As the GM of Prairie Communication stations Sunny 97.7, WAIK-Galesburg, and WRAM 1330, Vanessa Wetterling starts her days early, on the air or out with local farmers as their local media contact. She loves her involvement with sports broadcasting. Vanessa’s job allows her to remain committed to two of the loves in her life: sports and Monmouth College.
Vanessa was the first Spring 2012 speaker in our Midwest Entrepreneur speaker series. She graduated in 1995 from Monmouth College in Speech/Communication Arts. She was the star guard on the Fighting Scots Basketball Team from 1993-1996. A few years ago she moved positions from a similar post in Macomb into her current post as General Manager of the three local stations. She loves her job because “I get to do something different and work with different people every week.”
As a personal note, Vanessa continues to shine on the basketball court, and she competes well during noon ball as the only female participant. More importantly for our students, she loves MC and was willing to share her experiences and knowledge in the ever-changing area of media sales and digital media.
“Local news and sports will never be replaced by large media outlets or technology as long as we can stay economically viable ourselves. It is a battle for the confidence of retailers and service providers in our area.” Vanessa has followed the success of Groupon and developed her own gift certificate business called Big Deals. Big Deals work as a coupon or gift certificate for buyers, but for Vanessa it is “the proceeds from these sales that become the media budget for local advertisers. The business model is evolving but it is keeping us in the black.”
Vanessa has been very successful in running all three stations back into profitability and garnering financial rewards. From what we heard in class yesterday, she can manage as well as she can play.
What is your product or service?
Our product is our audience (on-air and on-line) – our service is communication to that audience through local programming such as News, Agriculture, Weather, Sports, Commercial Advertising Campaigns, Big Deals Online Store, SMS, Website, and various other activities that serve the community as a whole.
What’s your competitive advantage over your competition?
Our audience is our competitive advantage through our programs both on-air and on-line. We target listeners with disposable incomes now and over the next twenty or more years.
Has your competitive advantage changed over time?
Increased 5 to 1 over the past two years through relationship with the audience, customers, advertisers, partners, legislators, city officials, national agricultural officials and more.
How big is your business today? (Sales? Number of employees?)
50 Employees –PRC
10 Employees – Locally
4 Interns and 15 volunteers
What is your hometown and family background? Were they factors in the decision to start a business?
My hometown background was a growing bedroom community for families who commuted to Little Rock, Arkansas on a daily basis. Every year there was new growth in the education, retail, housing and the private sector section of our community. Many locally owned business are succeeding throughout the community with fewer box stores inside the city limits but on the way to Little Rock.
What is your education? Was it a factor? Did you have the right education?
Bachelor Communications Monmouth College
Yes it was a factor and yes it was the right education
What prior jobs did you have? Were they a factor?
Retail clerk in London, England in the summers (NEXT stores) Taco Bell Closing Manager in Arkansas
No, they were not a factor.
Did you start or own any other businesses?
Were you able to support yourself immediately or did have another job while you started?
I was able to support myself immediately
Founding the Business
How did you start the business? When, where?
The business began in 1998 in Monmouth, Illinois and it was bought by an attorney in Chicago and the rest of us were hired to lead each individual radio group operation
Did you have a “formal” business plan before starting your business? Did you have a mentor?
Yes, a 5-year strategic plan involving sales increases in specific categories such as financial, agriculture, sports, automotive, on-line retail and many others. No I did not have a mentor on a local basis.
What was your “innovation” or market niche?
- Is it good for the customer? 2. Is it good for the audience? 3. Is it good for our corporation? If all three = yes, then it’s implemented even if it is not a traditional radio design.
Legal Form – was the business a sole proprietorship or partnership or a corporation?
What accounting did you use? Who did it?
At first, a local accountant and by two years we use Peachtree and employed a Senior Accountant.
What marketing did you use? Who did it?
Our radio stations were our biggest marketing tool and each employee contributed to the marketing on-air, on-line and business to business.
How much start-up capital did you have? Where did you get it? What physical assets did you have?
$2 million – our owner and he has multiple physical assets
How much risk were you taking? Did you realize how much risk you were taking?
Enormous amount of risk and no we did not realize the magnitude until 2005
Did you have legal advice?
Did you have a bail-out plan?
How long before you hired your first employee? What function did they perform?
Day one- they kept a lot of the original employees
How do you search for employees? What do you look for when hiring employees?
Websites, Networking, Facebook, Career Fairs, On-air recruitment ads
Now -we look for responsible and common sense driven employees who can and will participate in all functions of the radio station-we used to look for job specific duties but no longer
What is your attitude toward compensation?
Employees should be rewarded in multiple ways such as monetary incentives as well as flexibility
Do you hire the job or hire the person?
Management & Planning
Do you make formal plans and growth strategies?
Do you have stated monthly or annual goals or targets? If so, what are they (sales revenue, output, profits)?
Monthly, Quarterly, and Annual goals in multiple categories – sales revenue- profits must be at 30% per market- 0-2% bad debt ratio – and 10% cost per sale on all expenses
How do you measure quality? Customer satisfaction?
Relationship with listeners for on-air
Customer satisfaction with our Big Deals store – purchase/interaction
Relationship with our clients both in person and digital
Growth of client’s annual investment in our product minimum of 5% increase year to year without a rate increase per commercial
What forms of marketing do you use? Who is in charge of your marketing?
Social Media, On-air, banners, references, website, events, sports – I am in charge of our marketing
Do you have any trademarked items or intellectual property?
Freezing For Food, Ag Roundtable, Monmouth-Roseville/United/West Central and Monmouth College sports/Big Deals Store/ News/Ag/Sports reports
How do you determine your marketing budget?
10% cost per sale of each promotion and overall line item versus revenue
Do you have a specific marketing message that you try to get out?
We have many satisfied advertisers and thousands of listeners
Do you have specific marketing goals?
Yes – specific to each category of news, sports, weather, agriculture, big deals store, website, facebook, auction, etc.
Banks & Financing
How much do you use banks? For what functions? Do you use other financial institutions?
Banks for financing, daily deposits, transfers – others for 401K plans
How did you finance your business as it grew? Did you consider alternatives?
Did you have major investments or did you just grow gradually?
Major investments $1.7 million per market (had 17)
Do you actively use credit today or is cash flow sufficient to meet expenses?
Cash Flow today / credit in the past
Do you use professional legal advice regularly? How often?
Have you sued people? Have people sued you? Is the threat of lawsuit a major issue in your business?
We have not sued anyone but we have been sued by people. Yes it is a major issue
How big an issue is insurance in your business? Any thoughts or advice?
Extremely big both to take care of equipment purchases such as a $75,000 claim due to lightning damage
Do you provide health insurance for your employees? Any comments?
Yes, our most expensive line item on the spreadsheet.
Contracts and Negotiations
Do you have to regularly negotiate with suppliers and/or buyers?
No, mainly barter
Is it a formal process with written documents or word of mouth?
Who is your main competition? Do you monitor the competition?
Do you have a strategy to deal with competition?
Yes – Positive remarks and pre-sell their objection as a relates to us
Government Rules and Regulations
Are there special government regulations that you deal with?
Yes- every aspect of our business has a regulation from commercial writing, news delivery to beacon lights on the tower
What type – licenses, safety, environmental, food, hazards?
License, Environment, Safety, OSHA, Hazards – burns, EEO, Issues and Programs, Meter Readings, etc…
Do government regulations present any special considerations or problems or opportunities?
Not enough people to take care of these regulations so we miss out on other revenue specific areas weekly and monthly because we do not have an on-site engineer or IT director. Expensive fees to the government, free political advertising, and artist fees create problems.
Comments about taxes and/or U.S. tax code?
Macroeconomics & Globalization
Are interest rates and inflation a major consideration in your business? If so, how do you deal with it?
Does the value of the dollar and international trade issues impact your business? How?
International trade impacts our business through advertising dollars from energy and agriculture clients.
How much technology do you use in your business? How is it used? Every minute of every day is technology driven in our business
Service, Charity and Community
As a business, do you participate in service, charity and community activities?
All 3 are a part of our daily process
Future, Reflection & Advice
What issues for the future concern you?
Increased expenses, Economy, Compensation, Taxes, Technology, Corporate Business versus locally owned businesses, Gas Prices, School Consolidation, Insurance Premiums, Energy prices, Retention, New Owner, etc.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Waiting too long to make a change when you realize an employee is ill-suited for the job
What would you do differently if you could?
Make the change immediately or take proper steps to document activity
What do you wish that you would have known that did not know?
That they were going to sell a profitable market versus an unprofitable one
What has been the biggest surprise in your years in business? The amount of work has increased dramatically but you are doing it with nearly half the staff of a decade ago.
What was your most satisfying accomplishment? Why?
Rebuilding two markets both with on-air delivery and profitability.
What is your best advice to someone who wants to run their own business?
Pick the RIGHT partners, employees, and mentors. Stick to a budget and a plan at all times. Be cautious and make changes ahead of time to your plans. Always be looking around the corner.