Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"There is only one success: To be able to spend your life in your own way." Christopher Morley

"Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority." Thomas Huxley

"Prudence is a presumption of the future, contracted from the experience of time past." Thomas Hobbes

Today's image: Mystery Morning In The Palouse by kevin mcneal. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Submitted for your consideration, a case study in real-time, to wit:

You have a major talent working for your company. The talent is a market legend of thirty years making, respected by the industry as an accomplished, innovative performer; he has consistently produced top five ratings in the diary. For the past year the performer has been assigned to a morning drive shift after years of success doing afternoon drive at another station in your cluster. Performance in morning drive, as measured by the new PPM methodology, is significantly different and less competitive than that exhibited in previous diary created data. Management decides to take the talent off the air while assuming the obligation to pay the talent for the next two and one-half years of the performer's contract.

Of course, the reference is to Chicago media star Steve Dahl. He did his last show for CBS this past Friday. While CBS has, to my knowledge, not made any comment on the decision (a wise move since most covering their equity only know what they read), we have the penchant for transparency of Steve Dahl himself to thank for a bit of back story. Steve made mention of the meter during his last show, suggesting music programming did better in the meter numbers and was less expensive programming.

We now come to the issues of this business case.

  1. Did management make the right decision in assigning Steve Dahl from afternoons at its Free FM talk station to mornings on its music intensive Jack FM station?
  2. Did management provide those resources necessary to ensure the probability of success in the highly competitive morning drive environment? (The counsel of a mentor, Paul Drew, comes to mind. Did Steve have a "better than even chance to win.")
  3. Once PPM data was in hand what corrective measures did management take to improve performance? Was Steve provided the direction, dedication of resources, deemed requisite to move the needle and improve performance? Were sellers provided the direction, support needed to build revenues needed to generate an acceptable profit?
  4. If we stipulate continuing to do mornings on WJMK was not an option, what other options were prospectively available to management without regard to the election to pay and not play? Is it not management's responsibility to explore any and all options to retain Steve Dahl including those beyond the conditions and scope of the existing agreement?
Clearly, management decided it was better to have Steve Dahl off the air and paying him than on the air in some other assignment.

Many have said the larger-than-life personality was not a good fit on Jack FM, the bold contrarian move of putting a high profile talent on a jockless station risky from day one. While it is perhaps convenient to argue that Dahl failed to improve the station's ratings performance, it should be kept in mind that Jack FM has failed to achieve, sustain ratings success of any significance where it counts. Recent meter numbers would have us believe the station's biggest win is outside of prime, 7p-12Mid. One has to at least consider the logic that Steve was released from breakfast duties as part of an effort to somehow "help" Jack FM. The single most credible, attractive attribute of any jockless station continues to be the low cost of operating which is not insignificant. Putting Dahl on Jack FM changed this jockless economic model.

My sense is the real failure here is one of leadership. No matter the numbers, sales should have found a way to generate revenues. It is hard to argue there exists a more sales friendly talent than Dahl.

Given the option of creating the next successful music intensive format or finding the next killer talent, one is best served by electing the former. The latter is a far more complex mission, one in which finding becomes the easiest part of things, however, the rewards of engaging killer talent are almost without equal. The play's the thing so said Shakespeare and in this case the play is a killer talent, Steve Dahl.

As a practical matter, CBS is making a wager. They are willing to bet Steve will gain employment elsewhere, ultimately releasing them from their financial obligation. They are suggesting it is the best decision for the company to continue paying Steve to not be on their air or to have him working across the street. The alternative which management should properly consider, it seems fair to offer, being to retain Steve Dahl, putting him to work in a productive and effective manner on one or more of their stations. This will require the hard work of thinking, of engaging the imagination and most of all, it will demand creative leadership.

Stay tuned.

Previously, on Steve Dahl and the diary versus the meter, here.

As always, your thoughts are welcome. Thank you for stopping by.

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