Help: My Boss Wants to Star in Our Company’s Show
So you want to make a show.
Since you’ve stumbled upon this blog, I think it’s safe to assume you’re on the same page we are when it comes to the value of showrunning. You’ve done the research – you know an excellent show can increase the lifetime value of your customers while decreasing the cost of their acquisition. You’ve nodded along vehemently when we say that great marketing isn’t about who arrives – it’s about who stays. You’ve scrimped and saved, assembled a budget and a team, chosen a differentiated show format and theme. You’re ready to hunker down and spend some quality time with customers over the air.
You make your pitch to the CEO/CMO/[insert vaguely menacing title here], your breath a bit bated. But they love the idea!
“I love the idea,” they confirm. You’re delighted.
“I’m delighted,” you volunteer. And then, the kicker:
“I’ll be the host,” they say.
I should preface this: in some (maybe even many!) situations, this is not an “uh oh” situation at all. A show absolutely benefits from a supportive leader, and this support often manifests itself in a passionate, knowledgeable show host. We have plenty of examples of super successful shows hosted by company leaders: Wistia’s Brandwagon comes to mind, as does ProfitWell’s Pricing Page Teardown, Basecamp’s Rework, Drift’s Seeking Wisdom – the list goes on.
But not every company has a leader who is commanding on camera or audio, who can consistently devote the time needed to make a show consistently awesome, and who has an ineffable gut feel for the audio/visual medium. If your aspiring leader-host falls into this camp, what do you do?
You, my friend, are in a pickle.
You want to set the show up for success. You also want to maintain your boss’ enthusiasm for it. And you probably can’t be as frank with them as you want to be – you likely won’t feel comfortable telling them, for example, that while they’re a warm and animated speaker in real life, when the cameras are rolling they’re indistinguishable from Daria.
Not every excellent CXO is an excellent show host. But every excellent show needs an excellent host in order to be excellent. Make sense?
Why does your boss want to host the show anyway?
The first step in de-pickling the situation is to ascertain why, exactly, your boss wants to host the show. Is it because they believe their presence (and their presence alone) will lend the show a certain gravitas that yours will not? Is it because they, like you, are a true believer in the MSR movement, and this is their way of expressing support? Is it because they want to promote the company while simultaneously building their own brand?
Each of these, while understandable, is not a good enough reason for them to host the show. Here’s how to open the conversation.
1. The Host Needs to Be C-Level
If your boss believes your brand’s show needs a C-level boost to get it off the ground, I kind of get it. Like the long-suffering peddler in the children’s book Caps for Sale (stick with me a sec), branded shows need to wear multiple hats all at once. They need to be entertaining. They need to be informative. They need to be inspiring. They need to be helpful. It’s reasonable for your boss to feel compelled to legitimize and elevate the show by offering their conspicuous stamp of approval. After all, an average listener would probably be curious to hear an industry leader’s take on an industry-relevant topic. Would anyone hoping to learn something really choose to tune into a show hosted by interns?
But the C-suite doesn’t have a monopoly on either good ideas or notoriety. For example: If the founders of NextView Ventures had insisted on hosting their industry-leading Traction podcast, the world might never have borne witness to the unbridled enthusiasm and dad jokes of Jay Acunzo.
Instead, by leaving the show reins squarely in Jay’s hands, NextView cemented him as a true thought leader and showrunner. This, in turn, added even more expertise and layers of perspective to the company.
Drift has done something similar. CEO David Cancel and VP of Marketing Dave Gerhardt leaned into the value of their excellent Seeking Wisdom podcast by creating a true network of shows (seriously – they call it the “Hypergrowth Network”) hosted by multiple people within the organization. Drift now offers more tailored shows to different customers looking for different things – and by sharing the hosting wealth, David and Dave have exposed more experts within their own company to the world.
In short: plenty of successful companies with killer shows decentralize their insights and creativity. When multiple people within an organization share unique ideas and perspectives with the world, that only enhances the thought leadership of the brand.
2. A Show Cheerleader
If your boss falls into this camp, bless their heart. The best thing you can have on your team is a leader who sees the inherent value in showrunning and supports your efforts with all their might. You just may need to redirect some of that energy to more suitable channels.
A leader who fits into this category will likely understand the tactical elements that compose a good show: things like consistency, regular releases, a clear and compelling format, etc. They will also likely agree with you when you point out that their busy travel schedule and always-packed calendar might preclude them from being a real asset. If this leader is a true supporter of the showrunner movement, they’ll want to be a help – not a hindrance.
And hosting a show is certainly not the only way a leader can help it succeed. They can be a regular guest, attracting listeners with occasional bursts of insightful pith or relevant company updates. They can aggressively share each new episode with her own networks. They can promote the show in external interviews with the media and other companies. They can be the consummate cheerleader without having to actually host the show.
3. Personal Brand-Building
This is a tricky one. If your company’s leader volunteers to host the show because they are preoccupied with building their own brand – even at the expense of the best option for the company – you have a bit of an uphill battle.
I should state: I’m a huge advocate of executives building their personal brands. I fully believe that people follow people – and that has played out in the personification of brands over the years. (Curious about what I mean? Check out the hilarious tweets from Wendy’s or Merriam-Webster – company accounts imbued with so much personality that it’s impossible to forget they’re staffed by real people. Small wonder they have massive followings.) Executives can and should focus on how to use their personalities, talents, and perspectives for the good of the brand.
But therein lies the important distinction: they should use their personal brand to help the brand. If they’re not the best fit to host a show, then the show is not the best brand-building avenue for them.
Remind your boss of a show host’s true purpose: to be a guide. This is not the medium for a star in the making. Rather, it’s the medium for a Sherpa: someone who is a strong and reliable, though secondary, part of the listener’s journey. Think less Ricky Martin, more Rick Steves.
There are other ways to help your executive build their brand. A regular column on your company blog, for example, or a dedicated personal social media strategy. With some support and the correct medium, your exec can develop a strong reputation – without flopping your show.
So what do you do?
Once you’ve determined why your boss wants to host the show in the first place, it’s up to you as the showrunner either to a) coach them into becoming the best possible host they can be; or b) convince them to hand the reins to someone else.
If they still want in, you need to establish agreements for how coaching them will work. You need to share your vision of what constitutes a good host, provide examples of leaders who have enlivened their companies’ series, and lay a foundational safe space in which you are empowered to offer candid feedback about their performance without fear of repercussions or (excessive) snark.
Logistically, you also need to work around their rigid calendar by implementing overt, specific scheduling (with plenty of room for trial and error built in) well in advance. You need to outline fully and in painstaking detail what it means to commit to being a host before they make that official commitment.
At the risk of wrapping it up too neatly: you need to over-communicate with the goal of arriving at mutual understanding. It’s imperative that your boss understands that hosting your show is not a casual, off-the-cuff role. If you can make that case to them, you can open a more productive conversation about who at the company is truly the best fit to host your show. In the end, they might still decide it’s them — but they’ll be better equipped to fill the role by understanding what it entails and what success looks like.
Does it even matter?
And how important is it, really, to secure the right host for your nascent show? Is it really that big of a deal to feature someone who lacks the panache or time to make the show a runaway hit?
In short, yes. We’ve said it before: a great show boils down to just three things. The concept, the format, and the talent. The talent is the most important part of this equation – and it’s often what listeners will remember even before they recall the name of the show.
Sometimes, the right host is an enthusiastic founder or company executive. And sometimes it’s not. And though you may need to have a tough conversation or two, it’s your role as a showrunner is to find the right person and install them in front of your mic or camera.
A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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