I once had an account manager say to me, “your job is so easy, a monkey could do it”. To say the least, the comment was hurtful, but for context purposes, her words were a back handed compliment as she thought I would be better suited in the sales department. In other words, she thought my talents were going to waste. I did however challenge her to come and spend a full day working an oversold commercial log with $500 average unite rate spots. She never took me up on that offer.

While this was a temporary personal surface wound, the industry views on what a Traffic Manager does goes a bit deeper. How is it that the position that offers the most value to a station is the most under-valued? The Traffic Manager is the most under-appreciated, over-worked and misunderstood resource at any radio/tv station. It’s hard work. Tedious. Repetitive. And process driven. It’s a brain-numbing job that involves methodically arranging (like a puzzle) 300-400 elements daily. Many have been asked to become more efficient with cut staff. To take on new responsibilities in trafficking new and ever changing digital platforms. To hit daily deadlines and be error free. And for some … oh yeah, could you also handle billing and answer the phone. Where else in your organization do you find this much value? Because of the high demand needed, yet low rewards given, smart and able in house talent simply consider other areas of the industry or other industries period. If not careful, the result could mean far fewer talented traffic people in a talent pool that is critical in broadcasting operations.

There is no Traffic Manager school. No traffic manual. It’s a learn on the go position which tolerates little room for error. 

Great Traffic Managers are detail oriented individuals that work well independently. Because traffic involves so many different elements – from scheduling to revenue management to billing – a great Traffic Manager must be highly organized and have a keen eye for detail. Being detailed oriented means you spot inconsistencies. That you notice an end date entered as 2017, should have been 2011. A web designer can have basic knowledge, poor attention to detail and still get by. The result might be a misspelled word on the “About Us” page or an incorrect phone number on the “Contact Us” page. If a Traffic Manager has  basic knowledge and poor attention to detail, the results can be significant in the way of lost revenue or un-balanced books. This quality can’t be instilled in someone. You have it or you don’t.  The difference between good and great is attention to detail. 

Great Traffic Managers love digging into numbers and spotting potential issues. They are analytical. By looking at numerical comparisons and key indicators, a Traffic Manager should be able to make observations and thus decisions based on those observations. These skills are most apparent in inventory & metrics reports. When you deal with multiple avail types, categories and lengths, you need to know what’s doing well and what isn’t doing well. Inventory is your show room floor, the stock room and whatever is on the truck or boat. Mismanagement leads to missed budgets. I’ve met Sales Managers that didn’t know how to read inventory reports. What would happen if your Traffic Manager wasn’t analytical?

Great Traffic Managers are good at process … or better yet… good at applying process. Consistent and routine. They are the ones that look at existing processes critically to make them faster, more efficient, more effective, or otherwise better. They are the ones that take great care to document their assignments because they will otherwise find themselves the target for blame when something goes wrong.

A great Traffic manager must be able to act positively and efficiently under pressure. The job is stressful. And thankless. It’s the bottom line. When everyone else cuts out for happy hour at 4PM on a Friday, they have to stay and get the job done. Deadlines are broken all the time. It’s not fair, but it is business. There is a wide range of attitudes on this point, but the great Traffic Managers  see time spent bickering could be time spent hitting budget. 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, great Traffic Managers evolve. The Traffic landscape is changing. There are new platforms and with them comes new terminology and ways of working. While one views added digital duties as a burden, a great Traffic Manager sees it as opportunity. They focus on transferable skills irrespective of immediate reward and recognition. They interact with and push their traffic software vendors for more efficient tools. Traffic systems have made great advancements in the last decade, but they are only as efficient as the Traffic Manager managing it. GreatTraffic Managers can evolve the stations’s traffic system to meet its ever-changing needs by proactively seeking new processes that allow it to be as effective as possible. As Traffic evolves to ad ops and as our digital platforms become more complex and show higher returns, the industry will come to realize the importance of understanding what Traffic does. But to get there, a new breed of Traffic Managers is needed and they will need some additional technical and interpersonal skills. 

how to help …

To quote Ben Horowitz, co-founder, Andresseen Horowitz, “If you have never done the job, how do you know what you want”? It would do you and your organization well to sit down and spend a day in the Traffic Department. It’s an opportunity to see first hand what really works and identify if and how certain processes can be improved. 

Keep the Traffic Department separate from Sales. Traffic Managers are generally analytical and technical people. Sales people and sales managers  are generally expressive and outgoing. Each personality type is what it has to be. Separating the two will not disturb any synergy that may be in place. If they are required to be at sales meetings, keep that in place. What the separation offers is a safer environment to express concerns or frustrations. 

A quiet place to work. If your Traffic Manager is in a cubicle on the sales floor and there are un-occupied offices (or folks in offices that require little concentration) … there are probably some resentful feelings going on. Think about building the commercial clocks. The traffic system doesn’t just do this. It requires meticulous effort, planning and concentration in making sure all the elements fall exactly where they are suppose to. Otherwise, the exported log won’t match up with the automation system and commercials will drop. Traffic Managers look at a ton of data in one day. One missed number or decimal point can come back in discrepancies. For this alone, it merits being able to close a door to think.

Involve your Traffic Manager in what’s happening. Don’t let them be the last to know things that directly impact their workflow. Involve them. Assign projects or Invite them to attend  task-force meetings. And lastly, nurture the relationship. It’s a hard job. An important one. If nobody showed up at your station tomorrow, I can make a pretty good case that Traffic would be the most impactful on your day and bottom line.  

Coming soon … ‘The New Traffic Managers … who they are and what makes them great’

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