Mike Rowe has made a career for himself as a guy wearing a scruffy cap and work jeans who takes TV viewers along with him to some of America’s roughest and toughest jobs. He did this first as the host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”, which spanned over 200 episodes between 2005-2012, and more recently as host of the similar CNN series “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”
What’s less well known about him (and what stands in contrast to his public persona) is that he’s a highly educated college graduate with a degree in communications. He’s also a trained actor and formal professional singer who did a stint with the Baltimore Opera. In addition to his own shows, he’s also done quite a bit of professional narration work, for everything from “The Ultimate Fighter” to “How The Universe Works.”
The point being, he’s an intelligent and educated man with broad experience in public speaking and performance. Without this background knowledge about him (and under the assumption that he’s just a blue-collar guy who managed to land a TV career somehow), you might be surprised at how effective and eloquent his public speaking appearances are, such as his 2009 TED Talk.
In this post we’ll break down in more detail exactly what it is that makes Mike such an effective, popular and in-demand media presence on the issues of work and educational reform that he’s made the centerpiece of his career.
The Image Of Authenticity
Can anyone remember the last time anyone saw Mike Rowe in a suit? Has he ever even been in one?Almost without fail, whether he’s appearing as host of his own show, a guest on someone else’s, or even as a speaker in front of a room full of wealthy tech giants, Mike is always in his standard t-shirt or work shirt (maybe a flannel if he’s feeling fancy that day), plus jeans and nondescript baseball cap. Granted, he may just wear this stuff all of the time because it’s comfortable and his career allows him to get away with it. But this image has also become his brand, and it helps to feed his no-nonsense persona and a sense that he represents honesty and authenticity without any pretense.
The Clothes Make The Brand
The “everyday Joe” outfit automatically helps to engender a sense of immediate trust in the audience, that this is just a regular guy who has no reason to hornswoggle you, he’s just here to make people aware of something that is important to him. This actually flies in the face of conventional psychological wisdom, in which studies tend to indicate that better-dressed people inspire more automatic trust. Context is also critical, however; Mike Rowe has a public history of over a decade now as “the face of the working man”, and that background is perhaps amplified by his “brand image” of going around everywhere in workwear.
To be frank, it may also be that it sets the bar somewhat low. People don’t tend to associate eloquent public speech with a guy who looks like he’s in a Dickies commercial. So when he begins delivering a well-written talk with professional presentational polish, it may be catching the audience by surprise and capturing their attention through something of a novelty factor.
Of Course, There’s The Actual Speaking
Mike Rowe is far from just being all about image, however. His television career has taken him through some legitimately nasty, dirty and even dangerous experiences. If he was just out for quick Hollywood money, there have to be easier ways to make it!
He comes across as not only personally very invested and interested in the subject of American labor and the lives of regular people, but passionate about convincing others for the benefit of the country as a whole. In other words, what he says is 100% legitimate, and it doesn’t take any kind of an outfit for that to show through.