Cumulus Regional Vice President Donna Baker is known in the industry as a great manager and leader who’s specialized in successful turnarounds during her 25-plus career in Radio. Her peers tell Radio Ink she has great instincts in all parts of the business and she’s wonderful to work for. “She responsive, supportive, instructive and ready to help at any time.” In her current role as RVP of Cumulus Midwest, she oversees Minneapolis, Kansas City and Des Moines. Baker is also one of Radio Ink’s Best Managers for 2016 and she’s featured in the issue of the magazine that is out now. Here’s our extended interview with one of radio’s best managers.
Radio Ink: How important is a degree of local autonomy in making a station successful today, both in ratings and revenue?
Donna Baker: Extremely important, however one point of difference: local collaboration vs. local autonomy. Talented local sales and programming leaders have unique perspective from our core customers: local listeners and local advertisers. Consistent collaboration with markets combined with expert resources available through our leadership teams allows us to continually refine the best local strategy and make adjustments to best compete and win on both ratings and revenue fronts.
Radio Ink: How do you attract millennials to radio?
Donna Baker: The industry has lot of work to do here. Input and visibility from emerging industry leaders who are in that Millennial group is key to countering perception issues. We are expanding student-education programs in partnership with state associations, as one example. As we have discussed industry-wide for years, we simply haven’t told our story very well in a way that impacts career interest. That’s what we’re working to improve.
Radio Ink: How do you manage a healthy balance between work and personal life for yourself — and try to foster the same for your employees?
Donna Baker: That’s a great question. I’m personally not where I want to be in ‘healthy-balance’. I make excuses for myself that I don’t accept from my team for staying engaged in work-mode too frequently. I’m blessed with a husband, family and friends who understand that’s a work-in-progress area for me. I encourage leaders to have ‘accountability time’, meaning- let’s hold each other accountable to respect our own and our team’s down-time: unless there is truly an urgent issue, stay off work-related email, text, social. Be fully present where you are, whether at work or in your personal life.
Radio Ink: What is the number one challenge you face every day as a manager in 2016, and how are you overcoming it?
Donna Baker: The challenges are really the same as they have always been for leaders: staying focused on the 30,000-foot view, which is more about helping leaders move forward faster every day and less about task completion. It’s easy to caught-up in the day-to-day ‘whirlwind’. It’s a conscious discipline that becomes habit to self-evaluate and ask ‘How am I adding value today?’ vs. measuring the length of check-the-box management- oversight lists.
Radio Ink: Tell us what your biggest/most proud moment at the station or cluster was over the past 12 months.
Donna Baker: June 15th at 7:30 AM in our KC cluster. How’s that for specific? Instead of being content with a 20% increase in ratings, a solid result of six months of focused work by all of our programming teams improving their stations, local input was united: the KC cluster alignment was still not in the best position to compete. The change we made in June launching Alternative X105.1 with a new home at 102.5 for heritage and beloved Jack FM is not isolated to those moves. The new cluster alignment is the result of listening to the audience and advertisers, collaboration of local and senior management, and the corresponding agreement to be accountable to results when taking a calculated big-swing to win bigger and deliver better results across the cluster.
Radio Ink: What is it going to take to get radio revenue growing again?
Donna Baker: Keep improving unique content accessible on-air and on-demand, amplify on-site unique experiences for the audience in a way that only radio can, and seize the tremendous opportunity to integrate digital marketing with our brands. Educate the marketplace of talented sales professionals to consider our industry as a rewarding and fulfilling career choice. Invest in talented people by expanding their opportunities within the industry through support in training and mentoring.