HIRING TO RE-INVENT...AND THE MAGIC OF NON-TRADITIONAL RESEARCH
I was going through some notes...old notes…scribbled stuff on legal pads. I wrote out the "notes" seen below in 1998 in preparation for joining XM. I also remember talking to other “programmers” from other National media to get some feedback. The only thing is, none of them were really programmers. They were “deal guys” who SIGNED stuff but rarely created anything. Often Smart guys, but it quickly became apparent that we were on our own when putting a staff together for XM. Law degrees and track records weren’t really going to move the needle. There was really no staffing model. Or any kind of model. We had to find people to CREATE more than aggregate content. It was helpful that Hugh Panero, our CEO, told me “Get people with green hair and rings in their noses…not your old pals…”. I never let on that most of my pals HAD green hair. These notes refer to the creative side as some of these below mentioned characteristics might be TOO out there for people with more traditional responsibilities (I had to transcribe these from scribbles--I think I got most of it):
WE ARE NOT BRINGING IN A STAFF....WE ARE SIGNING UP A CAST. Once You have the blueprints, the company support of the Vision. You have the makings of the ultimate Operations team that has a prayer to execute some crazy ideas.
People running the creative have to have a great mind. More mind than track record. Then the tools to REVOLUTIONIZE Broadcasting are secondary.
What could possibly fuck things up???
HIRING AVERAGE PEOPLE! OR—creating an environment not conducive to creativity, imagination, freedom and passion.
Look at it like a movie. XM should sound like a soundtrack to life...not "radio".... there's already radio and it's free.
Fabulous Script. Studio Support. Critics tensed and ready. Great Directors & Producers.
Everything is in place.
What could fuck that up???
THE WRONG ACTORS.....Average casting.
With the right Actors, ya got an Oscar coming.
Look at any GREAT movie. It's got the Story.....It's got the Sound.....It's got the RIGHT ACTORS. Great casting
..Broadcasting is the same thing. We gotta hire AMAZING individuals.
*The right person for the plot. The wrong DJ on an XM channel is like casting Woody Allen for the Rocky part.
*People that have "it"
*Eccentrics......all the way to the bank
*Warriors. Ready to accept and complete the mission of revolutionizing. In XM's case, we preached: Liberating Radio listeners with the same Moxie as a motivated group of Rangers freeing up a village. XM IS NOT THE PLACE FOR THE MEEK OR FOR THE "K-109 PLAYS THE HITS” CROWD......its war out there. WE HAVE THE THANKS. WE HAVE THE STRATEGY AND TACTICS...WE JUST NEED THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO CAN WIN THIS DAMN THING!
Nothing will sabotage the mission more than an "average" hire to execute. Nothing will speed up total creative victory than a great hire.
Gotta keep a place runnin' on eccentric energy....hyper creativity...otherworldly brilliance.......it's the spirit that's going to take a place through the stratosphere...it's an energy...an intensity...a cleverness...a "way of thinking" that separates you from the rest of the pack.
I have nightmares about pukers, Joe Radios and average types polluting an inventive environment. Innovative turf is sacred....hiring is an art....as we recruit, you must maintain the standards, high values and”it" radar that got YOU hired in the first place.
At XM, and I'd think with most inventive media companies:
BE CAREFUL WITH CONVIENIENCE HIRES
Out Of Work....pretty average, but "available...cheap, and can come quickly." NO!
Out of Work because they got drunk with Jimmy Page after the Zep show in '73, and barfed on the GM while giving him a lift back to the station in Jimmy's limo. YES!
A fried of yours who is a nice, reliable guy but not amazing NO!
A friend of yours that happens to be amazing... (C’mon you know that's rare) YES!
...the point is we'll raise a big red flag with out of work or personal friends who's merit id your friendship.......I worry about convenience over brilliance.
*LOOK FOR "IT"...MORE SPECIFICALLY;
Natural voices. No Pukers...No forced "Big Voices"...we're all about reality not balls
Format Passion. Livers of the format lifestyle. Not "Generalists".....but guys & gals who live and breathe your formats. Never: "Hey, I can do AC, Country,...passion what's that?...I'm a "radio guy". Test them! Play Fawlty Towers and Three Stooges to potential hires to check if a candidate "got it"....
Eccentricity. “Getting” the things that aren’t so obvious. Most don't...we don't want them if they don't.
*New Ideas. Already doing a call without "10th Caller" cliché?? Hmmm.thats good.
*Unhireables...weirdos.....Bring 'em on! 85% may be TOO weird...but 15% might be BRILLIANTLY weird.
*Smart People...real smart people. Not necessarily “educated" smart....but life smart.
*Experienced pros? 90% are tired burn outs. Experience is often Bullshit. It's where your mind is now and where it can GO. (Now—as far as a Doctor or Airline Pilot—I’ll take experience every time…but in our world, experience can mean baggage)
*Strange Accents? Yes! What’s with this thing radio has about hiring nice clear voices? Let’s get some street in there.
THINK!....Does the candidate:
A) REALLY AND TRULY show potential for greatness...or is their tape and mind maxed out. BE HONEST!
We need people who
CAN HOLD UP, JOIN IN and CONTRIBUTE. This is the "creative" majors. No creative minor leaguers in this camp, pal! This is not the place for the creatively weak, suit n tie, normal Americans. Bring us your brilliance...not your average.
c) Live in the same space we do? Most people don't.
We can't pollute XM or the Airwaves with anything less than brilliant people.....
*Whiners, Boring or Negative people will not last here. Grumpy is OK....Goofy is OK.....Out There is OK...Boring or Negative are unacceptable.
(----EVIL DANGER ZONE OF AVERAGE----)
99.99999999% of Americas radio guys are in the Evil Average Zone...AVOID THEM.
Seek people who can stand up to the intensity of "The Mission" and help you take it higher and further. Working at creative places is hard, challenging, insane, tiring...but there is no other gig in the World as cool as a place that's re-inventing. HIRE ONLY SPECIAL PEOPLE!
OK…so much for the note scribbles…now a few some random thoughts:
*Flew Southwest Airlines recently. Couldn't take my plane because of a snowstorm brewing. THOSE GUYS get it. Smooth...reliable and extremely impressive. No wonder they actually make money. From uniformity of their aircraft and route structure to the simple basics of happy employees...they are a hell of an airline--Quite a story in today's environment. Google Herb Kelleher. You'll see the kind of thinking that set the pattern for this successful company.
*Got feedback on my disdain for political polls and "traditional research". Well, I think most Focus groups, auditorium tests and polling that most media does is flawed. The NON TRADITIONAL research that is mind blowingly GOOD is the R&D that goes into Mars Landings, Cancer cures, new technology and new thinking that makes a difference. If media got into researching on that level--you WILL see change