TVN’S MANAGING MEDIA BY MARY COLLINS

How Your Teams Can Save A Rough ’23

Prognostications for media businesses in 2023 look rough, but that doesn’t mean managers can’t control their teams’ performance. Here are some proactive tips to do so.

First, the bad news. By all accounts, 2023 will be a difficult year for media companies. Forecasters, like Borrell Associates are predicting advertising spending cuts for local TV, newspaper, radio and magazines. Little to no political advertising dollars will be flowing into markets to offset these decreases. Cord-cutting looks to continue, with nScreenMedia saying that, for the first time in modern media history, there will be more U.S. households without a traditional pay TV subscription than those with one. On top of that, continued inflation and fears of a recession are making everyone wary.

However, these are predictions, not destiny. Even if the forecasters are right, some companies will do better, and others will end up with even worse results.

It’s The Team

As with any other year, there will be a lot we cannot control in 2023. One thing you can influence is your team’s performance. Regardless of whether you are responsible for the whole enterprise, a department or region or an individual team, the way you approach your job will affect overall results. I say this from my own experience; both my regional cable programming sales teams and my staff at Media Financial Management Association (MFM) consistently met or beat budgets, even when faced with the unexpected. The key is that you cannot do these things on your own. It’s the team that makes it happen.

Change

It seems as if we’ve been facing ever-increasing and unrelenting change. There is pressure from all sides. Technological advances mean new expenses and different skills. New ownership can alter longstanding ways of doing things. Cost-cutting requires doing more with less. Change can paralyze a team, drain it of energy. As the team leader, you have the ability to keep things moving in the right direction. It’s not easy, but it’s one of the reasons you have the job.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Building Leadership Skills

The first step is to acknowledge the fear that accompanies change. People are afraid of failure, of loss and of approaching the unknown. You need to get that out into the open. Once you know the concerns, you can address them. Keep in mind that people are hungry for information. Give yourself a little time to organize your thoughts, but don’t wait for the perfect time or all the answers. Ongoing communication will keep everyone reassured.

Regardless the situation, now is the time to work on your leadership skills. I recently read an article in which the author asserted that it’s the leader, not the team, that needs to change. You need to:

  • Build relationships with each person you manage. They want to know that you will support them; you need to know what they can and will accomplish.
  • Set clear goals and expectations. I still remember the employee who said to me, “We have ESPN, but we don’t have ESP.”
  • Make informed and strategic decisions; trust your team to help you see all options and pitfalls. If things go south, look for lessons learned and not who to blame.
  • Model what you expect. Be adaptable, continuously work to improve your skills, and acknowledge your mistakes.
  • Ask for feedback. More importantly, be willing to accept it.

Supporting Employees

Employees need to know that you are all working toward the same goal, particularly in times of stress. Things to keep in mind include:

  • Be empathetic. Ask questions about their well-being and needs. Make sure everyone on your teams knows they can come to you with questions and concerns.
  • Help each person see how their unique skills fit into what you are working to accomplish.
  • Communicate information about available resources; these vary from company to company.

Putting It Into Action

Most of what I’ve written above can be found in any one of a number of leadership books and articles. So, let me make it a little more personal.

First, think back to your best boss or bosses; I’ve been lucky and have had more than one. Ask yourself what made that person or those people so good and what you can learn from them. One of mine gave me an appreciation for management by objectives, a philosophy that goes in and out of fashion. The key is that objectives help formalize two things essential to good leadership – setting expectations and keeping two-way communication flowing.

As anyone who’s ever worked for me will tell you, I expect all direct reports to give me three to five quarterly goals. One of these should be a personal growth goal (attending an industry webinar, for example). The other goals are to be related to that person’s contributions to the team’s quarterly or annual goals. All goals must be measurable and include time milestones or a deadline.

The key here is that we also have individual monthly or semimonthly meetings to discuss progress. In these meetings, I probe to determine if there’s anything the person needs to ensure success. In cases of resistance, I include the goals and meetings as part of annual evaluations, making sure everyone understands this upfront.

Another thing to consider is that, while we work in a business in which things happen all day every day, people need their down time. If I choose to work nights and weekends, I don’t want my team to think that is expected. (See “Model what you expect” above.) When I am working during off-hours and come up with an idea or have information that needs to be shared, I take advantage of the option to delay email delivery. It’s a small thing, but it speaks volumes.

Resources

Early in my career, I decided I needed a coach and I hired one. I wanted someone who was not part of the situation or my social circle who could help me see challenges and opportunities. Many coaches offer assessment tools that can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses.

Knowing these, you can work together to determine the best way to achieve goals. Some companies offer coaching as part of their resources for employees, others will consider including this as part of an employment agreement.

Staff will also benefit from third-party viewpoints. Many big companies have formal mentoring plans for employees. If your company does, make sure everyone on your team is aware and considers participating. There are also programs available from industry groups such as WICT, NAB, AWM, state associations and others. The nominal cost will more than pay for itself. Participants, and the overall company, benefit when they are exposed to different leadership viewpoints.

Special Considerations For Remote Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we don’t need everyone in the office all the time. In fact, some research shows that ongoing and daily digital contact strengthens remote teams’ bonds, improving overall performance. The downside of this can be “tribalism” in which teams don’t appreciate other groups’ cultures or contributions because they don’t know them. When some or all of the team is remote, leaders must be plugged into what is going on in other parts of the business and share that information with their people.

Despite all the ominous prognostications for 2023, there will be media businesses that defy the odds. You can contribute to that success by making sure your team(s) understand what is expected and by helping them feel that you are working together to achieve these goals.


Former president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, Mary M. Collins is a change agent, entrepreneur and senior management executive. She can be reached at [email protected].


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