One of the most successful variety shows on television was the Lawrence Welk Show. Debuting in 1955, the show ran for 28 straight years, compiling 1065 episodes, then was picked up in syndication and continues running today on PBS. Combining musical skits and featured guest performers, the show established itself as a marquis entertainment offering for network TV in its prime. One of the most famous of the featured singing acts introduced to the American public on the Welk show was the Lennon Sisters (Dianne, Janet, Kathy, and Peggy), who were featured almost every week for 13 years during the show’s network run.
Welk’s show spanned the post-war boom of the 55s through the psychedelic 60s, the protest-laden 70s, and into the Reagan-era 80s before moving into syndication. Why was the show so successful long-term? What can fund managers learn from Lawrence Welk in getting their businesses to be as successful? Here are five lessons to be learned from the Welkian way…
LESSON ONE: Don’t Pre-Judge Talent.
Through the years, Lawrence Welk identified hundreds of new singers and musicians, often adding some to his core group of performers, or having them return frequently to be guest performers on his weekly variety show. Truly age-agnostic, Welk saw talent, not experience, as the main criteria for selection of these performers. From child singers to musicians who were in their late middle age, Welk’s criteria for inclusion focused on the performance quality of each act. Fund managers can find encouragement in this model by highlighting their investment management talent and skill over their early-stage fund management experience when approaching advisors and investors with their fund or managed accounts.
LESSON TWO: Be Opportunistic.
Although Welk’s show was based in Los Angeles, Welk’s early music career was a traveling one, and he continued to bring his variety show on the road across the U.S. for specials throughout the years. An inveterate discoverer of new talent, this ‘on-the-road’ perspective allowed him to personally find or be introduced to local talent in small towns and metropolitan cities all over the country, often following up with an invite to the best performers to come to Los Angeles and audition for his national show. Fund managers might adopt this wide-angle view on broadcasting their own talent and offerings to the investor community and craft their messaging to highlight the investment process that they feel can scale and serve a large segment of the investor base. They can execute thought leadership activities through speaking, writing, and attending institutional forums that offer potential new investment populations and broadening their exposure to these opportunities.
LESSON THREE: Be a Disciplined Practitioner of Performing.
In the early years of the Welk show, performers practiced their acts all week, did a dress rehearsal on the day of filming, then filmed the show live in front of his audience, with no reliance on recording and reshooting scenes or skits, as is the practice today. Welk’s performers universally talked about his dedication to practice and desire for all acts on his show to be ready to perform live, regardless of distractions, unexpected occurrences, and plain human error. In today’s environment of recorded performances and reliance on re-takes, the ‘readiness’ perspective Welk drilled into his performers can really provide an edge to managers in their ability to execute investment decisions under pressure in all market conditions.
LESSON FOUR: Keep Learning from Others.
Although Welk favored orchestra-oriented tunes that showcased his talented band of musicians, he was an authentic lover of music in many forms. Welk adapted with the times?while always focused on traditional past classics in music, he mixed in contemporary and Broadway hits of the day to keep the show widely appealing. His variety show also combined thematic renditions of songs with acting and dancing skits that enhanced the performance experience. He featured his regular singers in acts that took them out of their musical comfort zone, having his country stars perform Broadway tunes, and classically-trained singers perform contemporary hits of the day. Welk was not afraid to have his performers showcase their raw talent as performers regardless of their successful singing ‘lane,’ thereby bringing their appeal to a broad audience. Fund managers can learn from this constant state of being a student of excellence in their own investment work; pushing themselves to both continue learning their own style as well as assimilating techniques or perspectives from others that bring them to a higher level of ability in their investment management overall.
LESSON FIVE: Don’t Rely on One Strength at the Expense of Others.
Arthur Duncan, who appeared on The Lawrence Welk Show from 1964 through its last televised show in 1982, was one of America’s best tap dancers ever to perform. Duncan is widely credited with being one of the first black performers to be regularly featured on national TV. Welk featured him in solo tap skits on almost every show in which he appeared, yet even Duncan was also expected to sing, dance, and participate in medley numbers with the rest of the group on the show. Welk was a proponent of multidisciplined talent- singing, dancing, and performing on musical instruments were all skills almost every performer was expected to master if they were to be a regular performer on his show. The result of such demand was that a relatively small group of performers was able to execute a wide range of skits and musical numbers that required more than a solo talent to perform. Fund managers who believe that superior investment skill will be enough to carry their business forward should draw the analogy that research, investing, administrative operations, and business development are all critical skills to build for every fund and require attention and development simultaneously. Let the mindset of Lawrence Welk, who strove for excellence in both himself and his musical family, provide a critical eye and learning perspective to the business of growing a fund from emerging to capacity, wherever that stage may land.
Diane Harrison is principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, a strategic marketing communications firm founded in 2002 specializing in alternative assets. She has over 25 years’ of expertise in hedge fund and private equity marketing, investor relations, articles, white papers, blog posts, and other thought leadership deliverables.