The new CEO of Primedia Broadcasting talks about why he left Kagiso Media and what he hopes to achieve in his new role at what is arguably SA’s most successful broadcasting group, which includes Talk Radio 702 and 947.
He was tired of playing “the Prince Charles role” at Kagiso Media and that’s the main reason Omar Essack is wearing a new crown as head of Primedia Broadcasting, replacing the long-standing queen Terry Volkwyn.
Less than a month into his reign, what is arguably SA’s most successful broadcasting group is also ringing in the changes.
A new on-air line-up has been put in place at Talk Radio 702, with veteran broadcaster John Robbie having retired.
Essack has switched morning and afternoon presenters at 702’s sister music station, 947 (formerly 94.7 Highveld Stereo).
Primedia broadcasting also operates KFM and Cape Talk in the Western Cape.
The start of Essack’s tenure has been marked by continuing marketplace talk that the business is up for sale. Times Media Group, as well as Caxton and Thebe Investments, are reported to be interested (and competing) parties.
Says Essack bluntly: “There are no for-sale signs up.”
Essack says his decision to leave Kagiso as deputy group CEO after 20 years was not a hasty one.
“I just wasn’t managing people, I was in a guiding and advisory role. I wanted to be accountable for implementing strategy.”
Primedia, he says, is “imbued with a strong presence and culture in the market” with an experienced layer of radio managers. Some have spent more than 20 years in the trenches.
And that, he says, means you can’t automatically command their respect. One of the first things he did was to read a book You’re in Charge — Now What?
Like many incoming CEOs, he’s spent the first few weeks listening, learning and holding what he calls town hall meetings. These are driven by questions such as: what must be preserved in the company; what needs to change; and what do staff hope he can do in this respect?
With a strong hold on the lucrative Johannesburg and Cape Town radio markets, what does he believe needs fixing?
His answer has to be diplomatic. “Maybe we’re not all asking enough questions and if companies don’t do that, they live on successful assumptions.
“No organisation should ever be resistant to doing things in a different way.”
Essack is well aware he’s operating in a media space where consumer demands are constantly changing.
“Audiences are exposed to so many different sources of information and for providers like us it becomes more difficult to challenge and surprise.
“It means we have to be the authentic voice of what our audience is thinking 24/7,” he says.
He wants to spend as much as 50% of his workday with clients. He’s a firm believer that sales staff and executives in all companies spend too much time at the office. Radio sales people, in an environment where old solutions don’t work any more, have to ask one question of themselves and the station: “How are we accountable to helping you achieve your business and financial goals?”
While Essack strongly believes in a synergistic relationship between online and radio platforms, he cautions about what he calls “the hype of online advertising super-targeting, where many online metrics are driven by robots and where there is significant ad fraud”.
Radio can exploit this, he says, through its authentic voice and trusted relationship with its audiences.
He remains concerned about industry-wide on-air talent acquisition and development, but says he’s focusing on “a succession from within” approach.