Planning (And Plotting) Your Budget - Part 1

by Marshall Such

Isn't it funny how some things can become an ongoing joke? When I was Production Director at what-is-now WNAP, Indianapolis, I was required to submit a yearly budget that was to include things like supplies, music and new equipment. So each year, I would dutifully create a document that looked something like Figure 1 below.

I would turn this masterpiece of numerical magic into the Chief Engineer, who would glance at the totals, ask me where I was buying my tape/carts, how was the wife—usual small talk stuff. Then, as his eyes would trail down to the New Equipment section, I would see his lips twitch, his cheeks puff out, and hear that oh-so-familiar cough (meant to stifle the coming onslaught of guffaws), before the full belly laugh erupted from his gut.

I was of course inquisitive, and queried Mr. Chief Engineer what had caught his fancy.

As he wiped his eyes and started to cycle down his laughter, he pointed a stubby finger at my New Equipment request. And he summed it up in two words: Good luck! (This also brought on a new round of yucks.)

So every year thereafter, he'd ask me if I had included the DAW in my budget, then chuckle all the way down the hall.

Reality

What I wasn't really aware of at the time was this: Mr. Chief Engineer had his own agenda with his own New Equipment wish list. And while a digital audio workstation would fall in the realm of the engineer's budget, you gotta believe that he was politicking for a new processor, additional personnel, and God knows what else.

I soon realized that a DAW was not in my future.

But There Is Hope

Since I'm now working the other side of the glass (to borrow a broadcast cliché) as a vendor to you production (and programming and sales) people, I can offer some insight on how to get money from corporate to make your studio more efficient and the on-air sound more professional.

But before planning your budget, take a careful look at the dynamics of the station(s) where you work. Does the GM make the final sign of the cross over the budget? Is his background in sales or programming? Is there an Ops Manager who would be the final guy in the decision chain? Does your company have a VP of Programming or VP of Engineering? What about the PD? Is he a player or just a rubber stamper to corporate? How much power does the GSM wield?

Even though these are a lot of questions to answer, it's important to know who and how you're going to sell your budget.

The First Step

Good production people are becoming harder and harder to find. (Notice I underlined "good"—there is still the prevailing idiocy that you can hire a jock with a decent voice and wave the wand to magically transform this human into Production Person.) And you, as a great production person, are valued by the station.

Unfortunately, the perception of those around you may be "creative genius" or "our crazy production guru." This probably comes from the fact that you spend hours in one room twiddling all those knobs, and that you can actually make all the stuff work. You may take this talent for granted, but believe me, to the majority of the people at your station, you're some kind of magician. (This awe may often extend to the on-air staff as well. Again, my argument against jock-turned-production person.)

To sell your budget, you're going to have to change the perception of the production department. In other words: think like a salesperson and behave like one as well. We're not talking about wearing a Herb Tarlick suit and putting on a phony smile. We're talking about learning some basics in influencing people.

Open any sales manual and the first thing you'll learn is that you have to sell benefits. And you have to demonstrate how these benefits will affect the person you're selling.

For Example

Let's use a fairly common request that still comes up frequently in medium and small market production rooms: a DAT machine. (By the way, the year after I left the station, the DAT machine in my New Equipment budget was finally purchased. Thanks!)

Since there are so many parameters to deal with due to the new mega groups, duopolies, LMAs, etc., let's assume that you: 1) have at least one other station that shares your room from time to time; 2) you produce both commercials and imaging for one or both stations; and 3) your current budget covers only the basics—Supplies and perhaps Production Music. (Jewish mother: "I could tell you stories....")

So the people who will be affected by the purchase of the station's first DAT machine will be: your PD, the GSM and the Sales Manager of your station, the PD from the sister station (if your PD doesn't program both stations), an Ops Manager(?), the Chief Engineer, and the General Manager (after all, he writes the check or grants the O.K.).

If you're on good terms with your Program Director (and by golly you better be if you want to keep your sanity and your job), he/she will probably be in your corner just out of guilt. One down.

Now, to the sales department. What benefit will a DAT machine in your production room have on the GSM's bottom line? And what about your station's Sales Manager? The answer is twofold:

1) A DAT will save the station money in the long run by eliminating costly reel-to-reel tape which you've been using for archiving spots. Think about it; a 120 minute (2 hour) DAT costs around $10.00. To record two hours on reel will require two 10.5 reels running at 15 ips. Cost: around $40.00. So, for every two hours of material you are archiving, you'll be saving $30.00! Prerecording a 24-hour Christmas show (for example) to DAT would save the company $360.00 over using reel-to-reel tape. And it's digital!

2) A DAT will save time in retrieving archived spots. Do you know how long it takes to fast forward (or rewind) through a 10.5 reel of tape? What, maybe four minutes? And if you don't leader between cuts, how long after you get to the approximate area on the tape before you finally find the cut you're looking for? With a Digital Audio Tape recorder, you can fast forward or rewind a 90-minute tape in about forty seconds! And to find the cut, simply punch in the track number like you would on a CD and voila! You are cued up and ready to dub that spot over to the cassette for the Sales Manager's meeting. Two down, two to go.

Next, the Chief Engineer. (Let's assume the Ops Manager isn't in this loop.) Here's how I would play it: Get the spec sheet of the model of DAT machine you're looking at and memo the CE with the sheet attached. Ask him what he thinks about the specs and if he knows of any other comparable units in the same price range. He'll be down to your room with an armful of literature and an excited tone in his voice as he tells you all about the new Teac with the cool shuttle wheel that has the pre-roll RAM so you always get a tight cue.... (He will think that you've got budget approval and that the station is finally getting into the '90s, even if it is the late '90s.) Three down, on to the Big Guy.

The GM might be your easiest sell since you've convinced those around him whom he trusts. Your pitch to him needs to be professional yet casual. Maybe you start with a quick chat in the hall, Hey, Mr. GM! Have you talked with Steve the Sales Mgr. about the DAT machine? Man! I ran some numbers on what we'd save in tape costs! Geez! Over a couple years we'd have paid for the DAT machine and saved about $700 bucks in tape costs. When you're talking about saving money, you will get the GM's attention. And this casual little conversation will probably lead to the most obvious question from him, How much for a DAT machine? And this is where you have to be extra cool: They're only around 1,200 bucks. I'll get you a proposal and the info on the machine we're looking at. Hey! Didn't I hear that Davidson got the Home Place with a 30 grand contract? GM: Yeah, that was sweet. Get me the info on the DAT machine and let's see what we can do. Bingo! Full house!

Important: Be sure to get him a one page, simple proposal with the cost of the machine (including tax and shipping if applicable). In fact, an invoice from the dealer makes it really easy for the GM to commit to that signature.

marshalls-wish-list

Do a quick analysis, much like I did above, but in spreadsheet form. Include that on your page. Don't forget to point out how this new DAT machine will help your sister station, if applicable. Attach a full color sexy photo of the machine so he can see where his money is going. And Mister or Miz, you're on your way to a new DAT machine!

You may have to prod Mr. GM a little if you don't hear from him in a day or two. STAY WITH IT! If the GM sees that you've taken the initiative to sell his entire staff on this DAT thing, then don't drop the ball at the goal line. Knock on his door if he doesn't talk to you about it within two days after you drop off your proposal.

In Part II, we'll look at getting money for music, effects, extra personnel and discuss the possibility of you buying your own DAW.

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