March 3, 2017

Sam Milkman, EVP & Senior Consultant, Coleman Insights
By Fred Deane

Sim Milkman

Sam Milkman has been a resourceful broadcast executive throughout his career. Given his roots in research, it’s no small wonder that he currently plays an integral role for one of the industry’s top research companies.
      Tracing Milkman’s radio lineage, you’ll find him holding significant positions at such notable stations as Eagle 106/Philadelphia, WHTZ/Z100 New York where he served as Steve Kingston’s Research Director, WXRK/New York as Operations Director, and WMMR/Philadelphia as Program Director. He began his career as a litigation, intellectual property and entertainment attorney, but when bitten by the radio bug, he couldn’t resist.
      His radio career path turned entrepreneurial when he tactically applied his research experience to his own firm, mediaEKG, which also helped serve as his official business introduction to Coleman Insights in 2009 Coleman acquired Sam and his firm and incorporated mediaEKG into its portfolio of client services.
      After initially serving as President of Coleman’s Music Forecasting division, he was later named VP and began serving a broader range of Coleman clients. Earlier this year, Milkman was promoted to EVP, Senior Consultant of the company.

How did your relationship with Coleman Insights emerge?
I’ve had a professional relationship with Jon Coleman for almost as long as I can remember. Jon would come see us at Z100 and I naturally gravitated toward thinkers like him. We would often spend an afternoon together sharing some of the clearest thinking about our station and the best route forward. Those conversations were never about “buying research.” They were more about learning and understanding our audience further. I can remember Jon challenging my thinking, prompting me to get out of my bubble and to take an objective, outside view of what might be happening with our brand. He kindly reminded me of the limitation of certain views I had, such as, “just because a song tests does not mean it’s right for your station” or, “a few weeks of a perceptual question tracked in callout with your partisans is not a strategic view.” I was hooked and knew we would someday work together.

How does the work you do at Coleman build on the solid research foundation you formed during your days at radio?
This work is really the culmination of all that I have learned over the years about brands, music and radio. I had been deeply involved in the research at every station where I worked along the way whether it was Eagle 106, Z100, K-Rock or WMMR. At each station, the question was always what drove each brand, what made each successful in its own way? I have always been most interested in the strategy, and the art and science of bringing that strategy to life.
      Coleman Insights gives me an opportunity to help, understand, and build a strategy for hundreds of stations every year. So rather than focusing on just one station for a few years, I have the opportunity to think about several stations across a broad range of formats.

You were recently promoted to EVP along with John Boyne, and each of you inked new long-term contracts. What was the significance of these promotions for the company?
It’s recognition that it is time for our generation to make our contribution and mark on the company, to carry forward what Jon Coleman built, both in terms of his philosophy on radio brands, and how to run a company that truly serves its clients. So, John Boyne and I are stepping up to that challenge. With Warren Kurtzman at the leadership helm, and Jon as our guide, it’s a team of thinkers and doers that I’m really excited to be a part of.

How involved does Jon Coleman remain inside the company?
Very, and that’s all part of the collaborative thinking at Coleman. While each of us works individually with our clients, we take full advantage of our collective experience when we approach a challenge. So, on a daily basis, we might reflect as a group on what we have learned over the years about issues like competitive threats from other media, downturns in the music cycle, or morning shows that cross format.
       One of the most enjoyable things about working at Coleman is the continuous dialog about issues that matter to our clients. Want to debate the best thinking on a pressing issue in radio? Join us for lunch one day. Lunch with the team is a weave of questions about our most interesting challenges, and a little about life, family and a few of my rambling stories. The fun is you never really know where work ends and great conversation about the world begins, which is how I like it. It’s all one, and it’s all really interesting.

Coleman Insights continues to be recognized as one of the top research firms in the radio business. How would you best define the company’s “mission statement?”
Coleman Insights has always been, and continues to be, about helping our clients build strong brands and develop great content. Relying on innovative research techniques and our years of experience, we provide unmatched insights that help stations get answers to their toughest questions. That allows us to be long-term strategic partners for our stations.
      Jon Coleman built a model that supports most of our thinking. That model includes “Inside vs. Outside Thinking,” “The Coleman Image PyramidSM” and numerous other concepts that drive our daily work. But Jon didn’t build that model alone, that’s not Jon’s nature. Warren Kurtzman, Chris Ackerman, John Boyne (and hopefully Sam Milkman) contributed over the years, and continue to help refine that model.

How has the Coleman philosophy changed your perspective from when you were programming in radio?
Earlier in my career I wanted to do everything, all at once. I don’t think there was a radio station promotion created or a trick of the trade that Z100 didn’t want to be a part of. We wanted to do it all, and better than any station had done it before. Phrase that Pays, Jingle Ball, a street team in perpetual motion, New Years Eve broadcasts from Time Square: you name it, Z100 did it all. To succeed at Z100, you had better be ready to keep up with that machine and the boundless energy of (OM) Steve Kingston.
      Programmers who modeled their career after Steve’s may not have realized that there was an order to the dance. Steve knew exactly what pieces he wanted to put together to build the Z100 brand as the biggest radio station on earth, the center of Pop culture. But from a distance, it may have looked like Z100 did everything without any particular order of priority. So it looked a little chaotic from a distance. And I may have been guilty of that myself. We have the energy, let’s do it all, and do it right now!
      Coleman has helped me see the order or priority of how to build the strongest radio brand. That’s what the Image Pyramid I mentioned earlier is all about. Build your music position first and build it strong. Then move on to other elements of the brand like the morning show, contests or marketing for example. But don’t try to build all of them at once. The focus of that proposition, that you didn’t need to do everything at once, that there’s a synchronized order to brand building, brought organization and clarity to my thinking.
      Jon Coleman, and all of the other stellar minds in the company, including Warren Kurtzman, John Boyne and the recently retired Chris Ackerman, helped shape my thinking about the best strategic approach to each station’s challenges. Who wouldn’t jump out of bed in the morning to do that?

How do clients react when you’re trying to leverage a position of change when you see favorable results from these changes?
Our clients are extremely eager to be as successful as they can be. That’s why they call Coleman. I know that’s why I did when I was a programmer. There is a confidence that comes from well-designed, thoughtfully analyzed, candidly explained, and openly discussed results of a research project. I knew that as a Coleman client over the years I was the guy who waited all year for the presentation of our research results, and I see that in the eyes of our clients every day.

How receptive do you find radio clients to new methods to research their product and brand identity in the marketplace? 
Extremely receptive. Our clients share one common trait. They want to win. Nobody invests in research today because they find it interesting (or because they want to fund my retirement account, as one of my favorite clients puts it). Our clients are looking for a competitive advantage in the marketplace and superior intelligence to drive their strategy and take their brands further. Whether we uncover those insights through traditional survey techniques, focus groups, online focus groups, mediaEKG or some other means, what really matters is finding the key to unlock the potential of their brands. Our clients are receptive to new techniques, certainly, but they are most interested in the best intelligence. The trick is to avoid getting lost in technique, and staying focused on getting to an answer.
      That said, we are taking advantage of lots of new techniques, but we only make those sort of changes when it meets our quality standards and produces superior results. Over the past few years, for example, Coleman Insights has built a new music testing service called FACT360SM. We are collecting responses online (easier, faster, and more convenient for participants), but the participants come from multiple sources: online, mobile, and landline. The system includes all of the features and measures Coleman Insights built into FACTSM music testing for years. The new online version (FACT360) delivers the same high quality while taking advantage of the latest research techniques.

What are the biggest obstacles radio has in formulating their strategic plan to successfully compete with the multi-digital entertainment players that have invaded their space for consumers?
I don’t want to downplay the threat, but radio should not let all of these other entertainment options become a distraction. Don’t let that become an obstacle to doing what radio does really well: entertaining live and in the moment, being part of Pop culture not just a reflection of it, and truly connecting to an audience. The top priorities, in my view are two things: Continuing to do great radio. Really great radio. And thinking about how to put radio in the center of Pop culture. People have to feel like they are missing something if they’re not listening. They’ve got to feel like if they see it in their feed, its old news. It happened on the radio.
      Last Saturday night, my wife insisted that we turn on SNL. I thought she was kidding. Can’t we watch it tomorrow, or the highlights on YouTube? No, she said, I want to be part of the conversation with everybody I work with—tonight! Lorne Michaels didn’t dream up a new formula this season. OK, the political climate offered a rare opportunity, but the coolest part of SNL’s success is that it’s the tried and true formula. Back to my wife: she gets in the car every morning and turns on Elvis Duran even though she has lots of other choices in that fancy Toyota of hers. Why? Because he’s made that connection with her, and he’s perfected a formula she loves.
      Radio needs to keep delivering great content everyday like Elvis does for Jodie Milkman. That’s the best defense to any outside threats. But radio also needs to tell the audience we are here for them. The medium needs to get back to marketing. In a more crowded market for audio entertainment, radio needs to double down on external marketing to make sure the audiences know about and remembers its great brands.

Who have influenced you the most throughout your career and what were your chief takeaways from each of these individuals?
I should start with my dad who I lost late last year. My mom liked to say that my brother and I grew up on the witness stand because my dad was constantly cross-examining us on what we learned in school that day. He taught me to question things (in a good way), to read and learn every day of my life, to be on my toes and ready to answer questions coherently and succinctly, and to be an advocate for things I believed in. Second, Brian Philips (President, CMT) who taught me how to really think creatively, and really understand the listeners’ perspective. Third, Steve Kingston, who encouraged me to challenge every pre-conceived notion about radio and really think about what motivates an audience. I hope I also inherited just a little bit of Steve’s enthusiasm for this medium and tireless energy in the pursuit of excellence. I’ve also got to thank John Lander, Elliot Segal and Elvis Duran, who all taught me about what makes great talent and great morning shows tic.

You had executed some research studies for music labels. What were the nature of those studies and how did they change your perception of the value of artists to radio?
I’ve had the opportunity to conduct numerous research projects on behalf of labels, artists and managers. These projects range from focus groups to perceptual studies for superstar artists and up-and-coming ones. Just like a radio station or a morning personality, artists are brands. They are successful when consumers have a clear picture of what they stand for, their image. This work has added to my understanding and appreciation of the value of these brands to radio.

[eQB Content By Fred Deane]


Nicki Farag,
SVP of Promotion,
Def Jam Recordings

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