Thursday, May 24, 2007

Photo: Ron Fell

Great image.

Thanks Ron!

"...change has changed. No longer is it additive. No longer does it move in a straight line. In the twenty-first century, change is discontinuous, abrupt, seditious...for the first time in history we can work backward from our imagination rather than forward from our past." Gary Hamel

Two topics, two outcomes leading off.

Programming and sales.

Ratings and revenue.

Enjoyed a terrific conversation with Bob Griffith yesterday. Prior to his current post with Google, Bob served with distinction in a variety of executive positions. A storied broadcaster, Bob is now playing at the top of his game helping broadcasters to understand and play in the brave new world of digital.

Bob related a recent conversation with Dwight Case. Dwight said radio was missing an opportunity by being focused on content. Radio should instead be focused on programming. He said there's a material difference between content and programming. He's right. The dynamic Dwight, a person I'm blessed to call a mentor, once said radio was a simple business. "Get the ratings, sell the advertising." The Bob Griffith take away is "Play the hits. Sell the spots." Wiser than a tree full of owls those two. Lest my friends and colleagues working in TV sense an affront, let me add the difference between radio and TV really comes down to the cost of separating the commercials and little else.

On to some related loose ends. Topics previously lost in the press of daily affairs.

Two popular myths: American youth are no longer listening to radio. US radio is failing to create programming for young people, almost every station is targeted 25-54. These generalizations may not be patently false, however, they are not entirely correct. I remain a glass is half-full guy.

One need only look to Milwaukee and the results of the Winter book. No question, the youth of Milwaukee have a favorite station and it's clearly WXSS, 103.7 KISS FM. Brian Kelly and team have done it again. 18-34 pers total week, KISS is #1 delivering a 14.4, second place posted an 8.8; 18-34 women total week, KISS is #1 scoring a 19.9, second place putting up an 8.6; every daypart is #1 in the station's target demo (18-34 women): AMD 17.8, MID 19.0, PMD 21.8, EVE 24.4; let me add, his KISS team is also #5 25-54 women total week. Brian's other station, 99WMYX, also delivered exceptional numbers finishing #4 25-54 women total week. No need to post KISS' incredible teen numbers. Want to learn how he's doing it? Brian is holding a clinic on the air this Friday evening beginning at 6pm central. Don't miss it if you can, listen live online.

Please keep in mind, hits are not the norm. Hits are anomalies. Brian Kelly and team are a wonderful anomaly!

The complete job description for PDs can be reduced to six words. Deliver numbers to the sales department.

Back to the countdown. Are these same youth also failing to watch TV? No shortage of folks fronting that case. But, again, let's look at the facts. Idol, the #1 TV show again. On the last day of voting this season - 74 million votes. Cumulative voting total is now 609 million. Something tells me Bob Sillerman is going to be eating better than you and me this weekend.

It's a shame these pesky details get in the way of all the elegant arguments about the death spiral of TV. Of course none of this is meant to suggest things are not changing. As Dr. Hamel has suggested, it's much bigger than that - change has changed. The velocity of change today is practically impossible to grasp. The facts are youth targeted broadcast is getting fewer at bats. Seems to me that's a front office problem.

Let's keep the myth ball rolling: The oldies format is dead. My thought is one, all or some combination of the following players are at work. The unproductive sales department, the incompetent PD, the timorous GM and the group guy not invested with average intelligence. These are the principals in format euthanasia. Occasionally the voluble consultant or research genius is also culpable. Listeners don't kill formats managers do. As PJ says "In all of art it's the singer not the song." The oldies format is dead where it is being done badly. Execution is the issue.

While it is true that listeners can stay away in droves, management is still responsible when listeners fail to show up. Sometimes new formats just don't work no matter what the research suggests. Getting listeners into the tent is a station job. First, one must have a credible show on offer. Spending money to promote a poor or me-too product (i.e., a bad show), is simply wrong headed and yet it happens.

How many times have you watched a TV show debut, walked out at the end of a movie or spent thirty minutes listening to a new format and said "What were they thinking?" or "What was that?" The audience will find a good show; the show itself is the best possible promotion. Investing resources to advertise a show before it's ready is an error of strategic significance. Too often the hype, promos and creative driving the ad campaign is actually better than the show. The trailer that is better, more entertaining and interesting than the feature may get you a killer opening, word of mouth will rule and punish on merit thereafter. Raising expectations and inducing trial too early can be fatal. The recent case study would be Couric.

Good advertising makes a bad product fail faster as the brilliant Bill Bernbach famously said.

Getting folks to give your show a second chance, another trial, is almost an impossible mission. You only have one chance to make a first impression; initial perceptions and the related associations can be lasting. People value, trust and defend their own data.

Fast forward, a sneak preview:
Get Sharpton into the bullpen. It's coming and our pal Al is the perfect guy to pitch this one. How the people meter killed Urban (if not ethnic) radio. Hearing this one on a daily basis now. Short my Radio One.

What we need is effective leadership. Wanted: The intrepid PD, the indefatigable DOS and GSM, the courageous GM, the supportive group executive that understands their job is serving the field. Required: Intense, industrious, dedicated, pathologically competitive warriors.

Are you as tired as I am of hearing conference calls loaded with graduate level dog ate my homework? Excuses, we don't need no stinkin excuses. The considerable acumen of Nancy Havens-Hasty is not needed to understand radio remains in decline. Man up or stop doing the calls (they are not required you know). Congrats and kudos to Jeff Smulyan. His last call was brutal but he gets major points for veracity. "These are challenging times" he said and later "You always learn the great lessons in adversity." My money is on Jeff and Emmis. They may not win them all but Jeff, Rick and their team are in it to win it.

Which brings me to today's favorite station pinata - the sales department.

In my experience we are expecting too much from our sellers. We have changed process and best practice in every department except sales. We expect sellers to function at the expert or master level of multiple complex disciplines. Transactional. Retail direct. NTR. Online. Non-spot. Event marketing. We too often demand that they produce or they're out without providing the proper prudent investments in training and support.

While it is true, as the great Goldsmith always taught, "If they're not helping you, they're hurting you," leadership has an obligation to improve every sellers' chances for success.

Fred Jacobs wrote this week about the common sport of station folks handicapping how many days their new sellers will last. My opinion is every new hire deserves better. We can start by hiring the right people. Used to be the most under-appreciated person on staff was the traffic director, today that title goes to every new seller and any other seller not making their number.

Before someone emails me about body counts, 25 - 45% seller turnovers and no one being out there please talk to a retailer. Turnover at US retail is running at 75+ percent annually. Retailers never have a good day, I know, I live with one. The job is not hire and fire, the job is hire and develop. That's a very different and much harder job.

Our sellers also deserve a product that can be sold with a straight face. A product they can be proud of representing. Sending sellers into the world to monetize a 1.2 share is what it is. Stop expecting miracles when your ratings suck. You don't need a better sales manager to make your month when your dayparts are in fractions you need David Copperfield. Making your month without numbers is an illusion. In these situations we need to give sellers and sales leadership a better performance, better product and better ratings. Ever notice that the great sellers seem to almost always work at highly rated stations. WLTW has one helluva fine sales organization so does WTMX. Programming has put a good looking, desirable apple on the shelf. Programming has created a market of value. Sales now has something to sell.

Here then, the secret. The code has been cracked. Should you not be winning, should you not be having the best year ever. Look for what's missing and my experience tells me...

What's missing is the fun.

Programming fails when performers aren't having fun on the air.

Sales fails when sellers aren't having fun on the street and returning to a club house that is less than positive, totally supportive and always encouraging. Did we somehow forget? Sales is dealing with rejection. We need to help them through the fire. Daily.

Once everyone understands there are only two departments - sales and sales support, the mission becomes clear.

The team obsessed with driving the top lines of ratings and revenue wins. When they're working harder than they've ever worked before their food tastes better, they get a good night's sleep and they come to play.

Programming and sales.

Ratings and revenue.

The fundamentals: All that's important is what's on the screen(s), what's coming out of the speakers. Everything else is a footnote. Everything.

It starts with fun. Dial yours up to eleven and get into the game. Before COB today, catch somebody doing something right.

Go for greatness!

Bonus: Charlie Munger - The Psychology of Human Misjudgment, a lecture at Harvard Law

Bonus 2: Steven Wright, may or may not be the real Steven. No matter, Twitter on dude! What is another word for Thesaurus? Well worth the jump.

Looking for a really good read? Please permit me to highly recommend: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Thanks for reading. Your comments always welcome. I'm out for the holiday, back next week. Have a fun, safe holiday.


Anonymous said...



As a DOS for one of the big operators let me tell you it is no fun being the goat.

Two of our stations are in the tank and have been "off the rankers" for more books than I care to admit.
My team is still EXPECTED to bring home the bacon month after month.
Give my team credible numbers or at least a good story. Today's program directors lack a sense of urgency. There is nothing wrong with my sales staff that a good book can't fix overnight.