I read with interest Jeff Left's (KVOX/K100, Fargo) thought provoking letter in the November R.A.P.. Since I wrote the LMA column in the September issue, I have received a fair number of questions about LMAs in general and production in particular. Most of the questions were about logistics and work load; none dealt with compensation directly. Perhaps this is because I stressed that it is important to bring the production personnel of the acquired LMA station "into the loop" of the controlling LMA station's production department.
Because our production department has four full-time employees and one part-timer, we shoulder the burden with less stress than other LMAs. As I stated in my article, the ownership of WGR/WGRF retained the entire airstaff of our LMA station, and members of that airstaff were very production-capable.
Jeff Left makes some particularly valid points in his letter. The question of increased compensation for added LMA/Duopoly production responsibilities should be of immediate concern to all production personnel involved in an LMA. But, there are extenuating factors to consider, as each LMA is unique. Here is an objective overview in response to Jeff's well-stated points.
In today's economy, particularly in advertising/broadcasting, it's a "Buyer's Market." The person who pays the band calls the tune. So, unfortunately, while you may feel entitled to compensation bonuses when your station signs an LMA, your GM/Owner may not agree. It's true that an LMA should generate more revenue from advertising, but LMAs aren't created without cost. The station that controls the LMA will be paying a considerable price for that privilege. The revenue derived from advertising sales has to be significant in order to offset the costs of the LMA.
A few broadcasters have invested in LMAs for the primary purpose of "taking out their competition" and the secondary prospect of increasing advertising revenue, the theory being that the revenue spent on advertising, promotion, and big-money contests when going up against a competitor would better be spent on "acquiring" the competitor, thereby forcing an LMA.
Assuming that you are more talented than the Production Director at the station your company LMA'd, AND if you have a productive work ethic, AND your employer finds merit in retaining YOUR services rather than the Production Director at the LMA'd station, here are a few suggestions that you may want to tactfully propose to your GM.
Ask for a "Cut of the Action," a portion of all direct business generated by your station's sales staff that airs on your station and your LMA sister, based on MONTHLY billing. A figure of 2-5% might be a fair market value if your station is "selling out" every avail and making money "hand over fist."
A "Per Spot" bonus for every commercial produced for you LMA sister station is another alternative. This would be based on your LMA's average unit rate, or the rate charged in the contract for each individual client.
The boldest option is to simply "Ask for a Raise," and although there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, given today's economy, don't be surprised if your GM responds with an equally bold, "NO!" General Managers appreciate employees who help solve problems rather than create them. A Production Director who creates commercials for two differently formatted LMA stations may find it easier to justify a salary increase or bonus plan, especially if separate commercials must be produced for the CHR format of the primary station and the Beautiful Music format of the LMA station.
Don't be deluded by visions of "self importance." If you attempt to negotiate a better compensation package for increased responsibilities with your LMA production, be diplomatic and well-reasoned. If you're the better production person among the two stations, your bargaining position may be stronger, assuming of course that management shares your opinion. If there's a production person at your new LMA station that rivals your talent and work ethic, or one who has potential to become a good production person, be objective and assess the situation before confronting your GM with any proposal for additional compensation.
It may be difficult for you to justify an increase in compensation if your station retains the production personnel and/or air staff from your LMA station. Regardless of format diversity, management can be expected to view the LMA "as one station" or a "combo," thereby denying the need to pay full or partial talent fees for commercials aired on any parts of the combo.
If you are represented by a union, you may get additional support, although it has been my experience that the Production Director is a "management position," and as such, is not covered by union guidelines. LMAs in traditional union-represented situations will have to break new ground for compensating air talent and production personnel.
Remember that once your station enters an LMA, management may restructure the commissions DOWNWARD for the Account Executives who will be selling a stronger cost per point, reach and frequency, and cost per thousand. To better understand the basis on which your stations' advertising rates are based, spend some time with your Sales Manager and learn as much as you can about this BEFORE you make any compensation demands. This has a direct impact on the acceptance of your proposal.
As I stated in my initial article, "A good production person is crucial to the success of an LMA." Before you ask for a heavier paycheck, your GM/Ownership will most likely want tangible evidence that you will help make the LMA a success. Translation: your performance, attitude, and ability as a member of the team BEFORE the LMA was signed.
One more thing: don't give your GM any opportunity to perceive an "attitude" on your part. Hardly anyone likes the taste of vinegar, but just about everyone likes the taste of honey, and "honey" rhymes with (mo') money! Good Luck!
Jim Pastrick, Creative Services Director
WGR NewsRadio 55, WGRF/WUFX The Rock Network
Buffalo, New York