For media groups that are combining stations, business software vendors help merge sales and customer data, settling on common account naming conventions, integrating new traffic systems, unifying customer relationship philosophies and agreeing on a way to forecast business.
CRM Vendors Busy With Station Consolidation
The wave of consolidation sweeping over the broadcast TV industry is keeping business software vendors busy helping customers merge historical sales and customer data without skipping a beat.
“When company X merges with company Y, there is this huge migration of data that needs to happen,” says D.J. Cavanaugh, CEO of Matrix Solutions, who is working with several TV groups currently in the middle of consolidation. “It has become a big focus for us.”
The vendors say there are essentially four steps they and their clients take when merging sales and customer data: settling on common account naming conventions, integrating new traffic systems, unifying customer relationship philosophies and agreeing on a way to forecast business.
Customer relations managment (CRM) software — like Matrix for Media and Sales Development Services’ SalesTouch, which are geared toward the media industry — build in years worth of intelligence to make these steps easier.
When a group acquires new stations, there’s a strong chance those stations use different naming conventions for the various accounts. The Ford Dealer Association, for instance, might be spelled out on one system and called FDA on another. In a merged system, they would show up as separate accounts.
Misspellings or variations of spellings, like when a station labels fast food chain McDonald’s without an apostrophe, are also common during consolidation, Cavanaugh says. “When people start reporting numbers, you don’t want to have $5 million of billing with the apostrophe and another $3 million without,” he says.
Reconciling names requires certain intelligence in the system and some manual inputting. Part of Matrix’s service is sending a team of people to affected clients to make sure everything lines up.
Once data is organized with proper naming conventions, Matrix’s software includes a virtual assistant to make sure everything stays clean.
“The benefit of being media-specific and understanding this space allows us to do all of that,” Cavanaugh says.
When two companies merge, there’s a chance they have to integrate data from different traffic systems. The main traffic systems — WideOrbit, Harris Broadcast’s OSi and Pilat Media — all integrate with Matrix.
Last week, Belo completed its transition from OSi to WideOrbit, using Matrix as the facilitator. The process, which started in January, won’t be wasted work, since Gannett, which is still awaiting final approval to merge with Belo, also uses WideOrbit across its group.
Eileen Fredette, director of technology and program management at Belo, says the process was simple after deciding on naming conventions for the various account categories because WideOrbit fully integrates with Matrix.
“We copied and pasted all the names of coding from OSi to WideOrbit, and that worked out pretty well,” she says.
“The best part is that, one, it’s very simple, but two, everything is so consistent for the sales team. Even after this conversion, everything looks and feels the same to them.”
Some Belo stations continue using OSi data today, but Fredette says usage is winding down. “With software, it takes a little while to get it all cleaned out and finish billings.”
Forecasting and sales methodology, other functions of the CRM software, also have to be aligned when broadcasters’ merge. Again, the challenge in many cases is settling on terminology. For instance, one group may have several categories of pending business. Another, just one.
“Fortunately, SalesTouch is new enough, being coded in the past two years, that we’ve made it very flexible to handle those types of tasks,” says Lee Smith, CEO and president of Sales Development Services.
“We’ve seen what has happened in the industry. Newspapers went through a bunch of purchases, radio did, and now it’s television’s turn. We anticipated it, we built it in and it’s not a difficult thing to handle.”
Smith says CRM software is smart enough today to handle any type of consolidation. The challenge comes when a sale is in limbo, he says. “I think the bigger challenge is before the sale is finally made. When there is potential consolidation, everything gets put on hold. There are no new initiatives, because they want to wait and see if they’re going to be sold next week, too. That’s what really has happened in the past year. All new initiatives have been delayed because of consolidation, or even the potential of consolidation.”
As more groups near closing on acquisition deals in the coming year, Fredette says it’s important to not depend on the old way things were done.
“With any significant change to your business, you have to look at what drives your business and what you need to see out of it,” she says. “Where are the real needs you have around that? Then let that be the driver on the technology decisions you make.”