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Career Lessons From The King Of All Media

People say some negative stuff about Howard Stern. The term “shock jock” was popularized in the 80s to describe him; and to be clear, the term is pejorative. It brings to mind someone that is willing to do anything to get attention and/or ratings. The modern equivalent of “shock jock”, as the term was intended, would be “spammer.” To be fair (and as he’ll readily admit), he did do some attention-grabbing stunts on his show. He threw salami at strippers’ backsides once, to see if it would stick. So. However, there is a reason Howard commands more ratings than anyone else in the industry. There is a reason he managed to pull millions of listeners from a free service to a subscription service when he moved to satellite radio. Howard gives the audience what they want, and even what they don’t yet know they want. Despite what the salami stunt might indicate, he doesn’t do anything by accident or just for the fun of it (unless that’s the point). Howard can teach us a lot about career focus, and transitioning careers, and finding success time and time again. Take a look:

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1. Career Focus (and Flexibility)

Stern has had a singular focus since his time at Boston University, when he would jump on the late night student radio station and embarrass himself. The goal was to be the highest rated radio personality in the world. He once wrote a letter to an ex-girlfriend (who had dumped him), asking her how she could break up with the man who would become the most successful radio host of all time. He could see the end of the tunnel, from the very beginning.

In order to get this done, Howard had to be flexible in his career trajectory. A lot of us suck at this. Howard took jobs paying $96 a week. He took jobs in Hartford and Detroit. He took jobs where he had to play music he hated. He took jobs that he wasn’t yet qualified for. But his singular drive allowed him to flex and bend to the whims of the world – as long as he kept honing his skillset and hammering away, things would work out. Obviously, they did.

We can all learn from that kind of a mindset. Things do not work out how you plan them to – that’s pretty universal. You’ll likely end up in a different city, doing a slightly different job. But that’s okay. As long as you keep the goal front and center and take steps toward it, you’re in a good spot.

2. Dealing with Rejection

No way to sugarcoat this one – Howard got fired a few times. The most public display was when John Hayes called a press conference to fire him from WNBC in New York in 1985. It was soul-crushing. Howard thought his career was over.

He kept in touch with the audience by booking live shows. He had lost his platform – so he started to rebuild it. He signed with Infinity broadcasting in the same year, and stayed in NYC to “kick NBC’s ass.”

Yes, it hurt. But it did not dissuade him. Think about how many times you’ve been knocked down – they likely weren’t on national television. You weren’t routinely villainized by valuable sponsors. You weren’t attacked by goody-good special interest groups. Rejection is part of the problem; be like Howard and embrace it.

3. Knowing When to Quit

In 2012, Howard joined the judging panel of America’s Got Talent. It seemed like a weird move for him, given the family-friendly nature of the show. Would he say bad words? Would he treat it like a joke? Would he expose himself?

Howard, of course, performed admirably and was the most popular judge (as he publicly predicted). Some kids even started recognizing him as the “AGT Guy,” rather than the Shock Jock on satellite radio.

I’m sure AGT paid him well. But after three years, Stern decided enough was enough and left the show. He did whatever he intended to do – get some publicity for his radio platform, maybe. Or just to prove he could hang in the prime time family zone, perhaps. Either way, eh walked away from what was surely a large some of money to continue with the show, because he didn’t want to overstay his welcome.

Lesson here is simple – don’t just milk things as long as you can for the sake of a payday. Be conscious of your “brand.” Be smart to ensure you are still building your career with every step.

4. Relentless Success

Howard has been successful in virtually every pursuit. Radio, television, books, movies (or, rather, “movie.”). This is not wholly due to consistent luck – it is due to obsessive preparation and a simple refusal to fail.

Stern can teach us a lot about our career approach. First step, buy some salami…

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