Episode 10. Today, we are speaking with the sharply witty, staunchly opinionated, and always entertaining Michael Landsberg. Michael is best known as host of Canada’s longest-running sports talk show Off the Record on TSN and has been described as “Bill Maher meets Bob Costas.” In addition to his many contributions to the world of sports media, Michael is a relentless advocate for people suffering from mental health issues and has pioneered a new brand called SickNotWeak to give dynamic voice to those living with mental illness.
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Grab a coffee and take it all in.
From WWE stars to Playboy Bunnies and politicians, you had these really disparate guests across the show. Which was not the typical talking sports head of the time, yet you have these fervent viewers. Why?
Freak show. Because conflict is fun. People yelling at each other is fun.
The Hey Landsberg brand, where did that come from? Because anywhere you go, “Hey Landsberg. Hey Landsberg.”
Before I walk with you to a place, I’ll often go in front and tell people, “Shout out ‘Hey Landsberg'” to impress my friend, and it’s pretty effective. I’m not looking to sell my journalistic credibility. I never called myself a journalist, so I sold myself as just being one of the guys. And when you’re one of the guys, people don’t call you “Mister,” people don’t call you “Sir,” they call you “Hey Landsberg.”
In addition to this vast sports media arena that you’ve been playing in forever, you’ve now done this incredible pivot into the world of mental illness and started a really cool brand called SickNotWeak. How have you broken through the limitations and the stigmas that are out there today, and put it front and center in front of people?
Because I don’t give a shit, and the power of not giving a shit gives you the ability to do things that you could never do. The reason why people will create a bond with me is because I will expose all of myself, all of my struggles, self-esteem issues from depression, issues with anxiety, that aren’t just me saying “Well, I suffer from mental illness.” This is me really going in depth about what it feels like. And because I don’t care what you think of me, because I know that this illness is my illness, not my weakness, I’ll go anywhere, anytime to anyone, and that is what we need in this world. It’s not just good enough for an actor to come out one day and say “Hey, you know what? I took some time off. It was for depression.”
That’s good, but what’s even better is talking about what it feels like because then someone’s who’s listening goes “Well, wait a second here. I heard Landsberg talking about how he loses his confidence when he’s suffering from depression. I hear how he wrestles with a few different things that I wrestle with. And I know that when he wakes up in the morning, he thinks to himself when he’s having a bad day, I will not experience joy over the course of the day because I’ve lost the ability to experience joy.” Someone listens to that and goes, “That’s me. Oh, my gosh. Someone understands me.” So now that person who’s felt desperately lonely, even though they may be at a party with 400 people, they still feel like they’re all by themselves because they feel like no one understands them. Now all of a sudden, they have company, and that can give them the confidence to come out and share, to go out and get help. Even if they’ve gotten help, that will give them maybe the feeling that they can share it and feel less shame.
For you to talk about something that, I don’t know, that hasn’t been front and center, it’s been buried all the time you’ve been actually out there on camera, that’s got to be courageous.
No. You may think it’s kind of like, “Oh, he’s playing the humble card because it sounds good.” A hero is someone that gives up something, risks something to save somebody else. A hero is not someone that talks to a buddy on camera about his struggles with mental illness if he’s not freaked out about talking about it.
Bell’s ‘Let’s Talk‘ has really gone out there with mental health, put it on in a public way on a public forum. What does that look like now to you?
I’m just laughing because it’s like, who doesn’t belong on this list? It’s like, Howie Mandel, who is hugely successful. Clara Hughes, who is our greatest Olympic athlete ever. For gods sakes, she won the medals in both the summer and winter games. That’s ridiculous. Serena Ryder is hugely successful. And then you’ve got Michael Landsberg, he does Off the Record on TSN.
The reason why I’m on that list, besides working for Bell, is that I’m willing to give more than other people will give. This is 365 days a year for me. This is not a “Hey, Bell Let’s Talk Day,” I’m out there one day. I live this every day, so I belong on that list for that reason. Because I’m willing to say, “You know what? Let’s talk. But if you can’t talk today, let’s talk tomorrow. And if you can’t talk tomorrow, I’ll talk to you next week.”
Bell ‘Let’s Talk Day’ is the single, I think probably by a mile, greatest cause-related marketing plan, marketing tool in Canadian history. What would even be close? They had 132 million #BellLetsTalk’s. It’s crazy. It’s become part of our language. People refer to #BellLetsTalk. People who have no interest, never thought about mental health, actually know what it is. That’s pretty amazing. So I think that Bell’s ‘Let’s Talk Day’ is the model for finding the right time and the right cause and understanding the technical aspect of how to get a message out there, and putting it all together.
Bell Media has television stations in every market, national stations from Discovery to TSN to CTV, so they have the ability to get these messages out there, plus 100 radio stations across Canada. They have the chance to advertise, to promote, to market Bell ‘Let’s Talk Day’ in a way that you could never do if you didn’t have those resources. They’ve taken a way to take every aspect of their company, including the ability or the use of this thing to send texts out there for Bell Let’s Talk. That’s brilliant. You’re using their equipment to do it.
What is the one thing you think that brands can do to change the way they engage with people?
I think the best thing you can do is find an approach into people’s lives that they’re not expecting. Try to be less predictable, and if you’re less predictable, sometimes you make an impact on people that predictability wouldn’t give you.