Can You Handle 6 Stern Branding Lessons?

My old car had been a faithful servant, but nothing lasts forever.

I recently replaced it with something built in the 21st century.

The new vehicle came with SiriusXM radio. I quickly found myself enjoying the wide-range of channels. In short order, I stumbled across Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed King of All Media.

Admittedly, my knowledge on the radio host was fairly limited, so I decided to learn a bit about him.

Why? Well, I believe that we can often learn about branding from a wide range of sources, so I decided to dig deeper into the Stern phenomenon.

My unstudied impression suggested that he is a flamboyant and wealthy radio host, who was prone to crude, often sexist, behavior and has a willingness to exploit people.

After studying him, I determined that my initial impression was correct. He’s flamboyant, crude, sexist, and exploitive. Or, at least his on air persona is…

Stern is also extremely wealthy.

I also learned a few more things; perhaps, these are what has made him so ‘successful’.

Here’s what I discovered.

Stern isn’t wealthy, he’s crazy wealthy. His initial five-year Sirius contract was worth a reported $500 million. The subsequent one garnered him another five years at $80 million per year and an additional $100 million in stock.

He’s also a shrewd self-promoter, a skilled interviewer, and someone who offers more than a cursory glance at his on air persona might suggest.

Love him (openly or secretly) or hate him, you can’t deny Stern’s financial success and impact on the industry.

Here are 6 Stern Branding Lessons that I learned from studying Stern:

1. Be Worth Following

In the late 1990’s, Stern’s radio show had some 20 million listeners. Today, he has an estimated 2 million+ listeners.

The difference is that people today pay to hear his show.

Many listeners followed him from ‘free’ to ‘fee’ radio, because they felt he was worth following. Of course, not as many people followed him as Stern claims, but that’s the hype he creates.

Moreover, Stern’s avid fans who did follow him to Sirius actively fight for him, pray for him, and root for him.

Ask yourself these questions about your brand:

  • What do you do for free today, that 2 million people would pay you to do tomorrow?
  • If you left your current team, job, or company, would anyone follow you?
  • Who fights, prays, and roots for you?

2. Be Bold

What makes Stern bold is not solely his on air hijinks. Plenty of people try to copy his antics, but saying crazy, outrageous, or sophomoric things is not the brilliance of his boldness.

He’s bold in a very different way.

Stern makes bold moves.

  • When everyone was telling him how to behave on the radio, he acted boldly and went against them.
  • When he had 20 million listeners to his radio show, he acted bold and went to Sirius.
  • When he was a judge on America’s Got Talent, he acted bold and left. (Or, did Simon Cowell fire him?)

Ask yourself these questions about your brand:

  • Are you missing opportunities to be bold?
  • Have you been selecting the safe route as opposed to taking a calculated risk? How about an uncalculated one?
  • What is one bold move you could make that might make all of the difference?

 3. Be Opinionated

There is little doubt that Stern has been in charge of his career and his show. He has a strong opinion.

More importantly, he has amazing instincts. One without the other is useless.

Ask yourself these questions about your brand:

  • Do you openly share your opinions? If not, why not?
  • If you share your opinions, are they worth listening to, or have you simply become noise to those around you?
  • What idea do you have that you should take a risk on?

4. Be Connected

The movie Star Wars is about to launch. It will likely be the biggest film of the year.

The film’s director, J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek IV, Mission Impossible III, and numerous other TV and movies) was on Stern’s show last week. This week, Stern was joined by Adam Driver, the actor playing Kylo Ren in the movie.

At first I thought, Of course they were on the show, they are promoting a movie. That doesn’t mean Stern is particularly relevant. 

Then I dug deeper and realized how connected Stern was to a wide-range of celebs. In recent weeks, Bryan Cranston, Alanis Morisette, Christie Brinkley, Whoopi Goldberg, Rod Stewart, Drew Barrymore, and a list of other stars joined Stern.

(If you are interested in the complete list of Stern last 1,600 or so guests, click here.)

Ask yourself these questions about your brand:

  • How relevant are your skills, abilities, and connections?
  • Do people seek you out because of what you have to offer? Do they even know what you have to offer?
  • What is one thing you can do today to be more relevant tomorrow?

5. Be Vulnerable

There are very few things Stern won’t talk about. Arguably, the main reason he succeeds is his willingness to be vulnerable.

  • Stern has learned that saying what you don’t know is often more powerful then stating what you do know.
  • He understands that self-deprecating humor has a disarming effect.
  • He invites listeners behind the curtain and makes them part of the show.

He isn’t just vulnerable, he’s naked. His autobiography (turned film), Private Parts, appropriately depicts a naked Stern standing in New York City with skyscrapers covering up the private portions of his 6’5” frame.

Ask yourself these questions about your brand:

  • Do you put yourself “out there” even if it means possible failure?
  • Are you willing to be a bit vulnerable so others feel a stronger connection to you and your work?
  • If you are guarded, how’s it working for you? What do you have to lose if you opened up, just a bit?

6. Be Aware of When to Call it Quits

Stern is 18 months into his current five-year contract. Many wonder if this will be the end of his career or if he will stay beyond the current term. Strong brands erode when they stay too long. At some point, it is time to let go.

If Stern stays too long, he will become a caricature of himself.

Ask yourself these questions about your brand:

  • Has your brand began to erode?
  • What can you do to ensure that you continue to remain of value?
  • Are you willing to ‘walk away’ when the time is right?


Photo by Jonathan Velasquez on Unsplash