From AE To Market Manager. Here’s How It’s Done!

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Meet one of Radio’s Best Managers. Kristin Okesson is the Market Manager for Jeff Warshaw’s Connoisseur Media in Connecticut. She’s been in radio since she was 16 years old. Her first job was for radio station WZBG where she was the producer of the morning show. It was a startup station owned by Dick Ebersol and Susan Saint James in Litchfield, CT.

Okesson’s first fulltime job was as an AE in 1997, and her first management job was as the Sales Manager for WEBE/WICC in 2000. For the past 9 years she’s been running the cluster in Connecticut. Today that cluster has 93 fulltime and part-time employees. In 2016, she was chosen as one of Radio Ink’s Best Managers. Here’s our extended interview with Kristen where we learn exactly why she’s one of the best.

Radio Ink: How important is it that corporate allows you to make decisions locally?
Okesson: There has to be a balance between the corporate office and local management. A relationship between a corporate team and a local manager that is built on trust and respect, and is collaborative in nature is much more productive than when communication is limited and decisions are made from one central location. In my current position, I have always benefited from leadership that trusted my gut, respected my analysis, and encouraged but challenged me. I am very fortunate in that the Connoisseur corporate office resides in my local market, so collaboration is a big part of how we operate. I often pick up the phone and say “what do you think about this or that…?” and alternatively the same is done from them to me. There is an understanding that we can all benefit from shared experiences and there is never a feeling that I am being managed under a “gotcha” mentality — which I have worked under and generates an incredible amount of unnecessary unease. To that end, I think it’s important for corporate leadership to let General Managers run their operation when it comes to the day-to-day business; when a GM has to stop to get an approval on something simple, it is hard to generate any momentum.   Smart business leaders all agree, if you hire competent people you must support them, but let them do their job. I believe in my own management of people that it’s important to never micromanage, but to be sure you don’t become out of touch. I try and keep in touch, with just the right touch, which is a challenge, but I believe is the right approach locally and from any leadership team managing from afar.

Radio Ink: How are you attracting new young talent?
Okesson: My mantra has always been to bring the fun back to radio, and to highlight the amazing work we do in a way that the younger generation can relate to and get excited about. Whether that’s through social media, podcasting, traditional radio, meetups at local bars, video, or events — doing good and having fun while doing it is what has made this medium what it is today. We have worked hard to recruit and grow some incredibly bright people and I feel very fortunate that we have tremendous results in this arena. The challenge now is in encouraging more of the younger generation to consider a career in radio, whether that’s in sales or content curation. Most important in attracting a younger generation is that we need to dismiss the stereotype that millennials are entitled, lazy, and not willing to roll up their sleeves and work. We need to understand this generation, and embrace what it is that makes them a great fit: Millennials are results oriented, value unity and collaboration, are multi-taskers, they are confident, and subscribe to “If you believe you can achieve it, you probably can,” and they are entrepreneurial startup kids. They are civic-oriented and feel obligated to do their part to the make the world a greater place. Millennials expect companies to show their commitment to corporate responsibility. Isn’t this what radio was built on? Radio really is a great fit for this generation and we embody a lot of what they feel passionate about. Much of what we do is “startup “ in nature, whether that’s a website we are launching, a new station, an event, or new bit on a morning show. In order for us to evolve and grow and remain relevant to this generation, we need the confidence and team spirit that Millennials offer. The work we do in the community, the results we deliver, the ever-changing landscape in how we create content, and the fun that we have in doing what we do, makes radio a natural fit for the younger generation.

Radio Ink: Are you able to balance work and life?
Okesson: I focus on this a lot, both for myself and my staff because my career is a big part of my life, and having two active children makes it difficult to strike a healthy balance. I put a big emphasis on making families, especially children, feel a part of our “radio family” whether that’s through family events, picnics, kids days at the station, or in simply encouraging staffers to feel comfortable involving their family in what we do. I’m a mom, so it’s important that the staff sees that I understand what juggling a lot of balls really means. It’s not unusual to see my two kids playing in our game room while mom is trying to wrap up her day. I think if the team sees me trying to strike that balance, they will feel comfortable trying to do so themselves. It’s integral to make time for both and achieve that balance, and I try my best to allow the staff to do so as best as I can. Unfortunately though, we live in a 24/7 world and radio is a 24/7 business. Communication between my key leadership team, regardless of the time/day, is a part of the job — so this work/life challenge is a real issue when running radio stations. Taking time out of the work day to rejuvenate can and should be done. I think exercising even just a little bit is a nice way to unplug and I encourage my team to do that, even if it means leaving at 2 p.m. to head to the gym or go for a run. I also try and encourage the staff, and remind myself, that letting go of perfectionism leaves more time to relax and recharge, and in the end makes us all more productive in work and in life.

Radio Ink: Tell us what you were most proud about over the past year?
Okesson: I am super proud that one of our stations was a finalist for a Crystal Award, and that one of our morning shows was also a Marconi finalist. When I reflect back on 2016, I will think of a morning show that we built from scratch (literally hired the host from Craigslist and taught her radio), win in most every demo against a heritage station in an ultra-competitive market where there are a lot of dollars at stake. I will also reflect on simple moments like a party at one of our more senior staffers where I looked around and saw almost every generation represented and having the greatest times together. The night was filled with genuine respect for one another, laughter, and a true appreciation for what we all do together as a team. And of course, sales is where I came from, so when a market it down 2% and I’m up 20% with a station we put on the air from scratch, well that’s probably my biggest accomplishment in 2016.

Radio Ink: What is it going to take to get radio revenue growing at a decent pace every year moving forward?
Okesson: To grow, we must invest in top-notch sales executives and move beyond an antiquated commission-only compensation structure. We must invest in training our team so that we are adapting to changing times. We need to attend more than just industry conferences but explore podcasting, understand new digital sales offerings, and as leaders we have to become proficient at motivating a workforce that is multi-generational and who all bring many different perspectives to a business that is ever changing. To grow, we have to take more risks — risks on people, ideas, and stop running our business the way we always have. Most radio stations are filled with creative, passionate, focused, interesting, and super-talented employees — we need to help them become multi-tooled and develop more opportunities for all of us to succeed. Unrelated to the above, as an industry we must tell our story over and over to the people that matter, because all too often we are relying on a group of large-spending advertisers that account for a significant percentage of our overall revenue. When one or two of these accounts fall off, our business suffers tremendously. We have to do a better job of controlling our own destiny.

Kristin Okesson can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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