“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Darwin
Several articles have popped up lately focusing on radio operating as a startup. One worth noting is Fred Jacob’s article ‘In Praise of Radio’. Good ideas and philosophies can be found in his as well as other articles on the subject. The general take-way is if you are trying to disrupt the status quo and beat competitors that are bigger and better funded, you are not going to get there by playing their game or even the same game. You will need to think differently. You will need to operate differently. Operating at status quo when you’re at a disadvantage is a sure- fire way to lose. Talking differently however, opens new markets.
Yet, we see very little of this happening in our industry. Perhaps the hang-up is that broadcasters read about ideas like this, but are overwhelmed with how to get there. Balancing advantage, risk, and performance, is critical. In the beginning, its not about coming up with some great new innovation. It’s not about picking apart your product. It is about creating the pathway to get to a place where you can begin to create innovation and better products. Hiring and running at a status quo level will only bring about status quo results. Though I am passionate about Traffic and Traffic Departments, I feel that it is the very department, along with AR and HR that is the pathway to change.
Consider how many new broadcasting companies or stations pop up everyday. Already this year, more than 53 new or modified call signs in the US alone have been submitted with the FCC. Each time presenting the possibility of incorporating a startup mentality. Unfortunately, the trend is to build traditionally. Hire the same people with the same titles doing the same work, thus leaving yourself no competitive advantage.
What is your core? Isn’t it providing a good product and selling it well? That’s it. But radio continues to build little factories involving data entry, human resource, payroll, accounting and so on. Though these tasks are extremely important, they are not core. How your organization does Traffic doesn’t give you a competitive advantage. Instead of taking on all these tasks and increasing overhead, startup radio would concentrate on core and find solutions for the rest.
Process is sometimes put in place because one person did one thing once, sometimes literally years ago. Leaders should question process at every turn. Radio as a startup would consider whether tasks could be outsourced to consultants, outsourcing firms or free-lancers before hiring someone on staff. The value of outsourcing is to bring scale, speed and cost efficiency without the challenges of taking on full time employees, particularly technical staff. If a job could be written down it would go. Sales can’t be written down. It’s talent. What the airstaff does can’t be written down. Again it’s talent. Traffic, Accounting and HR can be written down.
By seeking out a consultant or outsourcing firm, cost reduction will be your biggest gain in the beginning, but many benefits beyond cost savings can be found including: staffing redundancy, assurance of best practices and continuity in procedures. Additionally, great things can happen when the right small group of people are focusing on one thing. Even a shot at innovation in the Traffic Department. While not as cost efficient, larger companies are achieving similar benefits, depending on location, by hubbing operations.
Because of consolidation, there are approximately 30% less Traffic Managers in the Radio Industry today compared to 5 years ago. The numbers are probably similar in HR and Accounting Departments across the country. Some have moved on to other industries. Some still unemployed. There are brilliantly talented Traffic Managers out there that would jump at the opportunity to stay home and provide Traffic Services in exchange for being able to be a stay at home mom. Or dad. Radio company pays less in salary, services stay the same.
Startups start with understanding that change is the only constant. To change what you are doing, you must first change within. More importantly, a top-down approach has to be in place. It starts with the CEO. The GM. The Program Director. These people have to be passionate about change by encouraging and supporting new ideas. They have to re-evaluate where they spend their money and ensure that time and budget is being spent on product innovation, service and training. Do this and you get to a place where creating better products and being more innovative becomes easier.
People want to build creatively together and not just be told what creative decisions have been made, now go do it. They want to move fast with impactful results. By running lean, you can hire better talent and pay them better. Pay them better – they’ll work harder for you.