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Broadcast Management Roles

From the School of Journalism
July 23, 1991
Prof. Charles Warner



Charles Warner

The typical broadcast station general manager, news director, or sales manager is a good manager, but not a great manager, in my opinion. And my opinion is based on dozens of visits I make each year as a consultant, sales and management trainer, and speaker for radio and television stations, state broadcasting associations, and broadcasting and cable networks.

My opinion is also based on my experience at the annual Management Seminar for News Executives conducted at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and sponsored by the Radio Television News Directors Foundation. The feedback we receive each year from news executives who come to the seminar is typified by the remarks of one veteran news director who said:

Participative management...probably is the wave of the future in our business (but)...Maybe you should have a seminar for General Managers, telling them to be a bit more tolerant of what a news director must deal with on a day-to- day basis. Too many GMs look upon a problem in the news department with a simple solution. Fire the ND!

I agree. Too many general managers have a short-term, quick-fix, bottom-line perspective, especially in this highly competitive era of diminishing news audiences and increased competitive pressures for higher newscast shares on ever thinner budgets. The solution to the competitive problem lies not in better technology, but in better management both at the station, sales, and news department level.

Better management starts with dealing with people before dealing with budgets and bottom lines. It means using a participative management style rather than the typical authoritarian management style. It means treating people with kindness and respect, and, most of all, trusting them. The idea of trusting associates (I like the term "associates," it is non-hierarchical) to do their best and treating them courteously and with respect for their basic human dignity is a concept that is getting some traffic lately.

In the July-August 1989 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the writer many experts refer to as "the father of modern management," Peter Drucker, wrote an article titled "What Businesses Can Learn From Nonprofits." Drucker writes that some of the best managed organizations in the country are nonprofit ones: the Salvation Army, churches, and the Girl Scouts. He makes the point that nonprofit organizations have to achieve measurable results by spending a minimum amount of money and getting a maximum amount of effort from unpaid workers--from volunteers.

If you are a news director or sales manager, think about how you would have to manage your current associates if they were volunteers. That you had to manage them like they could leave any time they wanted to, like they were only working for you because they loved the work, like they are working only because enjoy working for you, and like the main reason they work at all is because they want to work for an organization that makes them feel like a winner and that is accomplishing something important.

Ask yourselves the following questions:

1. How many of the people that work for me now would work for me if I were running an after-hour volunteer organization? (You had better win over these potential defectors or they will not put out any extra effort for you).

2. If all of the people who work for me were volunteers, would I treat them differently?

3. In what ways would I treat them differently?

This list is of critical importance, because it becomes your blueprint for changing your managerial behavior.

For many years the broadcasting business was glamorous, highly paid, and hard to break into. It is still difficult to land a job, especially in most newsrooms, but the business does not offer the same glitzy magic or the relatively high wages it once did, except for a handful of superstar anchorpeople and network and large-market reporters and salespeople. So what is the answer for managers who have to fill their units with motivated journalists and salespeople? If you cannot pay them more, get them promoted more quickly, or make them feel like they are working in a go-go, cutting-edge industry, then you had better make your people feel as though you are committed to their welfare and success.

The critical notion is commitment. If you communicate to people that you and your company are committed primarily to this year's bottom line, then you will get exactly the same commitment in return: people who are committed to their own bottom line, their paycheck. On the other hand, if you communicate to your associates that you care about their welfare, their self-esteem, and about doing something important in the world, then they are apt to respond with a commitment to you and to your department's goals.

A mid-March, 1990, issue of BusinessWeek featured a cover story titled "Profiting From Nonprofits." The article listed four lessons that companies could learn from successful nonprofits:

1. Smash the hierarchy. Convince associates that their jobs are as vital as the chief executive's.
2. Use the directors. Set up board committees to oversee major lines of business and help plot strategy (news directors can set up strategy boards inside and outside a station to brainstorm on ideas for kaizen, or continuous improvement).
3. Tap the grass roots. Encourage associates to try new ideas and to clear the way for ideas and change to move up in the organization (participative management).
4. Create a sense of mission. Clearly articulate a vision of higher purpose so every decision flows from the organization's mission.
5. Overhaul incentives. Have associates set yearly goals and reward them for progress in reaching each objective (news directors can help reporters set knowledge, story, or beat objectives, sales managers can help salespeople set activity and learning goals).

Frances Hesselbein, the highly successful executive who turned around the Girl Scouts, was quoted in the article as saying, "If you're the Girl Scouts, IBM, or AT&T, you have to manage for a mission."

Does your company, station, or department have a mission statement? Do your people know what you stand for? If not, write a mission statement. You cannot manage for a mission if you do not have one.

The May, 30, 1994, issue of Fortune reports on a survey conducted by Bain & Co., a consulting firm, that indicates that the most popular management tool are mission statements, with a 94% usage. If this many companies have mission statements, then there must be something to them.

Once you have a mission statement that communicates to people a sense that they are doing something manifestly important (like protecting our democratic way of life or improving the community's quality of life), then you can manage for the mission, earn their trust, respect, and cooperation. When your associates buy into the mission, they are apt to work as hard and with as much commitment for you as they do for their PTAs, their churches, or for their sons' and daughters' athletic teams.

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