In 2009, I was selected by WDRB and the International Research and Exchanges (IREX) to mentor a privately owned start-up TV station in Keherson, Ukraine. Since Ukraine recently, 1991, gained independence from the Soviet Union, private for-profit TV stations are still rare. Most TV stations are state owned with state controlled content and censorship. Even today, private TV stations are very “careful” on how they report on government issues as their freedom of speech is certainly not equal to what we enjoy in the United States. In 2012, I was asked again by WDRB and IREX to mentor a TV station in Melitopol, Ukraine. Here’s how my experiences help our clients.
First, both Kherson and Melitopol are located in southern Ukraine. Kherson is near the Black Sea and Dnieper River, which serves as a major ship building port. Melitopol is located in southeastern Ukraine on the Molochna River, which flows to the Sea of Azov. After flying into Kiev, the capitol of Ukraine, and meeting my translator, we endured a long twelve hour train ride on the Ukrainian Railways. As you could imagine, it was not a luxury train ride. There was limited climate control, one meal with customer service not being a priority, and a bench with a cushion as our “bed.”
Upon our arrival to Kherson, Ukraine in 2009, the owner of the TV station noted that a sales team was just hired. They were all rookies with zero experience. Our task was to help them figure out how to generate revenue for their TV station. Below are a few take-a-ways that can help your marketing department.
1. Not all markets are the same. My approach in Kherson, Ukraine had to be different than my approach in Melitopol, Ukraine. The mindset was different at each location, not just from the sales team’s perspectives, but from the client’s perspective. The same is true with your customers. The way you approach your messaging in Louisville might be entirely different in Indianapolis or other markets. On a more granular level, it could even be different in looking at certain areas in any given market. Your media buyer should always be focusing on all demographics and psychographics of your customers so that your advertising/content engages to your core audience. Always speak and relate to your audience.
2. Do not assume anything. I quickly realized while presenting to the new sales team in Kherson that most of team members didn’t understand the geographic reach of their own station(s). They kept telling me, for example, that a nearby town was irrelevant because people in the nearby town didn’t watch their station. The team was misinformed. Their TV station signal was not only strong in the nearby town, their station was a dominate station. We opened up a new revenue opportunity for the station. Same with YOUR employees. Do not assume that all of your employees are explaining ALL of your product/service lines properly. There could be a whole new revenue source for your company if there are products or service lines that are not being properly explained or highlighted to your customers by your employees. Continuing education for employees is very important.
3. Do not undervalue your service or product. While training the sales team in Melitopol, I was informed that some business owners thought they should be able to advertise for free. That their services were important to the people and that it was a public service message. Some of the reps said, “We will never be able to get them to pay for advertising.” I quickly broke down the amount of people that their station reached on a daily basis. Then we did an exercise to further break down the number of people who were in the market for one of the business owner’s services. Then we calculated how much it would be worth to the business owner if just 2% of the people who saw his advertisement responded. The number was huge. The rep showed the business owner this breakdown and low and behold, the business owner purchased the advertising package. Your employees must know the value of your product or service.
4. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. While working with the station’s sales team in Melitopol, I asked the reps to show me some of their advertising packages. Each rep basically handed me the same package. They were taking the same package out to every business. I asked them why they didn’t customize the package for each client, and they informed me that they didn’t have time. The saying “I don’t have time” is a huge pet peeve of mine, primarily because everyone on this planet is working with the same amount of time. While I agree that some are busier than others, everyone has the same amount of time to work with. The separating factor is how each manages and prioritizes his/her time. About ten years ago if asked about a task or project that I had not finished, I decided to stop saying, “I haven’t had time for that task.” Instead, I started saying instead, “I haven’t made time for that task.” There’s a big difference. My point to the team was that if they are going to take the time to call on a client, drive or walk to their location to meet with them, then they need to take the time to do it right the first time. Your employees should take the same approach. If a task is worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time.
5. Your employees must be sold. As a station manager I created and launched many special projects. Each project had a specific start date and end date with a timeline of goals in between. The projects ranged from locally produced HD coverage of Thunder Over Louisville to a network of sponsored weather cams to events. Before our team could go to clients and acquire sponsorships, they first had to be sold on the project. They had to understand the value of each project from the business owner’s perspective. In other words, why should a business owner invest their hard earned money on the project? If the account executive wasn’t sold on the project, there is no way they could go out and convince a business owner to invest in the project. When you have a sale, new project or product, before introducing it to your customers, make sure your employees are sold on it. (The station managers in Ukraine never thought to create projects around heavily attended festivals, events, etc. Their stations were always at events covering them, but they never monetized their coverage. We changed created a plan for them and they are now monetizing each event with sponsorships.)
Both trips to Ukraine presented unique challenges. The communication barrier, transportation, differences in cultures and overall work ethics were all obstacles. (Both station managers and employees asked for a tea break every 45 minutes.) However, the end result was very productive for all involved and I learned as much from them as they did from me. And, in both cases, their clients are happier and more successful as a result.
Ukraine Media Partnership Program (UMPP)
The Ukraine Media Partnership Program develops the Ukrainian media sector’s professionalism and sustainability by creating and fostering long-term professional relationships between US and Ukrainian media outlets via exchanges and individual consulting. UMPP partnerships have focused on improving the quality of journalism, strengthening websites, and building stronger business management practices.