When Talent Behave Badly

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(By Mike McVay) Companies spend money building shows. Talent are their own brands. The magnitude of their success comes from their hard work and the level of investment made in them. We’ve seen exceptional talent fail when there’s little or no support for them. We’ve seen exceptional talent hit exceptional highs when they have great support. However, when talent behave badly and they lose support, no one wins. It has the potential to derail a career, cost a company money and destroy a culture.

There have been times in my career when I’ve been hired as a part of crisis control team. Several times to work with artists and their management. Several times by radio companies to advise them on how to handle a situation. Not everything is an HR issue. Those are the easy problems to solve as there are usually pretty clear rules detailed in clauses in agreements to address those issues. The need for crisis control comes when something happens that impacts revenue or damages an image that may have a long-lasting negative impact.

When things go wrong, shutdown all comments temporarily, hit “pause” and give yourself time to examine the facts and weigh your options. Learn from history. How have others successfully handled unfortunate situations? What did they do well? What wasn’t done well? How did the consumer or listener react? When do you do nothing and when do you do something? If you don’t control the narrative, the narrative will control you.

The first and most important approach is to tell the truth. History has shown us that more individuals have had long-term problems in the aftermath of a crisis, because of the coverup, and not because of the actual incident. President Bill Clinton comes to mind. He wasn’t impeached because he stepped outside of the bounds of his marriage. It was because he lied under oath. If you studied the Watergate Coverup in school, you know that what tarnished Richard Nixon’s presidency was the coverup.

Sometimes it’s smart to simply apologize and disappear for a while. John Lennon said that The Beatles were “More popular than Jesus” and that quote, taken out of context, could have ended their acceptance in North America. It was part of a remark made in a March 1966 interview, in which he argued that the public were more infatuated with the band than with Jesus, and that the Christian faith was declining to the extent that it might be outlasted by rock music. The band finished their last show in August 1966 and retreated to the United Kingdom. The Beatles never toured again.

Lead singer of The Dixie Chicks (now known as The Chicks), Natalie Maines, made the mistake of criticizing then President George W. Bush from a stage in London. She said that she and the band were embarrassed to be from the same state as the President and that they did not support the war in Iraq. Ignoring that history has shown that they may have been right to criticize the President and the war, the mistake they made was that the comment seemed unsupportive of the US Military instead of the war.

This one didn’t end as well as the Beatles situation, although The Chicks continue to perform and remain amazing musicians and performers, today. Countless country radio stations boycotted their music. A move that I’ve never understood. Why would anyone punish their listeners? If the audience is upset, they’ll stop buying their music. Shouldn’t consumption drive your decision?

When the banning of The Dixie Chicks began, I was quoted in the radio trades as saying “We’ll take them at AC.” They had their cover of Landslide on the radio then. That comment garnered me a chance to work with them as a part of a reclamation project. That song still plays on many AC stations today.

The band never returned to the heights that they had previous to the incident, largely because Maines dug in her heels and fueled the fire of discord by continuing to voice her position. Which, of course, is her right. The crescendo was reached when in 2003 she performed at the ACM Awards wearing a shirt with FUTK across the front. The acronym was in response to Toby Keith who had been performing on stage with a photo of Saddam Hussein posted next to one of Natalie Maines.

What you do next matters. In 1996, then Baltimore Orioles All Star player, Roberto Alomar, got into an argument with Major League Baseball umpire John Hirschbeck over a called third strike. He spit in the umpire’s face. In a postgame interview he referenced Hirschbeck being an angry man since the death of his eight-year-old son. The two continued their feud through that season, but by October of that year they had publicly made-up and Alomar apologized to Hirschbeck.

That’s not where the story ends, though. Alomar joined with Hirschbeck in donating money to look for a cure for the disease that claimed the umpire’s infant son. The two joined forces and created a foundation and continue to focus on stamping out adrenoleukodystrophy.

Charlotte Jones Anderson, is the Dallas Cowboys’ Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer, in addition to being the daughter of the owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones. Ms. Anderson spoke at the 2019 Radio Show, produced by the NAB and RAB, in Dallas. She spoke of a problem that arose when Hall of Fame player Michael Irvin, early in his time with the Cowboys, was arrested for drugs and prostitution. Irvin had tarnished the Cowboys name.

Jones shared that she decided that the team needed to enlist Irvin, and other Cowboy players, in helping raise money for the Salvation Army. The Cowboys had to show that they were worthy of the title “America’s Team.” It was her initiative and marketing savvy that took the spotlight off of bad behavior and shone it on their good behavior. The first time the familiar red Salvation Army kettle was in an end zone at an NFL game was during a Thanksgiving Day Cowboys game. You’ll see it there again this Thanksgiving Day.

She was appointed Chairman of the Salvation Army’s National Advisory Board in 2010 and is the first woman to ever serve in that role. Her accomplishment, while admirable, isn’t the point. The point is that she found the good inside of Irvin and engaged him in helping a national charity. That move put the good in Michael Irvin on display. It put the shine back on the star on the side of the Cowboy’s helmet.

Consider these actions:

  • Shut down all comments … until you have a chance to analyze the situation.
  • Hit Pause; Pull everyone together and understand what happened.
  • Answer the question; what’s the negative impact of the situation? Address that.
  • Search for the truth. Demand the truth.
  • No Cover-ups. Own it. Whatever “It” is or was … own it.
  • Does the situation warrant an apology? If you offer one, it has to be sincere.
  • Does the talent disappear for a while? This is important if some form of rehabilitation is warranted.
  • Can you engage with community service or a charity to show that, at the root, the talent is a good person and the company/station are good people?

Actions, as the saying goes, speak louder than words.

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]

4 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent advice, Mike. Having been through the wars, even though it was a simpler time, I can appreciate the importance of practicing crisis management with strong willed performers.

    Most fortunately, social media was not a thing 35 years ago when I was programming WNBC Radio in New York.

    My advice to stations going through talent crises? Listen to and heed the wisdom of Mike McVay.

    And then, maybe do what I did. Gather what sanity you have left and retire to a remote spot. Mine was the Hana jungle on the island of Maui.

  2. There are always tons of people in the electronic music scene that are looking for a singer. You can visit any musician forum, and it’s almost guaranteed that you can find someone who can make use of your voice.

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