How to Handle Host’s Controversial Comments
This week, Perry Michael Simon at AllAccess.com interviewed me for his “10 Questions with…” feature. One of the questions he asked lead to a more complex answer than I’m sure he was looking for, but it bears repeating.
What’s the best way to handle a host’s controversial comments — when is it best to unequivocally support the talent and when is it best to apologize or suspend or cut bait and run?
Well, I’ve encountered quite a few controversial on-air moments from dealing with Rush’s comments on Sandra Fluke to local hosts who get too graphic, push the envelope too far, or fail – offensively – at an attempt at humor. When I was at ESPN, Colin Cowherd used to say his job was to walk so close to the line each day that I’d be uncomfortable at times. He did his job well.
If I hear it and don’t get any complaints, my main reaction is to pull the audio, listen to it again, pull the offenders into the office, listen to the piece, have a conversation, and explain why I believe it was out of line. I usually offer suggestions on how it could be handled differently.
If you’re dealing with listener complaints it’s tricky. If you apologize too quickly, it shows a lack of faith in the product. If you’re too defensive it appears the station is deaf to criticism. While at KIRO FM, my GM Carl Gardner shared a great document with me on how to deal with listener complaints and I still have it. Here are the main points.
- Take all calls seriously. Respond to everyone. You may learn something new about your product.
- Don’t exaggerate and don’t let others exaggerate. People like to say, “we’re getting TONS of complaints…advertisers are cancelling business!!” – when, in fact, it maybe a handful of complaints or less. Seek the truth, don’t let people spread myths.
- Resist the temptation to apologize, argue or debate. Listen carefully with empathy. Most callers just want someone to hear them out.
- If something was said factually wrong — own it. If you were wrong – apologize. If someone is offended, explain the nature of some programs is to stimulate debate and discussion.
- If you haven’t personally heard the remarks at issue, insist on hearing them yourself before responding. It’s impossible to respond intelligently to something you’ve never heard, in context, yourself. Many times what is ‘heard’ is taken entirely out of context.
- Likewise, determine if the person complaining actually heard the comments or are responding to something they were told.
- Don’t share every complaint with the air staff. Any show working to break through will be noticed and at times disrupt listeners and advertisers. Sharing every bit of feedback can have a negative impact on their confidence.
- Believe in your product. Even though complaints can be uncomfortable, be confident and positive about your station, while remaining open to constructive feedback.
- People will tell you they’re boycotting your customers and writing them letters – they rarely do.