June 12, 2012
Few people better illustrate the growing complexity and multi-tasking of the radio industry than the career of Alissa Pollack. From starting as an intern on a love advice show, Alissa has become one of the leading figures in Clear Channel and Mediabase's multiple platforms and marketing initiatives. Whether she's matching artists to promotions for radio station clients, or helping make the next iHeartRadio concert bigger and better than the first one held last year, Alissa has become a master at juggling projects and initiatives -and making them all work for everyone involved. Here's how she does it:
Exactly how did you get in this business and how did you work your way up the corporate structure?
It's kind of hard to believe, since I just celebrated my 15th year here, but I started as an intern. I was working on a Masters degree in Counseling when I got an internship at Z100. I got the opportunity to use what I learned in college to counsel people on-air as part of Dr. Judy's "Love Phones" show and loved it; it was so much fun! I mean, what could be cooler than getting to help people on the radio? I still remember the day when they asked me when my internship was going to be over. I said, "Three years ago," because I never wanted to leave.
When Clear Channel's Premiere Networks bought "Love Phones," I was just graduating with my Masters Degree and I needed to get a real job. Fortunately for me, Randy Michaels asked me to be continue to be a part of the show, so I got to stay on when Premiere took over.
I was hired to be a producer/off-air counselor and booker of "Love Phones," where I got to work with one of my career mentors, Kraig Kitchin. Years later when the show ended, Kraig asked if I wanted to do affiliate relations. Though I had never been a salesperson --my only experience was at Z100 and on "Love Phones" -- I said sure, I was willing to give it a shot. Since I had no experience, they gave me the smallest markets at first, to give me a chance to learn on the job and prove that I could do it ...which I ended up doing for about 10 years.
At that point, they promoted me to include Mediabase, where I handled label relations while still keeping my affiliate relations job. Eventually, I took over label advertising sales for Mediabase and, as time went on, I kept expanding my responsibilities to include RateTheMusic and M-Score. Most recently, I also joined the Clear Channel National Programming Platform team to create content, contests and events across all of Clear Channel's assets.
How has your role at Mediabase changed over the years, and what are the biggest challenges you face today?
I still remembering meeting Rich Meyer back in 1997 and him telling me about Mediabase. I thought it was a really cool product and told him that I hoped to sell it one day. I had no idea at that time that Mediabase would become the most important part of my professional career. When I started selling Mediabase, we monitored 35 markets and delivered the data once a week to stations on a floppy disc. I am so proud to have witnessed and been part of our transition from those early days on floppy disk, to a system that monitors 1,800 stations in over 150 markets 24/7, and is one of the most important programming and promotion tools in the industry. Mediabase is used by over 2,000 radio stations as well as by every major and independent label in the U.S. and Canada, and we have been starting to expand internationally.
My Mediabase role has changed over the years. I originally started selling it to radio stations before I took over label sales. With a background and relationships at radio, we were able to evolve into a full-service partner to labels. It wasn't just a matter of selling data or the research we produced with RateTheMusic; we could also help share that good research to everyone's gain. We also began partnering with the labels to create marketing and promotional plans that were supported by radio, and helped labels make sure their artists maximized ever opportunity at local radio as well as via the syndicated Premiere shows. It's very satisfying to help Mediabase play such an important role in our industry.
Let's go back to your early days in affiliate relations for a moment. How long did it take you to learn the ropes of affiliate relations ... and fast-forward to today, what similarities of what you learned then still apply to what you do now?
The main thing I learned, which couldn't be truer today, is that this business is all about relationships. If you communicate with your clients regularly and really listen to their needs, you eventually realize that it's not just about making a sale, but about doing the right thing for the client. And if you do the right thing for your client, the rest will follow.
Some of those small-market guys I started working with are still good friends with me today because I did all I could to take care of them, and they took good care of me. You can do great things if you build mutually beneficial relationships.
And how does that translate to what you're doing today?
I actually have two bosses; I work with Phillipe Generali of RCS for my Mediabase work, and I work with Tom Poleman as part of Clear Channel's National Programming Platform team, where I help build relationships with labels and advertisers who want to work more closely with artists. The National Programming Platform team oversees some of the most exciting new initiatives at Clear Channel, such as the Artist Integration program, world premieres, and marketing content across our multiple platforms. We also act as conduits for advertisers who want to associate with the artists who are participating in our promotions as part of our multi-platform content. We can provide a direct connection to artists involved in our high-profile events and promotions that attract a large number of listeners
Do you wait for the advertiser to come to you with a request for a certain artist's participation, or do you offer artists who are already committed to your events to the advertiser?
It goes both ways and to honest, it's not a real hard sell. I'm in constant communication with labels and the stations and have a pretty good idea of who's available and who would be good for what. When you've worked with labels for so long, there's always a great back-and-forth going on, so I can tell an advertiser what artists and promotions are available, and make recommendations on what would work for their brand.
When advertisers want to associate with a certain artist or kind of artist, they come to me and I'll figure out the best way to execute a campaign on our platforms. The reverse can work as well; I know what opportunities to bring an advertiser who wants to sponsor a certain type of event.
After 15 years, there's a virtual Rolodex in my head of things we've done that work for our advertisers, and I've worked with our PDs for so long and understand their brands such that I feel confident representing what will work best for their stations. Once you understand their individual preferences, you can structure events and promotions you know they will want to be a part of -- AND that work for the labels. I know it sounds complicated, but once you know what everyone wants and how they want it, you can come up with ideas that are a win for everyone involved.
Has it been difficult to take on the new responsibilities inherent in getting all of your parties involved in Clear Channel's new platforms and project?
Not really. Having been here for so long has been beneficial to me. The key is to be very enthusiastic about learning within the company - especially when a lot of initiatives essentially start from the ground floor. Not only does it force you to get up to speed fast, but you can also figure out how best use the project for the stations, the labels and the advertisers.
Aren't some of the radio people you work with, not to mention advertisers and label people, resistant to the changes with all the multi-platform and digital innovations?
To be perfectly honest, even I don't like change that much. I like coming to the same office, and I've basically been in the same job my whole life. On the other hand, I love thinking out of the box; I love to do things that can "change the world," or at least the world I work in. It's exciting to be there the first time anything's been done. I love the challenges inherent in that; in one sense the knowledge I gain from doing these things helps me grow and improve myself. I guess you can say I don't like change, but I love innovation.
Sometimes my enthusiasm can get ahead of me when communicating about new projects to labels, programmers and advertisers. I usually get so excited I talk at about 100 miles an hour. So no matter what I say, they go, "Whaaaa?" Eventually, I start making sense to people. I tell them exactly what the upside is for them, but more important is that after I make my pitch, I really listen to them - and that's the key to any sale.
I really find out what their concerns are, and I don't downplay them outright. Rather, I address their concerns by saying something like, "If that's a problem, we can do this or this." If you bring up things that are advantageous to their interests, they'll be more inclined to try something new.
What also works in my favor is with my Rolodex mind, I can pretty much know in advance what their concerns might be, so I'll be ready with possible solutions to their problems. It makes people feel better when you support their concerns and provide easily understandable solutions that cater to their interests.
More than a few people, at both radio and the labels, believe that for various reasons - be it less airtime for new artists or the performance royalty issue - the label/radio relationship is not as strong as it once was. Do you agree and if not, what are you doing to enhance that relationship?
It may be a problem elsewhere, but I think Bob Pittman and Tom Poleman have done an unbelievable job in our company reversing that trend. I agree that back in the day, the labels and radio were inseparable, and there was this cooling-off period, but in the end, for both of us to succeed, we have to be partners. We have to work together. One side can't survive without the other. Bob and Tom recognize the value of strengthening our relationship with the labels, how important artists are to us, and how important we can be to them. Our company is all about making that relationship stronger and deeper. We accomplish that by having creative, "win win" initiatives that work for both sides. The new Big Machine deal is a good example of a win-win relationship; it will likely change the industry for the better.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
I don't know if it's any one thing. Obviously, it all comes down to the bottom line, which is generating revenue. Making sure we're hitting our goals and growing our business is essential, but even though I stress out about failing, it's self-induced, because not only do I want to hit our goals, I want to deliver for the artists and our advertisers as well. All in all, though, I love my job and I feel very blessed to be doing something I just love to do, so I really don't mind the pressure.
One challenge I do enjoy is setting up several different projects at once. Say we're working on a marketing campaign for a major artist's new album; we spend a lot of time brainstorming about what big clients would be interested in the artist. At the same time, we're trying to figure out what other artists will have releases coming out in the fourth quarter, and which ones would be great for each of our major initiatives. A ton of brainstorming goes on here every day.
Has it reached a point where the demand from artists exceeds the number of initiatives you're doing?
Obviously you always have to pick and choose the right acts for each initiative, because there are only so many slots available. We want to choose the most appropriate artists for each project. Fortunately, we reach over 238 million people a month across all our assets, platforms and programs - and there's no format or demo we don't touch in a significant way, because our umbrella covers every form of media. No matter what the project, there's always something we can do for all the interested artists. It's more a matter figuring out the best fit for what the artists and our stations want, and just plugging them in. To be sure, it's not as easy as that sounds.
I assume you're working on the second version of the iHeartRadio Festival. Do you foresee this becoming an annual event?
Absolutely. What's interesting was that last year's event was so successful that we had artists being booked for the second one as the first one was still going on. So it's been a faster and easier process to book the talent for this year's show. It's already an extremely successful event; it allows us to come up with a lot of different ways to grow and morph the event over the coming years.
If you could change anything about your job to make it easier to do it better, what would it be?
I could probably be better at delegating some of the work I do. I'm such a hands-on person that I feel more comfortable if I'm involved with everything, so I hardly ever delegate anything. If I could figure out a way to delegate things without feeling that I'm losing control of it, it probably would be beneficial.
In the 15 years you've been with the company at large, you've seen it and its various divisions undergo significant transformations, which include personnel changes. How have you handled the ups and downs that people at the various companies or divisions go through when those things happen?
When you've been at a company as long as I have, it's inevitable that some of the people you love working with - and have become close friends with - aren't included in the company's changing structure. It's a very difficult thing to deal with; there's always a period of time when you're bummed out at what had to happen, but at the end of the day, it always comes back to doing what you really enjoy to do. I feel so fortunate to have a job like this, one where I enjoy what I do so much that I love coming to work every day, I just have to keep doing it.
Finally, what kind of long-term goals have you set for yourself?
I'm always looking to grow and better myself personally and professionally; I've been very fortunate to have started here as an intern and now be an Executive VP - and be involved in so many great things. I just want to continue to grow in this company.