Kira 101

Delivered to Cedarburg Chamber of Commerce 2021

When Maggie asked me to speak to you today, she said that I might tell you all about how I got to the current place in my career. And I really had to think about that. How DID I get to become the publisher of the Milwaukee Business Journal? Which, by the way has been one of the coolest jobs you could have.

I’ll tell you the readers digest version of my 39 year and counting career and along the way I’ll share pieces of advice I wish I had when I started.

My senior year of college I talked myself into a copywriting job at WCIL in Carbondale Illinois. I was working on my Radio-Television degree and Journalism Minor and one day simply walked into the station office and asked if they had ANY jobs available. The Sales Manager at the time asked me if I could write commercials. And I said YES.
I had not actually ever written a radio commercial, but I had some classes on advertising and thought – how hard could it be? I was a writer. I pretty good writer. So I said yes. Then I picked up the local newspaper on my way home, cut out a few newspaper ads and wrote commercials from them. Went back the next day with my “portfolio”
I got the job.

Say Yes – even if you have never done it before.
That job led to working in the promotions department and running some remotes. I met the on air people, the administrative folks, the people who did the billing and of course I met the sales staff. They were the ones making all the money –

I started asking the sales manager to hire me in sales. I asked him and asked him. I interviewed and he said no. I asked again. And again. A friend of mine in the billing department told me that the sales manager told her I’d never, ever make it in sales and he was not going to hire me…. I asked him again. SO my next piece of advice is Ask for what you want.

Within a year I was the top revenue generator at WCIL AM-AM and I think it was because of my next piece of advice: be curious
When you are a salesperson at a tiny local radio station, you meet a ton of small business owners who are excellent at what they do – not so great at marketing. They need someone to help them tell their story to the public. I was that someone. I could write, I honestly and sincerely was curious about them and their business – instead of trying to sell them a “radio schedule” I asked about why they started their businesses, what made them the best at what they do, what their biggest challenges and opportunities were – and then I crafted their stories into compelling messages that introduced them to more customers. Instead of being “busy” when the sales-person came to their door, my clients pulled up a chair and a cup of coffee and they told me their stories. and the fact that I could then share their story with thousands of others – well that didn’t hurt.

I later came to WLIP and WIIL in Kenosha– and I worked as a sales executive, Sales Manager and General Manager as the company grew, I ended up running a seven-station group for Pride Communications.
When I started there, I was the youngest and greenest of account executives and the others were not lining up to mentor me. They had all the “good accounts” in Kenosha and Racine Counties. I was calling on the smallest of the small accounts – but did a pretty good job of growing them because I helped them tell their stories.
But I really succeeded when I learned my next lesson. I got uncomfortable. Just five miles or so from the radio station door was the Wisconsin Illinois State Line. Our FM station came in clearly in Lake County Illinois. And NONE of the other reps felt compelled to go there. I was the one to make the drive, ask the questions and tell the stories for the many, many MORE businesses that were down in Lake County Illinois. Within a year or so, I was the top rep at this group as well.
Get uncomfortable.

Over my time with these stations, I met a wonderful businessman named Jim Hooker. He purchased the stations that I was working at. And even though at that time, I had just had my two daughters and was working part-time, he hired me as his General Manager. Why on earth would he do that?

I was the one who really asked him about his business – his story. We talked about why he bought the stations and what he planned for their future. And even though at the time I was a part time sales rep, he wanted my thoughts on how we could get better.

I had been with this group of radio stations for quite some time. I knew the good, the bad and the ugly – and I shared with him ways I thought we could grow. I told him some uncomfortable things – things someone who just invested millions of dollars on a radio group may not be prepared to hear. But I brought these things to his attention along with SOLUTIONS and the desire to make things better.

He listened, and challenged me. And together with other leaders he developed along the way, we grew that business into a 54 million dollar group and he retired before his 60th birthday.

– Speak the hard truth, and come with solutions. And that goes both ways – listen to the hard truth – and be prepared to make changes.
When Jim sold the stations, I stayed with the purchasing company for a few more years. But after a few management changes, I realized I needed to take another step. And that leads me to another piece of advice. Know when it’s time to go. When you don’t believe in the vision of the company or the people you are reporting to any longer – Leave.
This one is a much longer story than we have time for today, but it started as the radio group that had the MOST female general managers per station of any in the US. When I left they had exactly zero. I’m sure you all can fill in the gaps here.

Next, I spent nearly the next 8 years working at Entercom as Sales Manager and then Director of Sales. I learned a ton, grew in my story telling ability and I would have worked there until the end of my career, but the corporate office hired a new General Manager. I’m not going to tell you his name, because I AM going to tell you why I left. He had worked for this company in another market and was let go under strange and sort of secretive circumstances…we soon found out why. In addition to being an overall lousy manager, More than once he was intimate with our clients. We told corporate the hard truth. They ignored it. It was time to go.

During my time at these stations I got to know the Milwaukee Business Journal. I got many, many great leads by following the paper and E Mail news blasts before any of my competitors did, and started attending the events and meeting Milwaukee area leaders there too. I was what I guess you might call a fan-girl of the Milwaukee Business Journal. When their Ad Director left to take on a publisher role in Phoenix, he told me about the job opening. This was right about the time my husband was putting in his retirement notice at his job. He is a bit older than I am and it was time for him.

I contemplated it and debated it. We had planned on me retiring with him and us doing some traveling. I knew I would work again, but I was also OK with taking some time off to see the country and the world.
But I knew that if I came on board at MBJ as Director of Advertising, I MIGHT have the opportunity to become Publisher when the publisher at the time retired.

Imagine the people I could meet. Imagine the questions I could ask.
Imagine the stories I could help tell.
So I took the job and much to my surprise Mark Sabljak the publisher prior to me retired less than two years into my gig with MBJ. And I got the job.

I started my Publisher role with 100 CEO visits in 100 days. It was an opportunity to not only challenge myself to meet as many people in our region as I could, but also to ask questions – to be curious – to be uncomfortable – and to tell stories. And to hold ourselves accountable for telling ALL the business stories.

Over my years as publisher I’m very proud to say that our team has changed the face and yes, the faces of the traditional Business Journal. We proudly tell the stories of ALL the business community. We have a wall when you walk into the office that is set to hold the last 52 weeks of covers. It is meant to remind us every day to tell all the business stories – those from every corner of the community, men, women, every race color and background. For many, many years most business journals, like most publications across the country were filled with stories about and pictures of successful, older, white men and while it had been getting slowly better for years, my team and I got serious about it. Once a quarter I’d review the covers, features and main stories we published and then I’d ask our editor if he THOUGHT what they covered was in proportion with the population and all the busineses out there. I’d ask him to guess what percentage of men and women they featured, how about the business leaders of color? He’d guess, I’d share with him the reality – and we’d all become more aware. There were no rewards or punishments for good or bad numbers, we simply held ourselves accountable for telling ALL the business stories in the market. That’s another lesson: Hold yourself accountable.

The next piece of advice – Mentor others. You will get more back than you give, I promise you thatI’ve been part of several organized mentorship programs and they have matched me with amazing young people. But also be open to those wonderful accidental mentorship opportunities. That young associate who looks lost in the hallway or the one whose great ideas are not being taken seriously in meetings. Ask them for coffee – share your experience. I’ve had the opportunity through my career to mentor many, many younger professionals. Some for a few days – some for years. It enriched my life and they tell me I helped them too.

Number one most powerful piece of advice? I’m going to ask you to practice it with me right now.

Imagine a problem you are struggling with right now. It can be in your career or your personal life. Picture it as clearly as you can.
Now close your eyes. There is a person sitting across from you that you know very well. It’s you – but it’s you ten years older than you are today. If you are 35, it’s your 45 year old self. Look that ten year older self in the eyes and tell her the problem you are struggling with. Ask her what does she wish you would do about this problem today? What could you do today to make her a stronger, better person? In my experience my ten-year older self is pretty darned smart. She’s helped me through some tough challenge.

#1 Say yes

#2 Ask

#3 Be Curious

#4 Get uncomfortable

#5 Tell the hard truth but come with solutions

#6 Know when it’s time to go

#7 Hold yourself -and your team accountable.

#8 Mentor others

#9 Ask your ten-year older self.

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Published by Kiralafond

You know those days when you wish you could just sell all your stuff and go on the road? Me too! So I did it.

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