Last week I had the distinct pleasure to interview country music star Tommy Hunter. I was actually writing an article about him for our local newspaper as he lives in our community.
I knew he would be, pardon the pun, entertaining and full of stories of his time on television and on stage touring, and he was all of that and more. Not growing up in Canada I wasn’t someone who watched The Tommy Hunter Show, but many of my friends did, telling me it was a part of their growing up, that their whole family would watch his show.
What I didn’t expect was to learn some real business lessons from him.
1. Listen to your customers
From the early age of 11, he was performing at small country events but he would never know who would be in the audience until he got there. So he quickly learned to gauge his audience and sing songs that would appeal to them – be it teenagers or middle-aged women.
He didn’t, as so many of us would be tempted to do, have one program and that was what you got. How often as service providers do we fail to listen to our customers and just deliver what we think they need, rather than what they want.
2. Be open to opportunities
By 23 he had his own radio show, five days a week. When he first started out, he had a producer who would write his scripts, but when he left, he decided to take on the task himself. He didn’t know what was involved, but he was willing to learn. This knowledge stood him in good stead later on in his career when he progressed to a TV show.
3. Build relationships
With both his radio show and later his TV show which he started at 28, he instinctively knew that getting to know his sponsors/advertisers was a good idea. So he visited them, learned about their product and built meaningful relationships. He recognized that making them feel part of the show, would serve him well and keep them committed to both him and the show.
4. Know your target audience
He made a point of also getting to know his audience; their demographics, when they would want to watch his show, etc… With that in mind, he would plan his show carefully, never waivering from the content that he believed they would like. He set boundaries on what and who was acceptable, and what wasn’t. In other words, he built a brand.
5. Be yourself
As a faith-based performer, being authentic, honest and real with his audience was important to him. He was always cheery and upfront, ending his show with the same line each night – “with the Lord willing.” When I asked him about what he was proudest of, he was quick to say the Order of Canada, Order of Ontario and meeting the Queen, but as we dug deeper, it was the way he stayed true to his parents’ values. No mean feat, in an industry where others have got caught up in their fame and fortune.
Over 200 people were part of the crew involved in his shows. With the extensive detail involved in taping three shows a week, Tommy had to rely on others to ensure that it all went smoothly, but he still knew what was involved and what had to happen.
When you think that Tommy’s career started when he was barely a teenager, it is truly amazing that he followed his path, did not waiver from it, and knew instinctively what was the best and right thing to do.
Little wonder he is called Canada’s country gentleman, because he truly is.