Thu. Jul 19th, 2018

A Cold Dose of Radio Reality: Sales Remix

This week, I’m going to attempt to be the first person, I think, to ever write a column-in-a-column (this has probably been done thousands of times).  Earlier in the day, Jason Barrett penned a column on the site called “The Cold Dose of Radio Reality” which is a good piece on the business side of radio, especially for younger people in the business to read.  To make it a little more related to sales, I thought I would go through and make some notes on Jason’s column:

It’s hard sometimes not to become jaded if you work in the radio business. The more time you spend time in it, the more you discover that it’s not just about watching and talking about sports. The newspapers and industry trades at times paint a gloomy picture of what’s happening, leaving you to wonder about the stability of your career. Then as you improve at your craft and command more respect and warrant higher compensation, you learn why the word ‘business’ is included in your industry’s profile description.

Radio is, most definitely, a business.  For the larger companies it is BIG business and there are BIG expectations.  Yes, it’s radio, it’s the entertainment industry, but like any other business it all ultimately comes down to dollars and cents (or is it sense?).  And, while we all know the real story, the reality is two of our largest companies in the industry did file for bankruptcy, so it was easy for that to become the story. 

Now, we all have to do our part to change the narrative and focus on all of the positives…one client, one agency at a time.  The good news for us, is that when we improve our craft, the higher compensation comes with it!

One of the most common mistakes people make in radio is believing that their contributions to a company entitles them to something greater. Managers believe the brands they run are ‘their radio stations’ and the hosts, producers and contributing members all feel their presence and value to a brand is vital and difficult to replace. Their contributions certainly do matter, especially to those they work with, but in the grand scheme of everything, we’re all still replaceable parts. Some may have greater value, but none of us are irreplaceable.

How many times have you heard someone who’s young and on the way up in their career complain about the money, long hours, and lack of attention they receive from their employer? There’s this belief that their hard work should be recognized, radio should reward its people better, and more TLC should be provided by bosses.

It might be a wise thing to do if you want to retain good employees, but does an employer owe you that? They do not. A company’s primary responsibility is to make sure your check clears every two weeks, and provide you with access to the building to showcase your talent either on-air or behind the scenes during the hours you’re assigned to work.

If you’re smart, you’ll appreciate and take advantage of every single rep because experience benefits you no matter where you go in the future. As we all know, the only thing guaranteed in radio is that something will eventually change. Many people desire to work in this industry, so there’s always going to be someone standing behind you wanting what you have and willing to accept the position at a fraction of the cost.

The key words here from Jason are “none of us are irreplaceable.”  Like the programming side, we have our superstars, too.  There are sellers who are the best at what they do and while you would absolutely hate to lose them, the fact of the matter is you’d recover.  The best possible thing you can do to protect yourself in this business, no matter which side of the building you are on, is to have those air tight relationships – be the person who brings the money (or the audience) along with them, however, while that makes your position very strong, it’s not irreplaceably strong.

Too often I hear complaints about the way companies operate. A host may not like what they’re being asked to focus on from a content standpoint or they may feel restricted from using specific words or tackling certain stories. Producers bitch about the pay, demands of the job, and hours involved to tackle each task. Programmers become frustrated when companies push self-serving initiatives on them, market managers meddle with their product, and corporate folks limit their ability to hire or retain good people.

In many cases I’ve agreed with their concerns, but whether I think they’re right or not, it’s still about convincing those above you to reevaluate a situation because they ultimately have the final say. There is no Mr. Cumulus, Mr. Entercom or Mr. iHeart standing in your way. There are people tasked with representing each company and looking out for its business interests, even if it means halting your plans and complicating your situation.

Stop it.  All of us, just stop it.  When you go to work for a company, you play by their rules.  Now, if you disagree with something happening or have suggestions on how to improve certain aspects of the job, prepare a “case” and make yourself heard.  You have to go in, though, knowing that you might get turned down and have to continue doing something you disagree with.  That is just part of life and happens at companies each and every day.  Too much time is spent complaining about things that are out of our control and putting an end to that would save an incredible amount of time.  

I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with some really great people but I’ve also dealt with some shady characters too. Over the past ten years I’m not sure our industry has improved the way it treats its own people. I see too many instances where people perform higher than expected and still lose their jobs over money.

There have also been instances that I’ve experienced firsthand as an entrepreneur which leave a sour taste in my mouth. I’ve done favors for market managers and executives only to have emails ignored afterwards. I’ve witnessed programmers act in cowardly fashion, threatening employees over contributing a piece of content to the BSM website. I’ve had hosts reveal serious issues, only to ignore the advice, and not address it with their employers, and then complain again months later when the same issue pops up.

What you need to remember if you’re working as a host or behind the scenes employee is that your employer is paying you to harness your talent, connect with an audience, sell their advertiser’s products, and extend your resume. By doing so, they’re giving you the chance to increase the viability of your personal brand, and place yourself in position to benefit from the experience you’ve accrued. Maybe it will be with the same radio company. Maybe it won’t.

I, too, have worked with some great people over the last twenty-plus years and plenty of shady characters as well (oh, the book I could write!).  For the sellers, the company is giving you the chance to build a book of business using their well-known brands, their talent and their programming – so take advantage of it! Your job is to go out and close business, (all/some/most) of the tools are provided to you to do that and you get to piggy-back off of, in some cases, a heritage radio station that has spent millions on talent, marketing and branding and built great standing in the community.  Pretty good deal if you ask me.  Additionally, as mentioned earlier, you have the chance to build such a strong relationship with your clients, they go wherever you go.  

For those involved on the managing end, there’s a different message that needs to be understood. The station you manage may be part of your identity, and you may love it dearly, but it is not your property. The company owns the brand, you simply operate it. The day you leave, the show goes on. You may not like the direction of where the ship sails next, but it’s no longer your ship to steer when you take your hands off the wheel.

Executives sometimes get caught up in the moves a station makes after they’ve left, and they forget that the choices they made while in control aren’t guaranteed to remain permanent. I’ve gone thru it myself a few times. You can feel differently about the way an operation is being run, and want to rescue what you perceive as ‘your brand’, but all that matters in the end are the results, and how the people involved respond to the new path forward.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over time it’s that there are many different paths and styles to enjoy success. You may have to change a few parts to fit a new vision, but a good brand with good people serving a good audience will always find a way to remain relevant and successful.

I’ve been there. Sometimes you are incredibly invested in things you’ve been a part of, but when you leave, it’s not done the same and you don’t think anyone will care about it as much as you did.  That should be expected.  I suppose I would worry more about the person who spends a lot of time with a company, then departed for whatever reason, and did not feel connected when they left.  Most of us are putting in obnoxious amounts of hours either doing the job or thinking about the job, it would be a shame to have it not really mean much to you.  

Because so many people involved in the radio business have passion and love for the work they do, they struggle to cut the cord. The station and staff become part of your heart and soul, and although you may care more about what happens to them than a CEO sitting in a boardroom examining the brand’s profitability, it’s not your choice to make. They made the financial investment in the station, you didn’t. That gives them the right to run it however they see fit.

The point behind this column isn’t to cast a black cloud over the industry, it’s to provide you with a cold dose of reality. Radio is a business, but the line of work you do is special. The people around you share a similar enthusiasm for sports, and it’s a common bond which brings us all together to distract us from the pressures we face each day in life. Yes it’s a job, but it’s a rewarding one whether you’re making $8 an hour or seven figures.

I used to know a gentleman in the business, who every time he talked about what we did, said “This beats a real job any day of the week!”  It is special, the business we are in.  Even the little people, like us, get the envious look when you tell someone what industry you’re in, followed by the “What’s (so-and-so) really like?”  

The fact of the matter is, the younger you are when you learn that radio is a business, the better off you will be.  The business of radio consists of revenue and ratings, so make sure you are bringing one or the other and there will always be a place for you, unless you are simply a nightmare to work with.

Work hard.  Do your job to the best of your abilities.  Not much else is in your control, so don’t waste time with it.  I have written this before, but it’s one of my favorites from Dave Gifford: “There isn’t a sales problem in the world that can’t be cured by more presentations!” That’s what you can focus on and control and that’s what the key to making more money is, so as the saying goes “You do you.”

We all have opinions about the pros and cons of this business. The industry will never satisfy 100% of us. Some operators will do things to make employees feel essential to their success. Others may not. You can waste a lot of energy worrying about everything under the sun or ask yourself two questions: “Do I feel a connection to the job in my heart, mind and soul?” and “Is it a career worth investing myself in for the long haul?”

If the answer is yes, then that should be plenty enough reason to continue doing it. If you’re still unfulfilled and feel you need more control, then there’s a solution – buy a radio station. Then, and only then, is the station and each decision truly yours.

As sellers, doing what we do each day, we don’t have a lot of extra energy to waste on worrying, so the only choice is to decide if you are someone who loves being in this business and is willing to grind it out.  For most of us, that answer is yes, and if it isn’t then I’m going to STRONGLY disagree with Jason and suggest you not buy a radio station!

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