The Price Point | Leadership In A Down Year
Talk with any television station general manager and you will hear a similar story. This is going to be a tough year. Yes, business continues to slowly recover and there is optimism for the second half, but that does not change the reality of a non-political, tail-of-the-recession start.
Because no one can actually predict the future, upcoming budgets reflect the current business climate. That means 2021 operating expenses have been reduced, in some cases drastically. How drastic varies from company to company and station to station, but whatever those individual decisions, the norm going into the coming year will be fewer resources to with which to work.
It sounds strange to say, but in three decades of running television stations I came to see down years as a time of opportunity. All of our competitors were in the same boat, so the playing field was level. Staying on course while others were distracted created a competitive advantage. Corporate expectations were low, so any success was magnified.
If you want to be a hero, a down year is the time to do it.
Are you ready for the challenge? If so, here are some things that will help:
General managers who blame “corporate” for expense reductions look weak and powerless to their staffs. For better or worse, these are the tools you have to work with. Don’t waste energy worrying about what you do not have. Figure out how to excel using the resources at hand. Taking responsibility for your budget, in my view, is the biggest difference between winners and losers.
Face The Situation Head On
Tell your staff the truth. We are in a bad advertising economy, but so is each of our competitors. While others are distracted, we will be working harder and smarter to eat their lunch. We can come out of this much stronger than we went in, but only if our entire staff takes on the challenge.
Make sure everyone knows the answer is to increase revenue. This is not just a sales issue. Higher ratings, more video views, more page views all mean more money. Everyone can contribute in some way. This does not mean compromising news integrity.
Make Tough Operating Decisions
If a station activity does not advance the brand, increase sales or build morale, then stop doing it. Cutting costs for things a station still has, but does not really need, is the quickest road to increasing spending on things that really matter. Hopefully you made these hard decisions before submitting your budget plan, but if not, do it now. If you can’t make tough decisions, you are not going to win.
Don’t Be Stupid
Left to their own devices, sales departments will drop rates in an effort to increase share. This is dumb and does not work. If you are a leading station, you will crash the market, making the situation far worse. Keeping rates up, even when it means passing on some business, sends a positive signal, giving other stations the backbone to also not be stupid. Anyone can lower rates. Winners have the guts to raise them.
I once had a sales manager brag he had taken 70% of a buy. Turned out he had taken the easy way out. We had a very difficult conversation about his lack of backbone. I eventually replaced him.
Attitude Is Key
Station attitudes always play off the general manager. If you see opportunity, your staff will too.
Are you a winner? If so, 2021 is your year.
Hank Price is a media consultant and leadership coach. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a guide to leadership for television general managers, as well as those who aspire to top leadership. Price spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis, as well as three other stations. Earlier, he was a consultant for Frank N. Magid Associates. Price also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss. He is the author of two other books.