(By Deborah Parenti) As reflected in many of this year’s MIW profiles, one of the key characteristics of these honorees is how they are advancing the interests of the radio industry and those who aspire to be part of it. To that end, each was given the opportunity to share what she would like say to radio managers across the country. You’ll read many of their responses in this issue. That got me to thinking of how I might answer the query with a suggestion toward making the industry stronger.
Over the years, I have sat with radio general managers, sales managers, and group heads, discussing the many challenges of the job. All seem to agree that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges is finding new salespeople. Unfortunately, once the interview process is over, and weeks and months are spent training the new hires, retaining these future stars for the long term can be an even more formidable task. In fact, in some cases, it would seem to be impossible.
The list of roadblocks to achieving better retention rates includes everything from millennial mindset to “sexier” new media opportunities. Both are frequently cited as reasons for the dismal track record of keeping young potential super-sellers from bolting out the door. So, with a shrug, we move on to the next candidate, in a never-ending cycle.
Granted, attracting new talent is hard, and keeping them is even harder. That there is a wide chasm of cultural differences between a 21st-century millennial and a baby boomer, or even a Gen Xer (sometimes a mile wide) is certainly an issue, albeit one for which there can be a degree of “give and take” conversation in the interest of finding common ground.
But there is another reason that also stifles commitment and enthusiasm in making radio sales a lifetime career choice. It’s far more pragmatic — and the onus is 100 percent on the employer to fix it.
Can we talk compensation?
The bottom line is that, by and large, radio stations and groups are not willing to compensate new sellers with a living — and I mean a living, not lavish — wage. Someone, somewhere, is not doing the math. No one can afford modest housing, insurance, gas, and car maintenance, not to mention food, clothing, utilities, and other ordinary and basic living expenses on what the industry typically pays in commissions and draws to new sellers — not unless they have some outside support or a working spouse, partner, or roommate. And along with regular expenses, sellers are more likely than others to have additional needs to consider, such as more gas, parking, and more wear and tear on their cars.
Motivating people to strive for lofty goals is fine, but tempering that with a dose of reality on the management side of the desk is also necessary. Added stress because one can’t pay the bills does not encourage good decision-making. And that hurts not only the rep, by the way, but radio as well. It can result in presenting packages that don’t fill client marketing goals or maintain rate integrity, but chase the fast buck, accepting buys that probably won’t net results — or grow a long-term client.
Building business from scratch is a legitimate management expectation of new sellers. But like seeding crops, new business doesn’t sprout overnight. Minus billing accounts or a decent guarantee that provides some safety net during the incubation period, it can be impossible to eke out a living. Although there is nothing more encouraging to a rookie rep than delivering on a new account, when it’s time to pay the rent, enthusiasm can turn to disillusionment. Is that how to motivate streetfighters?
Compared to sales positions in other industries, especially digital, radio doesn’t provide competitive compensation packages for new hires. It’s tough enough to be pigeonholed as a stodgy, traditional media when measured against newer platforms, but add to that a wage scale that doesn’t match up — and realistically, isn’t livable, or is barely so — it’s easy to see why many leave for greener pastures once radio has trained them in the art of selling and prospecting new business.
There are stations, especially ones owned by smaller groups, that walk a fine line in balancing budgets and maintaining necessary profitability. It’s not easy, but if radio expects to increase business, there has to be a better, more creative way to attract and keep those who will grow its future and fill its coffers.
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected].