From the Corner Office – July 2010

July 1, 2010


Where are the Radio Entrepreneurs?

Hello,

A few days ago, I was talking with a friend and wondered aloud, “Where are the radio entrepreneurs of tomorrow?”  It got me thinking about the changes that we have all seen in our business during the past decade, and what has been gained and lost.

Surely, we are much more competitive, research-based and professional in the way that we operate our radio stations than a decade ago.  While radio has been buffeted by the waves of digital technology, our listener satisfaction levels have held up remarkably well.  We are much more customer-focused, whether listener or advertiser, and far less intuitive and seat of the pants than we were in years past.  These are all good things.

However, we have paid a price for our more corporate evolution; we have lost some of the passion and experimentation that used to power our medium with innovation.  With increased accountability and transparency, it is easier to drive to consensus rather than take a bold, risky step forward.  Those decisions can be viewed by some as vanilla or bland, but certainly, no manager has ever been dismissed for too many safe decisions.

What’s missing in our current mix of characteristics is the calculated risk-taking that is embodied in the heart and soul of the entrepreneur.  Here’s a quick definition:  entrepreneur is the term applied to the person who is willing to undertake a new initiative or enterprise that is often risky and uncertain, but who accepts responsibility for – and reaps the benefit of – the outcome.

That is a collection of character traits that have always been valued in radio, including vision, the ability to imagine and see or hear a concept that is new, different and innovative; responsibility, the ability to “own” a project or business and move it from where it exists to where it needs to be; and leadership, the ability to convince others of that vision and enlist them as co-conspirators in achieving it.  In addition, there is the rare characteristic of accepting the accountability that comes when you advocate something new.  Too many times innovation dies on the vine or is crushed by fear of the consequences.  We all know that there’s nothing more anxiety producing than when the boss reminds an employee, “Ok, but it’s your career on the line.”

No one knows more intimately than those of us responsible for running a radio company the powerful forces that have exerted themselves on our business over the past several years.  The disruption of new technology, recession and obsession with return-on-investment have all ganged up to force radio into new and challenging territory.  But none of these forces should discourage us from focusing our entrepreneurial energies on our future.  We know that change has been thrust upon us, and we know even better that the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing, expecting a different outcome.

Enter the entrepreneur.

Where are the people with the vision to re-imagine our business; where are those with the courage to stake out that vision and march toward it?  Where are the people who are willing, even eager, to accept the risk and the reward of new endeavors?  I believe that they are still within our ranks, but many have been silenced by the group-think or decisions by committee.

Where are the innovators who can see the potential of multiple platforms for our station brands?  Where are the inventors who will combine the reach of broadcast with the engagement and depth of digital?  Where is the salesperson who can combine old and new media to fill the advertiser’s desire for turnkey marketing solutions?

I believe, as in our past, entrepreneurs are the upstarts who challenge the status quo.  They are the restless ones who exhibit a passion for the new; who thrive on taking a risk in the marketplace.  We need to identify those individuals in our companies and give them some running room.  Those of us in senior management must hear out the ideas and convictions of junior staffers and stop being too quick to dismiss their ideas as impractical or give facile responses like “show me where it’s working”.  We need to encourage the free flow of ideas; we need to incubate them and put some financial resources behind them.  Risk is not to be avoided; it is to be embraced and harnessed.  We need to fail our way to success.

I believe that radio’s history of creativity and innovation is far from over.  The journey continues; do you want to lead, follow, or get out of the way?

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