August 16, 2011
Jeff Simpson must love a challenge, because he readily accepted the opportunity to succeed Bruce Reese as the Pres./CEO of Bonneville International, after Reese segued to Hubbard following the sale of several Bonneville properties to the Minnesota radio group. Yet, Bonneville is not about to give up on radio, as Simpson expects the Salt Lake City-based radio group to continue to emphasize its strengths in localism and service to its stations' respective communities. Here he expounds on the Bonneville philosophy.
How do you feel stepping into the shoes of Bruce Reese at Bonneville?
Just as the announcement was made, I received a gracious call from Rod Brady offering congratulations and I think I said something like, "Thank you Rod, and believe me, I understand it's a smaller pond now, but it's a classic, heritage company and I feel a tremendous responsibility with that legacy." I looked forward to accepting the challenge to follow Bruce Reese, who is an amazing leader and whose management team has done great things with Bonneville. My goal is to carry that legacy on by continuing to build strong local markets with an emphasis on localism and local leadership. We have strong markets with solid stations and great local leaders. Our market managers are doing a marvelous job, so I don't feel a need to shake up or "make my mark" as we continue on our path to enhance that legacy.
How will you measure Bonneville's success - by the rise in revenue a station generates, or by its ranking in the market?
It depends upon the station. For us, it's all about building a strong overall station, so revenue will follow that. We do feel like there's progress to be made in both, within our stations' billing and market share. We're going to concentrate on both of those.
Will there be more station divesting?
No. We're keeping what we now have. Hubbard wanted to buy them, but we didn't want to sell. That hasn't changed.
Is there a chance you might acquire stations in the markets you currently have stations?
We haven't really taken that off the table, but at the same time, we're not actively looking. Right now we're focusing on the stations we have in those markets. We want to make sure we continue to strengthen and improve on the legacy in those markets.
Bonneville has always trumpeted its emphasis on localism. Will that continue to be a buzzword for the group under your leadership?
Absolutely. Everything from content to promotion to marketplace solutions runs across being local, being part of the market and our listeners' lives. Exactly where we highlight our localism varies from market to market and product to product.
Again, part of Bonneville's DNA is to really understand the importance of strong local leadership in management, programming and sales.
How do you reconcile your emphasis on localism and local talent with your use of national syndicated air talent?
It's certainly not easy. You have to walk a fine line between using nationally branded personalities, who bring a lot of power to the station, and developing strong local brands. It is a tightrope.
I don't know if there's one consensus answer to that question. It depends on the market and goes back to the individual station. I would say it's a process of developing unique personalities as host voices and programmers who have a clear view of our mission and objectives.
There continues to be a "digital divide" of sorts, between those in radio who want to go full out in digital platform investment and those who still don't believe that the ROI justifies such an investment. Where do you stand?
Part of the way we innovate here is by understanding the difference between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. Our radio properties must continue to innovate while sustaining innovation, but most of what we think of as digital innovation is a disruptive innovation. You have to develop those differently. There's a difference between the two. If you are a small digital start-up, you would make different ROI decisions. The scale of the investment, the ROI decisions, the operational approach, all these things are going to be different. That's why we need to organized to address both kids of innovation
From a business standpoint, on both types of innovation, we try to balance our long-term view with a quarter-by-quarter view of our business. We try not to overreact to monthlies or quarterlies and work with our stations in focusing more on the long-term to make sure we're delivering solutions for our customers. Then we work really hard on those solutions to generate revenue out of those solutions.
So are you still bullish for the rest of 2011 as well as 2012?
I was very bullish, but when you see the numbers that came out recently, you naturally start to wonder. Still, even with the shortages, I feel optimistic that we can deliver positive solutions and results. This is a great time to help clients make money. You've got to be positive. It seems to me that even with this economy, it doesn't feel gloomy like before. The fact is that people want a lift. They're looking for reasons to be more optimistic ... but without a crystal ball it's hard to know, I'm still optimistic overall.
Do you feel comfortable in your new job, or are you still on a learning curve when it comes to radio and how the industry operates?
I'm new to the radio broadcasting business, but I do have a lot of media experience. So I wouldn't say comfortable ... there's something to learn here every day. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of talented, hard-working people in our company. Smart people built Bonneville to what it is today and it's an essential ingredient to our success.
Has anything about how radio operates surprise you?
There are things that surprise me, but I always try to take a step back and look at it in terms of a consumer media company. We're committed to doing a good job for the consumer and for the marketplace. That brings things into clarity for me.
When I look five years down the road, I love the idea of still being in radio, be it over-the-air, podcasts or streaming. By delivering quality branded products to audiences, we create trust in the marketplace.