Everyone wants to be liked. Mostly. Occasionally you might have to do things which some people might not like and they might express their displeasure in a variety of ways.
I’ve written this blog post several times – first time was a few months ago and then decided not to publish as the story hadn’t played out fully I thought. I’ve rewritten it several times over in my head. The first prompt came from the reaction by some, from Steve Wright announcing leaving his Radio 2 show and Scott Mills being announced as replacement in July. That was the first draft, and the second and the third.
In my career I have had death threats on email for changing presenters on a show, I’ve had hate letters (way more effort required before social media existed!), and a personalised wish for a speedy end to my employment from a departing presenter’s other half- to name but a few glorious experiences. As someone once said to me when embarking on my first management role in media, you are not in the post to just make friends, you are there to make the tough calls, make the changes which are needed before they become critical and ultimately, that’s why the company pays you to do the job.
People generally tend to react badly to change, they like things to be stable and somewhat predictable. They won’t tell you that- they will say they hate predictability, but also like things, “just the way they are”. People get used to the status quo and so when you shift things, it causes upset. Every change I’ve instigated or managed has been met with the line, “If its not broken then don’t fix it”. Those saying it generally don’t know the facts of course- it is broken! It could be that the figures are down, the audience is declining steadily, the revenue is not there to support it, the presenter wants to get out, the demands of doing the show are excessive and unsupportable, or just something else. None of that is ever public and nor should it be, so don’t make the assumption that the car is not broken when you only see the polished and gleaming exterior.
I posted a while ago when Steve Wright announced his leaving from Radio 2. Scroll through the comments on social at the time and you will see lots of, “it will not be the same!” and outpouring of distain for the change. There is also a fair bit of negative about Scott Mills replacing Steve. That’s the same Scott who had a lot of very similar “its not going to be the same” type messages when he left Radio 1 just a few weeks earlier. Different audiences, but the reactions to the change are the same, irrespective of the brands and respective audiences.
I remember once changing a breakfast show and getting a very specific grumble from a commercial client of the station. This came to me via the station MD at the time- as the client had the direct line- nice! The reaction was similar to the above, “its not going to be the same”, “I like the show that is on now and why change it” and coupled with an extra special sauce of ” I also spend a lot of money with you guys”! All credit to the MD, we made the change and carried on as planned and explained the strategy to the client who accepted it but didn’t fully agree and decided to “give it time” (time to fail probably in their view!). It didn’t fail and when the time came to make another change to the show after a good few years of it being on air, the same client made the same comments about the existing show, the one which years earlier they were unhappy about appearing. Habits form, people get used to what they are used to- nothing more. To decide that you are not going to like it before you have tried it, is pointless and akin to deciding not to eat your greens a child! I know I won’t like it and so I’m not going to try it! It is sticking your fingers in your ears and blowing raspberries.
Below is a very small selection of lines from social messages following Scott’s first show on Radio 2.
I think my favourite is the person who listened for five mins to give it a chance (!), little more than the length of a song. Haters gonna hate! There are also some comments saying they have “signed up” to another radio station (just to let them know, you don’t have to sign up, you can just listen… its free). On that point of it being free- yes this particular example is funded by the BBC licence fee, and whilst not getting into that debate, the daily cost per listener of this one show on this one network would be infinitesimal. I’m sure all of those people with subscriptions are also contacting Netflix and Amazon to complain about ANY show they deliver on their platforms that they personally don’t like more than 5 minutes of, just as fervently!
I think one of the inspirations for draft one of this post, way back in the summer, was that all too often a complaint of some radio observers is that some radio stations are obsessed with celebrity. The replacement of a seasoned radio practitioner with a celeb from TV- that’s often the charge laid down. The Scott Mills Radio 2 change is a radio professional (Steve Wright), being replaced by another radio professional in Scott Mills. Someone who has a legacy of learning their trade across radio stations and for a good number of years before landing on Radio 1 twenty four years ago. That should make them happy.
What is the end conclusion? What do I draw from all that? I think my summary is that changes will always draw a critique and the veracity of the response- particularly with the ease of social media has only amplified the noise and drowned out some of the legitimacy. I’ve posted before about the complaints and the feedback that you can get. You shouldn’t not do something because you are afraid of the backlash, if the reasoning is sound and logical. Filtering out what is a genuine issue and what is just a reaction to change, any change, is important. Just like my own examples and experience above, the thing they hated as the new thing, just might become the new favourite and the cycle starts all over again. If you have done your research, your thinking and planning right, then that should happen most often. Everything and everyone was new once!
Ultimately I suppose some people are not going to like it, no matter what you do. As my first boss once said to me, “everyone thinks they are a better England football manager than the person doing the job”. Ever was thus.
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