October 12, 2012
Some lessons learned early in life stick with you forever. An example that has remained relevant in my life came when, as a young child, I was exposed to the highly accurate historical documentary series "The Flintstones," which depicted the daily lives of prehistoric mankind, from technological innovation (it turns out they had television and air travel) to interpersonal relationships. The lesson I learned came in an episode focused on the latter, the subtle tension between two cavemen, "Fred" and "Barney." In that episode, Barney, who had become unemployed, learned upon a visit to Fred's workplace that he happened to be related to Fred's supervisor, one "Mr. Slate," whereupon Barney was immediately hired and named Executive Vice President in Charge of Production, a position that required neither aptitude nor, it turned out, any work at all.
What I learned from that program was two-fold:
- Nepotism is rampant.
- "Executive Vice President in Charge of Production" is, like, THE best job EVER.
I have spent the entirety of my career aspiring to become Executive Vice President in Charge of Production. A look at my business card will confirm that this is an aspiration that has thus far exceeded my grasp.
I thought about this when much (digital) ink was spilled over Saga Communications' re-titling of the position of Program Director to "Brand Manager." It's being received in some quarters as a bold, forward-thinking move, but I had a slightly different reaction, and it doesn't come from my thinking that this is a bad move. I don't think it's a bad move. I just don't think it matters.
And here's why: If you have a Program Director on board who needed to be re-dubbed "Brand Manager" to understand that his or her job requires knowledge and expertise in managing content and marketing across all channels, from on-air to online, that person shouldn't have been in that position at all, period. And if they DO understand and HAVE been doing it all along, who cares WHAT the position's called? (Personally, I think "Brand Manager" sounds like someone who works on the Tide account at Procter and Gamble)
We get caught up in jargon all the time. Every business does, and maybe I'm more sensitive to it because I just sat through another all-day seminar's worth of people saying the same things over and over. (Buzz Word of the Day: "Compelling," as in "Compelling content." It would have made a great drinking game, but downing a shot every time someone said "compelling" would have made you horizontal within two hours) "Branding" has been a popular word for a few years, and I've used it too much, myself.
I worry, when we speak like marketing consultants, that we overvalue the mechanism and undervalue the content. This is what I mean by that: While we're fretting about extending the brand and establishing the brand online and branding the brand so that the brand can brand itself on the brand of the listener, there are people out there who couldn't care less about "branding" who are, in sheer audience numbers, cleaning traditional media's clocks -- people making videos with no budget, people with websites that look like they're one step removed from an old GeoCities site and podcasts that sound like a couple of guys with cheap computer mics at a kitchen table (because they ARE a couple of guys with cheap computer mics at a kitchen table). What they AREN'T doing is making the kind of money radio can make from its content. For now. But the growth on online advertising is... do I have to tell you where things are headed? Do you need a new title to understand how things are developing?
Station owners need to care about developing and extending brands, and so do programmers who hope to grow their ratings and retain their jobs. But you're competing with people who are skipping the jargon and just going out and creating stuff. They didn't have titles like "Brand Manager," or any titles at all. They just do videos and podcasts and streaming. They aren't beating radio in revenue yet. The operative word is "yet." If radio is going to stay relevant and successful, it needs more people who just know how to make great -- I refuse to say "compelling" -- entertainment and information. Hire people who can do that, and it doesn't matter what their titles are. Even if they're Executive Vice Presidents in Charge of Production at heart.
Need "compelling content" for your radio show? First, STOP SAYING THAT. And then go to Talk Topics at All Access News-Talk-Sports for hundreds of ideas, from kicker stories to "real" news. And follow Talk Topics on Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story with direct links to my inane blather about it. Simple. Plus, we have "10 Questions With..." Eric Stromer, who's co-hosting the syndicated home improvement show "Home Wizards" and has an admirably eclectic background, from acting to being "Contractor to the Stars," and offers great stories to prove it.
Follow me on Twitter, too: @pmsimon. I'm on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon as well. And I also serve as Editor-in-Chief of Nerdist.com, where you'll find fun stuff about pop culture; watch the Nerdist Channel at YouTube, too.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to do a little more historical study. I'm learning about prehistoric humans' dietary habits. Brontosaurus burgers I can understand, but I'm having a little bit of a hard time imagining what a Flint Rubble Double Bubble Cake would be.