Make More Mistakes

Nearly 50 years before fictional Jerry’s Maguire’s mission statement, The Things We Think and Do Not Say, the real-life Bill Bernbach, then creative director at Grey Advertising in New York, typed out a letter to his bosses at the agency. If you read Bernbach’s letter and make appropriate substitutions (including replacing “men” with “people” – it was 1947, after all), it could easily have been written about our business today.

Bernbach wrote, “I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.” He acknowledged that, “Superior technical skill will make a good ad better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability. … The danger lies in the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.”

At NuVoodoo, we’re huge believers in superior technical skill and using research to better understand audiences – it’s why we’re focused on delivering actionable intelligence to our research clients. Henry Ford never uttered the statement frequently attributed to him, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” but the statement remains a fine way to explain the limitations of research.

Consumers have neither the time, nor the inclination to imagine possible innovations in any business other than the ones that they work in themselves. When we ask them, listeners tell us they want stations with more music and fewer commercials. They tell us that they don’t like talk on music radio stations. But, there are hundreds and hundreds of music radio station morning shows with ratings to prove consumers wrong.

If we follow literally the directives of listeners, radio would end up sounding like our new Internet competitors: music only, no talk, no soul, sterile. Yet we can all name stations that over-perform because they connect with something deeper in their listeners. It may be their local community. It may be the community that surrounds the music the station plays. It may be something else entirely. But, it’s these stations that connect in deeper ways that will continue to thrive despite the ultimate music variety and lower commercial loads of Internet radio.

It’s up to the people in the radio business to find new ways to delight and inspire listeners, to make radio that stands out from other stations, to do new things on the air. Yes, at NuVoodoo we have research methods that can better inform new on-air initiatives. We have tracking methods to get feedback to help identify successes-in-the-making (or identify failures more quickly).

Everyone in radio can name formats or personalities who were innovative in their time. Every one of those innovations came with risk, could have failed, but they moved the business forward. And, yes, everyone in radio can name formats or personalities that failed, some spectacularly. Famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” What risks are you prepared to take in the name of making better radio?