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How CoCo Became Team TBS: The Power of the Employee Referral

Looks like the rumors (being rumors and all) were false: TBS announced today that Conan O’Brien has signed a deal to star in a late night talk show on the network, effectively putting to rest earlier speculation that FOX was going to sign the former “Tonight Show” host. 

I wrote earlier about how ,as an employer who’s hoping to attract a top talent like O’Brien, FOX was doing everything right…so how did TBS, a cable television network that isn’t exactly known for its original late night programming and certainly doesn’t bring in the same audience numbers that FOX does, secure this coveted hire?

Oddly enough, it was the perception that TBS is not a network like FOX that became a crucial part of its employee value proposition.  As noted in an NPR story published today, after dealing with all the “affiliate politics at NBC,” O’Brien was apparently wary to sign a deal with FOX only to have to deal with demanding affiliates all over again. (The tactic is not unlike what I posted last week about how AOL was leveraging its status as a “non-Google” to attract former Google employees.)

Another major selling point? TBS appealed to its candidate’s intangible needs: By letting O’Brien own this show, the network is giving its new hire those career opportunities that employees love so much.

Finally, in a move that seemed to cap the deal for TBS, according to Media Decoder, the network wisely utilized what we in the recruiting world call an “employee referral.”  Here’s how it happened…

 TBS’ offer to put O’Brien in the 11 p.m. time slot and push George Lopez’s show to the midnight slot was eerily similar to the very proposal that eventually led to O’Brien’s bitter departure from NBC. Needless to say, O’Brien was unwilling to do to Lopez what he felt had been unfairly done to him, and initially refused the offer. That’s when TBS enlisted the help of its own employment brand advocate, if you will, Geore Lopez himself, who personally called O’Brien to sell him on the offer.

So just to recap what we’ve learned today: FOX’s employee value proposition was good. But as far as O’Brien was concerned, TBS’ was better. Employers would be wise to take a cue from TBS, which smartly did its homework on its ideal candidate, then leveraged what it knew about that candidate’s perceptions, values and needs to market itself and appeal to that candidate as an employer of choice. Well done, TBS.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.


  1. [...] Post update: On April 12, it was announced that Conan O’Brien signed a deal with cable network TBS instead. Find out how TBS leveraged its own recruiting strategy to snag Conan here….  [...]

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