By Erik Cudd
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Donald Trump are men whom the world respects and admires for their business acumen and experience. The world loves them because they see and desire the success they have been able to achieve. While the World is busy honoring them for their success, I study their failures.
While you probably recognize the names of all three men, I bet you have no idea who Alan Wurtzel is without a Google search. Alan Wurtzel was the CEO of Circuit City just before it crashed and burned. Circuit City was a “big box” electronics retail store that started small with one location in 1949, was the first to become a chain and created the “big box” standard, and then went into bankruptcy and shuttered in 2009. You may not know Mr. Wurtzel, but I say that you should want to hear his wisdom just as much as Trump or Jobs. Why you ask? Because if you were to ask any of these men where and when they learned their most valuable lessons, they will tell you it was not during their high and profitable success, but in their failures. And when I say failure, I don’t mean a small one either, but in almost every case they lost everything and sometimes more than once. So what could you possibly learn from someone who ran a company that went from being so successful like Circuit City was, then only to fade into oblivion? I say you can learn how to succeed and change your own life or business for the better.
Let’s step away from Mr. Wurtzel and highlight another individual who goes by the name of Shaytard. This name might be unknown to you, but to millions, yes I said millions, they not only know him and love him, but they are devoted and loyal fans. Shaytard, or Shane Butler, is an amazing story of failure and floundering in life, going from job to job, making little to no money. Shane was overweight, dropped out of College, and was going nowhere. Falling deeper and deeper into debt Shane was essentially lifeless and losing hope. Like many businesses and entrepreneurs, Shane experienced great loss to the point that he hit rock bottom. Yet, if you Google Shane today, you will see he is a YouTube phenomenon who has lost over 110 pounds, got in great shape, is happily married with four kids, moved from Idaho to California, and went from almost no money to making six figures now, simply by filming his life and family. His story is characteristic to where I am going with this article, in that the great successes of life and business are not born from simple epiphanies and wisdom, but rather choices made in the midst of stark failure and the sudden movement towards something that might be impossible or seem unconventional. Do your homework on the Shaytards and you’ll see why he is one of the most popular “Vloggers” on YouTube. It is exciting stuff. Now come back to me.
Radio is struggling, and seems to be having a fight with itself. There are two teams that seem to be at odds in my view. The creative individuals who filled the studios over the years and are still struggling to make the medium remain relevant, and the suits who are trying to latch onto anything they can to make more revenue with less overhead. The main problem is that these two camps refuse to work together, and even if they did, the emphasis is placed entirely too much on safe, tried and true success. Just like Circuit City, in many instances Radio seems to think outside of and apart from what is happening beyond the walls of the studio. I’ve seen it firsthand. In my own experience, our company began to rely on websites, dumping thousands of dollars to make them better. Suddenly it was all about Google Keywords, so people could search using Google and find interesting stuff on our site. Meanwhile, the only creative content that was being generated on our site was from Corporate, no local content or creative opportunity for the On-Air folks to flex their muscles and get their juices flowing. As you can imagine, there are still many in Radio today who resent online and think it is a waste. The suits realized the local talent should provide the content, but they realized it too little too late. Now it is all about apps, which again in my humble opinion, if you didn’t create an app when the iPhone came out, you are still trying to catch the wave. Good luck! I know of a small market operator in Georgia who still does Obituaries in the noon hours of his stations and thinks like it is 1980. The amount of revenue they are missing out on boggles my mind.
Still, with the efforts some Radio stations are putting forth online, most of the time they fall behind the curve and refuse to be daring or revolutionary. If you had told Shane Butler ten years ago he would be making six figures a year simply by shooting videos of himself and his family, he would have laughed you out of his house because he couldn’t see it at the time due to the way he was thinking. It’s the same reason that small town operator in Georgia had to take one of his stations dark in North Carolina, and I imagine more will follow or else they will have to sell their properties altogether. It’s the same kind of resistance and narrowness of thought I get from many PDs at News/Talk stations when I send them a package and try to get hired to do a talk show when I explain my vision. News/Talk radio as just one example is an older product, geared for older listeners, and thinks old and refuses to change. Thankfully, not all of them are stuck. Since the world likes to look only at success that has proven itself in the marketplace, examine New Jersey 101-5, which decided to do a Talk station geared for a younger relevant audience, and evolves still to this day as time passes by. This is what is going to save, revolutionize, and drive Radio if it is to survive its own Civil War. It’s time to learn from failure and think differently and daring. This way of thinking is what is going to help you be more successful, creative, innovative, and enterprising. I see podcasts all over the place doing very well, and YouTube is the next FM, but you had to jump before the success and be willing to dream and be different. Radio waits, as it usually does, and tries to climb on board only once the revenue value makes sense and they see someone else have success. Is there a terrestrial station in the country that can say their online revenue outpaces their tower? It could, but fear and narrow thinking holds them back. Everyone is afraid to fail! It’s like trying to convince the hosts of the popular TV show “Shark Tank” to invest in an idea that has yet to go to market and make any profit -- they play it too safe all the time. Do you?
I had a client who owned several drive-thru coffee shops and wanted to take on Starbucks. His thing at the time was he wanted to emphasize the speed of his business model, and he told me to try anything in his ad. Anything, you mean dare to be different? I’m all in! After I picked my mouth off the floor, I walked into the studio giddy and excited. I grabbed our Promotions Director and we did a quick rhyme back and forth to each other. Not a rap, but just a conversation with a sing song feel, and no music, just dry! The suits hated it, but the client LOVED it! Why? He was willing to think different and look beyond what everyone else said works. He refused to let failure determine his course of action, and he enabled me the freedom to be daring, different, and unique. In contrast, a local franchisee of a popular nationwide franchise of fitness locations approached us in the same manner wanting a jingle. They wanted something that was similar to what everyone else was doing, but I thought differently. I incorporated their name into what I did and produced a jazzy ad for them. Imagine a jazz artist speaking, and only for brief seconds in the ad, sort of singing the words, but he stays in that groove of a jazz rhythm, almost delivering a poem in a musical feel. Meanwhile, my only music was me snapping in time to a song that only I could hear in my head. Get it? So I’m snapping through the whole thing and selling the place in a new, unique way that no one else was doing. Did he buy it? No, because he could not get past thinking like Radio thinks today. It is high time to look to those who have fallen flat on their face, listen to them intently, and learn from their mistakes, even learn from ours. We must be daring, different, and innovative if we want to create and ride the new waves of success. We have got to be willing to fail. Only in failure is where we learn how to succeed.
Mr. Wurtzel wrote a book about his experience and the subsequent failure of the multi-million dollar Corporation that he was in charge of. I bought my Kindle copy today for $2.99 and look forward to reading it and learning from it. When I was working in my final year in Radio just before my layoff, I kind of saw the writing on the wall and knew something was coming. I found an inexpensive setup for a home studio that would work with a USB connection and my laptop. Do I make enough to be a main source of income from my home as a VO artist? Not hardly. But, I enjoy doing it very much, as I do producing commercials and helping others succeed. My new way of thinking kept me calm and collected when I was paged to the Business Manager’s office in early March of 2011 and told my position as Production Director had been eliminated in our market and my job would be done online by someone else in another market. I did not get angry, even when they escorted me out of the building like a criminal after I had worked so hard for them for over three years. I simply took a deep breath and said, “This is my low point, I can only go up from here”. I continue to apply to Radio jobs, especially with the same company that let me go just two years ago. I even have a phone interview which was offered in the same day I sent a package online to a cluster close by in that very same company. Will I get the job? Who knows, but they want to talk, and if I am offered the position, I now think differently and operate differently than I did before in both my work and my life. I learned from my layoff and am better prepared for the next opportunity. I also decided to write about what was going on in my head and tried an online blog but no one read it. Without the money to afford marketing and advertising, I realized I had an avenue for my writing.
As a former Production Director I knew of Radio and Production and Editor Jerry Vigil. Thanks to developing that relationship over the years, learning from my failures, dreaming big and doing something about it, now I am a feature writer for the publication that I enjoy to read, thanks in no small part from the encouragement of Jerry. Feel free to see how far I’ve come at erikcuddvoiceovers.com. I may not sound like a Major Market VO guy, but my checks still clear and I love what I do. Can you say the same? What can you learn from Mr. Wurtzel’s failures and others like him?