I’ve been thinking about how running a Presidential campaign is similar to being a radio personality. We are judged each day by listeners who vote for us by listening and against us by switching to the competition. We are running a never ending campaign for more listeners, more time, more engagement, more loyalty, more recall, and more ear space.
In radio and Presidential politics you only have about two years to make an impact once you secure the position and you may be moving on to something else after four years.
So what can we learn from dumpster fire of a Presidential election?
Actually, watching Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton provides great reminders to radio talent. Here are four that jump out at me.
Be Prepared. We all want to believe we have the talent and experience to “wing it.” We don’t. When the red light comes on you need to know what you want to say, what the intention or goal is for the break, and how you’re ideally going to execute it. It doesn’t need to be scripted, but preparing for each break will make your show smarter, sharper, funnier, and more listenable. Winging it leads to incoherent rambling, unnecessary diversions, and what I call “break degeneration.” That’s when a segment gets so far off track and meandering that even the hosts aren’t sure when or how to end it.
Embrace Showmanship. We are in show biz. We’re performers. Even candidates are performers on the “political stage.” This doesn’t mean you play someone you’re not. To cut through the clutter you need to be an enhanced version of you. The smarter, funnier, more clever and personable cousin of the person you are when you wake up in the morning. Yes, we’ve all been screaming about ‘authenticity’ for a few years. True authenticity can be inspiring, but more often it’s subdued and boring. Go ahead and be authentic to yourself, in your intentions and with your actions, just execute it with some gusto.
Be Empathetic. Do the show for your audience instead of for personal fame, local celebrity or a pay check. If you can emotionally connect with your listeners and demonstrate you “feel them” whether it’s through conversation, stories, life events, or personal vulnerability you will win them over. Empathy is the missing ingredient for both Presidential candidates. They’re not running for the highest office in the land for us, they’re doing it for themselves and the power that comes with it. It’s why so many people are voting against one of the candidates instead of for them.
Avoid Personal Attacks. Trump is a one man insult machine (that’s a compliment.) It’s a skill he’s honed over many years. Hurtling insults and personal attacks is psychological warfare for him. He believes it gives him the upper hand, intimidates others and gives him power. I believe that he believes it makes him more likeable. It might to some. Even if it does, and I’d argue it doesn’t, you dear reader are not God’s gift to “insult assault” like Trump. For mere mortals, personal attacks generally bounce off the intended target and the negativity is reflected back onto you. It can make you look childish, unprepared, less intelligent, reactionary, unstable, immature and like a bully. It is perfectly acceptable and expected to characterize and criticize behaviour and actions, but avoid attacking and insulting people.
These are just some of the radio lessons collected on the campaign trail. What have you learned? Use the comments below to share your takeaways.
Every day in radio we have a choice to make.
What is our show or station going to be about today?
What do you want to be “famous” for today? What do you want people talking about, reacting to, or sharing? What makes you different on this day from everyone else?
Depending on your format it could be something about Donald Trump or Lady Gaga. It could be the Oscars, Kobe’s farewell tour or a new release from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Consciously or not, decisions on what our show or station is or is not are made every day.
At the Oscars they had a choice to make – are we going to be about “celebrating cinema” or “racist Hollywood?” Host Chris Rock and presumably all involved in creating the awards show actually chose the latter.
I applaud them for tackling the elephant in the room head on from the start of the show. Rock’s 10-minute monologue/sermon/stand-up didn’t let up for an instant. It went on and on and on. And everything in the show seemed tied to that core concept.
Great. They chose to be about something big, bold, and important. But…
But, it’s not what the attendees or the TV audience signed up for. So millions fled.
What happened? Chris Rock was in a no-win situation. If you don’t address it you get criticized. If your skirt over it with a few jokes you get criticized. If you go full throttle you get criticized. And even now, everyone is talking about Rock’s words while skimming over the awards – many of which were upsets.
That doesn’t mean you stop taking chances.
I encourage all hosts and stations to take risks, be bold, try things and always be about something. But there is a trick to doing it effectively. The more that the “something” you are about on any given day matches the expectations of the fans, the better chance you have to keep them tuned in. It is less about being predictable and more about living up to your brand promise. It has to feel right and authentic in the moment for the audience. A rock station breaking down a GOP primary or a news station playing deep cuts off a Zeppelin album violate brand promises. Oscar watchers just wanted an awards show.