Over the course of my nearly three decades managing content for spoken word brands, (and six months with a digital startup) I’ve been blessed to have the opportunities to lead some amazing talent.
One thing I never had a shortage of, was advice on how to coach, mentor and lead.
If I had a nickel for every leadership summit I was dragged to, every life coach I had to meet with, every book on successful management I had to read, I’d be able to retire by now.
The reality is, there is no right answer to “what makes a great leader or coach”. It’s different for everyone because everyone is different.
That being said, there are five key things I’ve learned that have served me well in managing talent.
None of these ideas are new. I’m sure that many of you have heard them before. They were all conceived by people that are far smarter than I am.
Oh, and before I begin, I’m certain that many former hosts I’ve worked with will read this and think to themselves:
“What a load of crap. He NEVER did that with me.”
I will qualify this column by saying that every one of these five tenants that I’m about to share came with years of making mistakes and learning the hard way.
LET THEM KNOW YOU HAVE THEIR BACK…QUICKLY
The minute that a Program Director walks into the building, the talent universally has one question on their minds: “Can this guy get shit done?”
No one likes an empty suit. No matter how many wins you have on your resume, you are 0-0 when you take over any new station. You need to get some “wins” and you need to do it fast or else you will lose everyone even faster.
The best way to win over talent is by showing them you can help them be successful. More often than not, it involves removing obstacles that they couldn’t overcome.
I remember once when a talent came to me because he was upset that he was using two producers on his show. He preferred one over the other. We talked about it, what he said made sense and I asked him the simple question, “Why weren’t we doing this already.”
“The old PD wanted to do it this way,” he replied.
“Done,” I said. “I’ll talk to the producers and let them know that we’re making this change so you won’t have to be the bad guy.”
In the weeks that followed, that host went on to produce some of the highest numbers in the history of the radio station.
Another time, a veteran host literally tiptoed…tiptoed into my office, sat down and said meekly, “I need a favor.”
There was a stunt he wanted to do, it was a fairly minor one. Without going into the details, the worst risk, I could surmise was that we may get written up for a misdemeanor by the police. Deep down, though, I knew it would make for GREAT radio.
So, I went up to the GM’s office, laid it out to him, emphatically stated that it was a good idea and eventually got the green light.
The stunt was a winner, the station got great publicity and the talent went on to get some of the highest ratings of his entire career.
GIVE SPECIFIC FEEDBACK AND DO IT OFTEN
One of the best quotes I ever heard on coaching talent was from the legendary spoken-word programmer Jack Swanson from San Francisco.
“Don’t treat talent like children,” he said. “Treat them like puppies.”
My fellow dog parents will understand this quote. Step one in getting a puppy is teaching them how to behave. You don’t do that by yelling at them when they do something wrong. You do it by PRAISING them when they do something right. Screaming at a puppy when they take a whizz on your living room carpet won’t get them potty trained. However, praising the HELL out of them when they relieve themselves in the back yard will, over time, do the trick.
When talent do something good, let them know. Find the things in their show, podcasts and social media that you like and talk to them about it. Be SPECIFIC. “Hey, that was a great show or a great segment” is empty praise. You need to cite, chapter and verse, what you liked and WHY.
If you do this often enough and consistently enough, they’ll understand what you are expecting from them. On the flipside, they’ll have a better idea of what they’re NOT supposed to do.
Look, most talent understand when they’ve screwed up. Going back to the “puppy” analogy, my two Boston Terriers have developed (as many dogs have) the habit of walking up to me slowly with their ears down, then rolling over and exposing their bellies when they’ve been naughty. Once I see this, I know that somewhere in the house there is a mess I’ll have to clean up. Many of the talent I know have acted the same way. I remember a conversation with a host who had gotten into an ugly shouting match with his co-host on the air. Right as they went into a commercial break, he walked into my office. The conversation went as follows:
“Uhm, did you hear that last segment?”
“Do we need to talk about it?”
“Yea, we probably should. Just drop in after the show and we’ll figure it out.”
The conversation that followed his show was long, but not contentious. We both knew what the problem was and that we were more focused on fixing it rather than assigning blame.
MEET WITH THEM ON THEIR TERMS
One morning show host I had, hated meetings. My first month on the job, he would literally dart out the back door of the building right after his show so he could avoid me calling him to my office or cornering him in the hallway.
One thing he DID like, however, was beer.
So, I made him a deal. Once a month, we’d meet over a couple of beers and just talk. I really had to couch this as something that wasn’t masquerading as “just another meeting”. He reluctantly agreed. The first few times we met, I made a point to not talk about work at all. We’d talk about sports, our families, politics, money, etc. These “beer summits” continued on a fairly regular basis. The end result: he opened up. HE started bringing up things about the show that bothered him. I didn’t have to. It was all about putting him in a comfort zone and letting him talk on his terms, not mine.
There was another host I had, who would walk into my office after almost every show, sit down on my couch and just start talking. He CRAVED feedback. CRAVED it. He wanted to know how I felt about virtually every program. Many times, I’d sit down and aircheck him on the spot. Once he left the building, though, he was done. He wouldn’t respond to calls or texts. I would try e-mailing feedback and he’d never read it. Eventually, I figured out that he was giving me a window to work with him and, as long as I stayed within that, I could reach him. As a rule, I never scheduled anything the one hour AFTER his show ended.
LISTEN MORE…TALK LESS
Talk show hosts all have two things in common.
- They talk a lot.
- They all want people to listen to them.
Some of the best ways to gain a talent’s trust is by shutting your mouth and listening to what they have to say.
I remember a particular Monday morning one fall, just as I was about to head to a sales meeting, our morning show host walked into my office, shut the door and slumped down on the couch in front of me.
For twenty straight minutes, he ranted and raved about everything wrong with his show, with the station, with the industry, and so on.
After his passionate diatribe (when he had to stop and take a breath), I chimed in.
“What do you want me to say?” I asked.
“I DON’T WANT YOU TO SAY SHIT,” he screamed. “JUST FUCKING LISTEN TO ME!”
That statement was so powerful, it literally knocked me back in my chair. From that day on, it was cemented in my head.
Many times, talent don’t want advice or counsel. They just want to know that they’re being heard. They sit in an empty room for 3-4 hours every weekday, talking into a microphone, and hoping that what they’re saying will resonate with people. If they can’t get that satisfaction from their show, YOU will have to give it to them.
SHOW THEM HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a fellow PD tell me, “I don’t talk ratings with my hosts, ratings are all bullshit, anyways!” This is something that, for the LIFE of me, I’ve never understood.
Oh, I get it, we don’t want them to focus on ratings. We want them to just focus on doing good content. Here’s the rub: hosts are going to worry about ratings no matter what. Why shouldn’t they? A portion of their income is usually TIED to them (by way of bonuses). If we don’t give them OUR spin on the numbers, they’ll seek it out from other people.
Look, as PD’s, we all have a love/hate relationship with Neilsen. And if we can actually get the digital folks in the building (or company) to give us accurate numbers on streaming or podcast downloads…it can be a headache trying to unravel it all. But the reality is, we’re doing ourselves (and our talent) a major disservice if we don’t explain the methodology and how we can get it to work to our advantage. We don’t necessarily need to give people an algebra equation to solve. However, we need to explain the numbers in terms they can understand. Don’t downplay them. Often, hosts and producers are smarter than we give them credit for
Virtually every talent I’ve ever worked with wanted to know how the ratings and digital analytics games work. So, I let them take a peek behind the curtain. I’d whiteboard stats for them and bring in experts to explain best strategies on a regular basis. There were times I’d actually have hosts and producers taking photos of PowerPoints I had so they could remember them. Competitive people like to know the score and how to win the game, sometimes all you have to do is talk to them about it.
Viewership Not as Strong For Biden-Trump II
The second and final U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden took place on Thursday, Oct. 22 and across 15 outlets, it drew 62.95 million viewers. While the first Biden-Trump debate from Sep. 29 (73.13 million) ranked as the second most-watched debate in TV history, Biden-Trump II failed to crack the top 15 most-watched debates (placing 17th).
Once more, Fox News Channel — expected to top cable in total viewers for the week ending Oct. 25 — was the top outlet for a debate; Biden-Trump II drew 15.41 million viewers. CNN drew less than half of FNC’s audience figures with 7.51 million viewers but still ranked as runner-up on cable; MSNBC (6.93 million) close behind.
ABC led the broadcast networks in debate coverage with 11.23 million viewers. The debate’s moderator was NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker which may have led NBC to be the lone network to increase its viewership from the first debate; it drew 10.63 million, up 9 percent from Sep. 29. CBS attracted an audience of 5.72 million.
Here were the half-hour total viewer breakdowns of Biden-Trump II on the broadcast networks:
9:00-9:30 p.m. ET
ABC — 10.881 million
CBS — 5.319 million
NBC — 10.249 million
Univision — 1.288 million
Telemundo— 1.397 million
9:30-10:00 p.m. ET
ABC — 11.648 million
CBS — 6.000 million
NBC — 11.017 million
Univision — 1.506 million
Telemundo— 1.479 million
10:00-10:30 p.m. ET
ABC — 11.248 million
CBS — 5.858 million
NBC — 10.683 million
Univision — 1.501 million
Telemundo— 1.489 million
Unlike Biden-Trump from Sep. 29 and Harris-Pence from Oct. 7, Univision (1.43 million) was Biden-Trump II’s top Spanish-language outlet. Telemundo delivered 1.27 million viewers.
The debate affected the crowd for Fox and NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football”. Giants-Eagles drew 10.61 million viewers, the smallest audience for TNF in two years.
For the week ending Oct. 18, 2020 in total day data (from 6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. each day), Fox News Channel led the cable news networks in both viewers (2.38 million) and adults 25-54 (418,000). MSNBC (1.32 million) bested CNN (1.16 million) in total viewers while it was vice versa in the key demo (CNN’s 287,000 adults 25-54 vs. MSNBC’s 207,000 adults 25-54).
Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with associated ranks) in total viewers:
1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.854 million viewers
2. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.843 million viewers
3. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.427 million viewers
4. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.326 million viewers
5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.159 million viewers
6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 10/12/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.129 million viewers
7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.035 million viewers
8. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.994 million viewers
9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.956 million viewers
10. Hannity (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.710 million viewers
23. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Fri. 10/16/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.872 million viewers
66. CNN Tonight (CNN, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.905 million viewers
Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC program with associated rank) among adults 25-54:
1. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.158 million adults 25-54
2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.076 million adults 25-54
3. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.051 million adults 25-54
4. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.999 million adults 25-54
5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.988 million adults 25-54
6. CNN Tonight (CNN, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.916 million adults 25-54
7. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.890 million adults 25-54
8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 10/12/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.883 million adults 25-54
9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.853 million adults 25-54
10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.843 million adults 25-54
22. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.674 million adults 25-54
DEBATE PREVIEW: It’s a Thankless Job, and Unfortunately She Has to Do It
The stakes are even more complicated now that the Commission on Presidential Debates has changed the rules.
NBC News White House correspondent Kristin Welker has the job nobody wants tonight.
Welker will try to reign in President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday night in the second and final debate of the 2020 election.
The president attacked Welker on Twitter and in rallies this week, calling her terrible and unfair, setting up a debate showdown with both his opponent and the moderator.
It’s a thankless job for Welker, who will have to corral a president who needs to do well in the debate to shore up what appears to be a several-point disadvantage with less than two weeks of voting left in the election.
Several colleagues and other news personalities came to Welker’s defense this week, but the true grit will come on Thursday night when she will have to tightrope between keeping personalities in check and not becoming part of the story of the night.
The stakes are even more complicated now that the Commission on Presidential Debates has changed the rules.
Just as in the first debate, the debate will be 90-minutes long divided into six 15-minute segments. Each candidate will deliver uninterrupted remarks in response to a question from the moderator at the beginning of each segment. Then the debate will move to an ‘open discussion’ period for the remainder of the 15 minutes.
What’s different this time is that the mics will be muted during the 2-minute answer period for each candidate. They will not be muted during open discussion.
This is where things will get tricky for Welker.
The president, anxious to make his points and make up ground on Biden, will likely be even more aggressive during the open discussion. Their personalities are starkly different without the pressure of playing catch-up.
How will Welker react if Trump simply talks over Biden and dominates his time during the open discussion?
Interruptions will “count toward their time,” but again, that puts the pressure back on Welker. She becomes the center of the evening at a time when public trust of the media is at or near all-time lows, and one candidate is actively undermining trust in the media at-large and this moderator specifically.
It’s a job nobody would want, but Welker is a seasoned professional.
Here’s wishing her luck.
Capitalizing on Debate Season
Your station carrying not only the presidential debate, but also carrying debates in statewide races, can grow and keep your audience tuned in.
The election season always brings opportunities for news talk stations to shine. The audience knows they can go to you for the latest information, news and events. I’d imagine there won’t be a news talk station (that isn’t fully syndicated) that won’t carry this week’s second and final Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
It’s relatively easy to do, it’s great for branding and it hopefully draws you some cume during a time of day when your station might not typically get it.
But what about carrying debates from some of your local races?
It seems like debates at the state level are happening less and less each election cycle. Political consultants are convincing campaigns that it’s only the blunders that get remembered and the campaigns flush with cash are better off letting their TV and radio ads do the storytelling for them. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, that’s a disservice to the voter. But it’s the way things are trending, unfortunately. Incumbent favorites usually find every reason to not debate their opponents.
So when a debate does occur, how can your radio station capitalize on it? And should you carry it?
Here in Kansas City on KCMO Talk Radio, we will be airing a congressional debate on Thursday, October 22nd, between incumbent Democrat Sharice Davids and Republican challenger Amanda Adkins. The seat that was Republican for nearly a decade until 2018, when the House of Representative’s “Blue Wave” hit Kansas’ third district. As a news talk station, our conservative audience would love nothing more than to flip the seat back into Republican hands.
Also, the seat covers essentially the entire side of the KC Metro in Kansas. Unlike in Top 5 or Top 10 markets, where congressional districts, for example in the Dallas-Fort Worth market can include up to, or more than, 10 congressional seats, the Third District of Kansas is the bulk of the Kansas side of the KC Metro and is a relevant race to a huge part of the listening audience.
With that being said, we elected to carry the Third District debate this week which is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. There was some hesitancy as it is in the middle of Ben Shapiro’s afternoon drive show, and Ben is performing well on the station, but considering the percentage of the audience that lives in this district, combined with the fact that it’s the only debate between the two candidates, we decided to move forward.
Also, it gives us a great branding opportunity as Thursday being “Debate Day” and a “Two-Fer”, as listeners will get our local, Third District debate at 5:30 p.m. and then later that evening the Presidential Debate at 8:00 p.m. We’ve used that branding on our website and social media.
The lead up to the event will be just as important, if not arguably more important, than the debate itself. All week long, we’ve been able to push on the station via promos, liners, imaging, etc. our ability to cover the local and national races better than any station in the Metro, while branding ourselves as the station, politically, where “if it’s happening in KCMO, it’s on KCMO”. Thursday’s debate will be another example of coming through on that promise in a way no other station in the market will be.
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