Saturday, January 21, 2012

Activity vs Accomplishment

We’ve all read the articles regarding the importance of properly preparing for interviews. Experts urge us to read up on the company we’re trying to join, to learn what we can about the interviewer and to come prepared with open ended questions to help extend the dialogue and build rapport with the hiring manager.

But every now and then, a question comes along that throws me for a loop. Ironically, this time the question didn’t come in the hiring process, but rather, after I’d joined the company and my supervisor was having a review meeting to assess my progress.

For forty years I’ve been actively involved in the product side of radio broadcasting, but recently, I joined a local radio station as a sales representative. It’s an interesting transition for me, because I’ve always considered myself a “sales friendly” programmer. What I’ve learned, is that while I empathized with the sales team, I knew very little about the challenges of the position.

Yesterday, I was asked what I saw as the differences between a “program director” and an “account executive.” While a bit simplistic, my observation was “a program director says no first and then says prove me I’m wrong; a sales executive hears no first and has to convince the client he’s wrong.”

As our conversation continued, a few more tangible differences came up; most interesting is the notion of accomplishment. As a manager, I’ve always tried to teach my team to not confuse activity with accomplishment. As a programmer, we view accomplishment on a daily basis; almost break by break. We coach our talent, we make a difference. We write a new promo and coach a young production assistant to create a compelling audio statement and we’ve accomplished something very tangible.

Program Directors once had the luxury of viewing accomplishment on a quarterly basis, now, thanks to the world of PPM ratings, programmers look at monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly accomplishment. As an account executive, I don’t consider making calls an accomplishment, or even scheduling appointments an accomplishment; although both are critical to my success. Even, after the deal is signed, I haven’t accomplished anything until the spot is written, produced, scheduled, and aired. Before, when wearing the program director “hat” I would have thought the AE’s job was done with the client. But, I’ve learned that there are two more steps in the process. If the client doesn’t pay for his advertising, the commission I thought I earned is charged back and deducted from my salary. If the client doesn’t renew, because we failed to meet expectations, I’ve lost a client not only for myself, but perhaps for the radio industry. That’s a lot of responsibility for a rookie, although I doubt most sales beginners in radio think in those terms. I do, because of the unique perspective I bring to the position.

I do bring some advantages to the position. I believe a program director’s creative side serves well in responding to client objections. We certainly addressed similar challenges in sales meetings when AE’s would repeat what their client had said on a sales call. And I believe our creative side helps when writing creative proposals and broadcast copy. Programmers expect more from their copy than just bland phrases like, “Topeka’s finest sushi bar,” with apologies to someone in Topeka who may read this blog.

In the same meeting, I was asked my thoughts on our programming. A fair question as, in theory, it’s my area of expertise. I answered “It doesn’t matter what I think, my job is to sell the product, not judge the product.” At that moment, I realized one or the other would become my greatest challenge as a radio sales representative.

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