The Importance Of (Not) Being Average

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Mar 7, 2005 by Sean Luce

Every year at the Radio Advertising Bureau's annual management conference, the Luce Performance Group awards the top performers in the group of radio stations we consult. One of these awards, which recognizes the "executive of the year," is named the Sitting Bull Award in honor of the great Sioux Indian Chief. A great visionary, Sitting Bull saw the Battle of the Little Big Horn in his mind's eye, and predicted its ultimate and timely result before its actual occurrence. The Sitting Bull Award this year was presented to John verstandig, owner of Verstandig Broadcasting and operator of nine stations in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. John's acceptance speech harkens back to what it was like to work in an industry in which people didn't have the choice of paying for what they were receiving for free:

"Clear Channel, Infinity, even Cumulus and Citadel are no longer local radio companies; they are the national radio industry. By that I mean that their holdings are so vast that their sales no longer vary from the national average. 
"Have you looked lately at their sales results? There is no spectacular sales growth above the national average. There is no spectacular sales shrinkage that varies from the national average. The reality is that their sales mirror the national average. They are too big to be anything but average. For them, the days of creative geniuses are gone. There is no room left for the Randy Michaels of the world in hallways of American corporate radio."Creative genius" is a phrase now saved for accountants who can cut costs most efficiently.
"In my life I have always dreaded the day when I would be average. The thought that average is acceptable is anathema to me - and it should be to you.

"The only way Clear Channel and its brethren can possibly exceed average growth in net income today is to cut costs. Their heroes of tomorrow are accountants who can discover a way to cut commissions by a point or use the same program on 200 stations instead of 50 stations to lower programming costs once again. It is the homogenization of radio at its extreme.

"What a great world in which we live. Our main competition can only succeed by cutting costs as they bow to The Great God known as Wall Street. Seems like a false idol to me: the return of Baal. But The Great God Wall Street demands that the giants increase profits, and since they cannot make great strides in sales, they bow to the false idol and keep cutting costs.

 "It is indeed the golden age of radio entrepreneurialism again - and we are the favorites. We can be the Randy Michaels and Kevin Sweenys of today if we dare to be!

 "It is the day of guerilla warfare again - and we are the guerillas in sales and programming. The large, faceless armies of Big Brother cannot afford the quality of local talent or management to fight us on our own battlefields. The large armies of Big Brother cannot find enough quality field commanders to wage the war. The large armies of Big Brother cannot give the field commanders they have the authority to truly act on their own - and that is a great advantage to us.

"The game has come to us - if we are ready to wage it. The game is not ours for the taking, but it is only ours for the winning.

"If there is one person who does not own a copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu, who has not read Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson, who has not studied the successes of Randy Michaels, who cannot tell me not just your average unit rate but your total average rate for all units every day and every week and who does not know who Kevin Sweeney was and has read his writings on sales, then you are not waging the war to win. You are simply trying to survive, and the armies of Big Brother will soon run you over as street kill despite their inherent limitations. "If you have not asked yourself every day, "What can I do to make it work in the long run and not be worried about just today's result?" and "What can I do to attack today instead of defend?" then you are not waging the war to win. And the armies of Big Brother will soon run you over like street kill despite their limitations.

"Get up and celebrate. The times have never been better if you take the proverbial bull by the horns and remember to play the game on your terms, not theirs. Be proactive, not reactive. It isn't easy - but what fun would it be if it was?"

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