What Price Success? Published: 03/26/12
To the radio stations that accepted paid or unpaid schedules from Media Matters attacking Rush Limbaugh, his show and free speech, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Why are you working in an industry that has respected free speech, built its success on the freedom of speech and clearly must protect that right to maintain credibility, acceptance and pride? Why? Those broadcasters who built, and maintain this industry over the course of their careers I am sure are appalled.
Obviously we are living in a very polarized and contentious period in broadcasting and our lives. It seems the assaults keep coming. The placing and acceptance of this type schedule is very reflective of this division. If your station accepted this schedule because of a financial need, you should find another industry where you can responsibly handle revenue growth. If you are a station or group that accepted this schedule out of ideology, then you too should find another industry where you are not encumbered with the responsibility and respect for free speech. Ever heard of serving in the interest, necessity and needs of a community? Ever heard of that? Ever heard of community ascertainments? Ever heard of equal and opposing views? I think not, or if you have…you regard them lightly!
To be used for a political agenda is not only insulting, is not only foolish, it is weak!!!! Our industry has come under assault before, especially from the left who see what a majority of listeners want to listen to as not their right. Amazing, huh? Well, let me ask you this question, what will your response be when the assault comes your way? –Mike DeLier has owned and operated a group of radio properties and managed television properties at the station and group levels. He currently is the President of The DeLier Group, a management consulting firm. Mike is also available for speeches, seminars, executive management and sales training. Mike can be reached atwww.thedeliergroup.com
What Price Success?
Published : 2/17/12
For the last “quite some time” there has been a disconnect between legitimate television news operations and pretenders. The difference being the pretenders are full of special features, not special reports--predictability, rather than spontaneity; promotional segments rather than news segments. The audience is deluged with this soft news, has grown weary of it, and it’s showing up as declining ratings.
Only those with a real lack of understanding for local news really believe that airing pictures of birthdays and vacations in a late newscast will increase ratings. Ask yourself this question: Why would they? I understand why consultants recommend these type things--as a means to lighten up the presentation,. But many times they are inserted right after a tragic story or other unacceptable positions. Frankly, they just don't belong, and if someone is pushing these efforts for your newscasts you should speak to them. Rely on your coverage of news, breaking news and weather and sports, and your ability to be accurate and your newscast look will improve and be noticeable to your viewers.
Frankly, shifting promotional dollars to research is a better utilization of expenses than billboards, newspaper, direct mail and other types of advertising. Usually there are radio stations in the market that are more than willing to trade, and using radio to promote upcoming news during drive time is a very good way to drive an audience to specific newscasts.
Stations drive the ratings through a professional, accurate, and highly coveraged newscast, not through promotion and silliness, nor as I said earlier through limiting their efforts to a particular demographic. Usually this is done for sales reasons not news reasons. If you doubt me, or are unsure, just ask yourself this question: where do you go for breaking news, or breaking weather? Do you go to your own station, or do you rely on your competition when weather affects the safety of your family? Be truthful. Interesting question and a more interesting answer isn’t it?
Anything else results in failure.
Depending on your station's set-up, you may have a General Sales Manager handling local sales, but for our purposes in this article we will call the position the local sales manager or LSM.
Why is it that markets similar in size may vary greatly in market revenue? Most always this can be attributed to how aggressive stations have been with rates in individual markets. A good LSM will dig deep every month to know and understand the interaction between the accounts and the Account Executives assigned to those accounts. Included in this analysis are rates, inventory, and share. If any or all of these are not handled correctly, then potential revenue is lost, as well as market growth. Rates, how to raise rates correctly, when to raise rates, coupled with inventory control and management influence a station's success and ultimately, a market's success.
Ask yourself this question--Do our sales leaders understand rates and inventory control and management--and further, do they understand it to the degree that they can influence it correctly, as well as teach it? If you can't answer this with a definitive "yes", then seek help from an experienced soul who understands it, has experience doing it successfully, and can teach it properly. If you are not happy with your current sales, you should be concerned that you are living your future. Remember, the only thing worse than an untrained sales staff that leaves, is an untrained sales staff that stays.
Too often all of us have heard, " Well, so and so has been handling that account for a long time, and we're doing okay with it...I guess." Not good! The LSM must be prepared to match the right account executive with the right account. For instance, having a golfer or tennis player calling on outdoor or athletic type accounts, probably serves the station better than someone who is not sports-minded calling on them.
Account transition is hard but critical to the success of any station. It can also serve as a teaching tool, if handled correctly. What it can do and will do is increase sales and do so immediately. The LSM should review all accounts on a regular basis and have a system in place to reassign inactive accounts or those accounts not meeting established criteria. I would suggest doing this on a formal basis each quarter. A lot of this is common sense...but the LSM, backed by the GM, must have the desire to engage.
If local sales sells the best inventory at good rates, think of the impact this has on national and regional accounts and rates. They will have no other option than to pay the same or higher rates. Remember, it is not what you sell that counts, but what you bill and collect.
--Mike DeLier, President, The DeLier Group
Today's Broadcast General Manager
In most respects, it has always been a tough, demanding and often criticized job: that of a broadcast General Manager. The broadcast General Manager has all of the responsibilities senior management positions have in other industries; tasked with financial concerns, lender concerns, upper management concerns, concerns of employees and customers. But unlike most of those, he/she must concern themselves with a federal regulatory body, and an outside rating service on an every day basis, or at least, several times each year. The findings of either could very well determine their future. Because of these demands, you have the dynamics of a very unique, challenging, highly visible and volatile job.
Some General Managers understand the dynamics of the platform better than others, and adapt to a changing universe on a regular basis. The world we operate in is filled with more economic peril than ever before. Many lenders are putting pressure on group executives and General Managers to perform more than ever before. A major reason is, as always, economic in nature in order to capture the necessary revenue and BCF. Simply put, the responsibilities of all broadcast executives and especially the front line General Manager are many and they are fraught with personal and professional peril. The old saying of "if the revenue doesn't get you, the ratings will" still holds true, but now you can add HR to that as well. As we all know, we live in a very litigious world, and the fear of being sued stops many managers from involving themselves in problems, because as one becomes aware of problems, it becomes their responsibility to correct them, and there is exposure in the fixing. That is a major problem in this industry right now and why we see so much complacency, blandness, sameness, lack of on air energy, et al. Not rocking the boat has taken over for rocking the ratings and the revenue!
So why is it that some General Managers succeed while others fail? I think the answer lies somewhere in the past. Until recently, and maybe going back 10 or so years, and certainly with the General Managers of 30 or 40 years ago, General Managers were risk takers. They had to be. They were experimenting with formats, newscasts, with equipment and the complexities of integration, with multiple audience measurement companies, talent, clients, personnel issues, demanding bosses, all of it. There were no perfect formulas then and there are no perfect formulas now...though some sales and news consultants would have you think so. I believe they contribute to the sterility of the industry, the cookie cutter approach to stacking and producing newscasts, the shine your shoes and diagnostic approach to selling, all of it. And with what results??
The difference was and is inventiveness; some might call it impulsiveness, and say that impulsiveness is wrong, a bad thing. Well, not in the broadcast world it's not. Risk taking rather than risk aversion, creativity, not predictability, and hard selling everything they aired was the norm. There was very little risk aversion to upsetting an agency, and if so, you went to the client. If your viewers and listeners didn't like what you were programming, no matter, they could go to your competition with your blessing. It didn't prohibit a General Manager programming and airing what he/she believed was good for their station and requiring the sales staff to go sell it. And General Managers made calls right along with the AE's.
That was just how it was done. Now management and staff are so concerned with developing new media that their eyes are off the ball. I am not referring to the Internet. Personally, I find the internet unbelievably compatible with radio, television and cable operations. I am speaking about the time, effort, and resources spent developing the one trick pony rather than the daily effort necessary to concentrate on the core operation of broadcasting. Originating more local newscasts and then selling time that is adjacent and within it—that it reaches our viewers and listeners should be the most specific concern of all management at all levels, second only to protecting the license.
Many stations understand this, while others seek to take their executives and staff off the street to develop additional resources that are years away from duplicating a station's current revenue stream, let alone surpassing it. I have to have developed more non traditional revenue than anyone else I have ever known....but never at the expense of the monthly or quarterly revenue figures that were budgeted. NTR should be icing on the cake, not used to make budget. Relying on NTR to make budget is a dangerous game and rarely lasts unless the General Manager and the General Sales Manager are focused on it. The easiest way to make budget and grow revenue is to grow rates. Like everything else, there is an art to raising rates. Successful management understands how to raise rates, when to raise rates, and how to do it effectively.
Poor performance in ratings and revenue usually confirm a lack of proper management, not necessarily at the General Manager position. Most times, a new General Manager is anointed with his or her position, having recently been a News Director or Sales Manager. They may have little or no understanding as to how other departments actually work and spend most all of their time back operating the department they know best…that which they just came from. They don't know and sometimes don't care to know how other departments work, how to supervise and give direction, how to plan and to manage that plan and to integrate all departments into that plan, and further to use all the resources available to them at the station.
The best resource available should be a department head. If they know their department they should be a great aid in the development of the General Manager. Usually, if a new General Manager is not as successful as hoped, it is not always their fault. It may reflect poorly on the current department heads. If they received little or no training from the previous management it will probably take this station time to get up to speed. But get up to speed it can. It always can with good leadership. There are those who wonder why some stations even with the same network perform better than others.. It's not hard to understand why.
Operating a broadcast entity is not accomplished by magic. Rather, by assessing the needs of a station, preparing a plan, organizing that plan at all levels, and implementing that plan. Also, by being so engaged in it that the General Manager knows and understands every facet of it. If the plan is not meeting goals for any reason, then it is important to have the business acumen, guts, nerve, whatever you want to call it, to effectuate change quickly and smartly, and to once again mobilize the staff and head off into a better direction.
Generally speaking, you have more information to effectuate the change in plan than you had to make the original plan. Hard work, product knowledge, leadership, total immersion in the operation, by being at the facility daily, talking, learning, coaching up, training, listening, helping, making quick and precise decisions that allow for speed, strategizing with the department heads, discussing the goals for the month, the quarter, the year, and for that day are difference makers. When the sense of creativity and immediacy is lost, all may be lost. When a General Manager cannot or is not capable of comfortably strategizing with department heads , learning their issues, and problems, helping to solve them today if possible and move on, then how can the correct goals for these departments be established and adequately supervised, accountability maintained, and expectations met? Well, they can't! And that affects the ownership, investors, staff, community...generally with devastating effects.
For the most part, the original broadcasters who formed this industry understood this. They were bold without being brash, aggressive without being arrogant, and led by example, and not by isolating themselves from problems so as not to make a decision that could carry personal and professional risk. Nope, they led from the front. If you don't believe this…ask yourself this question. As an individual, what have I done today that will grow my stations ratings, revenue, and reputation in my market? If the answer is "a lot,” good for you. You pass muster! If it is," I don't know, or I am unsure," then seek out the necessary training and skill set to develop your managerial and leadership skills. Learn how to operate with innovation, creativity, purpose, and ethics. I once worked for a fellow who never watched television…and actually bragged to his staff about it. I thought it absurd then, and think it absurd now! Listening, watching, that's the job! That's your product, your responsibility. The most embarrassing question that can ever be asked of any of us is, “I was watching your station last night, and on your news I noticed.....” Or, “I was listening on the way to work this morning and I heard…” Or simply, “What was that all about?” And you hadn't watched, nor listened and don't know. How can we ask a viewer or potential advertiser to watch or listen and support our station if we don't watch and listen? It doesn't make sense, does it?
Our progress is imperiled by certain choke points, usually caused by ourselves. If only we would once again become risk takers, become spontaneous, throw in some impulsiveness, some bold and quick action. To do this we don't need more screaming on the radio, nor more salacious programming on television and cable. This is not what I mean by risk taking. Leadership is what I am talking about. Being fully engaged in the operation, accepting responsibility every day, all the time. Demand that a handshake seals the deal and is final. Demand that we hold ourselves accountable and hold our department heads and staff accountable. Our FCC license asks of us, requires us to serve in the interest, necessity and needs of our community. Can we honestly say that we are doing this every day? Does the current programming on television, radio and cable reflect this? Are we passing down to the new people what commitment to excellence really is?
We have the ability to create our own environment. Let's be cognizant of that, proudly go broadcast and sell what we have created. You don't create ratings. Ratings reflect the energy, passion, efforts and direction of a broadcast facility. If all of this is in place, revenue, I have found, takes care of itself.
--Mike DeLier, President, The DeLier Group