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Monday, September 1, 2014

(SALES) The Death Of The Station Manager


As I travel across North America and visit countless radio stations, I?ve come to understand that the stock market has killed station managers, and that not having fulltime station managers is slowly but surely dragging down our entire industry.

Albert Einstein said, ?A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.? Business success guru Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying, ?If you can?t measure it, you can?t manage it.? The number crunchers love to flaunt that quote, without capturing a deeper understanding of Drucker?s teachings.

The fact is, while Drucker did believe that measuring results and performance were crucial to an organization?s success, he never actually said the highly-touted nuanced quote. The misuse of the Peter Drucker quote is, in part, the cause of the demise of the role of station managers in building local radio stations in their three communities: the audience community, the advertiser community, and the station?s staff community.

Peter Drucker himself has often said that not everyone could be held to the measurement standard. He once told a manager, ?Your role is a personal one. It is the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community. This is something only you can do.? Drucker went on: ?It cannot be measured or easily defined. But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.?

I can see, and actually feel, huge differences between the stations I visit that have a local station manager who is tied into the fabric of the station and the communities they serve, versus stations managed by corporate types who fly into the market only to measure the station by numbers.

And my station visits have convinced me that one of the worst ?measures? of all is Wall Street?s EBITDA: earnings before depreciation, interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization; as if carrying huge debt or letting your equipment decay and depreciate doesn?t impair a business? success.

Focusing on alleged ?measurables? has caused our industry to grossly under-estimate the ambassador and ombudsman value of local station managers. Station managers who live and breathe in the communities they serve seem to be in a much better position to lead their stations toward relating to those communities.

While it?s hard to measure that value, station managers I see who sit on the boards of local hospitals, business organizations, and charities; who drive over the same pot holes as their station?s audience every morning; and who understand on an individual basis how to motivate their people daily; don?t appear to be digging in for failure the way the numbers folks do.

And it seems to be working. The stations we work with who have fulltime local station managers, seem to have stronger local revenues, more dedicated staffs, and in many cases , more loyal local advertisers, than the cookie-cutter operations  that are managed from afar.

Admittedly, a lot of those local managers are actually owners or stakeholders with long ties to their communities and a vested interest in the success of their stations. But I have witnessed a definite link between stations with managers who appear to be focused on serving all three of their communities and stations that are well received by those communities.

Ironically, in my opinion, the long-term success of any station does not lie in last quarter?s EBITDA figures, but in the relationship management has with local listeners, their staffs, and their local advertisers. I emphasise local advertisers because the national agency community seems to be bent on World Wide Web numbers rather than local wins, market by market, and in my view will continue to think of local radio as old or traditional with all things digital being perceived as ?cool.?

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur or swimming up-stream, I recall the days when station managers were held in high esteem in all three local communities. Everyone knew their name and kept them in the loop. I see stations today where no one even knows the name of who is responsible for running the station, other than perhaps the faceless corporate name.

Where I see local station managers sitting on local committees and contributing to them, they are also sitting right next to the movers and shakers, key decision-makers and business-owners in those same communities. These give-back-to-the-community ambassadors might not be able to be measured by the number of broadcast orders that bear their names, but they certainly influence a lot of broadcast orders.

And they might not have the title of program director, but they can certainly monitor the on-air product?s relevance to the market, keep announcers in the loop, and recognise if a local name or street is being mispronounced.

I understand we can?t turn the clock back and return highly paid station managers to our expense ledgers: The EBITDA folks won?t have it and hiring a professional station manager this month will almost certainly impact next quarter?s EBITDA negatively. Can you imagine the hue and cry from bean counters if you added an ?unmeasurable expense? to your ledger?

But visiting hundreds of stations each year, I remain convinced that every station can improve its performance with superior local leadership.

In the absence of that, the least we can do is hire a less-costly local ambassador. Your local ambassador can be the vital link between the community, your sales force, and your programming people.

They can sit on committees, MC local business events, and be the important local face that is missing from stations today. Your ambassador can also act as a professional ombudsman, and have the mandate to respond to complaints and concerns, and to mediate solutions. 

The great unmeasurables that will affect next year?s EBITDA are the way your staff, your audience, and your advertisers feel about your station. A good ambassador can impact all of those feelings.

Sorry, I don?t know of a measurable-feelings barometer other than to say that emotions and feelings are the foundations of all buying decisions, attitudes, and motivation.

Wayne Ens is president of ENS Media Inc and conducts local market surveys and educational advertiser seminars to increase local radio revenues.

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