26/for-local-news-americans-embrace-digital-but-still-want-strong-community-connection/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Potter, S., S. Harrison, and P. Kreft, 2021: The benefits and challenges of implementing impact-based severe weather warning systems: Perspectives of weather, flood, and emergency management personnel. Wea. Climate Soc., 13, 303314, https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0110.1.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rainear, A. M., X. Jin, A. Edwards, C. Edwards, and P. R. Spence, 2021: A robot, meteorologist, and amateur forecaster walk into a bar: Examining qualitative responses to a weather forecast delivered via social robot. Commun. Stud., 72, 11291145, https://doi.org/10.1080/10510974.2021.2011361.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rangarajan, D., B. D. Gelb, and A. Vandaveer, 2017: Strategic personal branding—And how it pays off. Bus. Horiz., 60, 657666, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2017.05.009.

    • Crossref
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