Glenn Beck's Advice to Aspiring Media Moguls
Love or hate his politics, Glenn Beck is one of the most successful media entrepreneurs of our time. When his talk radio career began to take off in 2002, Beck created Mercury Radio Arts to produce all of his radio programs. Since 2004, "The Glenn Beck Program" has been one of the nation’s highest-rated radio shows. In 2006, CNN added Glenn Beck to its roster of media properties, and Beck has hosted a popular daily television show ever since. He is also a 13-time No. 1 bestselling author through Mercury Ink, the publishing house he owns in partnership with Simon & Schuster (with No. 1 national bestsellers not only in the non-fiction genre but in fiction, self help and children's picture books as well.)
He’s won the radio industry’s coveted Marconi award, as well as inclusion on lists like Time magazine’s persons of the year and the Fortune Celebrity 100. A 2009 Gallup poll even showed he was the fourth most admired man in the world.
Then, at the height of his career at Fox News in 2011, Beck decided to leave traditional broadcasting and build a platform of his own. He moved to Dallas and launched The Blaze, a “digital network that provides a platform for a new generation of authentic and unfiltered voices.” The network now boasts a reach of 80 million viewers per month and has advertisers like Overstock and Sony.
In total, Beck earns a small fortune each month from his eponymous syndicated shows, The Blaze, books sales and speaking engagements. Oh, and I almost forgot he also owns an ecommerce clothing company company, 1791, that he launched in 2011.
Before the impressive list of achievements above, however, Beck had hit rock bottom, turning from his unfulfilling Top 40 DJ career to drug and alcohol abuse. He lost his marriage, his career and his will to carry on.
So how did he bounce back to become the multi-millionaire media personality we all know today? With help from God and AA, he told me, and with a few powerful strategies every entrepreneur can benefit from reading:
Find your fit
Every industry bus had plenty of seats, so to speak, and at first, Beck was in the wrong one. It’s hard to imagine him chatting about celebrity gossip in between pop songs, but that’s how he started in radio. Eventually he hit a wall, began drinking heavily and fell into depression. He told his father he was going to have to quit radio, his dream since childhood. But -- in an important moment in Beck’s life -- his father said the problem wasn’t radio.
"You're just doing the wrong kind," Beck Sr. said, "Find out what interests you and then do that." Soon after, Beck began his talk radio career.
Perfect your craft
There is glitz and glamour in radio and television, to be sure. But Beck is a student of communications. As a kid, he studied the greats of radio by listening to records, then as a young DJ he would watch the experienced guys work their magic. When Beck began in television, he explored every part of television down to the shading room -- a dark, rarely visited back room where engineers work on broadcast color correction.
“Know the craft,” Beck advises to aspiring broadcasters and beyond. “Whatever you're doing, banking to television, it's an art. And if you don't feel that what you're doing is an art, you shouldn't be doing it.”
Prepare to work
When Beck explained the amount of work that goes into a broadcasting career, he recalled an early conversation in which Diane Sawyer told him he looked dreadfully tired. He asked her how she and other broadcasters did it. She replied, “You have to accept that for the rest of your life you will be bone tired. But you will get to do things that nobody else gets to do.” Beck added as he told me the story, “It's a tradeoff.”
Find true north
Beck explained that he can tell when a truly talented person won’t make it very far. Simply put, it’s their way or the highway, with no room for compromise. On the other hand, he’s seen plenty of aspiring stars who won’t reach success because they’ll compromise anything and everything just to make it.
“You have to have an idea that is uniquely you, that is different . . . . I think it has to be based in principles,” he explained. “Be true to a polar star. And then be willing to sacrifice almost everything but that.”
Once you start to make compromises because you realize you could be “even bigger,” walk away, Beck warns, or success will “crush your soul.”
Guard your vision
Facing debilitating health complications about six years ago, Beck had to give the reins of his new ship, The Blaze, over to his executives. When he returned a couple of years later, the vision he’d had for his company had all but vanished. Beck confronted one of the appointed leaders, who explained that the company had to focus on getting more clicks, adding, “Glenn, nobody gives a ---- about your principles.”
Not a good thing to say to Glenn Beck.
Over the last two years, Beck has had to rebuild company culture and mindset -- to the tune of about a 60 percent turnover rate. But again, Beck stays true to his north star, explaining, “We have to do the right thing, and the clicks will follow."
Prepare to iterate
Beck quoted Peter Thiel as he spoke about having to reinvent The Blaze upon his return, explaining that for most startups, the first idea is usually not the right idea. The entrepreneurs and businesses that survive, Beck believes, are the ones who realize this and change gears early.
"[They think], wait a minute. We're wrong. We're going in the wrong direction. And they haven't spent all of their money yet, so they have reserves to be able to switch and then start again, and that's usually where they take off.” Beck said. “And [The Blaze was] lucky enough to be just at that point.”
Brace for backlash
If you want to be heard and make a difference with your voice, you must be committed to your mission and message, and be prepared for the push back. Beck’s job is particularly unforgiving since he needs to have and share an opinion, live, for five hours a day most days. He asked me, How many times have you just done with friends, I'm sorry. That came out wrong. That's not what I meant? -- explaining that he doesn’t get that chance. He shared that the naysayers, haters, hurtful comments, etc. “never stop.”
Neither does the 24-hour news cycle. How does Beck keep up?
“It's always fill the machine,” he said. “Feed it, feed it, feed it. And so I have to be fed all the time. I have to always be reading, watching, listening.”
Realize the cost
Beck says he wouldn’t wish fame -- which he describes as corrosive -- on his worst enemy. Even though there is much he enjoys about his work and his life, fame takes its toll.
“Walking behind my kids at Disney World and watching somebody, either my wife or a security guy, had my son on his shoulders instead of me, killed me.”
Focus on legacy
Beck admitted that it’s not always easy for him to find joy in the moment, but it’s something that he works at. He also strives to focus on the big picture.
“Take yourself out of today and look at your choices 50 years down the road. What are your children and your grandchildren going to say about what you're doing right now?” Beck continued, “I want my children and my grandchildren to say, 'My dad stood and he didn't flinch, and I remember people were calling him names and they were attacking and everything else, and he had joy. . . . He tried to do good. He may have fallen here and there but he tried to do the right thing.' That, to me, that's mission accomplished.”
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