Monday, December 04, 2006

HIRING AND THE VIBE OF THE CREATIVE SPACE

HIRING AND THE VIBE OF THE CREATIVE SPACE

Recently I’ve been speaking at quite a few colleges. Very refreshing since there’s no baggage accumulated from the trenches, just honest and idealistic points of view—many extremely informative and eye opening. Obviously one of the big questions is “how do you break into this business”? Of course there’s no magic button. In fact, it’s gotta be about the toughest thing to break into…certainly among the toughest to make any money at. Anyways, I try to offer some advice, at least from what I look for which tends to be on the creative rather than the more purely business side of things, though having an understanding of that side is critical, just as having an “understanding” of the creative side is a benefit for a business position in the entertainment field. A few observations of what gets me going in terms of what to look for in people and in creating staffs. Probably bad advice for a traditional environment---but for something an un-traditional as a creative staff, I believe these elements are pretty critical--Staffs of GREAT entertainment entities are filled with oddballs and crazies. In fact, a HUGE reason many entertainment companies like many radio stations are vulnerable because they fail to have that edgy component, the 'imagineers' to borrow from Disney, to drive the "entertainment" part. Probably the exact same thing exists in music, TV, Movies etc...I certainly read about Hollywood visionaries and Artists pissed off that the big companies are filled with people that talk about creating magic...but it just ain't their skillset. Just as dealing with business and legal complexities are out of the scope of many of the more creative areas. Anyways, a few thoughts of what I personally think are the qualities and atitudes that make a difference in the creative space :

PASSION: That fire. That electric commitment. Often fueled by memories of how that first song you bought was pivotal in your life. It should be SO engrained in your DNA that NOT working in this field is not an option.

PALS: You may have amazing pals—and they should probably join your thing, but limiting hires to pals limits the potential of the team you build…plus it can create friction in the hallways among those who aren’t your pals.

CONVENIENCE HIRES: The worst! Hiring because it’s convenient. Guy lives in town….I have his phone number and he can be here next week….Guy out of work and will come in cheap…Guaranteed mediocrity.

HISTORY: You can’t build the future unless you understand the past. I’m impressed with people who have studied the great radio battles even if they happened years before they were born. With the Internet, one can re-live the way KHJ unseated KRLA in 1965 or what happened in 1962 when WQAM automated for six months….or even more recent things. Obscure stuff to a lay person, but armed with this sense of history is powerful in the same way an Artist who has studied the masters has a clear edge. Of course it’s what you DO with that knowledge, but man, it is potent stuff that can really give you an depth and understanding of both how to win and how to make a difference going forward. Some of the principals behind these historical events are timeless.

AVOID BURNOUTS: It’s a high burnout business. Résumé might look great but decent chance there's a burn out factor. Back in 98 I took Hugh Panero to LA to meet various Industry people, he came back with the concept of collapsed heads and expanded heads. Collapsed meaning fried. Expanded meaning enlightened. Kinda like wine--some ages and improves, some turns to vinegar. Hugh picked that up in about 10 seconds!

KNOW THE MINORS: Ya gotta make a decision. Going after free agents from big markets or rookies? You gotta know the farm system so you can make the right hires. Too often it’s about convenience rather than studying what’s out there in the minor league…that’s got the chops to be the NEXT star.

POSITION HIRING: Critical. Putting the puzzle together. There’s a baseball analogy here. The best teams are the well rounded teams. A team that has 25 sluggers may score 200 runs a game but without defense the other guys will score 300. Or take a great band, the best are balanced. At XM I was impressed by the balance. A United Nations of backgrounds. We had people from Telecom, Cable, Retail, Technology etc…running the Company. Drilling down to programming we had people from NPR, Big stations, Small stations, music industry, artists, unemployable eccentrics, etc…The point is that we hired by Position. People with very specific skills that they can immerse themselves in. Personally, the best thing that’s happened here is that there’s an Eric Logan who thrives on the business side. I believe he actually LIKES doing complex budgets and negotiations...and saving my ass in management areas. Selfishly, this allows me to focus on the more purely artsy and evangelical part. Years ago we had an EVP who actually said to me "My job is to make your life miserable". Oh great. Of course he didn't make my life miserable, because it would take A LOT more than someone with a bad attitide to do that! I suppose it was his way of "motivating". In any case, he’s long gone, and Eric Logan is in--and he clearly understands "position hiring". Another example of position hiring. Placing people where they can thrive emotionally and creatively. Sounds simple but I run into SO many people who are smart but out of position and miserable. What a waste.


SPIRITUALITY: Weather it’s a sense of mission, or a war like approach to the job at hand—there’s a spiritual thing where you MUST feel and believe you are here to do something that contributes to something bigger than CD sales or ratings.

POSITIVE PEOPLE: I recall walking into a station and you could tell it was a loser by the tone of the receptionist. Bad vibes permeated the place. Bad vibes USUALLY start from negative attitudes that spread. In fact, Bad vibes ALWAYS start from “people”. Keep the negative types out of the joint and it can’t spread. Positive doesn’t mean unrealistic –to me it means more of an outlook and attitude. Got a challenge/problem/issue? A positive will figure out how to adapt, deal with it and move forward, a negative will get into this "This place blows...screw it".... They might hide it--but even THINKING it gets no-one anywhere. I think a lot of negativity is created by people not feeling appreciated, so some who are outwardly negative may actually be very positive--if they are interacted with better....understood...and allowed to shine. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If ya can't respect EVERYONE you work with---there's a problem there.

WHACK FACTOR: Give me a person that can quote Bugs Bunny lines from mid-40’s Bugs and I’m sold.

OUT OF THE FORMAT LOOP: When we interviewed Maxx Myrick, he was a big time Urban PD. When asked what his passion was—it was Jazz. Guess what, we made him PD of “Real Jazz”---Find out where peoples passion is…and put them there! Even if they are out of the format loop.

CONFIDENCE: You can smell it a mile away…Confidence and even cockiness CAN be channeled into swagger and focus. Both good things.

DISCIPLINE & DETAIL OR LOOSE CANNON: No standards here—some stars can’t tie their shoes. Big deal. Others are obsessive perfectionists. It’s all good. Everyone is different. The bottom line is...TALENT! I see NO sense in not hiring someone because “they’re different” or lack some traditional quality —if they got the talent that’s good enough. And I belive EVERY position os about talent--not just on air....a great janitor requires talent.

ECCENTRICS: Eccentric Doctors or Police Officers…bad. Eccentric people in the entertainment business---Well Yeah! Key: Eccentric all the way to the bank.

CHEMISTRY: What kind of place you setting up?? Chemistry check! Will they fit? Here at XM, we got a lot of whackos...in fact someone too normal would fail here…Just as someone too whacked would fail at a conservative Bank.

CREATIVE BATTING AVERAGE: Come up with 100 ideas and 30 work—GREAT! No-one will remember the 70 that failed...you are a .300 hitter. All-Star. Looking for people who step up to the creative plate and TRY to hit homers…but aren’t afraid to strike out.

DATA HEADS/ROCKET BOYS: Sorry, in a creative environment, they drive me nuts. HOWEVER—people who balance data/research AND the creative thing ARE dangerously attractive.

BAD LISTENERS: Sorry, this REALLY drives me nuts. You know—the hyperactive types who can’t turn it off. Well, turns me off. Excitement and energy is great…but not knowing when to shut your trap and soak it in is better. Sometimes I believe the music and radio business has forgotten how to THINK as everyone is trying to out BS everyone with fast talk and having all the answers

EGO CASES: that’s OK…as long as it’s backed up with some action. Ego problems, inferiority and other issues best left for a psychologist...but they are rampant in this creative business...gotta live with it.

MOXIE: Look it up if you don’t know what it means.

BORING PEOPLE: Personally I can handle outrageous, even difficult …anything but BORING. At least not in our side of the business.

Once you got the right crew, it’s all about DEVELOPING the talent. Talent DOESN’T only mean air talent---EVERY position requires talent. The key is hiring people that have “it” –then unleashing ‘it’ into action. Not easy…definitely fun hearing what ‘it’ can become from a passionate and focused mix of people working on a creative project. A few keys include--

COMMUNICATION: I always find that the combination of:

*All Hands Meetings—where you can really get evangelical...Inspire and hopefully motivate and educate on the mission at hand

*Face-To Face meetings---Details are best explored here

*Parties—VERY important—seriously.

*Inspirational memos that focus on the big picture—outlining the big picture

*Informational memos that focus on the details

CREATE THE ENVIRONMENT FOR MAGIC TO THRIVE: Some radio stations are like banks…no wonder they sound about as interesting. Some labels are kinda like banks too. I remember the Old Warner Brothers in Burbank…the place oozed magic—no wonder it was a creative oasis .

DE-CLICHÉ THE WORK ENVIRONMENT: Ever go into an office with those “Success is Mission #1” Posters with a picture of a soaring eagle…the kind you buy in Airline in flight magazines? If you see that in an office—RUN! Many leaders in entertainment business send the WRONG message. Might be right at Citibank...but not in our World. A sales intern at Aetna might get inspired by this---but anyone inspired by this kind of fluff in our World is scary.

RAH RAH STUFF: It can fail because it's often too transparent. We’re too cynical. Just be real. That's all it takes. Nate Davis has been doing some all-hands updates recently and he pretty much tells it like it is. Open and up front about the challenges. That's good. The Rah Rah can be inspired from the top, but the lasting rah rah is created bottom up from the people in the trenches. A happy staff with a mission usually creates victory which makes the leaders happy , when the workers aren't happy and the leaders are----problem. Nothing leads to an "us vs. them" faster...

EMPATHY: A great staff consists of totally unique individuals. Empathy is what makes it go. Unleashing and understanding how each individual ticks. The overall spirit is the aggregate of each individual. That doesn't mean letting everyone do what they want--that'll be anarchy, but UNDERSTANDING how people think and what pushes the buttons can make everyones life a ton more productive.

...alot more to this, but those are a few thoughts.

Other stuff:

BBC picks up the Bob Dylan show. Funny, we talked to major Syndication companies in the U.S. about this and they all said it’ll never happen. So we went at it ourselves with Bob’s people. Did the deal in 12 minutes.

Air Canada adds XM to it’s flights. Along with United Air Tran and Jet Blue and practically every private pilot on earth. XM is in the air....

Keep in mind the XM "Friends and Family" offer for radios. Go to http://friends@xmradio.com then type in lee.abrams@xmradio.com for access to the site.

6 Comments:

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Lee Arnold said...

Lee,
Your ability to communicate complicated ideas and concepts in uncomplicated ways may be your greatest talent. And that's saying alot. Once again, BRAVO, on a column that I will recommend to all the folks that I speak with.
Lee Arnold
lee@leearnold.com

 
At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

L.A.,

I have things for you, Ex.......

Believe something BIGGER then cd sales and RATINGS, ETC

I believe, as i have for a long time and an SRD argument of mine,
THAT

1) CHANGING A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION is bigger then the Above,

The list goes "ON",


I beleive XM has the capability and PLATFORM, to sway these things,

* 8 million subs ( 16 Million Ears)

110 Million votes,


Thus, XM has the EARS of 10% of this Market,.........

and there are a hundred ways to do this,

AND this should be a GOAL....

" The RUN to 20 Plus, Or Bust "

 
At 8:52 AM, Blogger ditchwater said...

Presidential elections? thats what am talk radio is for.or listen to the news channels on XM.i PAY for entertainment on XM NOT for political points of view.we get enough of that crap on chicago radio.and as cd sales go? we are an unsigned band out of chicago who got the biggest break from air time on XM"S Squizz.and yes our cdbaby's sales are up.and ratings? i would think XM's stock holders would have something to say about that.XM is what it is...entertainment.thanks so much XM...larry anderson sbmanagement

 
At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee,
Have been reading your blog and remebering the inspiration you gave me so many times. While there are many of your entries that have really inspired and brought back the 'good old days' when we worked/created together this piece on the Hiring and the vibe of the creative space may be one of your most inspiring notes. I just wish all of us in media would stick to the observaions/values here. I've read business books that have sold millions and meant far less.

Keep in touch.

 
At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, couple of questions after reading your thought-provoking blog...

(1) WHO will rescue terrestrial radio? I don't see a McLendon or Storz out there. And even if they were still around, wouldn't they ultimately cave on product to stockholders?

(2) Why not BUY some terrestrial stations, do them right, and put them on XM, too? Then you'd own the best of both worlds.

Me

 
At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always laugh when I hear about all the research about jocks talking up intros. It's similiar to the big revelation that listeners think DJ's talk too much. It's all in context, if the jock has something cool to say over the music, it works, if not it doesn't. Plus Lee, most AOR jocks of a certain era couldn't talk over music to save their life, they had that slow laid-back approach that today is laughable. It's funny that Alternative Rock didn't have that weird dated, preconceived notion of what listeners wanted from jocks. Listen to a KLOS, the jocks have not changed their style in Christ 40 years.

 

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