If there’s one key to success in whatever you do, it’s motivation. Sometimes, during challenging stretches, you need to find motivation from new places, just to walk through the office door to face a grinding day. Here’s a story of where I store some extra motivation that I can access when I need it, like tapping a reserve fuel tank, that I hope can be helpful to you.
20 years ago this month, I made what ended up being a significant career and life decision to leave my job at a number one station in a top-ten market for a poorly-rated station in a smaller market. At the time, my employer, WSB-TV in Atlanta, had the most-watched local news operation in the country. For the first time in my career, I had to tell my bosses that I had decided to leave to accept another job offer. That offer was from WCPX-TV in Orlando, which fit the industry cliche at the time – “A number four station in a three station market.”
Because everyone “ahead” of me was under contract, WSB essentially offered me two more years of producing on the weekends and writing during the week. WCPX offered me a chance to hone my producing skills five days per week, Monday through Friday, as a part of a team trying to build a winner, working for an Executive Producer who had been my colleague at WSB. I made the move I thought was best to build my career and accepted the job of 10:00 News Producer (WCPX produced a nightly 10:00 news show for “UHF” station WKCF-TV).
To say the management at WSB didn’t see it my way would be an understatement. The same company owned a station in Orlando. They saw it as me leaving for a lowly-regarded competitor. The Assistant News Director shouted “You’re leaving for a cable show? I mean, I would understand if you were leaving for another number one station.” I was called to the General Manager’s office who declared, “You’re throwing your career away. You’re going to come back here asking for your job back and the answer will be ‘no.'” The Executive Editor, my immediate supervisor, wouldn’t look me in the eye and didn’t speak to me for my final two weeks. Maybe I should have been flattered? Maybe they were just freaked out that the “young guy” willing to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, Saturday morning and Sunday from 7am-7pm, usually getting called in on Monday and/or Tuesday, would be hard to replace on the schedule? I was just confused. Breaking up is, indeed, hard to do.
But the most powerful zing that day came from the News Director. A large, imposing man with a booming voice, on his way out the door that night, came over to my desk, reached across it with a pen, found a piece of paper and wrote “1.3/2” on it. “Do you know what that is?” he asked. “I think so,” I said. He said, “It’s the rating and share for your new newscast from last night. Good luck with that.” In other words, in his skeptical mind, I was leaving a secure ratings powerhouse for unsalvageable microscopic scraps. That was all of the motivation I needed.
I went into the Orlando experience with a fire inside that I had never felt before and wouldn’t feel again until co-founding Tanner Friedman. I was determined to raise the ratings and had full support of my bosses and anchor. I helped make some tweaks, tried to inject energy that the audience could feel and tried to provide advocacy for the product. Several months later, when the show was enjoying ratings in the 4s and 5s instead of 1s and 2s, I was moved to other newscasts to “try to do the same things.” A year later, I was on my way back to the Top 10, to Detroit TV, as a proven producing commodity with a reputation for helping to fix issues.
I still have that mangled sheet from a legal pad with the News Director’s handwriting on it. It’s there for me when I need it, nestled in a basement file drawer. It helped propel me to a career and personal experience in Orlando that I’ll always cherish. From time to time, it still helps to this day. To get that battery charged when you need it, I recommend figuring out what’s your “piece of paper.”