When I go around and do Street school with the radio stations every spring and train in their promo teams, one of the things that I highlight at the very beginning, is that when you meet somebody on the street they interviewing you for the job of being their favorite radio station. There are 1 million books on how to get a job and how to do interviews but the one thing that they all seem to agree on is that you have about eight seconds to get the deal done. Eight seconds to get their attention in a positive way and if you achieve that, you will have their attention for the rest of the interview.
That’s really good criteria for when you’re trying to get a job. If there is one position open and 800 people driving hard for the hoop, what are you going to do to be that person, that applicant, that will get their attention for more than eight seconds?
Stephen Furst was a newlywed and a struggling actor living in Los Angeles in 1977. He paid the bills by delivering pizzas and whenever there was a deliver to a movie studio, he would include a headshot underneath the pizza box top with a quick note of introduction. One day one of these pizzas and head shots ended up on the desk of Matty Simmons. Matty was in the process of looking for actors for a project that he was calling “Animal House”. The picture got his attention. The silly note got Stephen’s audition. Stephen became Flounder and had a pretty amazing career in TV and film. He got Mattie Simmons attention by doing something creative, as opposed to just mailing a headshot and resume. And now you know….the rest of the story.
In 1989 I was looking to leave the Emmis CHR in Minneapolis and go out and get my first big boy job as a Promotion Director. I had seen hundreds and hundreds of applicants for on-air positions, sales positions, and other openings come into the station. And they all came in envelopes with a resume. And they all blurred together. So I decided that nothing really says more about you or gives a better glimpse into your personality than what is on your desk. Or what kind of lunchbox you carry.
I had had a bad experience in 5th grade with a four day old bologna sandwich that my mom had tried to pass off as “Made just for you honey!”, so the lunchbox was out.
I staged a desk with half eaten pizza, Tums, phone messages from drug dealers, betting stubs from the race track, and a Thor comic book and rubber cement in an open desk drawer. My friend Chris took a photo of this and it became a mailer. On the front of this almost menu sized mailer was the photo of the desk. When you flipped it open, it said that you hired this desk, a Promotion Director would be thrown in at no extra cost.
I then went to R&R magazine and started mass mailing these to stations that I found intriguing and any opening that I saw. My goal was to get an interview because I knew that if I got an interview I was doing better than everybody else who is applying for this job, and if I got the interview, I felt confident that I could seal the deal. But I had to get the interview.
I shortly began to collect form letters from radio stations thanking me for applying, but that they weren’t hiring or the job was filled and would hold my application on file. The basic blow-off letter.
So I sent them rejection notes thanking them for their rejection note but letting them know that at this time I wasn’t accepting any rejections, but would be happy to hold their rejection note on file should the opportunity to reject me present itself in the next 60 days.
I got an almost 60% response rate. How amazing is that? Shit tons of funny replies from people who were cracking up. “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m really sorry about the impersonal form letter, but you know how it is. We get in a lot of applicants in and there really isn’t anything open right now, but that was really amazing. I’ll remember you when an opportunity does come up.”
And I also got my fair share of people who said, “I don’t get. What is this? What is the purpose of this?” And I knew right there that these would be people who I would probably not enjoy working with and probably would not enjoy working with me.
And boom I got an interview. Because God does have a sense of humor and because I was in the midst of a horrible breakup (as opposed to all the really fun breakups) with a coworker named Charlotte, the interview came from a radio station in Charlotte. As my bud Paula, the Business Manager said “This was meant to be.” They flew me down. We met. I flew back with the job. The desk had wedged my foot in the door and that’s all I wanted.
And for about the next decade I would run into people at events who would recognize my name and say, “Holy crap you’re the desk guy. We still have that! That was the best sales piece that I’ve ever seen. How’d that work out for you?” Well, I was hanging out at the Gavin after giving a presentation on marketing, so, yeah, it worked out pretty well. I was still making crap pay but I wasn’t driving the station van around for 50 hours a week.
When I was struggling and broke in Charlotte North Carolina, my fiancé and Iehad a roommate who later went on to become JoJo Wright. An amazingly talented person, but when he was applying for jobs in other markets, nobody knew that he was amazingly talented. So how could he get them to listen to his air check and not have it just be in that bin of tapes that they may or may not get around to listening to. “This Wayne guy in Charlotte? Yeah put him over there and I will listen to him later.” He would send air checks delivered in plastic toy shopping carts with a note that said, “I hear you’re shopping for a new night talent.” That’s how we went from Charlotte to Dallas and then Dallas to San Francisco. By the time the job in San Francisco was open and with Dallas under his belt, he had developed a name. People knew who he was. But the shopping cart got his foot in the door that got him listened to. That got him his big break in Dallas.
In 2018 mailing shopping carts or sending live lobsters with a note that say you enjoy hot water and are not afraid to dive in headfirst, probably is not going to get you around the system that has been put in place. So what can you do to get that eight seconds.
Maybe it’s how you frame your correspondence. In one case a couple of years ago. It was a letter from a state parole board asking that the applicant be given due consideration. Since she had served her time and paid her debt to the state of Missouri, Director Richmond Crinckly felt very comfortable with her being able to go on to a terrific career as a morning show cohost. The applicane was smart about who she sent these. She sent them to people who she knew would get it. People who had evidenced a sense of humor or at least a little bit of appreciation for focused stupidity. And she got the eight seconds.
Today maybe it’s an obviously fake parity of an email from a Nigerian prince. “We have millions to send you but as a show of good faith, please hire Paige for your opening and we will begin the process of transferring all of the money.”
With air talent, if you can demonstrate any kind of video skill, that’s going to probably put you ahead of many other candidates who are sending a link to an aircheck and a resume. Maybe it’s a YouTube video of you out on the streets of your market talking to people about why this radio station should hire you.
Or, if it’s a contemporary station you want to work at, maybe it’s old people discussing how you are all that’s wrong with America today.
I was just talking to somebody who is putting together a team and wants to be able to start marketing themselves in a couple of months. I told her that the smart thing to do would be to create a YouTube series. Something funny. Not a serious Life Coach kind of thing. We’re in radio so it’s alright to be humorous and funny and silly. And if you look on YouTube almost all of the stuff blurs together except for the people who have stumbled on hooks. Shit Southern Women Say. Cooking drunk. There are a million YouTube phenomena who we could learn from. Having teenage daughters has opened me to alot of YouTube stars at the average adult probably would not be aware of. If two young women in Seattle can be averaging 18 million views per clip when they’re doing food challenges, maybe they stumbled on something. Look up Mo & Ro.
But again, you need to get that eight seconds. You need to get their attention so that they will click on the link. Is there a set answer for that? No, but that’s your goal. Eight seconds. Now, how are you going to get it?