The just-completed annual conference of MFM-BCCA highlights the extraordinary amont of change in the industry in the past year and what stations need to do to survive and thrive. More than 50 sessions featuring some 100 experts explored everything from cutting expenses, state-of-the art credit management and dealing with troubled advertisers to new revenue streams, new media opportunities and the latest on legal and accounting issues.
This past week members of MFM — the Media Financial Management Association — and our BCCA subsidiary gathered in Atlanta for the association’s 49th annual conference. When we chose “Responding to Change” as our 2009 conference theme almost a year ago, we had no idea how prophetic it would be.
Our original thought, which we tried to capture in our marketing materials, had to do with new technological advances and their continued disruptive impact on — and potential opportunities for — media business models. Back then, our main concern was that the theme might sound a little too much like the campaign of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Of course, we weren’t alone in not imagining just how much change was coming. As CNN’s Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi told our attendees, if anyone had spent the past year on another planet, the world they were coming back to would be unrecognizable.
There are the obvious changes, starting with the results of that election and a recession that’s affected the entire world. We’ve seen an avalanche of bankruptcies. Historic companies like Lehman Brothers, Circuit City, Washington Mutual, Chrysler, Interep, Tribune and Sun-Times Media Group have all filed.
In addition, some newspapers like the Detroit Free Press have cut their home delivery schedules. The Seattle-Post Intelligencer has become a Web-only periodical. The Rocky Mountain News is gone forever. And The Boston Globe, among others, is living day-to-day.
We have also seen the technological advances we anticipated but couldn’t predict 12 months ago. The iPhone 3G launched last July, creating a thriving market for independent developers to write new iPhone apps.
Last week, I read that several different newspaper publishers have announced partnerships with e-reader devices like Amazon’s Kindle. And what about Twitter? It was launched in 2006, but it’s only been in the past year that “tweeting” entered the mainstream.
With the impact of these changes affecting all media companies, it also turned out to be prophetic that the members of Interactive & Newsmedia Financial Professionals joined us for this year’s conference. We were also pleased to host the Media Industry Tax Group, which collocated its meeting with ours again this year.
Thanks to the efforts of the 2009 conference committee led by co-chairs Sam Bush, senior vice president, CFO and treasurer for Saga Communications, and Dawn Sciarrino, founder of Sciarrino & Shubert, a law firm serving the media industry, we filled the conference schedule with more than 50 sessions featuring some 100 media and financial experts.
As Sam Bush reminded our attendees, we are told to think about situations like the ones the industry faces today not as problems but as opportunities.
To help our members accomplish that outcome, this year’s conference schedule included hard-hitting sessions that that explored everything from cutting expenses, state-of-the art credit management and dealing with troubled advertisers to new revenue streams, new media opportunities and the latest on legal and accounting issues.
The conference delivered on its theme by providing attendees with the opportunity to find the answers, information, contacts and tools they need to stay competitive in this unprecedented market and sow the seeds for their companies’ future successes. As part of our educational mission, I plan to bring you some of the key insights and tips from this year’s conference in upcoming columns.
Of course, the challenge of responding to change extends well beyond what we can cover in a three-day conference.
The association has been changing, too. We must, if we are going to remain on the cutting edge and provide optimal value to our individual and corporate members. The most obvious has been our name change to Media Financial Management Association, which recognizes that media platforms are expanding. Of course, old habits die hard and we still hear BCFM from time to time.
We are continuing to update and add to our Industry Guidelines. We released the new Revenue Recognition Guideline not quite a year ago. The Risk and Insurance Guideline, which now includes information about new technological risks, came out last month. Internal Controls and Sales and Use Taxes are in the works.
Last year, we also decided to create an annual calendar of topics for our Distance Learning Seminars. We wanted to build on what was working — in this case, bringing timely information to members on a regular basis — while making it easier for you to anticipate what topics we would be covering. Of course we still have the flexibility to add things on an as-needed basis, like we did with the teleconference concerning Interep’s bankruptcy at the end of October.
Our committee chairs have also been working to make committee participation more rewarding. The Television Committee, for example, created a calendar of subjects for the year and invited all MFM and BCCA members who work in television businesses to hear and comment on short presentations from their expert speakers.
Other opportunities for members to discuss issues included the CFO Summit last June and the East Coast Regional Seminar in October. We incorporated the best of the topics from those programs into the annual conference.
Sharing industry information is more important than ever. We’ve issued Member Advisories twice in the past six months — one to explain some confusing paperwork related to the Circuit City bankruptcy, the other to alert our members about Anheuser-Busch’s plan to adopt net 120 days as its payment terms for all media supplier invoices.
Another good source of timely industry information is MFM’s quarterly DSO reports for TV and radio. Both reports now have separate totals for local and national advertising as well as a combined total. To get the data you must be a member of either MFM or BCCA and a reporting participant.
In addition, we have an “Ask the Experts” feature in the members-only section of our Web sites. When you pose a question there, we send it out to committee members and others who have agreed to be experts, and then post their responses for all members to read. We’ve covered topics as varied as budgeting for employee mileage and records retention policies.
There’s now also an “Ask the Expert” feature in The Financial Manager, our bimonthly magazine. Szabo Associates President Robin Szabo’s advice about responding to a preference claim from a bankruptcy trustee, which appeared in the March-April topic proved to be particularly timely in light of Chrysler’s bankruptcy filing. The May-June feature covers another timely topic — tax and barter deals. State and federal governments are looking for money in every corner, so it will be well worth spending a couple of minutes reading it. In fact, non-members may preview the issue online.
Speaking of TFM, I am really looking forward to a new feature that we will be launching with the January-February 2010 issue. It will be a “People to Watch” special report. Financial and business people are rarely, if ever, recognized in industry lists and we see this as a great way for MFM to not only recognize exemplary leaders but also to remind everyone about the essential role these professionals play in our industry.
Our list will include an assortment of different people such as: up-and-comers; CFOs and other major financial executives; credit and collections specialists; and local market executives. You will be seeing more information about this along with instructions on how to nominate someone in the near future.
We have also been focusing on BCCA. We have made the credit reference request process easier, and we plan to add an option for receiving third-party data in addition to the media-specific credit references BCCA can provide. We are also putting a BCCA task force together to identify other ways we can improve BCCA credit reports and the value of your BCCA membership. If you are interested in being a part of this, please let me know.
Change is inevitable if we are going to remain relevant to our members and the media industry. MFM is a not-for-profit, but we are still focused on ROI. We know that our members invest their time and your money in the association and the onus is on all of us to make sure that you get what you need. I can tell you that the more anyone puts into MFM or BCCA, the more he or she will get out of their participation. In fact, their investment will be returned exponentially and there aren’t many things you can really say that about, particularly these days.
In addition, we also owe a debt gratitude as well as ROI to sponsors and exhibitors at the conference. Without their generous support, the conference, and many of our other educational programs, simply would not be possible.
Thank goodness that the one thing that hasn’t changed is the recognition that we all benefit from our support for educational and professional development programs that benefit our industry.
Mary Collins is the president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association, a professional society addressing the diverse needs of the industry’s financial and business professionals. Her column appears here every other Friday.