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Are You Listening?

9-7-2012

What happens when you dont listen to your station?

How do you sit in front of a prospective advertiser and express your conviction that your station is a must buy when you don't even listen? Who is the morning host? What benchmarks or features can be sponsored? How does the audience feel about the station? What are the strengths of the station?

I've watched this happen. As a former media buyer, I've had salespeople come to my office who know less about the station than me. Ive experienced sales reps who dont know the call letters, dial positions, the morning host, or even the format. Ive had sales reps sit in front of me, look me in the eye, and confide, "I don't listen to our station; it's not my favorite format. I listen to another station; which quite often is even a different ownership. I would always ask how they could sell a station they didn't listen to, and every time they seemed quite content to shrug their shoulders and not respond.

And this may be symptomatic and start at the top. What happens if the general manager or owner doesn't listen to the station? There is a trickle-down effect. The operations manager may place his or her focus on another station in the cluster where the GM has greater expectations. The sales manager may use the station by bundling it with another powerhouse to "bring in the buy." The engineer may keep the problems at the bottom of the fix it list. The promotions department might use the station for the less desirable on-air promotions. The enthusiasm and energy of the on-air staff could suffer.

And eventually everyone wonders why the ratings are low and the sales are lackluster.

Be cautious when your format is Oldies, and the staff is young. Be leery when the format is Country, and the staff is cosmopolitan. And similarly if your station format is CHR or Rock, and the GM or owner is of a different generation or too conservative to grasp the proper execution of the product. The same holds true for AC stations and male sales reps, and Rock and Sports for female sales reps. Even if its not your format of choice, its the format you need to love in order to represent the product properly.

How does this happen? First, there is no demand or stipulation made by ownership or local management that employees must listen to their station, yet monitoring the competition is encouraged or, in some cases, mandatory.

How often does programming sit down with sales to discuss the overall station promotions, programming, and new talent line-up, or new direction for the format? Unfortunately press releases and gossip blogs are where many of the staff first find out what's going on at their own station. There are "myths and legends" consisting of misinformation that still exist in the history of every market. These myths (a few good, mostly bad) are often the result of industry professionals knowing very little about their own station, or competitors or fans espousing their opinions with full speculation and very little knowledge.

Solutions vary, but usually come from a clear directive from management and demand to match the staff to the product. Try creating a new position for a Junior GSM and give them the CHR or Rock station. They would report to the GSM, but they would create a buffer to stave off the disdain that exists from other managers. Let the music director program the station. The music will get more attention and the air staff will have an advocate. Get the jocks involved in the promotions, and with the advertisers; the quality of the product and dedication to the station will improve. Create an incentive for everyone to dress up the ugly duckling and watch the station become the GM's favorite.

Every general manager and owner loves to rave about a success story, so give them one. Dont let the station remain unattended and unloved. Every station has an audience and the audience knows nothing about the ownership, management, sales, or support staffs, who are all crucial to the success of each and every station. Some of the greatest success stories come from that station, for which someone in management took personal responsibility, worked a bit of magic, and created a superb product that lives in the history of our business as an industry-defining station. But, before they became great, they too may have been ignored.

Lisa Miller is the President of Miller Broadcast Management in Chicago and can be reached at Lisa@millerbroadcast.com  or 312-454-1111.



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