10 Questions with ... Carole Bowen
June 19, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
During her decades-long career in sales at WKIS/Miami, Bowen rose through the ranks, beginning as Account Executive, then GSM, and eventually, General Manager. While at WKIS, she created the station's famous Chili Cook-off Concert - now in its 32nd year, a show which annually draws more than 30,000 fans and generates significant revenue. Bowen has been honored as Sales Manager of the Year by Radio Ink Magazine, and her own company, Beasley Broadcasting. She recently completed more than 15 years of service on the CRB Board of Directors. During that time, she was a member of the CRS Executive Committee, holding an Officer position as longtime secretary for the organization. Bowen's 30-plus years of successful radio and sales experience at WKIS played a key role in shaping the marketing success of CRS. She'll be presented with the prestigious CRB President's Award on Wednesday, June 22nd, during the Country Radio Hall of Fame Dinner and Induction ceremony, in Nashville.
1. You just stepped off the CRS Board of Directors and now they're honoring you with The President's Award. Tell us how that feels to be recognized so soon after leaving the organization's service?
It was very much a surprise and I was beyond honored and flattered by it. To some degree, I felt a little unworthy of the award, when I know it had gone to Jeff Walker the year before and he always will be such a hero to the organization. I have such tremendous respect for the people that I have gotten to know in the course of working with the organization both on the agenda committee, the board, on the executive committee, and on the staff. They are without exception extraordinary people. I've learned a lot from all of them. It's been a great gift to be able to get to know these people who I would not have gotten to know as well had I not done that. To have this kind of honor is really overwhelming, and when [CRB President] Charlie Morgan called me I was blown away. I hung up the phone and I actually started to cry - and I'm not a crying person. But it really blew me away.
2. And let's go back a bit - tell us how you first became involved with the Board and began serving?
Well, I think I first attended CRS in the late 90s - and I had such an amazing experience. I thought it was phenomenal; it cooked up so many great ideas. Actually, I created a very, very strong event for the station from an idea that I got from CRS. The next year I came back and I was talking to somebody and mentioned that I created this event based on the "90 Ideas In 90 Minutes" session, which then led to someone suggesting that I apply to be a part of the agenda committee - which I did. I really enjoyed that process. I was on the agenda committee for a couple of years, and then because I was one of the minority of the attendees who was more on the revenue side of the business and not on the programming side, I was asked to run for the board. They felt they needed some of that input in terms of the overall board composition, and that was really the path that I took. It was still predominantly a programmer's organization and event, but what I have seen over the years of involvement is an evolution at CRS. And, really in terms of our industry, what used to be programming and sales and two different philosophies that butted heads a lot ... it's just not like that anymore. It's very collaborative and there's a recognition that the two have to work together a lot. I think that the organization has reflected that shift as well.
3. You were an officer on the Executive committee and served during a long period of time - take us in that room and tell readers something they may not know about CRS as a board - and an event.
I'm on two other boards that are locally based; they're very worthwhile organizations and very solid boards. There is a huge difference though, in what I observe on the CRB board and any other board I've ever participated in, and the difference is a couple of things. There is a level of passion that I have not seen anywhere else. There is a level of hard work and commitment, and a level of financial commitment on the number of the board members who are in a role that would enable them to do that. And no one is there marking time or just adding to their resume. Everyone is there because they really, really believe in what they're doing and they want to be a part of the overall growth and health of our industry. As I said, I serve on two other boards, and I'm not dismissing those at all. I'm just saying I find the composition of the board to be people whom you want to know what they think. It's a bunch of very smart, committed people. And that's why it's been such a privilege to be a part of it. I want to hear what everyone in that room says. They think through what they say and they're very observant of the effect and they bring a lot to the table.
4. Speaking of the event - the marketing/sales/promotion presence for CRS grew quite a bit during the last decade - which, not coincidentally, was when you had a hand in managing the transition - take us back to the size, scale, and approach when you first stepped in, compared to now?
Very big difference. You know, originally I think the approach was more of a straight path for support because we needed support and there's nothing wrong with that. It has evolved now -the sponsorship team is now more about approaching potential sponsors with a collaborative. Yes we're looking for underwriting because that is the purpose, but also how we can most effectively market and accomplish the sponsors' exposure goals that they're looking for. So it's a much more appealing approach to sponsors because they're not just being asked to give money because we're a good organization doing good work, which again, is fine. They are getting a return on their investment and the people - the team - has improved and evolved and grown in that direction. What's been asked of them and what they have stepped up to is that challenge, and that is to really be consultative in the way they approach potential prospects for sponsorship, so they really are now going at it much more in a traditional marketing role than in a "please give us money because we need it" role.
5. To me, this is your legacy at CRS, this transition. Previously, you had to ask people for philanthropic involvement, and now it's truly an opportunity for them.
The thing is, it has been met with such a positive response from the label community and from the other sponsors. I think every time you raise the bar and do something that is impactful for potential sponsors, they love it. And they want to do more of it, and their competitors will say oh, so it's grown in a nice way. Thank you for saying that. I'm proud that that is my legacy.
6. CRS is an industry gathering, and most sponsorships and promotion opportunities are from the industry - but you and CRS pushed to go beyond the traditional programs, right?
You know I think the easiest way to make those things happen is to get a decision maker to experience the event first hand first. We've been very diligent on inviting potential prospects to CRS to experience it first and then go back to them after they have done so and say, this is how we envision your company being involved, and that's the best way to make that happen. I think that to make people understand that you're impacting a lot of influencers when you market through CRS, and that's very big. All marketers are looking for better ways to engage consumers and it's really one-on-one engagement. That's what this is, and that's why we've been able to get to a non-traditional, medical-oriented sponsor, or a consumer-packaged goods sponsor and that sort of thing - consumer driven products.
7. Radio takes a lot of hits on the product side in terms of content - how are we doing on the sales side as it relates to being a viable product that can spur consumer action among listeners for clients?
I think it goes hand in hand with what I believe is the essential, irreplaceable point of differentiation with local radio. That is the connection with the marketplace and the connection with listeners. I think good advertising does the same thing. Now, the most obvious way to do it -and really truly in my experience the most effective way to do it - is personal endorsement. You know radio uses those very well. It makes a lot of money on them, but that is very similar to what makes local radio really special. That is a connection to the market, to the community, and to the listeners. That emotional connection. That's the same thing with great advertising. So if advertising has an emotional connection, the easiest way to do it on a local way is to do an endorsement. But it takes a more skilled writer to be able to write the great commercial that connects that endorsement. But there is great local radio out there with great commercials. I believe that local radio's strength and longevity is going to be all about that personal connection. Things are awfully homogenized now in the world, and nobody gets the newspaper delivered anymore. It's just different the way you're consuming everything. There's a lot of homogenized content. I think local television news has been impacted so dramatically by the big national cable network, and I think they've hurt; they're hurting. People are not consuming local television the same way. And yet, I still think radio provides that connection, because people want to know what's going on in their community - the happy, fun, good stuff. The high school football win, or whatever. That's the stuff people care about. The world moves pretty fast and yet people have a need, a want, and a desire to be connected to their community. I know that sounds broad stroked, but I think that's the key with radio advertising and why it works, because people do feel a local connection and they do want to know what's going on.
8. There's a whole generation coming up - Millennials-and there are 78 million of them who are all learning how to digest media differently than everyone else. Do you have any thoughts about the ad model for streaming services like Pandora and Spotify versus terrestrial radio? They offer premium services for people who DON'T want ads - can radio ever try that?
I'm certainly no expert on programming, but the one thing I think that we have to combat that is an investment in talent and an investment in talent that connects with millennials. I don't think that there's anyone who can compete with that - any media who can compete with that if you do it properly. If you really want to be connected, there needs to be personalities that speak to you and that you connect with and enjoy. I think if we make the proper investment in talent, and growth, evolution, and coaching, I think that is what needs to happen. When radio fell on hard times, as did every other business during the recessionary period, I think there was a shift away from that kind of investment. I hope it will continue, because I think it's very important for what we do. We have to help them evolve and grow. Great talent in any other media is given so much coaching, and they invest a lot in the talent on all fronts-how they look, how they speak, educating them. I think we have to be mindful of coaching them and investing in them. I think that's the way to make sure millennials continue, because nobody does it like local radio. Nobody.
9. You come from the sales area of radio, where females have a much stronger, ubiquitous presence than programming - why do you think that is?
I would agree with that. I think generally speaking - there's no denying it, it's certainly more male dominated on the programming side - I think it's interesting having started in broadcasting when there were very few women in sales. I remember I had a job as a promotions gopher really, and there was one woman in the sales department at the station who took me out to lunch one day and she said, "You should go into sales." And I was like, "What?!" And she repeated, "Go into sales." So I said, "Well, why?" She took a paycheck out of her purse and showed it to me. "Look, this is what I made last month. This is my check from last month," she started laughing. "Look at that. It's like taking candy from a baby. It is so easy." I swear. I believed her, which was how young and stupid I was. I said, "Really?! You're kidding." And I swear, I actually thought about mentioning her in my remarks. And that was when I decided I needed to do this. My point is, there weren't a lot of women in management roles, but women were starting to gain where they could gain. They could earn as much as men and really the core part is what you sold. You ate what you killed, what you brought back to the cave. It was a much more even playing field to go into the sales side as a female. It makes it sound like I started back in the 20s! Women started getting into sales, and they were exceptionally successful. There are a lot of reasons. I think women are excellent listeners, and to be great at sales it's not going in and talking about how great you are. It's about listening to the other side's wants and needs. They want you to understand what they need, and I think women are good at it, good at follow through and nurturing, and basically taking care of what clients need. They have a natural innate ability to shine in a sales capacity. When I first got into it, it was the only place where the playing field was truly level, and so it was where you are going to gravitate to. Because of that, that's why the trajectory now for market managers and GMs and so forth are coming through the revenue side of the building. I think it's because when they started, that's where the playing field was most equal.
10. You're only the third female in the award's 19-year history - do you feel CRS has a strong enough presence with females on the board? A recent past President is Becky Brenner, so that would appear to be a good sign?
I didn't realize that. That just makes me feel even more honored on a whole other level. I think it's more of a natural outcropping from the back that the organization is more skewed toward the programming side of radio, which is more male-dominated now. So in terms of the board composition, I certainly don't think there's any good old boy network to it. I really don't feel that at all. People are pretty even-minded about who they suggest to the board and why. I think it's kind of more the nature of who's making up programming positions in radio and who the label heads are. But do I think the board can benefit from strong women there. I always believe that. I'm also not one that says we need to have quotas or anything. I think that's kind of silly. I feel like it's a very open-minded group.
1. After being on the board for many years - where do you see CRS headed? How can the event still grow and attract the format's leaders in both the radio and label communities?
When [Executive Director] Bill Mayne came on, he navigated the organization through some tough times. It was not visible to the naked eye of people from the outside looking in that we were facing some potential financial difficulties. He has done it in an amazingly short time and then once he did that, he then began what I would consider the reinvention of the event, and has just continued to innovate. The move to the Omni last year just put a whole fresh face on the entire event. Every year, there's something new and innovative, and that's why the nature of the people who participate are just an incredibly creative and demanding bunch. So do I think there's room? Yes, I do. I think that the way the organization is structured and made as affordable as possible, it is inclusive. There is a high level of attention to content, and I'm not sure you can ask for much more than those two driving forces. So do I think there's a lot of upside? I do. Yes, the industry has consolidated tremendously but we've adjusted to that. I think that shifting of downsizing in our business - that shift has taken place and we've adjusted, and I have no concern for the future of CRB and CRS. I really don't. I think under the leadership of who's at the helm - staff-wise, board-wise-the agenda committee just keeps coming up with super smart people. I don't worry about it. It needs to do what it's been doing, which is educating people and connecting people.
2. Is there anything I haven't asked that is important that you think I've left out?
The only thing I can say is for me is that I always felt - and I mean this from the bottom of my heart - so incredibly privileged to have been asked to be on the board because I got to be around such brilliant, amazing people. And I learned so much from those people and to me, it was such an honor. I truly, when I was first asked, I could hardly believe my good fortune. I was so excited. That's the truth. I was lost in revenue land, but I learned so much and it made me so much better at what I did, because I understood the other side of the building, and I understood the music side better, and the whole thing. For me, I feel like I got everything. I tried to give back, but I got so much more than I gave. I've always felt that way. It really broadened my vision. To me, it was always a gift.