Erica Farber is the very best choice to run the Radio Advertising Bureau. She is admired by everyone in the industry, she is a brilliant manager, and she has a grasp of what radio needs. As a former radio trade magazine publisher, she knows the full perspective and what needs to be done. I applaud the RAB Board for their decision to bring Erica on board. She has the respect of the industry. She is your new leader, and I believe she is the perfect person for that position at the most important time in our history.
Though it's easy to make predictions after an announcement, I can say that I've been predicting Jeff Haley's departure to my staff for almost two years, and when Erica was appointed to her initial RAB role late last year, I predicted that she was being brought in to run the organization. Why? First, because I know Erica is selective about her career and I didn't feel she would take a subordinate role unless she knew she would soon be running the RAB. But my predictions about Jeff were rooted in his frustrations with the industry.
When RAB had to find a successor to Gary Fries, the board was adamant about finding someone who had deep digital and online experience, because they correctly felt that radio needed to adopt digital in a big way in order to be embraced by advertisers in the future. At the time, the board received a lot of criticism for not bringing in a person with deep radio roots. They rightly stood behind Haley.
Last year at our Convergence conference, Haley made a comment in passing that particularly caught my attention: (paraphrased) "It's a shame that the entire industry is not here to hear the importance of bridging the digital world and radio. This is probably the most important thing they could attend, and yet only the early adopters are here." Digital was his primary initiative for radio, and I sensed that his biggest frustration was that he was hired to do a job that no one could do because of the industry's deep resistance to change. Haley was a thoroughbred who was asked to win a race, but was handicapped by the industry that should have been supporting and rooting for him.
Perhaps we should look at Jeff's role at the RAB as an important transitional time. When Bill Stakelin left the RAB, they hired Warren Potash to run it. Potash was not embraced by the industry, but he served an important purpose, getting the organization's finances in order and cutting out some dead wood. He didn't last long, but he played a critical role -- someone had to be the "bad guy." When Gary Fries came in as the white knight, a lot of the basic problems had been solved, and that allowed Fries to concentrate on growth.
Perhaps Jeff Haley's role was to be the "bad guy" who made radio face its digital future in spite of deep resistance. Maybe because Jeff paved the way in digital, Erica can now be effective in moving radio in the a digital direction because she's trusted as a radio leader. My wife always says to me, "I've been telling you that for years. How come you don't do anything about it till someone else comes along and tells you?" I think it's same thing. Haley's been telling radio to embrace digital, but when Erica says it, they will listen.
It's important that we, as an industry, listen to our leaders. Though we should use our own judgment, those appointed to these roles have been carefully vetted to serve a specific purpose. I think Jeff's purpose was to transition the industry beyond being "just radio." He worked tirelessly in that role, but he was faced with an industry that wants to cling to its transmitters.
Don't do that to Erica Farber.
Erica is going to be a great ambassador for radio, but her mission of keeping the industry healthy, growing it, transitioning it digitally, and communicating our strength is monumental. This is a critical time for an industry that could go the way of newspapers -- or become the next shining star on the media hill. Support her. Listen to her. Be willing to trust her suggested direction. Listen carefully, and follow her lead.
Jeff Haley brought radio to a better place, though I suspect he is frustrated that he could not get more stations and companies on the digital train. He should be proud of what he accomplished for radio; thankfully, some of the bigger companies listened and embraced digital in a big way. Let's applaud his success and honor his accomplishments. Jeff's new role as CEO of Marketron will allow him to continue to have a positive impact on our industry and help provide radio the digital future he believes in.
We are in an industry under attack. Sadly, many of you are still running FotoMats in the age of digital cameras. And many don't know what they don't know. Unless we as an industry, at every level, invest deeply in this digital mission Jeff Haley was pushing, we will be left in the dust. As the head of a major ad agency said on a panel at our recent Hispanic Radio Conference, "A banner ad on a website is not a digital initiative, yet that's what most radio stations are bringing us as their digital offering. Unless they learn how significantly things have changed, they will cease to get anyone's business. The world has changed, but radio, with few exceptions, is living in the past."
Our world has changed. Our future is here. The car radio, which is our primary monopoly, is rapidly transitioning to a new world where our local brands have less meaning. Use your judgment -- but know that others can see where we need to go and be willing to open your eyes. Give Erica Farber your undivided attention, and follow her lead.