The Succession Plan


(Mike McVay) The reality of life is that all things end. Jobs end, careers end, life ends. The question is what happens after the end. The question here isn’t posed for those who face the end, but rather for those who don’t. The business has to continue. The show has to continue. Programming has to continue. Sales has to continue. More than anything else … leadership has to continue.

The recent white paper, written by Futuri CEO Daniel Anstandig that utilized research from Smith Geiger, showed many challenges facing media. Opinions from executives in media, and the audience who use media for information and entertainment, were researched in this project. The study raised the need for a succession plan when noting that many in America are facing retirement, and significant numbers of others are planning to change careers or work fewer hours, magnified by a worldwide pandemic that has prompted many to assess their work/life balance.

A large percentage of their sample, 45% to be exact, plan to retire within the next 10 years. That number includes 8% within the next three years and 18% between the next four to seven years. The bulk of the other half, or 41%, plan to retire in 11 years. According to the study 14% are undecided as to when they’ll retire. The headline, again, is that almost half of the sample plan to retire within ten years. That’s a lot of departures in media and something to be concerned about, and for leadership to begin planning for such departures now, as we all know that time accelerates as we age.

Not surprisingly, when one believes they will retire in the next few years, their focus is on keeping current clients. When they’re not thinking about an imminent retirement, they are focused on building new business. The same finding could be applied to those who are responsible for growing audience. We know that it’s easier to keep the audience that you have versus attracting a new audience, but Prato’s rule applies. That is that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. The application for programmers would be that 80% of your listening comes from 20% of the audience.

During my time as a Program Director, as a General Manager, as a consultant and as a Corporate EVP, I’ve been faced with developing a succession plan due to the loss of great talent, great programmers and great managers. You never want to be “that person” who is afraid to take a vacation because their understudy could take their role.

I was involved in replacing myself by working with my superiors when it came to the succession plan for my own departure from the EVP/Programming tole that I once held. I wish that I could say that succession plans always work. I can say that, in my opinion, the succession plan for my departure from my corporate role has been successful. To me, you should want the companies you’ve worked for to do well, as that validates that you must have been good at what you do in your job.

Replacing Don Imus at WABC/NY, following his retirement, wasn’t easy. It has been, by most opinions, successful. Especially given that it’s on an AM station. Although it’s fair to say that even though Mr. Imus’s ratings weren’t what they once were by the time he departed, he was still attractive to a large audience and advertisers were still very much in love with him. He was one of the all-time best on-air personalities, ever. His successors, Bernie & Sid, were already a part of the I-Man’s show. That familiarized the audience with them.

John Lanigan’s departure from WMJI/Cleveland was successfully succeeded. Due in part to the succeeding talent being added to his show well before his departure. That allowed the audience an opportunity to become familiar with them. John Lanigan, welcoming them to his show, and by embracing them on-air, validated his on-air partners as a “part of the family.” Lanigan is another, like Imus, that was still very much in demand when he departed his morning program.

A part of every succession plan should allow for time to initiate the successor into the role and, if it’s not a termination, the individual who plans to depart can be a great help to that person who follows them. You never want to lose a leader or a talent. Unfortunately, you will. What’s the plan to replace them? Who on your staff can take their place? Change, while scary, is also an opportunity to grow and improve.

Remember this; everything ends.

The complete whitepaper from Futuri-Smith Geiger is available Here.

 Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]


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