While radio often assumes that its mega companies will be the most innovative, Saga Communications has had an interesting several weeks when it comes to stepping out and trying new things.
First, it was the announcement that its stations’ streams would no longer have ad insertions, instead opting to simply simulcast their broadcast signals on their streaming platforms. That little announcement kept Saga’s Warren Lada very busy on the phone with the trades as well other broadcasters, explaining the company’s logic and position.
And earlier this week, Saga’s programming guru, Steve Goldstein, announced that all its company Program Directors would now be known as Brand Managers.
The fact this seemingly symbolic move has garnered so much trade press speaks volumes about radio’s slowly evolving mindset. While Steve and Saga deserve much credit for making an important statement, we shouldn’t be surprised if media mavens outside of radio raise an eyebrow or two. And there are too many people “inside radio” who are probably wondering “What’s the big deal?”
Why has it taken so long for radio companies to acknowledge that “the product” doesn’t just emanate from a transmitter and tower? Why has it taken so long for broadcasters to admit that social, mobile, and other digital platforms are all integral parts of their station brands?
Steve’s big impetus for the Brand Manager title was admitting that many of Saga’s PDs were still operating in a “business as usual” environment. And the thinking that Kodak waited way too long to admit that business was, in fact, not fine.
But the other issue was the need for (former) Saga PDs to “take ownership of the platforms. What’s on the website, how the stream sounds, becoming better at Facebook.”
These are major points that should once again have other broadcasters talking about this latest Saga move. They are also frequent topics in this blog and across our company activities as well.
But while it’s great to talk about change, the folks on the frontline are the ones faced with making it happen. When I asked Steve how his programmers were taking the news, he told me it’s been “unreal. (There have been) so many comments with them grateful that changes in their world are being acknowledged.”
All programmers are not created equal – as we know – and some of Saga’s new Brand Managers may experience some growing pains while others will quickly adapt to this new way of thinking.
But make no mistake about it – this is a major move for the radio industry and not just because a title change that will necessitate lots of new business cards being produced. At so many operations, cutbacks have necessitated even greater responsibility for those “old” PDs. Many are doing multiple jobs before the added duties that come with brand supervision, maintenance, and growth.
In fact, Saga has just done the easy part. Moving forward, the need to train existing managers should be a major priority. And how will these newly minted Brand Managers rethink the way they recruit and hire air personalities and other members of the team? Will the company budget for additional staff? Will these Brand Managers be incentivized for their digital efforts? Will CEOs start sending these Brand Managers to conventions and conferences – even outside of radio – to help provide them with the additional training and exposure needed to adequately oversee a more complex brand?
A titular change is one thing – a change in mindset in radio is another. This move has been long overdue as it relates to redefining what it takes to be a content creator and producer in a media world where the boundary lines are getting cloudier by the day.
Kudos to Steve and the Saga team for making it official and taking that important first step. Other companies will quickly follow.
But stepping up with training, resources, and support are part of the bargain, too.