A Consultant's Job By Andy Meadows

If you read my blogs or listen to my podcast you know that I have a lot of passionate opinions about radio. Some of that probably stems from my personality type, but the vast majority of that comes from the fact that I was born into radio and it continues to be a family business. So, radio is the main thing I think and talk about (much to the delight of my wife). As much as it may frustrate me at times, I truly love a lot of things about working in radio. That’s why I’m deeply concerned about how much the world is changing around our industry and how slowly we’re reacting to that change. I attribute a lot of the blame for that to a small subset of my peers, radio consultants, because we’re often the loudest voices speaking out on what needs to change. Certainly not all, but some radio consultants have lost sight of what their job really is and what it isn’t, including myself at times. Here are a few examples of that.

First and foremost, a programming consultant’s job is to constantly adjust and evolve their own model so they can advise radio stations on how to do the same. If you’ve had a consultant for ten or more years and the advice they’re giving you sounds roughly the same as it did from day one, than it’s time to get a new consultant. One of the big examples of this I see, that has a massive negative trickle-down effect on music programming, is sticking to the old model for adding and moving new music. Music is not released the same way it was even five years ago, much less ten or twenty. Yet, the majority of consultants, and therefore radio stations, are still basing their adds and moves on what other radio stations are doing by looking at the airplay charts. I get the theory behind this. If hundreds of stations, including a few that appear successful, are adding/moving a particular song then it seems like a pretty safe bet. There was a time when this was the best affordable option we had for making that call. That’s no longer the case. That’s why I advise our clients based on a system I built that looks at the same data that record labels look at, but has been adjusted to fit songs and artists within their appropriate radio genres. Not all programmers are comfortable embracing this new system and in that case we do not force it on them, we simply share all the data we’re seeing and do our best to convince them to at least incorporate a hybrid model between our new system and the old system other consultants recommend.

A consultant’s job is to aircheck talent consistently while simultaneously coaching the local on-air coaches, and the personalities, on how to aircheck themselves. One of the ways I fell short early on as a consultant is by not varying up my style of coaching enough to fit all the different types of personalities. I would adjust my role (motivator, cheerleader, therapist, disciplinarian, etc) accordingly but for the most part every aircheck session I did started with a long list of positives, moved on to a few things they needed to work on and ended with a brainstorming session. This approach works pretty well with most shows, but not all. What I’ve learned and put into practice recently is that no two shows (or personalities) should be coached exactly the same. It’s easy to lump personality types into a few buckets, but in reality there are a long list of subsets for each of those types that make getting through to them a unique, and frankly fun, challenge.

A consultant’s job is to teach the people they advise and coach how to embrace a best idea wins (for the show/station/group) mentality by doing so themselves. One of the selling points of a consultant is that we have lots of experience and we talk to TONS of other radio people. Because of that we have an enormous amount of ideas to share with our clients. But, even with that, our idea is still not always the best idea. The more I get to know the people I advise and coach, the better I get at suggesting things that fit and yet I’m not always the star of every brainstorming session I sit in. In fact it’s a great sign progress-wise when I’m not because it’s an indicator that we can move on to other things we need to address until ultimately we can cut back our sessions or even have me focus on other areas entirely.

Finally, and most importantly, it's not a consultant’s job to tell people what they want to hear. I get it, we all feel better when people confirm that we’re making the right decisions. It’s comforting, helps us sleep at night, and, at least in the short term, it makes our jobs a little more fun. But, in the long run it causes complacency and a slow and steady decline. It’s a consultants job to tell our clients the truth, even if they don’t want to hear it, and to occasionally gently push them outside of their comfort zone. We should do that by encouraging them to try things differently, but in a strategic and purposeful manner. No one grows within their comfort zone and if we’re not growing in a business that’s rapidly changing we’re falling a little more behind every single day.

Our industry has a long and impressive history, filled with countless lessons we learned that should not be forgotten. Parts of what we do hasn’t really changed that much over the years, which is why I always caution people that some of the old rules still do apply. However, other aspects of it (how we should add and schedule music, get ad dollars, structure our staff, conduct our promotions, engineer our stations, create and leverage our daily content to web/social, etc) is no longer changing by the decade or even the year, it’s changing monthly and, in some cases, daily. The TV and movie writers that are currently striking are accurate to worry about the impact AI is going to have on their industry. AI is already effecting their jobs along with most others and it will eventually impact ALL of our jobs. I’ve potentially contributed to my own demise by writing hundreds of blogs about radio that AI could use to give at least decent, but also free, advice on how to run a radio station. But, that doesn’t worry me, because the more we embrace emerging technologies to make them work for us the more likely we are to stay ahead of their impacts. It’s also what gives me the confidence to know that I can help any radio station, regardless of format or market, increase their listenership and revenue. At the end of the day that’s the ultimate measure of a consultant’s worth.

What do you think? Comment below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.

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