(By Mike McVay) A recent conversation with a Program Director, not a client, set my head a spinning. This individual and I were discussing the ratings struggle of their once highly rated morning show. The PD opined “this show just isn’t that good.” That comment really hit me the wrong way on so many levels. The first of which is that the show had been highly rated as recently as a year before. The other that the ego of this programmer was such that they distanced themselves from the rating result that their station received.
Drilling down further into the thinking behind the discussion, it became clear that this programmer had diminishing respect for the talent, their accomplishments or the history of the show. The programmer was also under intense pressure to turnaround the stations ratings. That ignited a scavenger hunt looking for those to blame. This programmer placed it squarely on the morning show. No acknowledgment that an important part of their job is to coach the talent, be on the same side of the fight as the team, and to engage them in a collaborative discussion looking for the source of their problems.
Among the many mistakes this programmer was making, was a failure to evaluate what changed in the show, station and market, since the high ratings days. The PD had stopped coaching the on-air personalities. They’re communication time with the talent had diminished. In the words of this programmer “life happened.” That is not an acceptable response. It is a programmer job to coach, encourage, assist, enable and positively lead their talent.
Coach them to continually improve their performance and be the best that they can be. Encourage them to perform at a high level. Assist your talent by providing them with the tools they need to be successful. Enable your talent, with encouragement, to be able to execute and perform at their best. Positively lead means never defining the shows parameters with negatives. If you continually tell your talent what not to do, at some point, it’s easier for them to do nothing than to do something and get in trouble.
Coaching talent can make a big and immediate difference in a station’s ratings. Unfortunately, too many Program Directors either spend too little time coaching an on-air personality or they overcoach and attempt to control every element of a show. You’re not directing a movie. You’re guiding a personality as they work extemporaneously. Focus on the forest and not the trees. When a PD is too far into basics and bits/features, the talent feels as if they’ve lost control of the shows content, and they stop being genuine and become contrived or manufactured.
The show has to be about more than the basics. The basics are important, but no one listens for the basics. They listen to be entertained and to be put into a good mood. The audience wants to start their day feeling alive and energized. Don’t handcuff your talent and prevent them from doing what they’re good at doing.
Focus on the content of the show. Is it fun, funny, interesting, emotion evoking and targeted properly to the station’s specific audience? Is it obvious that your talents are prepared? Do they sound natural … or at least natural for who their on-air persona is … and are the believably genuine? “Real” is important today. Real is relatable. Allow your personalities to be real. We’re in an era of “genuine.”
When I start to coach a show, or specific talent, I begin by understanding who they are, who the audience is, what the objective is for the station and who is the competition. I never focus on the basics in the first few sessions. It’s like coaching a baseball pitcher. If they can throw fast, you work on that, then later you teach them control. Encourage entertainment first. The basics are easy to teach.
The best morning shows are fun, funny, connected to the community, have a strong link to the listeners lifestyle, thinks like the audience thinks, is continually doing show prep and is anchored by an intelligent person. I’ve never seen a successful morning show that wasn’t anchored by someone smart.
The best on-air personalities can be difficult to coach. They can be difficult to keep focused. Some have issues that go far beyond anything in most programmer’s scope of expertise. However, the very best air talents are intelligent, committed to excellence, have a strong work ethic, a keen sense of right versus wrong when it comes to their audience and they often hear a “party” in their head that no one else was invited to attend.
Always remember this; don’t fix what isn’t broken. Ignore the advice of author Robert Kriegel who wrote “If It Ain’t Broke … Break It.” He was writing about tangible products and not an ethereal product that is highly dependent on branding and image. Evolve and grow your talent, and programming, before a ratings decline takes place, but don’t make dramatic changes without being prepared to run the risk of a significant loss of audience. I can put up with a lot of “stuff” to be number one.
If your station had been highly rated for a period of time, and now it isn’t, don’t look for who to blame. Look for what’s changed. What did your competitors do differently? Any change in the in-studio dynamics? Have there been any changes in the talent’s relationship with one another, their personal lives, or any distractions that have changed their focus away from their program?
Most importantly, park your ego outside. Acknowledge the value that your air talents bring to your station. Work with them and not against them. When they’re successful … you’re successful. Apply the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]