Monday, January 09, 2012

The Trachman Files: Unexpected Parallels

This is the next of an ongoing series which I hope keeps the memory of Jay Trachman alive for today's class of radio personalities.

Just ask anyone who was on air between the mid-1970's, the 80's, 90's and early 2000's. His influence kept "The Art Of Personality Radio" (the title of his many books) alive for decades.

It's more necessary now.

He often seemed to see the future, as in this February, 2005, article, a full three years before the financial collapse that we're still trying to understand and cope with.

A while ago, the Fresno Bee ran an article about "the nine common investment errors. I thought it would be fun to review them, because there are some significant parallels with our own profession_ So, here they are:

1) Unclear investment objectives. You've got to know exactly what you want to achieve, before you can work efficiently to achieve it, they say. And so do I. "Adults, 25 to 54"? Way too general! Imagine if Baskin-Robbins mixed all their flavors together! Better to have one flavor you can trademark - or even eight, if you've got eight stations in your cluster.

2) Failure to adjust to changing markets and conditions. A fast way for investors to lose today's money is with yesterday's concepts. There are still stations marketing themselves as though there were no i-Pods out there, no streaming audio and no satellite radio. Last year's marketing techniques ("Sell the sizzle, not the steak!") are about as reliable today as last year's stock market values.

3) Inconsistent security selection. What they're saying is, one's investments should be based on one's ability to take risks, and on one's financial goals. Or, they could just as well be talking about a programming department that allows DJ's to make their own music formatting rules, playing their own favorites and ignoring others, until the next jock comes on, to play his own favorites... A successful station should have a tangible identity. Not six identities.

4) Over-diversification and under-diversification. To me, it's the same thing as lack of focus. Pick your goal; define your slice of the pie. Educate yourself on what that well-defined slice wants and what it'll take to make them yours, and then go for it.

5) Profits are taken too soon and losses are allowed to run. In broadcasting, as in any business, it means depleting your investment. While I have a deep respect for the fact that radio is a business and the primary purpose of any business is to make money for its owners/investors, I am nevertheless amazed that managers who will spend all morning explaining to a client why buying advertising is an investment, not an expense... can then come back and tell the program director he can't have the money for new music software, or hire a talent above entry level, card-reading, minimum wagers. "It takes money to make money" -- do you believe it or don't you?

6) Lack of a clear understanding of tax laws. I don't want to put too fine a point on this, so let's just pass this time.

7) Ignorance of the time value of money. We all believe "time is money." But how many of us bother to make the logical link -- that the extra time spent on making our performance better will ultimately result in pocket pesos? (If not from this employer, then from your next.) There are no shortcuts to being an effective air talent. Especially for people who set the standard for everyone at the station, like a PD.

8) Unrealistic expectations. If you're a 500-watter licensed to a suburb fifty miles from a megalopolis, you can't expect to compete successfully with the major market stations on their own turf, unless you've got millions to spend. Short of that, you have to stake out your own turf, if you really want to succeed. There's no way you're going to out-music or better music them. In my experience, the only thing that you can win with is what comes between the songs, that you can either do realistically and tangibly better, or exclusively.

9) Participating in today's market with yesterday's investments. Antiquated production and control room facilities which break down often enough to be noticed by listeners?

It's fun drawing parallels from other professions and applying them to radio. They don't always fit perfectly, but they do remind us that in many ways, radio isn't so different from any other "normal" business. Except that most of the time, we have a lot more fun doing it.

Too bad we all weren't taking investment advice from Trachman in 2005.

I hope you are taking his personality advice today.

1 comment:

Chuck Geiger said...

Great read