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Picking up with the news last week that Spotify held an internal town hall where CEO Daniel Ek addressed his staff around the world. I got the audio from that meeting, and you can read the full transcript here. (Over the weekend, there was also a second twist in Rogan’s story involving a viral video of the comedian repeatedly using the n-word. You can read all about it here and Spotify’s response here. (And then my point of view here. Links, we have them.)
Today, however, I want to focus on Ek’s message to his employees, some of whom are concerned about Spotify’s choice to license Rogan content. Keep in mind that Spotify pays $100 million for programming and is financially incentivized to promote Rogan’s show to recoup its investment through ad revenue. It’s a particularly troubling move for some of the company’s trans and black employees, as well as its science journalists.
Throughout his speech, Ek emphasized the need for Rogan. The company had no leverage in negotiations with hardware partners such as Google and Amazon, he said, and needed exclusives to keep its service on their platforms.
Ek then directly tied Rogan to Spotify’s “mission” to reach 1 billion users and bring 50 million creators to its platform. I’m quoting the word mission specifically because we’ve been talking a lot about the idea of mission in audio lately, especially when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. So let me first be clear about this: business growth is not a mission. It’s a well-understood reality of being part of a corporate machine, but it’s not a heart-pounding mission that inspires employees, especially creative ones, who want to get paid to do cool things and inform the world.
Yet Ek apparently doesn’t understand why his employees couldn’t both reckon with their feelings about Rogan while also accepting that to become the biggest audio app they need Rogan and have to embrace it.
“If we limit these divisive topics [like religion and politics], top creators will leave and users deprived of content choices will flee our platform and seek other alternatives,” he said. “And that, of course, would mean that we would never achieve our mission.”
Now, the last time I wrote at length about the mission and its relationship to talent acquisition was when NPR lost several seemingly back-to-back hosts.
Futuro Media’s Maria Hinojosa specifically mentioned NPR’s mission statement – “to create a more informed audience” – as a way for the public media organization to not only retain people, but also brand itself a star of the game. Nord for its content and objectives. (Granted, there are other things that need to happen as well, including giving people creative freedom and paying them more, but the mission can add to a compelling pitch.)
Spotify’s growth mindset in Silicon Valley is primarily where I see the potential for podcasting organizations to compete. Selling coveted hosts, journalists, producers, editors, and others to take jobs means not only offering fair compensation, but also providing an ideal to uphold. Spotify might think its idea of growth is empowering – and perhaps that’s for employees who value their stock options above all else – but I think that rhetoric will lead to a loss of talent across the organization. (And committing $100 million to content created by people from historically marginalized groups as an apology isn’t a real mission either.)
Maybe by this time next week we’ll have even more Rogan news to share — new clips will surface, or new podcasters and musicians will shoot their content — but I’m watching the staff. What do they think of what Ek is selling, and will they speak out? How will the recruitment go?
These are still open questions, but if I was a podcast organization competing with Spotify for talent, its “mission” is the weak point.