Howard Stern is the new judge on “America’s Got Talent”—an interesting, if risky, move for NBC. Many of the show’s viewers are probably not familiar with him, because they are either too young or just not his target demographic.
When I think of what makes good content in the social sphere, I think of Howard Stern. Setting aside his pornographic, sexist, and/or colorful content, he remains a true pioneer of what we now call engagement, and he has a lot to teach us about what makes compelling content.
Recently, I flipped through his 1993 autobiography “Private Parts,” and the book shows he was way ahead of his time. Here are some lessons we can apply today from Howard Stern of 20 years ago.
1. Keep your focus, and put on a good show. Content quality over quantity. 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 time posting useless info across 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 continually 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. 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 Quivers, 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’s career took him to Washington, D.C., for the first time, he decided he wasn’t going to hold back. He knew this was his ticket to New York, 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 never listened to his managers. Instead, he 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 Stern’s early program directors wanted him to do certain things each day, but Howard 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 that you are relevant and spontaneous. Just leave a crumb trail so people can follow you.
7. Don’t rely on research. The station told Howard the research said people didn’t want the disc 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 you’ve got the competition’s attention, you’re doing it right. One morning, Howard got hungry and decided to eat breakfast on the air. His boss was livid. She yelled at him, saying that the program director from another station had called and ratted him out. She told him he wasn’t allowed to eat breakfast on the air. Howard then pointed out that a competing station’s program director had tuned in to hear him 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 episode. The list goes on. Some people never forgave him, but many did. Why? It gets back to being yourself, 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.
Samantha Villegas is an accredited, independent PR consultant with 20 years experience in agency, corporate and government settings. A version of this story first appeared on the blog Savithoughts.