Saturday, September 18, 2010

Digital budgeting for 2011 (from Radio-Info)

Digital Budgeting for 2011

moneyIt astounds me each year that something as predictable as budget planning can suddenly pop up on a client’s radar and the entire team is sent scrambling for last minute numbers. And when it comes to the digital plan (that again?), the process, if you call it that, ends up looking like a hodge podge of poor tactics lacking anything remotely resembling a real strategy for success. But, once this shadow-show is complete, with numbers quickly quoted (with maybe an occasional nod to an option B if you are lucky), often you are left with a shell at best; everything neatly filled out as corporate desires on their latest new spread-sheet template (changed each year to fit the new CFO's or Business Manager’s flavor of the moment design). To make matters worse, you often develop these plans in a vacuum as there is no time (you feel) to get the team’s input. Best to just get it done and off the plate. The end result is often tossed aside like some bad Thanksgiving leftovers, hoping that management might forget about the whole thing after the holidays. A sort of "whew....thank God that's over" moment as you dodge another bullet; safely returning you to your comfort zone filled with hopes such as ‘I hope no one quits,’ ‘I hope sales can sell that web promotion since we have no marketing,‘ or ‘hope I still have a job next year.’ Well let me warn you now....hope is not a strategy in the digital space.

How about a challenge this year? It's time to reexamine how you view digital, and the only way is to honestly assess where you and your team are tracking in the digital space. You are in the content business now, so you need to examine any viable content competitor (newspaper, TV station, local and state web portals, etc.) to keep competitive. It’s time to engage your team, or to form a team of trusted advisers, to help you get a clear focus of where you are and what priorities lay ahead as you grow your brand in 2011.

Let's use your web site as an example (you can actually utilize this method with anything digital such as blogs, podcasts, sales inventory assets, etc). If you and your team follow these steps, you will successfully begin the process of objectively moving toward a fresh new digital approach as a premiere content provider (not just a radio broadcaster):

1. Get off campus and out of the radio environment. A fresh venue will allow you to objectively look at things in a new and productive way. This step is critical, so don't skip it.

2. Clearly establish a "no sacred cows" criteria. In fact, I call these sessions my "sacred cows make the best hamburger" meetings. Everyone needs to know what will be expected of them so that each comes to the meeting armed with ideas, solutions, and no fear! Trust is key, and if this is your team, you have to leave your ego at the door.

3. Have each team member, in advance, examine the web site fully to see what works and what doesn't. You want their honest opinion and you want it unfiltered. This is no time for group think. Here are some site keys to look for:

Content-Is it fresh?
  • How much of it is unique to us?
  • How much is driven by outside feeds?
  • Are we using video?
  • Is the talent engaged daily and how often?
  • Are personality pages updated and fresh?

Design-Is the site consistent with our image?
  • Is it cluttered and noisy or clean and intuitive?
  • Can you easily launch the stream?
  • Anything outdated such as old contest rules or dead landing pages?

4. At the designated meeting location, pre-set up white poster boards around the room and play some music while each team member writes their findings on separate, yellow sticky notes. These are their observations during the pre-screening exercise (pros/cons). No talking allowed as you want unfiltered opinions and ideas. I call this seeding the project as it kick-starts the process with no fluff. No long-winded, why are we here diatribes. If they don't know, they shouldn't be in the meeting.

5. Next, continue to play the music and (still no talking) ask that each gets up and places their ideas/comments on one of the white boards. Tell them to look for like ideas and stick their notes on topic boards that most closely resemble their own ideas. An interesting thing occurs at this stage. Clear clusters start to form and patterns emerge that are like gold nuggets. Remember, you have asked them to do this pre-work alone, so you get a clear snapshot of what people see as problems or not. Pay attention to how closely your gut instincts align with your team members. I have actually seen management line up opposite of what they THINK is important to what others on their team view as critical. Better to find out now where the disconnect occurs rather than in the middle of your strategy next year.

6. Once the ideas and comments are clustered, label them according to focus (content, contesting, site issues, video, etc), turn off the music and engage the room in a free-wheeling brain-storming to further add to the list of ideas. Remember, you have already asked for pre-meeting ideas, so the next round should play off of what is already posted and, more importantly, generate a new long list of fresh ideas. The goal is a long list, so start writing with no judgment allowed. This is free-wheeling time, so have fun!

7. Now you are ready to make choices. Drill down on each, isolate the keys, and begin a full action plan that starts to build your strategy from the bottom up. Some action steps will be easy to follow up on and tighten (i.e. eliminate outdated contest rules). Others will require more brainstorming to nail down the specifics but, in the end, you will have the road map toward innovation and your team will have ownership of the process.

Remember, you can use this strategy with any management or digital problem your team may be facing. This process should both enlighten and engage, but most importantly, cause you to act. In the end, if you fail to make this session accountable, you will likely be blown away by those that recognize that the winds of change blow coldest during budget season. Don't be left out in the cold.

Jon Erdahl is VP/Digital Strategy at McVay New Media, working with media companies to develop digital audience and revenue growth strategies.

Disclosure: Daniel Anstandig, the author of Radio3D is also President of Listener Driven Radio.

About the Writer

DisplayJon Erdahl is one of our many guest writers at Radio-Info. We regularly publish articles from industry professionals to help keep our readers informed on the latest trends and developments in the radio industry.

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