Everything I Know About Business I Learned From the Car Guys

Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers run a hell of a business. They do the Car Talk show on National Public Radio each weekend, they’re a hoot, and I’m thinking of modeling my business on theirs.

The show turned 20 years old this past weekend, and it shows no sign, now that it’s out of its teenage years, of growing up. Thank God.

The boys are outrageously honest. A caller had some white gunk on his engine, and Ray (I’m guessing Ray, can’t really tell, they volley so fast) said it was because the carbon mixed with the glippety glop and produced sulfuric acid dioxycontin override. And he said it with authority. And Tommy said, “Really?” And Ray said, “No, but wouldn’t it be great if it were true?” as he laughed his head off. How great. We give some executive advice, speak it in a deep voice, and the exec says “really?” and we laugh and say, “Beats the hell out of me, but wouldn’t it be great if it worked?”

The words they use are the opposite of spin or hype. They refer people to the Shameless Commerce division of their website to buy Useless Junk.

Math ain’t their strong suit. They’ll say after about 25 minutes, “We’ll be back in the second half of the show with your calls, and in the third half of the show we’ll have a new puzzler.” In our business, maybe we could boost our revenue by 50% if we had a third half. Or would that be 33%?

And they are creatively self-deprecating. Their station ID is different each time (there’s a lesson, make even your boilerplate worth reading or listening to) — one recent weekend it was “and even though four out of five NPR employees say they’d rather have an unnecessary colonoscopy than listen to our show, this is National Public Radio.”

And of course, at the end of the show, they say, “Well, you’ve done it again, gone and wasted another perfectly good hour of your life listening to us.”

So picture it: at the end of a media training session, I say, as Toby on The West Wing would grumble, “There’s another four hours of your life that you’ll never get back.” I know, my first boss in PR said you have to tell people at the end of a session that it was a great session — sell it. Well, I recently watched a speaker on Twin Cities Public TV, David Batstone, who talks about saving the soul of corporations. Organizations that fall short on products or services, he said, too often make it up with marketing. Not The Car Guys.They just tell it like it is and have a hell of a lot of fun.

Maybe we all forget the fun too often. We should listen to these guys more.
— Benidt