Care and Feeding of Creative People – Tough Love

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How do you give talent tough love in a coaching relationship AND preserve their self-esteem?

Presentation is everything. How you say it is more important than what you say. Dispense feedback in a direct, matter-of-fact and non-personal way, especially when you’re giving tough love.

Tough love is only necessary when a relationship is not in place between a manager and talent. No relationship results in an absence of communication and collaboration, which are  the cornerstones of effective coaching.

As a manager, take these steps and the need for tough love will be rare.

Establish and nurture a relationship based on trust, safety to take risks, and fun.

Embrace healthy conflict by inviting talent to challenge your recommendations when they don’t agree with them. You also want to challenge talent to grow in specific areas, such as bringing more drama to the show. People are most complacent when they are least challenged.

Don’t be a dictator. Telling talent what to do without their involvement will only create resentment and resistance. Collaborate with talent so that you arrive at coaching action points as a team.

Don’t be a BUT! I was conducting a workshop with Jack Murphy at WKZL Greensboro, NC and I complimented the way he executed a phone topic. Jack looked at me expectantly and said, “But…?” I followed with, “You missed the exit and took two calls that repeated earlier callers.”

Jack ignored the compliment and only focused on what he did wrong in the exit. I realized that when you mix feedback, like my compliment followed by a critique, the talent will only hear what comes after the but.

Divide feedback between what the show is doing well and what they need to improve on. First, ask the show to evaluate what they think worked well and what needs work on a particular show or segment.

Follow with what you think worked well. Put some space between the praise and the growth points. For instance, ask the show if there’s anything they need your help on, such as technical issues. Say something like, “Let’s talk about how you can build on your strengths.”  Then deliver your action points.

Ask the show to repeat the action points that were agreed on. The show then follows up in writing with the action points in bullet point form. When the action points come from the show, they have ownership of the feedback, and they are more likely to implement them on the air.

Studies have shown that when an employee is told something, recall after three months is about 10 percent. When an employee is told and shown something, recall is about 33 percent. When an employee realizes, verbalizes and writes something, recall increases to about 65 percent.

The next coaching session begins by reviewing the latest performance in reference to the last action points. Ask why any action points were not addressed. When the same point or points are not being addressed a second or third time, it’s time for tough love.

Tough Love:

Ask these three questions:

  1. Do you actually agree on the action points?
  2. Do you need help implementing them?
  3. Do you feel capable of executing the action points?

In a situation where the talent or show doesn’t have the ability to move the show where it needs to go, or they’re not the right fit for the station’s target audience, it’s time for the formal employee performance evaluation, or the Come to Jesus meeting.

Review the ratings goals and evaluate the show with regard to content, execution and character development. Outline specific goals and be clear that in order to remain on the show there will have to be significant improvement within 30 days. At the end of 30 days, review progress. If there’s been enough improvement, continue another 30 days. Repeat the same process at 60 days. In 90 days they either remain on the show or they’re replaced.

So, don’t be a but; focus on unlocking talent’s creative potential, and practice communication and collaboration.


SUMMER BUCKET LIST: The Dave Ryan Show at KDWB/Minneapolis talked about things they want to do before summer is over, and they encouraged listeners to tweet their lists, too. It went viral through social media and extended the theme for two weeks of online and on-air serial content.

BRINGING THE BOYFRIEND ON A SUMMER TRIP: An on-air talent we worked with had a 16-year-old daughter who wanted to bring her boyfriend on their family summer vacation. The show debated the idea on the air  Have listeners tell you what happened when their teen wanted to bring a boyfriend or girlfriend on a family vacation.

SUMMER HOME IMPROVEMENT INJURIES: A morning radio host best described as “not that handy” provided serial content from his summer vacation cottage renovation, which included multiple trips to the emergency room, not to mention property damage. Create a topic around injuries related to summer projects and hobbies.


Nelly, Jessie and Gloria on Radio Latina 104.5 in San Diego hit a treasure trove of hilarious stories from Spanish-speaking audience members making their first attempt to navigate the English-speaking world in the United States.

  • A man was working at a car wash when his boss told him to take a break, so he rushed over to help a nearby mechanic  replacing the brakes on a car,
  • A woman was lost and called a friend for help. The friend asked, “Where are you? “ She answered, “I’m at the intersection of Walk and Don’t Walk street.”
  • Someone who thought that their street was named after a doctor because of the “Dr.” on the street sign for “Franklin Dr.”
  • Someone who thought that the grocery store was a place where people cursed because ‘grocerias’ are swear words.

SETUP: Have you ever made an embarrassing mistake while trying to communicate in a different language? Start a topic about the mistakes made as you learned to navigate a different culture, country or city.

Alternate setup: When did you catch someone disparaging you in a foreign language that they did not know you understood?


Here’s another board game available at that can be adapted to a fun on-air contest.

SETUP: This game has cards containing three versions of obscure facts: Truth, Fib, or Whopper. Pick a card and read aloud an obscure “fact.” Players attempt to figure out if you are telling the truth or full of baloney.


  • It is impossible to sneeze (truth) with your eyes open (truth)under water (fib) at an altitude above 40,000 feet (whopper)?
  • Brussel sprouts were actually discovered in  Brussels, Belgium (truth),  Ancient Egypt (fib), Massachusetts (whopper).
You could also call the game “Truth, Fib, or Whopper.”


We love theme weeks where a show does five different topics under the same umbrella subject at the same time each day for five days. When executed well, this content can bring Monday listeners back on Tuesday, Tuesday listeners back on Wednesday and so on. Nielsen data shows that even top-performing morning shows get about three week days of listening from their P1 listeners, so getting a few to tune in for just one more day can lead to exponential rating gains.

SETUP: The syndicated Ace and TJ show declared this past week “Wedding Week,” with story topics like these:

  • When did you stop a friend from getting married?
  • How were cops a part of your wedding?
  • Disappointing ring, disappointing proposal. Who is holding a grudge?
  • “Rate Your Redneck: Wedding Edition.” The most redneck thing that you witnessed at a wedding.

Remember, the key is to make it clear to the audience that the content theme will continue “at this same time tomorrow.” Listeners tend to hear your show at the same time each day and the promise of great story content will induce them to find your station first when the begin their commute each day.


Objective reporting kills the connection between you and your audience. Being yourself will make your content much more appealing.

WNYC podcast host Manoush Zomorodi writes about how she began “New Tech City” relying on her experience and training as a journalist, taking steps to hide her opinion, inner thoughts, emotions and personal stories from the audience. Then a WNYC executive gave her this feedback:

“Your podcast is good, but it won’t be great until we hear the Manoush we know. The Manoush we see in the halls at the station, who is smart but also funny. And also kind of…weird!”

Manoush slowly began to share more of herself on the air, and her listeners quintupled. Her listening audience went from being 70 percent male to 70 percent female, which is remarkable for a tech-based podcast.

There are great insights, including Manoush’s ideas on how women are finding new opportunities in podcasting, in her article from Time Magazine’s “Motto” blog in this link.

Video Tip of the Week: What Your Video Style Says About You
by Laura Nickerson

When you are thinking about the tone of your piece, don’t forget to factor in the shooting and editing style. It can say as much about your brand as you do.

Are you shooting an expensively shot and edited 3 camera piece? A shaky, hand-held smartphone? Or a straight to camera simple piece?

Watch these different clips and ask yourself what kind of feel you get from each one.

This one-camera piece featuring actress Laura Benati is straight to camera with a simple white background:

This piece about Dakota Fanning is edited from existing footage with only voice over:

This fully produced piece about Edible Six Pack Rings looks expensive and well thought out:

And this video featuring a kid and a fish has the home-grown smartphone look:

So how did the shooting style change your expectations of the video? Think of the way you shoot and edit like another character in your piece, and decide which shooting style works best to convey your content message.

Feeling inspired? Make a great video, then send me your links at



He’s only “semi-retired,” and the longtime Seattle radio icon just broke out a new parody song about The Donald based on Steve Martin’s 1970’s hit “King Tut.”



It’s wonderful to have good friends like Doc and Woody at CHEZ-FM Ottawa. Their old pal and newscaster Randall Moore always wanted a convertible. So they delivered…


A Good Coach is a: 

  • Facilitator
  • Collaborator
  • Master interviewer
  • Sounding board
  • Counselor
  • Teacher
  • Problem solver


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