What can Howard Stern teach you about building a business? A lot more than you think. While estimates vary, he is arguably responsible for $120 million per year in revenue over his salary (and show costs). And since he re-signed his contract in late 2010, Sirius stock is up approximately 35% -- that's $1.8 billion in terms of market cap.
Scatological humor aside, think about his accomplishments:
- A top broadcaster for nearly thirty years, in ratings terms "Howard Stern" and "Number 1" are forever linked
- Star of a hit movie and author of two bestsellers
- Creator of the first reality show, long before reality shows were even a twinkle in a network programmers' eyes
- The primary driver behind satellite radio becoming a viable business
Target customers you can serve. Howard's show constantly evolves, not to pacify detractors but to better entertain his real audience. He creates and maintains meaningful differentiation. He doesn't try to serve everyone. Don't be afraid to ignore some amount of criticism, and don't be afraid to ignore markets you can never satisfy.
Leverage employee skills. J.D. Harmeyer, Howard's media producer, is great -- but only in the Stern-iverse could J.D. also be an on-air talent. The employee you just hired could also manage your website; an assistant could also sell to certain customers; your warehouse clerk could probably help streamline production. Howard doesn't let a job title limit a staffer's scope and output. He's like a great coach who adapts his system based on his players' abilities. Find out what else your staff can do and turn them loose.
Stay true to your vision. Howard is above all a student of his industry. He learned the "rules," studied the players, and realized he would never compete by fitting in. Instead he created a new form of radio and stayed his course through multiple firings and millions of dollars in fines. Howard didn't think outside the box. He created a new box. If your business is like every other business you will only achieve similar results at best.
Create multiple streams of revenue... Howard is a textbook example of new-product synergy. He wrote two bestselling books and starred in a movie and promoted them on his show in a natural, entertaining, seamless way. For example, he shared the inside story of writing, editing, publishing, and promoting a book. The movie and books served as a means as well as an end, all while supporting his radio show.
...but never at the expense of long-term results... He never pandered to his audience by selling tchotchkes. (You can't buy a Howard Stern t-shirt or coffee mug or key chain, but you can buy tons of Bill O'Reilly products.) Howard respects his audience as individuals and as long-term customers. Create multiple revenue streams that provide real value, and never devalue your long-term prospects by chasing short-term profits.
...and never at the expense of your core business. Stern wrote two books while never missing a radio show. He filmed a movie while never missing a show. His radio audience made those projects possible, so he never let other initiatives reduce the frequency or quality of his show. Expand your business, but never at the expense of your primary revenue stream.
No means maybe -- or yes. If a genius is someone who can see what others don't see and turn that vision into reality, Howard is a genius. But he also works incredibly hard, succeeding based on talent and originality but also on effort and persistence. Success or failure is almost always based on execution and not on initial ideas or concepts. If you have an original idea, most people will say you're wrong, at least at first. Never let "no" hold you back.
By the way: The "King of all Media" never hesitates to publicly praise his staff and himself. If your business is good at what it does, say so. When you believe in yourself others will, too. Look what that's done for Howard Stern.
Baba booey! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)