What Howard Stern Can Teach Us About Corporate Communications

Howard Stern will be back in the lime light soon as a judge on America’s Got Talent. It’s an interesting if not risky move for NBC, since this audience either isn’t familiar with him because they are too young or they just plain aren’t his target demographic (18-34 year-old men I am guessing).When I think of America’s Got Talent viewers, I think of tweens and teens and their parents. So, it will be interesting to see whether he can evolve to attract this new audience or whether his audience will evolve to like the show or perhaps some third scenario where both happen. You remember Howard Stern, right? He’s the man who invented shock jock. In fact, when I think of what makes good content in the social sphere, I think of Howard Stern. Howard was the real before reality was main stream. Setting aside his pornographic, sexist and/or colorful content, Howard is a true pioneer of what we now all call engagement, and he has a lot to teach us about what makes compelling content.

It was at lunch today with colleagues when I brought this up and the fact that he serves as a bit of an inspiration to me as I write my blog. When I got home I flipped through his autobiographical “Private Parts” which he published in 1993 and I have to say, he really was way ahead of his time. Here are some lessons we can all apply today from Howard from 20 years ago. Enjoy!

  1. If you put on a good show, people are going to listen. Content quality over quantity, right? He was frustrated with management’s demand that he make special appearances at lame events all over town, where people didn’t even know him. He was right. Don’t waste your time posting useless info all over every channel. Be great in the one place where your audience is listening to you.
  2. Give the crazies their chance. Leather Weatherlady was a crazy fan who was always taunting Howard. He finally gave in and let her do what she wanted. Guess what happened? She backed off. When naysayers and irrational commenters try to heckle your blog, let them. All they want is to be heard. What they say will reflect worse on them than on you. Let them. You’ll be respected for giving them the air and taking it on the chin.
  3. Make sure everyone who works with you is simpatico. Howard learned this value when he hired Robin, who “got” him, played off him and helped propel him forward. Hire for culture. Get the people with the same set of values working with you and teach the skill set. You can’t teach culture.
  4. When you get that big chance, go all the way. When Howard came to DC for the first time, he decided he wasn’t going to hold back. He knew this was his ticket to NYC and he was going to go big or go home. When you have a big chance, go for it. Go where no one has gone yet. People will follow.
  5. Don’t let management hold you back. Howard really never listened to his managers. he instead tried to help them understand where he was going. And he pushed them, little by little. Educate the C-suite about your strategy. Take baby steps. Push a little bit each day. You’ll get there.
  6. Don’t follow a boring format. One of Howard’s early program directors wanted him to do certain things each day, but he knew he couldn’t be spontaneous and relevant if he was on a schedule. You don’t have to do the same thing the same way every time. Shake it up periodically. It’s more important you are relevant and spontaneous. Just leave everyone a crumb trail so they can follow you.
  7. Just because the research says so, doesn’t mean it’s always true. The station told Howard the research said people didn’t want the disk jockey to take calls between songs. But in reality, the respondents didn’t know what kind of calls Howard was going to take, so how could they judge? Research is helpful, but know its limits.
  8. When your competition is listening to you, even when you do mundane things, don’t let management stop you. One morning, Howard got hungry and decided to eat breakfast on the air for 18 minutes. His boss was livid. She yelled at him that the program director from another station called and told on him. She told him he couldn’t eat breakfast on the air. Howard said, yes, but a competing station’s program director tuned in to me eating breakfast for 18 minutes. Their ratings tripled soon after and his boss got a promotion. Win-win all around. If your competition is listening and following you, don’t change a thing.
  9. Always be yourself. This of course is one of Howard’s best lessons. He never let the management or networks change him. He was always true to himself. I think that’s a big part of why he has such a loyal following. He wouldn’t change for money or fame and in the end, he got them both anyway. Have the courage to be yourself, even if it means walking away from the job.
  10. You can make mistakes and still be a rock star. No one has made more mistakes than Howard Stern. His blunders are legendary and horrific. The plane crash. The miscarriage. The list goes on. Some people never forgave him. But, many did. Why? It gets back to being real, being consistent and being honest. If nothing else, you could count on Howard to always be completely honest. People love that. They crave it. And they will follow him forever for it.

So, find your inner Howard – all the good parts – and rock your platform.



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