Cumulus CEO: The Company is Improving


    It’s been one year since Mary Berner took over Cumulus, and when radio executives converge on Nashville starting tomorrow, for the Radio Show, they’ll get their first full reading of how things are going at one of radio’s largest companies. Mary Berner is on the cover of our special Radio Show issue and today, in our second excerpt from that cover story interview, Berner answers the big question: How are things going one year later?

    Radio Ink: So it’s been a year. Give us an update on how things are going.
    Berner: A year in, our progress from addressing our key issues head on is encouraging. Take ratings. The ratings focus is pretty straightforward — the better we serve our listeners, the stronger our advertiser value proposition, our brands, our company, and ultimately, our financial performance.

    When I joined last October, we had seen four straight years of ratings declines. What we had been doing was playing whack-a-mole — trying to fix one problem at a time, only to have a bunch more pop up. When you have 454 stations, there is always going to be something going wrong, but our issues weren’t one-offs.

    The relentless downward trajectory made it clear that the problems were systemic. And to fix a systemic problem, you need a systemic solution. So we did that by creating the Office of Programming as a centralized resource and putting the authority back in the local stations where it belonged. The results speak for themselves, and are a real testament to the depth of talent in the local markets and the strength of the Office of Programming as a central resource.

    Through June, our PPM markets in aggregate have now shown eight straight months of year-over-year growth and outperformance vs. the industry. And out of 17 markets, in the month of June, 15 markets showed year-over-year ratings increases in the prime money demo and two markets were flat. Zero declined. For the 70 diary markets — in the spring book — for the first time in five years, our stations have maintained their audience, as opposed to showing declines. I would say on that, so far, so good.

    Our culture was another big challenge. The command-and-control corporate culture created a culture of fear, paralysis, silos, and our employees were both dispirited and, frankly — pissed. It’s hard to overstate how important it is, because it’s the basis from which you can build everything else. Without your engaged employees, it doesn’t stand a chance to turn around. And we were at the very other end of the spectrum. You can call around and I think what you’ll hear is that the change in the culture has been nothing short of seismic.

    And it’s not just squishy stuff. It is a rigorous and systematic implementation of a cultural values framework. That’s the first thing. The second is a really clear framework for how we make decisions, how we behave, how we win. The second part of it is demonstrating — and this is as important — that we walk the talk in terms of valuing our employees. You can’t fake that. It’s not about putting a bunch of
    slogans on a conference room wall.

    It’s about walking the talk. That also doesn’t mean giving everybody everything they want. We are in a turnaround. We don’t have the resources. But it’s about being completely transparent about what the challenges are, about how we’re doing, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what’s expected of people. We’ve done some things that have been positive for our employees, and we’ve said no a lot as well. It’s about demonstrating respect and transparency and appreciation for their efforts.

    I think we’re seeing the benefits seeping into the marketplace. Resumes, for example. When I got here, no one wanted to work here. Now resumes are flying in, which as my HR guy pointed out to me, is a pretty new phenomenon here. It’s positive for recruitment, but it also is positive for employees. What are we seeing? Plummeting turnover.

    As was well publicized, our turnover was very, very high. It’s very expensive. The opportunity cost and the impact on the business is enormous. And we have made huge progress in fixing that. As we reported in our earnings call, for example, for salespeople, our voluntary turnover was down to 24 percent year-to-date, versus 40 percent in the same period last year.

    Read part one of our cover story preview HEREmary-cover-at-300

    To receive your own personal digital subscription for only $99.00 per year (and receive 16 issues) in time to receive this issue with our exclusive interview with Cumulus CEO Mary Berner GO HERE NOW


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