What’s More Important? Generating Sales Leads Or Having The Content To Sell?

Cumulus Media John Johnboy Crenshaw Grand Rapids YoungstownThis morning Tom Taylor wrote about Cumulus CEO Mary Berner’s new plan to increase revenue at the company.

Introducing new wolf mascot Sulumuc (Cumulus turned around), Berner’s Be A Leader campaign gives monthly and year-end prizes to all employees and not just salespeople who generate sales leads. The top ten performers get “Unique Experiences”, $1000 cash, and other prizes, while the top market for the quarter receives possession of the “Sulu” stuffed wolf mascot for “bragging rights”. The vimeo hosted video has since been made private after leaking to Taylor and AllAccess.com.

This leads to a simple question. What will generate more revenue, having sales leads or having content that makes people want to advertise on your stations?

Berner admitted in the video that Cumulus underperformed in 2016 compared to other radio companies and missed their budget for the year. The company is once again on the verge of filing for bankruptcy protection.

Is the company better off asking all of its employees to basically play the type of contests chain restaurants ask their waiters and waitresses to do to sell extra hamburgers or side salads to increase net revenue for a shift? Or let professional salespeople sell quality products by giving these salespeople products that are worth buying.

Cumulus’ top station is ranked 17th overall in the New York market, 19th in Los Angeles, 13th in Chicago, 8th in San Francisco, 10th in Dallas, and 7th in its home market of Atlanta. If you’re not going to compete at the upper-echelon of programming how do you expect to win the revenue battle? It may be a chicken vs. egg situation as Cumulus’ rapid staff turnover over the past few years may have left them with weaker sales people that couldn’t even sell the best possible product anymore compared to other radio groups, but having lesser performing content on top of it isn’t going to help matters.

Let the programming people program and produce better radio or make them sell on top of their lesser content. What do you think will work best?

  1. Joseph_Gallant says

    Cumulus should also do an incentive-driven competition among announcers and programmers, with prizes for announcers and programmers whose shows are number-one in their market in their time period either in overall listeners or (more likely) the station’s target demographic.

    Better programming will mean more popular programming which in turn will mean more advertisers will want to buy spots which in turn will mean more revenue which in turn will hopefully mean a higher share price (since stock price is the only thing institutional investors who own stock in publicly-traded companies care about).

    1. Jack Bayes says

      Good idea in theory; in practice, not so much.

      Sales contests work because it’s all pretty well up to the AE: if a client says no, they just hit up another client until they find one who buys and then repeat.

      Programming has basically no control over their numbers. Jocks can’t control if the other programming elements are right. We all know of great jocks who tanked because the station pulled them down, and vice versa.

      And let’s assume that everything is great: the music, promotions and imaging are on point and the jocks are outstanding. But, if an overwhelming chunk of diaries go to a country hot zip and you’re on the CHR, you’re screwed. Whether Nielsen will admit it or not, it happens.

      As a jock, I love the idea of trying to reward programming, but from a managerial perspective, it’s just not realistic.

  2. johndavis says

    Before he started selling broadcast gear, one of the top sales guys at BGS managed a K-Mart. He had this mantra: Sales solves everything.

    Once you start bringing in decent revenue then you can put more money into developing new things. But if you’re not hitting your numbers, then no wishing you had the right programming is going to buy you the people and tools you need to get the job done. But when you start hitting your budget then you can afford to do stuff. They can’t afford to take on a lot of debt right now, so the only way to fix the content problem is to bring in some revenue to pay their way.

    When I was a baby DJ, there used to almost be a war between sales and programming; the two didn’t understand each other and didn’t want to understand each other, even though the two needed each other. Anything you can do to break down that wall so everyone starts working together is a good thing. At the stations I’ve been at that were winning, we were all on the same team.

    So, if Berner’s initiative succeeds and they put some of that back into content and start to pull the company out of the ditch, then I will applaud her for it. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for now.

    1. Steve Varholy says


      The corollary is that you can do anything you want — if — you have the money.

      As you said, Cumulus cannot take big steps to fix/improve anything that involves spending money unless they have it to spend.

      Rewarding your sellers – or anyone else — that helps achieve that goal is never a bad thing, particularly in an industry where almost all of us have a cheap boss story.

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