November 8, 2016

Lessons From The Boss

Music is the ultimate form of communication. It conveys not just words, but moods and, at its best, ideas and values.

For more than 50 years, Bruce Springsteen has been a master of that medium, with songs about youth, fun and romance, but also the kicks in the gut life can deliver and our struggles to recover. His career is not just another rock-and-roll rags-to-riches story, but also a case study in effective branding and communication.

“Born To Run,” Springsteen’s just-released memoir, offers some great lessons for business leaders, entrepreneurs or anyone who might (to quote a song) “talk about a dream, try to make it real.”

Take control: When you are confident that you have the expertise and competent people ready to follow you, don’t hesitate to assume a leadership role. Springsteen recalls his decision in the late ‘60s to not only be the front man, but the business leader of the E Street Band. “If I was going to carry the workload and responsibility, I might as well assume the power…I wanted the freedom to follow my muse without unnecessary argument.”

The Boss was born.

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Nurture your brand: Rehab stints, arrests or nasty breakups don’t necessarily hurt a celebrity’s bottom line. But the less time you spend dodging questions from reporters about those topics, the more time you have to promote your message and sell your products.

Springsteen has had a stable family life since the early 90’s and a clean image. He’s won accolades for discussing his long battle with depression, giving inspiration to others. He’s also known for his social consciousness, devotion to veterans and human rights and his appeals from the stage for anti-hunger organizations. His public persona as a humble Jersey Boy at heart (who happens to be a millionaire many times over) singing about the working class and mistrust of power makes fans feel good about being his fans.

Roll with the punches: Bruce has had a complicated relationship with his E Street Band over the years: adding members and firing others, while two of his right-hand men recently passed away. But he took an interest in not only making sure the slots were filled right, but communicating about the changes with his audience. A 2012 column in Ad Age noted, “As a master marketer, Springsteen recognizes that a brand must embrace new norms and challenges, while constantly reinforcing its values and the emotional bonds that tie it to its customers. Anything less risks heavy losses to brand equity and affinity in an age when consumer sentiment is fleeting.”

Do what you love: “Friend, there’s a reason they don’t call it working,” Bruce writes of his job. “It’s called PLAYING…It’s something to live for and it was my lifeline to the rest of humanity in the days when those connections were hard to make.”

Leverage success across media: In addition to numerous Grammys, Springsteen has won two Oscars for movie soundtracks. He also made a short 2014 film, “Hunter of Invisible Game,” earning director and acting credits. And “Born To Run” is a New York Times bestseller. Why stay within your comfort zone when you can leverage your success and dominate across the board?

Work hard for its own sake: At 67, Springsteen isn’t writing new music or touring for the money and glory. It’s who he is, and in his last series of concerts on his home turf in New Jersey — far from phoning it in — he played four incrementally longer concerts, culminating in an Aug. 30 show (attended by this writer) clocking in at 4:01, with no break!

Giving people more than they expect, and then some, is a great ethic for anyone, whether you’re a rock star, a portfolio manager, a financial advisor or a PR executive.