From the Corner Office – May 2010

May 3, 2010

NEW IDEAS NEED NEW BLOODPeter Smyth

With the approach of graduation season and the start of the summer intern season, I find myself wondering how these  people who are new to radio can contribute to and change our business.  I know it is difficult today to get that one break to get a career started; it always has been hard to break into radio, but these days it sometimes seems almost impossible.  As our industry continues to heal itself, I am confident that hiring will slowly pick up once more.  Part time jobs will become full time.  Increased demand for our services by advertisers will require more hands to fulfill those orders.

But, as we decide to post for an opening, I want us to consider not just the need that we have today, but also the long-term contribution that these new recruits must make to the radio business.  If we just dust off the job description from the past ten years and call our usual industry contacts, we run the risk of trying to find our future in the past.  If our new account executives are just lured from a weaker competitor, we are not going to be taking advantage of the new blood and new ideas that our industry demands to reformulate itself for the future.  We need recruits who are not only high-charging doers, but also thinkers who are driven to re-imagine our industry.

It’s always been easy to fill empty slots, but difficult to create effective teams.  To do so, we need to acknowledge and know what our organizations are lacking and what we need, not only in the primary job description, but also to balance the other members of our station teams.  I never believed that stations targeting 18-34 year olds would see much success if the on-air and sales staffs were out of touch with the lifestyle, culture and tastes of that demographic.  This doesn’t mean that every employee has to be in the demo – quite the contrary – but every employee has to care about the demo enough to know what matters to it, what motivates it, what engages it.  Great station staffs create an environment where people challenge one another to innovate, envision and dream.

I think that radio is in danger of walling itself off from the new internet-based competition that has emerged.  We need new thinkers on our staffs who will challenge the traditional truths by which radio has operated in the past and find ways to co-opt and learn from our competition rather than avoiding and ignoring it.  It is time to question everything, and to look for new ideas and new approaches, regardless of where they come from.

What should we be looking for in new team members?  Yes, they need to have knowledge of and passion for our industry, but they also need a wider worldview and experience.  They need to be active in social media, web design and utility, content search and the evolution of marketing from 30 second messages into an ongoing conversation with consumers.  They need to be open to the idea that radio and interactive are a perfect complement for the local, results-oriented advertiser, as well as for branding on a national level.

In every department and every aspect of our radio stations, we need people who can think about the future without fear; people who can imagine a new initiative and persuade decision-makers to take risk and try something new for a change.  The radio industry needs to shake off the financially-induced stupor it has been in for the last three years and stop looking to Wall Street financial managers for new ideas.

Why would we wait for Steve Jobs to come up with the next great idea in entertainment technology?  Do we have the technical imagination to create our own contributions to the cascade of technology?  Have we re-imagined our brands as more than one on-air signal?  We create content each and every day; we have to rise to the challenge of making that content available in the form and format, on the device and at the time that our consumers choose.

If the radio industry has a unique characteristic that has allowed it to endure, it is flexibility.  The flexibility to reinvent and re-imagine itself almost overnight.  We are showmen and -women who know how to attract and excite a crowd.  We have certainly had our share of notable and memorable eccentrics, but they understood that our medium was more than “10 or 15 in a row”.  We need new blood and new ideas to challenge us to once again embrace that flexibility and risk-taking.  The stakes are too high to rely on yesterday’s solutions.

I always want to know what’s on your mind; you can feel free to pose any questions that you’d like me to respond to at AskPeter@greatermedia.com.

Best regards,

Peter