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Vivid: To have or not to have the Chief Enthusiastic Officer

04-June-2012
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Vivid: To have or not to have the Chief Enthusiastic Officer

News businesses, especially news broadcasting businesses, have tremendous power to influence public opinion and bring about change. News broadcasting is an agent for change in more ways than one in India.

About five years ago, a friend who was the head of marketing of a leading news channel came to me for advice. He said that he wanted to change his job. I mentioned to him that his news network was growing and he was the blue-eyed boy of his boss, so why would he want to leave.

He shared his concerns with me. He said that the role of marketing in a news channel is limited, adding that in a news TV set-up, the brand is what the content is and that is determined by the editor. Also, he would like to run a business and be responsible for profit and loss and not just the marketing function.

Three years ago, another very senior professional from a news broadcasting set-up reached out to me and said he had hit a roadblock and was saturated as director of marketing of his news network. I suggested to him that in order to grow he should look at taking some profit and loss responsibilities. The professional acted on my advice and took on new responsibilities. In one and a half year, he became the CEO of his news network. This CEO has created differentiated initiatives which are both, brand enhancers and revenue drivers for the news network.

Some professionals within his company and outside his company raised the issue then asking whether a news channel needed a CEO. The editorial is done by the editor and the revenues brought in by the revenue head or sales head. What is the role of CEO in a news network?

Everything is for the eye these days – TV, Life, Look, the movies. Nothing is just for the mind. The next generation will have eyeballs as big as cantaloupes and no brain at all – Fred Allen

The above applies to all forms of TV and not just news TV.

Many senior professionals in broadcasting have asked me why we need a CEO in a news network. Doesn’t all he does is act like a co-ordinator and buffer between the owners and the editor and revenue head.

The big assumption here is that the distribution, which is the largest outflow from a news broadcasting operation, is also reporting to the CEO and that all news broadcasting networks are similar in structure.

Revenue heads and sales heads always ask me whether we really need a CEO. Sometimes I end up believing them that maybe we don't need a CEO.

However, on closer examination and contemplation, I have realised that news channels do need a CEO...I am sure sales and revenue heads will disagree.

Let me put this in perspective by sharing a philosophical thought which in some way describes the role of a news CEO.

Conductors must give unmistakable and suggestive signals to the orchestra - not choreography to the audience – George Szell

A news broadcasting set-up in India is full of anchors who are stars and celebrities in their own right.

The revenue head or sales head is also a star as he/she brings in the revenue that is the life-blood of the news company.

A wise man once said, "An orchestra full of stars can be a disaster."

That is why we need a news CEO.

The CEO articulates the strategy beyond operational details and always has an eye on the future. The CEO is detached from day-to-day editorial calls and sales targets. Hence, he can guide the editor and sales heads in implementing the vision for future. The news CEO makes sure sales, marketing, editorial and distribution work in tandem. He can objectively evaluate efficacy and need beyond vested interests. The CEO is the interface with investors and external stakeholders.

I know a lot of my friends would not agree with me and say that the editorial person should be the CEO or revenue head should be the CEO. Why not? Uday Shankar was an editorial professional when he became CEO of Star News – now ABP News. You can be good at what you do functionally and add on other skills to become the CEO.

My editor friends and revenue head friends perhaps now should aim to be CEOs of their companies or grow in other news networks rather than debate whether a news set-up requires a CEO or not. It's time for action.

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