Charese Fruge’ Talks To Elaine Burns

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on May 19, 2020

It’s no secret that one of the toughest jobs in the radio business right now is being a sales executive. Gone are the days of any reliance on anything that was remotely traditional in terms of revenue thanks to COVID-19. And now more than ever, companies are relying heavily on sellers to not only keep their families fed, but to keep their employees heads above water as well. The good news for Elaine Burns is that she has never been the kind of seller that just worked to feed her family and that was enough, she’s always gone above and beyond to be the most creative and innovative seller in the building and she’s always strived to be number one.

She’s one of the toughest women I know. The running joke in the office when we first worked together was that we were going to kill each other, and bets were placed on who would take down who first. But the truth is, I respected her strength so much because no matter how often we occasionally disagreed, we always knew we had the same goal, which was to find the right solution for the client and the radio station. To this day she is still one of my favorite people on the planet and also one of the funniest women I know.

Born and raised in Boston, Elaine was selling liquor liability insurance for a small company there in 1997 and a friend of hers talked her into picking up and moving to Las Vegas. The GSM of KXNT, Jackie Landry, was also from Boston and needed a temporary sales assistant, so Elaine took the job. She did that for 6 months and then over a span of about two years, she became the business manager for KXTE, Group AP Manager, and Executive Assistant to the GM. “Jeff Mitchell, KXTE GM, finally persuaded me to go into sales and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since!” says Burns. “It’s the best decision I ever made.”

The thing that drives Elaine’s passion for sales is her desire to learn about her clients businesses and products and help them grow. “My favorite part of the job is helping them find ways to define their goals and succeed at helpng them. When a client has an issue we work together to solve it,” she says. “I also love all of the digital integration that we are able to sell along with radio. It has been so much fun learning more and more technology and what solutions we have to offer our clients.”

Some of Elaine’s bigger accomplishments over the years include selling the “Howard Stern Live” shows and after parties in Las Vegas. “It was an experience that I will never forget. The NTR and sponsorships exposure was like no other. I learned a lot from those live shows,” says Burns. “I also learned a lot working with non-profits and fundraising. Helping non-profits has been so gratifying to me. I am actually on the ‘Grant a Gift’ committee this year. Taking time to help others fulfills me.”

Like many moms, a day in the life of Elaine’s has changed drastically in the last few months. “We are all going through some transition, especially working moms,” says Burns. “Typically I’m up before 6 am and it’s coffee, coffee, coffee and more coffee, I throw in a load of laundry, get myself ready, get the kids fed and ready for school and set up for their Google Classrooms and Microsoft Teams. Then I sit up in my office calling work and getting in touch with old and new clients,” she says. “Things have changed drastically in many ways, some good and some not so good. My husband has an office set up in a bedroom downstairs, all three kids are in class in the dining room and I am up in my office upstairs! I am extremely lucky to have my oldest daughter helping the kids navigate schoolwork. She is a boss lady! It is great to be able to see my husband and family more, but everyone is working harder and work doesn’t really shut off as easily. My kids give my husband and I a hard time for being in the office too long, but they can now truly see how hard we work and we are thankful to have jobs,” says Burns. “I have never cooked and cleaned so much in my life and I have finally planted my vegetable garden!”

There’s so much to learn from a pandemic like this according to Elaine. “The pandemic means a lot to radio and digital. People are listening more than ever using smart speakers and tuning into,” she says. “People want to know what is going on and our Talent is always keeping everyone informed. It is pretty amazing. Las Vegas truly is an amazing community of people. It is one big group. We do have some small surrounding cities, but when you can go from one side of the valley to the other in 40 minutes, you realize how inclusive it is,” says Burns. “We have learned that radio is more relevant now than ever for communicating to listeners. Radio helps people cope and stay informed. There is a definite connection, and radio is a lifeline and a companion during good and not so good times.”

I’ve mentioned that Elaine is one of the toughest women I know. Sometimes it’s hard for strong women to figure out if that is a strength or weakness for themselves. That’s not the case for Elaine, “I have been accused of being ‘too aggressive.’ I have been accused of being a bitch, but it doesn’t really bother me too much anymore. I feel like it is a strength in business and in life. ‘Smart’ men are never intimidated by smart straightforward women and vice versa. I am never afraid of confrontation,” says Burns. “Jeff Mitchell once said to me, ‘it takes between 2-5 minutes to have a difficult conversation, so just get it done.’ That has helped me in sales and life. After years of experience, it is ok to be honest with a client and tell them that their idea may not be the best solution. I am hardworking, straightforward and honest. I expect the same out of people, but that isn’t always the case, everyone is different. I try to always assume that people are doing their best, and perspectives may shift. Patience is something that I am always working on.”

As far as advice for young women interested in getting into radio sales, “I would tell them to learn everything they can about advertising in general,” she says. “I would diversify your knowledge as much as possible. And experience is key! If you can sell radio, you can sell anything! Radio is amazing because you learn so much about your client’s businesses and it is constantly changing and evolving. It isn’t for the faint of heart, I can hear NO and I am fine with it now. Radio is social, fun, exciting, evolving and full of surprises!”

So what keeps Elaine focused during these crazy times? “My personal balance comes from my husband, my kids, my mommy friends, my siblings and my father-in-law.” She says. “I am extremely lucky to have amazing people in my life that support me and love me. My husband is truly amazing and I am very lucky to have him. He grounds me. He lets me know that it is ok if the kids eat peanut butter and jelly for dinner again! It is ok and we are perfectly imperfect!”

As far as looking toward the future, Elaine is optimistic. “I will continue to grow and learn every day,” she says. “Client business models are changing and we are too. We all need to move forward and it is exciting to see how we can all come together and help businesses reopen and rebuild. We can help them accomplish goals together!” says Burns. “The pandemic taught us all to stop and think about what is important. We are learning more and more about community and helping one another. We are learning new ways that we can reach out to our neighbors and friends. We are learning that people are there for us and people are listening. We are learning that we are resourceful!” she says. “Also, I seriously cannot wait to head into a casino and have a nice dinner, some cocktails and go enjoy LIVE music again. Music is my lifeblood and LIVE music stirs the soul! We all need some soul stirring in our lives right now and LIVE music is what does it!”

Follow Elaine on Facebook @ Elaine Burns Luther, and Instagram @elainebsweetlu