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Ratings and Goals and Outcomes and Steve Martin

“I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product.”

So says actor, comedian, and author Steve Martin in the opening pages of his outstanding new book about his early years, Born Standing Up.

And it got me to thinking…

Would Martin have achieved his fame if “fame” was what he was seeking? Or was it his passion for the journey that facilitated the outcome he wasn’t seeking in the first place?

How many times in the radio industry do we confuse the goal with the outcome of that goal?

Creating a great radio brand is a goal. Attracting a big audience for that radio brand is an outcome – and that’s because the great radio brand is under your control, but the ratings outcome is not. A great brand vastly increases your odds of better ratings, but shooting for ratings first is putting the cart far in front of the horse.

I tend to work two types of rooms:

In one the objective is to produce the best radio brand, with all the bells and whistles that make that possible. In this room, management understands that listeners can tell the difference between a station assembled from spare and reconditioned parts and one built to order with care and passion. There’s a vibe in this room that we shouldn’t settle for second-best – the best way to maximize our odds of success are to create a brand that we ourselves would consider magnetic and unique and special and worthy of our attention in a clutter-filled world.

The other room I work is filled to the brim with busy managers who can’t wait to leave. The process itself makes them impatient and their objective is to speed it up or to short-cut it. They have an appetite for a minimum of change and even less risk. They want you to “fix the music,” schedule the music test, and be done with it. And if you have the nerve to advise them about the importance of marketing their station, they will glare at you and remind you that “marketing” is what we expect our clients to do, not what we ourselves need to do.

In the first room, ratings are an outcome, a by-product of brand-making. In the second room, ratings are the very goal itself, the brand be damned.

Which room could make Steve Martin famous?

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