Former Nova, Foxtel exec Dan Bessant thinks COVID has made radio bosses more empathetic

Staff Writer

One of the few positives outcomes of COVID could be the shifts in leadership styles.

“There’s empathy, more social awareness and more emotional awareness. That’s a really good thing, and I’m really excited for that.”

So said Dan Bessant, one-time music director at Nova Sydney and head of Foxtel’s music and entertainment channels, who transitioned into coaching and co-founded Exec Reset in 2020.

This week Bessant was a guest on the Australian Institute of Music’s Industry Insights program, hosted by the school’s chair, and former major label boss, Ed St. John.

The end of the chat touched on how the radio industry had in the ‘90s been so fiercely competitive that one radio network handed out copies of The Art Of War, a ruthless tome on managing people, to its executives.

“It was brutal,” Bessant agreed. “Now we know there are better ways in leadership culture.

“But at that time that’s what it was. It was results-driven and this was a strategy to get the result you wanted. No matter what you had to do, you must win.

“I’m a pretty optimistic person and it’s nice to see the world is looking out for each other from a mental health point of view as much as results-driven.”

The main aim of Bessant’s address was to advise AIM’s next generation of music executives the factors that go into a station choosing its additions (“sometimes three, sometimes four, sometimes none”) from 50 new releases a week.

He described it as “mathematics”, with the additional knowledge that audiences don’t like too many new additions, and sometimes decisions are made on what’s stream-scoring or because a certain track – even from an unsigned act or one on an indie label – is good for branding.

The legendary attempts by record companies to influence these decisions through trips, cruises and expensive meals (“relentless…but fun”) ultimately don’t work.

“Radio has a different motive, of revenue and the largest size audience, and one which stayed around for the longest period. You have a professional job to do, a target to get, like any other business,” he said.

Broadcasting festivals don’t do much for ratings (“unless it’s a one-off like Sound Relief”) but some radio stations do them for branding.

On a lighter note, Bessant said he grew up wanting to be a classical musician or a conductor.

That changed when he saw an ad in a Perth newspaper for applications for a new radio academy.

The academy’s head told him he struck out on two counts – he had to be 21 of age (he was 18) and he didn’t have money for tuition.

But he kept bugging until the head relented, with fees paid for by Bessant selling off his prized Toyota Celica and painting the interior of the man’s house.

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3 Dec 2020 - 2:49 pm

Can someone tell the executive team at my network? Cos they appear to still be singing from the Art of War songbook…


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