Seen It All: Lessons from a Lifetime of Service

Public servants come from all walks of life, but few can match the longevity or versatility of Donald Rumsfeld. In addition to twice serving as our Secretary of Defense (he’s both the youngest and the oldest person to hold that office), he has been a Congressman, Ambassador, White House Chief of Staff, CEO in the private sector, and a Naval aviator.

During his decades of service, he collected bits and pieces of wisdom from the biggest names of the 20th Century and stored them in a folder. This accumulated knowledge base along with his own reflections have become the basis for a new book, Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War and Life.

I first learned about this book, while watching Charlie Rose. During the conversation, a couple of his rapid fire observations stood out. “If you are working from your inbox, you are working on other people’s priorities.” Great insight for a modern business environment where multi-tasking is the rule, rather than the exception.

Other words of wisdom involved keeping things in perspective, “Remember you are not all that important. Your responsibilities are.” He continued, “as Charles de Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” Recognizing that the world will one day go on without you, certainly helps keep your priorities straight.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book is entitled, “Thinking Strategically” in which he observes, “Strategy doesn’t begin at one point and end at another. It involves planning and evaluation, requiring trade-offs and decisions along the way. It takes work, thought and time.”

Time is the most fleeting of all resources and so we often look for a quick fix or magic bullet. Yet, when we take a moment and step back, we know there is no substitute for developing a sound strategy and making the necessary investment to get it right.

Connecting With the Audience

Having seen it all, Rumsfeld could go on telling story after story involving the biggest names in modern politics. Yet, the lesson that resonates the most comes from something Vice President Nelson Rockefeller said while they were riding together in a presidential motorcade, “People respond in direct proportion to the extent you reach out to them.” To prove his point, after doing some reserved waves that drew a lukewarm response from people standing along the route, the VP stood up, enthusiastically greeted the crowd and people went wild.

If it’s true in politics, it is also true in radio. People want to connect with their favorite station and it is easy to tell whether or not they are engaged. Ever been to a remote when the talent and staff are just mailing it in, what’s the energy level of the crowd?

On the other hand, here in Cincinnati every year since 1977, WEBN has put on a Labor Day fireworks display, known as Riverfest. A staple of the event is Crowd Wars, where 250,000 people on both sides of the Ohio River are actively encouraged by the station to out cheer people on the other bank.

In fact, in the late 1980’s, the station brought in the now-late comic Sam Kinison to do the honors. Sam begins at 3:30 on this YouTube clip and prior to that, you can watch Jerry Springer, Cincinnati’s most famous former news anchor and mayor along with Pat Barry, whose afternoon drive talk show I’d later produce. Although the personalities have changed, Crowd Wars continues on.

Every day, the best stations are bringing Nelson Rockefeller’s insight to life. If your marketing efforts aren’t creating the level of audience engagement and response that you need to generate ratings success, we can help. DMR/Interactive’s 360-degree marketing strategy recruits and engages those who matter most.

To learn more, including how we leverage the passion of your biggest fans to amplify your message, please contact Andrew Curran, COO at DMR/Interactive.


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