The question is: What is the most important thing you learned in 2009 that will inform your decision-making in 2010?
It's a fair query in any year; it has seemingly never been more important than it is right now.
That is why we put it before our brand-new inductees, the members of the B&C Hall of Fame, class of 2009. They were so honored because while they are an inspired mix—executives and managers, free-thinkers and observers, shapers and shifters—they share common bonds. First and foremost, they are great believers in, and promoters of, the resiliency of our industry. And they have pretty solid reputations for candor.
It is hard to imagine a more crucial period for the media business. Models are changing, technology is elevating and the economy, while improving, still shows signs of imploding. It takes decisive people, men and women of proven vision—who also aren't afraid of risk—to guide us through the maze that lies ahead.
B&C asked the 2009 Hall of Fame inductees to weigh in on these momentous times, to look back at where the industry has been and where it's going. The answers, by and large, offer a sneak peek into the days and months to come: some stalwart plans and the promise of vivid developments.
CEO, Worldwide, Initiative
As everyone reading this will be all too aware, 2009 will go down as the toughest advertising market in living memory. And while, thankfully, we are seeing some signs of stabilization for 2010, we are not out of the woods yet. Next year will remain challenging for all of us.
This year has proved to me that it is in such times where leading change, fueling innovation and fostering collaboration come to the fore. I have seen Initiative and our partners produce truly inspiring work this year that has delivered breakthrough business results for our clients. Like others in the market, we have gone the extra mile to create outstanding effectiveness and efficiency—things that will never go out of fashion.
As well as hard work and inspiring ideas, those that are flourishing, not simply surviving, demonstrate an infectious belief in what they are doing and act with conviction. Keeping their nerve and trusting their instincts.
All of this is simple to say and difficult to deliver. Everyone at Initiative has focused on client results as well as progress across our network and product. This puts us in an excellent position for when the market returns to full health.
Linda Bell Blue
Executive Producer, Entertainment Tonight and The Insider
The most important thing I learned in 2009 that will inform my decision-making in 2010 is that nothing is recession-proof.
I've always been conscious of the bottom line, but I realize now more than ever that the bottom line isn't just about money. It's about all of the changes in our business and how we embrace them. It's about being faster, smarter and better than I've ever been, and expecting those around me to be the same. It's about exceeding our audience's expectations while still meeting the company's financial targets.
With this current fragmented media landscape, it's critical for us to remain relevant yet familiar, comfortable yet adaptable. The stars on Entertainment Tonight in 2009 were quite different from the faces that graced the screen in 1982. Since its inception, many things have changed. Reality television was born. Cable television was created. But one thing has remained the same: Entertainment Tonight is still the most watched entertainment news show in the world.
I am proud to be associated with the industry leader, and while I realize this recession has changed many things, I am determined to remain on top, not only for our viewers but for our station partners.
Patrick Esser President, Cox Communications
We live in dynamic times marked by uncertainty, new opportunities and enormous change. I'm amazed at the resiliency of Cox's people, and their ability to continue to adapt and compete. Cox teams are working harder and accomplishing more. They're getting the job done while helping all of us stay focused on what's important to our long-term success.
In 2010, we'll be continuing our investments in leadership throughout our organizations to help our employees' continued embrace of change.
Anchor, Noticiero Univision
What I learned in 2009 is that hope and politics don't mix very well. After the historic election of Barack Obama, I was expecting a more civilized and harmonious public debate in Washington. But Republicans and Democrats proved me wrong on health-care reform, the wars and the economy.
So in 2010 we should get ready for a very acrimonious debate on comprehensive immigration reform. Despite the incredible growth of the Hispanic community (more than 50 million and counting), the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court and the newfound prevalence of the Spanish-language media in many markets, Latinos are still underrepresented—only one senator in Washington—and struggling for recognition. In 2009, I learned that change takes time despite the promises and the best intentions; 2010 will lack the hope of 2008 but will start on a more solid, realistic footing.
President and CEO, A&E Television Networks
The most important thing I learned in 2009 was more of a reminder. As AETN celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, I was reminded that it is truly the people who are the heart and soul of our company.
Every day at AETN, we come together to tell powerful, emotional stories that leave a lasting impact on popular culture. I am incredibly proud of the employees at AETN who take that responsibility seriously and never forget the privilege we have of being invited into people's homes. I am so inspired by their passion for entertaining and emotionally touching our viewers around the world.
President and CEO, TV One
In this down economy, I've been doing a lot more face-to-face meetings with advertisers and potential partners, and it's just a highly effective way to convey the brand promise, the sense of excitement and programming strategy of the network. While it's time-consuming, it has really paid off for all of us who have done it, and is a practice that makes sense to continue even when the economy turns around.
Senior VP, East Coast Operations, CBS
We continue to look for solutions to get all the work done cheaper, faster, better and quicker. With the economy in 2009 going in the direction it has, you've got to accelerate the use of technology to provide more video at a higher quality and at a lower cost. The only difference is that 2009 showed us we need to get at it more quickly than we did in 2007 and 2008.
Senior Advisor, Belo Corp.
2009 was a terrific example of very basic elements of good management in [people's] personal and professional lives. My belief is the most important thing about 2009 is that no matter what your prior experience, you can't take anything for granted. We live in a very challenging and changing time, and cookie-cutter solutions just won't cut it. As the business environment evolves, leaders must look to those who embrace and tackle change and challenge.
Maintaining and motivating your key personnel must become a higher priority, and a philosophy of “at least I have a job” is not the answer but only the beginning. We must focus on the consumer and our customer, we must listen and react; 2010 offers great opportunity if we have learned over the last 18 months and have adjusted our thinking, planning and execution.
CEO, Canoe Ventures
2009 reminded me about the importance of team; of teamwork, of team creation, of team orientation and of team spirit. When times are tough, identifying, retaining and motivating a superb core team is the only insurance policy a business has against a challenging and uncertain future.
Chairman and CEO, Fox Networks Group
It seems the subject on everyone's mind has been the recession and its impact on the media business. I spend a lot of time talking to our executives and sales teams, reminding them that the current market environment is a temporary thing. Recessions come and go. In my career, I've been through five or six of them, and they are cyclical by nature. As a result, I try not to get overly excited when business is good, and try to maintain that same even posture when business is challenging.
There are certain givens to any recession: They are going to affect the ad business, and if you haven't hired carefully in the robust periods, they will affect employment. However, there are critical steps you can take to protect your business in a recessionary period so you come out of it in a stronger place.
To me, the keys are to be sure you have enough cash on hand; that you're cutting down expenses in a way that is reasonable, logical and strategic; and you're applying common sense to your business. What I mean by that is you not try to do things that would be illogical for a period when consumers are not spending as much money as they normally would. In many ways it's common sense, but I think it's also having the experience and institutional knowledge to know how to best navigate the challenges.
President and CEO, NBC Universal
The tough economic conditions of 2009 have just reinforced our commitment to recreate those parts of our business that worked great 20 years ago but no longer match up with either technological advances or consumer behavior. Our industry is at a crossroads, with big challenges balanced by equally large opportunities.
But as I've said for some years now, you can't have success without being willing to try new things and shake up the status quo, whether it's launching Hulu or putting Jay on NBC Monday through Friday at 10 p.m. At NBCU, we know we don't have all the answers, but we also know that there is no chance of success in sticking with what no longer works.