Canning The Canaries
I was re-reading a blog written last year by Roy H. Williams (The Wizard of Ads) – a guy who has strong credibility with me. The article was a partial recounting of a couple of trainings he attended with some heavy hitters in sales. Besides concluding that “attitudes” were as, or more, important than “skills” in an employee, there was mention in the trainings of getting rid of those individuals who were sporting “bad” attitudes.
This is a strategy that might be difficult to argue. As it turns out – not all that difficult. After all, it’s relatively simple applying a “scorched earth” policy to clean the grounds and clear the air. Many managers would prefer taking that way out – swinging the big ax and starting over – rather than addressing any pertinent issues which may have led to the development of those (alleged) attitudes. Distinctions must be made first.
Before I forget: Over the decades, it might seem managers have been grateful for the opportunities they have had, and of which they have taken swift and not altogether unpleasant advantage, to blow out most of the on-air and creative talent. They justify the strategy with weak, but terse gibberish about “efficiencies, costs and protecting the bottom line,” but their (suspected) glee comes from getting rid of the talent-corps because “they have rotten attitudes.” To make things just a tad muddier, I must add: “…and limited skills, too.” (That one pains me terribly, but I can’t deny the evidence.)
Further, there is the realization that these managers are not entirely wrong. Plus, I can’t fault a manager for approaching the talent corps like he would a pit of ‘gators, penned up in a leaky, crumbling mineshaft. Yes, the mindless and terrible reptiles have to be fed. But, instead of being appreciative, they would just as soon chomp off limbs.
Still, the bad attitudes and occasional rumblings of sabotage and insurrection around the station may have some validity. The remaining talent – the compliant ones and those desperate to protect their gigs – are not above fantasizing diabolical plots. Given those jolly scenarios, it isn’t difficult to understand that a manager would rather rid the landscape entirely of anybody in the “talent” category rather than address the underlying causes of “bad attitude” episodes.
As radio has been gutting itself on an ongoing basis by systematically eliminating on-air and commercial writing talent, thus rendering it incapable of attracting and holding greater audiences or developing and delivering compelling commercial messaging, it finds itself where there are fewer ‘gators to feed. Unfortunately, radio forgets it needs these ‘gators – to make boots and belts and stuff.
Skulking in the hallways on a bad attitude-search is hardly a strategy for improving the quality or effectiveness of any radio station, particularly when there is little interest in discerning what might be causing these attitudinal troubles.
Often, a so-called “bad attitude” is a prime symptom and evidence that something very important and dangerous is afoot. Perhaps, like the canary that gets sick or dies in the mineshaft, the behaviors signal the existence of foul toxins in the environment.
Talented people are (or were) drawn to radio because it is (or was) a performance medium where ideas could be massaged and expressed and where interesting ways of influencing audiences could be practiced. Radio was also supportive of such endeavors and rewarded the more successful practitioners. Radio took pride in, and profits from, what it could accomplish for its audiences and its advertisers.
Unfortunately, we have come too far down this road of eliminating talent to turn around, go back, and reclaim rusting wreckage. Radio cannot expect to reinstate old programming and advertising techniques, either – not with any expectation of improving our lot. We are now compelled to learn new approaches, new methodologies, new techniques, and new programming and advertising strategies. That is, if we are to expect any significant improvements in our status as a viable entertainment/advertising medium.
Radio sales departments are being overwhelmed by the availability of programs, seminars, trainings, online materials, and a preponderance of in-house “sparkle meetings.” Although I agree that any training is better than no training, it still amounts to having a sales force that is (possibly) only a little more astute in the techniques of selling radio. The tragedy is in that these sales folks still have little to provide their potential clients.
It is up to programming to supply elements that a.) attract and hold greater audience numbers; and, b.) generate more influential and listenable advertising content. Primarily, however, it is up to ownership and senior management to congruently understand this situation, and then to take multiple steps to correct it.
What it all amounts to is this: Every member of the station staff who has anything to do with what goes out over the air will have to be retrained in contemporary techniques of communicating through this electronic medium. This is primary and essential.
Now, I understand the premise will not be embraced by almost all the radio-folk who could benefit by such an undertaking, but it is still available. Eliminating the canaries because they seem a little surly or under the weather, as a strategy, has failed – completely. Plus, there are huge differences between someone who has a “bad attitude” and one who is openly disgusted and demonstrating righteous indignation.
I have full confidence, though, that some radio organization or other is going to figure this out, and conclude that making immediate arrangements for having massive volumes of fresh air pumped into the shafts is required. Hopefully, this will be before all the canaries, and everybody else, collapses and suffocates.
Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian Radio since the '60s as a performer, writer and coach and has trained and certified as a personal counsellor. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to Talent and Creative, have yet to be addressed. Check out his website www.voicetalentguy.com