When I began my career in radio, I worked on the creative, rather than the business side of the industry. I was in the programming department and would write and produce for different shows. I would devour the newspapers every day looking for potential topics and comedy bits. It was fun, and my mind was thinking very differently from my later focus on how to build relationships and generate revenue. Although, I was still practicing the relationship aspect when booking guests for the show.
I was fortunate to take to both the job and the industry, and I was promoted along the way within programming. However, at some point, I realized that I was working at the only sports radio station in Boston; I never wanted to leave Boston, but I thought that there had to be more for me for a career. At the time of this epiphany, the station manager was also running marketing – her name was Bev Tilden. Bev had a very creative radio mind and she understood how to get listeners to tune in and stay tuned. As always in radio, one GM left and another came in and Bev just didn’t click with the new GM. So, Bev was off to another challenge.
The GM came to me and said, “Lou, Bev is moving on. We love what you’re doing in programming, so you’re fine, but we will need to search for a new marketing director.” I had a moment of clarity. It was like you’d see on a TV show where everything stops around you, but you are still moving at full speed. In an all-out, overachiever, knee-jerk response I said, “Let me do it.” The new GM, John Maguire, gave me a smirk and said, “Lou, you’re great at programming but what do you know about marketing?” This was when I adopted my mantra that I still utter today when questioned or challenged: “How hard can it be?”
John chuckled and said that the station needed someone with marketing experience, because it had the potential to become #1 in the ratings. Again, with more balls than brains, I pushed on. I asked, “How long will it take you to find a new marketing director?” He pondered and stated that it would be three months or so, which led me to a life changing moment. I said to him, “Let me do it while you are searching so we don’t lose any ground. You don’t have to pay me anything extra, and if I’m slacking in my primary function, you say the word and I will focus purely on programming.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, because that was almost 20 years ago – but that was the general conversation. I guess I made a valid pitch because he agreed. Once I got a hold of the opportunity I wasn’t letting go.
Three months turned into a couple of years, and this inexperienced, untrained marketing director was over-achieving and delivering beyond expectations. I’d never had a marketing job; I’d never taken a marketing class. Yet I was marketing this sports station onto the map. The funny thing was that at one point after achieving some marketing success, I remember giving a programming concept to an on-air talent, and he said to me, “Lou, you’re great at marketing, but leave the programming to us.” Ha, I’d remade myself so much that I was now viewed not as a programming person with six years experience, but as a marketing guy.
And there was no looking back. Because I had no preconceived notion on how to market, it allowed me to be open to and create different ways to engage with our consumers – listeners. The key to all of this was that I understood the programming of the station better than most. Because I was creating programming to engage and entertain the listeners, I had to know who the listeners were and what they liked. I was in-tune with our listeners and I knew how to interest them so they would check us out. I knew how reach our listeners because I talked with and listened to them.
Later, when given the opportunity to run marketing for the New England Patriots, I stuck to my mantra of, “How hard can it be?” And again, when asked to teach a marketing class at Boston College – “How hard can it be?” If you get nothing else from this post, never let anyone tell you that it can’t be done or that you are not qualified. You can do anything if you truly want to. And please note, if I can do it, anyone can. Besides, “How hard can it be?”