Gridlocked

Traffic Managers put in serious tenure with companies. On average, about eight years. The average is declining though, due to consolidation, down-sizing departments, hubbing and burn out from being over-worked. Some are content with a lifelong career in the Traffic Department. Others are seeking personal growth and advancement, but have found it difficult to get to that next level. Often times, you have only two choices: being a traffic coordinator or a traffic manager. Your career path may include becoming head of the traffic department or director of operations, but many in traffic  feel like they have no way to advance. If you’re good at what you do, it’s in the company’s best interest to keep you in your cozy little niche. After years of doing Traffic, you may find that you have painted yourself in a corner. Not only in the company or industry you work for, but other industries as well. Traffic So how do you develop the expertise and skills to be known as the go-to gal or guy for TrafficTraffic without getting so tightly defined? Is it possible to fly the pigeonholing coop?

Be Mindful… 

Spend some time observing and recognizing the boundaries that already surround you and the perception of you. Often, It’s easier for your manager to stay with what is easy and safe rather then letting you move up. You have to make it more compelling for the company to move you than to leave you parked right where you are. How do you do that?

Think process … not experience.

Focus on transferable skills. If you are good at Traffic, then you are good at process.  You love the rhythm and discipline of ordering your world in a certain way.  And you love looking for ways to improve every little thing you do, gaining every ounce of efficiency along the way.  These are valuable skills that not a lot of people posses. Look around you. How might these traits serve your company in other ways? If you are less order and process driven and more social, perhaps you have a future in sales or marketing. If you just hate what you do in general, then it’s time to regroup and go do something else completely. 

Yet, if you like scheduling ads, but are just unhappy with your situation, there are options. Scheduling ads is a process. Though the tools may be a little different from industry to industry, the basic underlying process in ad execution is the same. If you are in radio, you will find new challenges and possibly a higher salary in TV. Online radio is also a growing possibility. Or think about the internet and all the ads that are circulated in a day. People are scheduling all those online ads using the same process you use, just with different tools. 

Seek an edge…

Seek out new skills and responsibilities irrespective of immediate reward and recognition. Digital is a great example and starting point. If you are not currently involved in the trafficking of digital assets for your company …. volunteer. Two reasons.

First, it’s the direction we are heading. Traditional media is slow to react, but if you don’t think online and mobile advertising is going to be a very large part of what you do in a few years, you are in for a surprise. Do you know the very basics? Do you know the difference between CPM, CPC and CPA? Do you have knowledge of online ad serving platforms? Like with anything, if you don’t keep up and seek an edge, the learning curve will be steep or you will just be left behind.

Second, it will broaden your skills and opportunity for growth. Perhaps you do want to make that jump to online ad operations. Higher salaries. On average, $10,000 higher per year. More career paths. You may have to start as a junior ad trafficker, moving to senior ad trafficker to yield (inventory) analyst on up to director of ad operations. The jump won’t be easy though. The process has its similarities, but the culture, technology growth and language are very different. You need to begin … today …. to educate yourself. 

Lastly, and most importantly … you have to speak up. Nobody knows how smart you are unless you show them. Seize opportunities to offer your valuable input. You do the job every day. You are the expert. Seize opportunities to let people know what your dreams and ambitions are. You can’t become apathetic about your situation if you don’t express or ask for what you want. You may have to take a slower path. You may have to work twice as hard to get there. But it might be possible. You never know, you might just have a manager that has a vested interest in your future. 

a few interesting stats…

Average salary for traditional media traffic = $43,000

Traditional media (traffic) job satisfaction = 63% (that’s a failing grade)

Average salary for online ad trafficker = $55,000 

Online job satisfaction – unknown at the time, but I will find it!

 

 

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Needed now: The broadcast traffic system of tomorrow … end-to-end ad execution

 To stay competitive in the new market place, you must build (or partner with) a Traffic team that is forward-thinking and can drive innovation in the Traffic Department. You need Change Agents that can identify inefficiencies and seek out solutions.

One such inefficiency is multiple operating systems.

Advertisers are diving into digital buying. eMarketer expects US online advertising spending to reach $31.3 billion this year, a dramatic 20.2% increase over 2010 spending. By 2015, nearly $50 billion will be spent on online ads in the US.

This trend makes the job of a Traffic Manager increasingly more complex. There are simply more things to traffic; terrestrial advertising, streaming advertising, banner ads, mobile and email campaigns. Accurately scheduling all of these requires focus and attention to detail, so it makes sense that the Traffic Department carries out the processes. However, the fragmentation of systems is inefficient and heightens the risk of campaigns being run incorrectly.

Right now, to schedule all the assets for a radio station, one must log into 5 (or more) different operating systems. There’s your traffic system for terrestrial advertising. Then another ad server for banner campaigns. One for streaming campaigns. On and on. Not to mention digital inventory management, which for most is still being done in excel spreadsheets. It’s enough to drive Traffic Managers crazy.

The major broadcast management software companies have made great advancements in the terrestrial side of traffic management, continuity and billing. The digital side, however, is lacking. There is a real opportunity for cross-platform innovation and the company that can get everything on one dashboard will have a gold mine on their hands.

The dashboard for the broadcast traffic system of tomorrow should look like this.

It should offer end-to-end ad execution for all terrestrial and digital assets. In addition to it’s already built terrestrial functions, it should offer easy to use functionality for creating banner, streaming, mobile and email campaigns.

The broadcast traffic system of tomorrow should offer easy to understand real-time inventory forecasting for each platform. A digital inventory model based on historical ad server reports. Offer real-time campaign performance and content integration. And a metric’s system that breaks down and puts everything on one page.

The broadcast traffic system of tomorrow should offer a “project management” collaboration feature which can be used to upload, circulate and archive copy instructions, audio files, banner ads, video and other digital files.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as well as a Listener Relationship Management (LRM) feature for email campaigns should also be built in.

The broadcast traffic system of tomorrow should offer the packaging, selling, trafficking, managing, optimizing and billing of ads for all platforms. A turnkey solution to radio offerings in the hands of audiences … no matter where they are. It should be compatible with a few selected ad servers for each category. In other words, don’t strive for integrating with every system out there because the landscape is too vast. Pick one or two good banner ad servers. One or two good streaming content servers. One or two good mobile campaign companies. Or better yet, build your own.

When companies get their operating environment stabilized and running optimally, they can begin to look beyond today’s urgencies and towards the innovations of tomorrow. Achieving all this will be hard work. You need people willing to roll up their sleeves and go to bat for you. To push software companies to innovate faster. To campaign on your behalf for tools that will let you operate more efficiently tomorrow.

Closing the gap on discrepancies

Successful campaign management is essential to generating current and future revenue. In radio and tv, we sell time. Discrepancies are not only lost time, but lost revenue as well. While makegoods are convenient in making-up some lost revenue, more time is lost in doing so. Agencies often require 2 for 1 (sometimes even 3 to 1) on makegood spots.  So that’s twice as much time wasted and unable to be sold. There is also wasted time in researching and resolving the problems. Not to mention, stress for account executives and their relationships with clients.

Can discrepancies be eliminated all together? Probably not. But by establishing metrics, quality assurances, best practices and transparency, you should be able to prevent major discrepancies from occurring and close the gap on the unavoidable ones.

Metrics and goals 

Metrics and goals are not the same. The goal is the target number. The metric is a measurement of the activities and performance. For 10 years, my given goal was to be 99.5% discrepancy free. By tracking and measuring (metric) discrepancies, we were able to find that my actual number was 99.7% discrepancy free. In addition, the metrics gave us insight as to why discrepancies had occurred.

You must establish metrics and then actually measure them. If your not hitting your goal, then there is a problem and the metrics will let you know where the troubled point(s) are. What gets measured IS what gets done.

Process review

While advancements in broadcast management software have reduced some of the commonly caused discrepancies, human error will most likely always play a role in what we do as Traffic Managers. Preventative measures is key. Review and break-down each process in your workflow. There must be an action plan for every risk. If a times separation report is not being examined every time a log is finalized, the risk of not meeting client separation expectations is run. And that’s a discrepancy. Are you doing everything possible to ensure that nothing will miss? Where exactly are the discrepancies coming from?  What causes them? What’s accurate and how can accuracy be improved in each step along the way?

By reviewing process, you will be able to build a process map … and that will provide the implementation of Quality Assurances.

Best practices

You are only fulfilling Best Practices if you unwaveringly follow Quality Assurances. Best Practices provides clear descriptions of a set of processes, procedures, and guidelines. Following Best Practices makes the process repeatable and prevents mistakes from recurring.

Transparency 

Accountability and metrics should both be transparent. It’s the only way to get to the bottom of and find solutions for problems.

Transparency initiates accountability. Accountability is not necessarily blame. It is however, a diligent tool in identifying and calling to action for problems. When the right mix of personnel are asked two questions for every missed spot, great things happen. Why did it happen? And how do we prevent it from happening again?

Whenever possible, we develop meaningful, transparent metrics so that we and others may accurately gauge and guide our progress. Transparent metrics define & measure success. They provide clear pathways to improvement. Numbers and data don’t lie. Without it, there is a disconnect between performance measures and compensation and rewards.

Here’s an idea …

When an organization sets their goal at 98% or 99% or 99.5% discrepancy free, then what they are really saying is, we understand that human error happens and we are comfortable with losing that much money. 

The work of a Traffic Manager is stressful, never ending and mind numbing. Most often, they are on the low end of the pay scale and are not eligible for commission. Yet, they are responsible for the bottom line. To achieve all the above, it takes a lot of care and nurturing. Mostly, it takes engaged employees. 

So, if the station bills on average $7 Million dollars a year and the goal is 99%, that’s $70,000 that can be closed in on.

Wouldn’t all parties benefit by offering bonus incentives to close the gap on discrepancies?

.1% of 7 000 000 = 7000    ($1,000 bonus) (station recoups $6,000)

.5% of 7 000 000 = 35,000 ($5,000 bonus) (station recoups $30,000)

1% of 7 000 000 = 70,000 ($10,000 bonus) (station recoups $60,000)

Can your Traffic Department evolve?

“We may be a long way from pre-recession over-the-air revenue numbers, but broadcasters are supplementing those revenues by taking steps to change the landscape by attracting advertisers through online and mobile and also by extending their signals to attract new listeners. “BIA/Kelsey

That comment is much more compelling than just posting forecasted numbers that will be revised multiple times before the date is reached. One thing is clear … digital is growing and will continue to grow. That’s good news. Now, how long before revenue starts shifting?

Who is scheduling your online advertising? Who will schedule mobile advertising? Seems every radio station is operating in a different way. Some have web producers doing it. Some have Traffic in charge. Some have other technical or administrative employees scheduling digital. This lack of structure might work temporarily, but won’t hold up to scaling, workflow efficiency, quality assurance and just keeping up. Here’s the thing. If you go to the Pandora website, the way the ads blanket the screen and interact with the audio ads is a very beautiful thing in itself. How are you going to compete with that? Do your Traffic Managers have the skills to do that? If not, how are you going to provide the technical knowledge needed in order to make sure the creative on your website(s) is not only creative and beautiful, but works properly?

There are a lot of differences in Traffic related job postings between traditional radio and internet radio.

Titles

Traffic Managers vs Online Ad Trafficker.

Terminology

Traditional radio is still using terms like data entry, print and  “Typing 50 wpm”. Really?

Internet radio is using terms like campaigns, metrics, html, flash and rich media.

Tools

This is where is gets complicated and really, this topic deserves its own blog entry. Let’s just say, the job of a Traffic Manager is difficult enough in itself. Adding digital to the mix makes it even more so. One moment, you are knees deep, maximizing revenue in Marketron … only to have to stop-down, jump on DoubleClick and traffic a digital campaign. Simply put, it’s innificient and risky to be jumping back and forth between multiple operating systems.

Why put all this on one or even a few internal resources at a rising and difficult-to-control cost, when it’s far easier and more effective to outsource at a fraction of this cost?

Your online radio competitors are leveraging global talent. So can you. They are able to utilize a team of people focused only on Traffic. So can you. They reap the rewards of working with a team that invests 10% towards training. So can you. They are thriving. And so can you.

Our goal is to provide you service in such a way that your company thinks of our people as their people.

ps. Why are Traffic Departments still printing paper logs and reports? Know how much money and paper can be saved? Stay tuned!

Sustainability in Traffic

Being green and the impact on the environment is getting a lot of attention. How environmentally friendly are your processes? Are they configured to have the minimum footprint? Are your processes designed to measure this?

By taking your commercial log paperless, you save over $100.00 per year per station. And there are benefits beyond cost savings. Time saved printing. Time saved walking the paper log to the air studio. Most importantly, in one email, a pdf version of the log can be emailed to each jock and archived. One thing is for sure, “the log is missing” issue will never happen again.

Continuity Departments use an enormous amount of paper. From email instructions to multiple page agency instructions to scripts to endless revisions, it’s safe to say, Continuity can easily burn though 6 boxes of paper ($300.00) per year. Not to mention, all this paper then has to be manually filed. By using an online paperless system, the entire process can be streamlined between Sales, Continuity and Production. Cost savings. Hours of labor saved in filing.

Many Traffic systems now offer paperless billing options. If not, there are work-arounds. Not only are you saving in paper costs, which might be around $200.00 per year, there is additional savings in postage. If you send out 100 invoices a month, that’s about $500.00 per year.

If Traffic is also doing Digital, this too can rely on heavy paper usage. Making the process paperless will save the department about $200.00 per year. Easier to archive and again, hours of labor saved filing it all.

So that’s approximately $1,300.00 (about the same amount as a 3% raise for a Traffic Manager) that can be saved by going paperless in the Traffic Department. But really, it’s about so much more. It’s a better archiving system. It’s increased productivity. And the real magic in centrally stored digital informations is that once it’s online, it can be accessed and processed from almost anywhere.

You will find by offering incentives (cash/prizes), employees will find and create new ways of working that not only benefit the company, but the employees as well.

Checking for competitive

When checking for competitive code separation is not built into your process, bad things happen. If either of the clients happened to have been listening at the time, most likely the radio station was asked not only for a credit on the spot, but also additional make-good spots. Lost revenue. Lost inventory.

Discrepancies will always occur, but with the right training and when processes are standardized, they can be considerably lowered.

Beyond pure cost containment

More and more radio companies are now moving towards centralizing operations or hubbing. This is a good first step, one that radio needs, but not exactly in the right direction. Hubbing reduces costs and builds efficiency, but also reduces the quality of services, responsiveness, innovation and puts long term goals at risk. It’s is a short term solution and doing so cuts the value of that department.

Here’s why. The only way it works is to reduce the number of employees. Company XYZ has 4 stations in location A and 5 stations in location B. For all 9 stations, they have 6 Traffic Managers. So they consolidate to one location and reduce the staff to 4 Traffic Managers. The problem is, in any company’s push to maximize efficiency by hubbing, staffs may be streamlined too far, at the same time stacking more responsibilities on those who are still around. Traffic Departments are becoming stretched to the point where specific needs are ignored, service is a burden, and long-term growth strategies imperiled.

Additionally, employees who are overworked suffer from anxiety, they make mistakes, they harbor angry feelings about their employer, and resent coworkers who don’t pull their share of the load. All unhealthy and counter-productive. Over-worked and under-paid employees will result in higher turnover, less competent workers and more frequent mistakes. A daily struggle just to get the commercial logs done. Forget about due-diligence, good account executive support, loyalty or any hope of innovation.

Hubbing proves that companies are comfortable with Traffic being done outside the station, but that they want their own company to do it. Why? Is internalization a source of competitive advantage? No. Is trafficking a skill your company does better than anybody else? No. Are you releasing any of the company’s proprietary skills/information by outsourcing Traffic? No.

Companies should be very reluctant to spend any money or time patching up old and outdated infrastructure that doesn’t provide value to the organization anymore. Mediocrity is easy. Hubbing is more comfortable, but it’s also a mediocre way of operating. Just getting by is not going to cut it anymore in our industry. Radio can achieve the same cost reductions while actually strengthening their positions for future success and higher performance by rethinking old models and habits.

Radio must focus on growth, not back-office operations. Focus on providing better content than your competitor. Focus on employing better sales people or better talent. Focus on investing and research in digital technology. Focus on your core. And nurture that core.

Why not embrace new ideas and ways of thinking that extend beyond pure cost containment? Why not build new capabilities that not only make operations more effective and innovative, but deliver higher performance as well?

What if you could partner with a company that offers deep domain knowledge in services that are core to your business … but not your core business? A company that can provide additional savings AND additional employees. A company that emphasis on formal process and quantitative performance measures? A company that can dedicate 10% of their budget to the training and follow-up of employees? A company that becomes an extension of your team and is willing to customize your needs?

This is, for forward thinking companies, an opportunity to transform the management of non-core processes and become more progressive, more collaborative and more flexible. The opportunity to reclaim that larger workforce; one that is prepared to drive standardization, increase productivity, mitigate risk, and allows you to gain a competitive edge.

If you think beyond pure cost containment, I guarantee some innovation will come out of it.

Traffic … it’s our core.