Charese Fruge’ Talks To Wendy Guillie
This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Women To Watch” series, written by Charese Fruge on November 23, 2021
I have known this woman for over twenty years. Wendy Guillie is the General Sales Manager for Cumulus Media/New Orleans, where she oversees sales for four stations. She is one of the most driven Women I have ever met. I have never seen her fail at anything she has attempted, and we’ve shared a lot of memories over the years. Once someone told her she could make a lot of money in radio sales, her mind was made up, and it’s turned out pretty well for her over the years.
A great example of Wendy’s drive is that, back in the day, she would get up early in the morning to teach one, two and sometimes even three fitness classes before working a full day at her radio job. I don’t know where she gets the energy, but if I had even half of it, I could conquer the world.
Wendy started in radio in 2000 as an Account Executive with Entercom/New Orleans and was promoted to Local Sales Manager about a year and a half later. She was quickly promoted to General Sales manager for WEZB, B97. She then added Magic 101.9 to her roster, and finally Bayou 95.7. She stayed there until late 2017 then took a quick break, and finally joined Cumulus as the General Sales Manager over the New Orleans Market in January 2018, covering four radio stations and digital, where she remains today.
Before radio, Wendy worked at a law firm as a medical paralegal. The firm was next door to the radio station (B97). Her current boss, Pat Gallaway, tried recruiting her for quite a while, encouraging her to leave the legal field and become a radio account executive. “One day the stars aligned, and I made the leap,” she says. “It was a definite transition, but I thought it would be a lot of fun and was told I could make a lot of money.”
Wendy is originally from a little Cajun town in Southwest Louisiana called Moss Bluff. “I went to college in Lake Charles (everyone now knows where that is thanks to Hurricane Laura),” says Wendy. “After graduating, I was looking for a job and my parents said I should consider moving to a bigger city. Houston and New Orleans are about the same distance from my parents, so those were my choices. Mom’s advice was ‘Don’t date guys who drive pickup trucks’—so she ruled out Houston, and East I went. The vibe of the city of New Orleans from the time I got here was meant to be,” she says. “I came with $1000, no job and I knew no one. Quickly, I made great friends, got a job, and eventually met my husband (who FYI drives a pickup truck). Once you have been here, you understand what draws you in about the city—great food, music, and people. Nothing compares.”
New Orleans is a unique city and radio market to live and work in. Speaking from experience, it’s like a constant roller coaster. “I went through Katrina—I lived right across from the seawall and lost a lot,” says Wendy. “There was never any doubt about coming back to New Orleans after the storm. It was definitely an emotional rebuilding. It put things in perspective. U2 playing half-time at the first Saints game when the
Superdome re-opened was incredible. A quarterback that had been injured that the Chargers did not want came to a city that was trying to rebuild and gave us our first Superbowl win (thanks Drew). And Mardi Gras is always a great time. Either you get up early to save your spot on the parade route or get dressed up in a formal gown to go catch beads at the ball. FYI-locals also love watching tourist during Mardi Gras—especially those here for the first time. Just because you can drink 24 hours a day does not mean you should. There is so much to do here between the festivals, sports, concerts and any given day in the quarter, there’s never a dull moment.”
Doing business in New Orleans is unlike any other city according to Wendy. “It is definitely a ‘who you know’ relationships business,” she says. “New Orleans is full of traditions and that carries over to how people to do business. Working for companies that are not located here, it’s hard for people to understand, you can’t meet with people the day of a Saints game, you need to close early for Mardi Gras parades, and if LSU is in the Sugar Bowl, you can’t get downtown. You want to get business done early in the week, as finding business owners after 12 on Friday can be challenging. Unless you have been here to experience it, it is hard to understand.”
The radio business in New Orleans is also different from most cities, as the turnover rate in sales executives is not as bad. Most people stay in place for a long time due to relationships. That means managing “homegrown, seasoned, large personalities.” I asked Wendy how she manages that kind of talent. “A lot of times, it is just looking at things from a different perspective,” she says. “What is their ultimate goal—usually to make more money—how do we get there? Everyone is different, so there is not a one size fits all on how you do this. It takes getting to know them and finding the best way to coach them.”
I then said to her, “I know your boss (Pat Gallaway). How do you manage up? LOL…. just kidding…. not really.” Her response? “Wine, lots of wine. The one thing is he knows I am very detail oriented, have great follow through, and great relationships. But he also knows my faults, as I do his, and honestly you just have to know how to communicate.” Again, speaking from experience, Pat and Wendy make a great team (Pat use to take all us girls red fishing back in the day. Like over 20 years ago). He definitely keeps it real.
To be a successful Sales Manager, you have to be able to communicate and work with Programming. Wendy’s philosophy? “Getting on the same page. At the end of the day, they want ratings and great product, and some are very protective of their product. The one thing I try to relate is that I want ratings and to protect the product too—it’s what I sell—I don’t want to sell crap,” she says. “But I also have to make them realize that at the end of the day, we are a business and need to generate money, so we have to work together to make it happen. I need them to respect and appreciate our clients, just as I appreciate their work,” Wendy explains. “I try to look to understand the priority for both sides for us to be able to work together and achieve the common goal. The best thing any PD or talent can do is come to me with ideas-something they have thought about that can generate revenue. Whether it’s a feature to sponsor, a promotion, or a client whose business they are passionate about.”
With the pandemic, another hurricane and the shutting down of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest in the last few years, things have changed the way Wendy and her team do things. “We work a little differently now—all of our people have the ability to work from home but most days we are in the office,” she says. “It made me, as well as, I think most people, realize you have to have a work life/balance. I think most people like having the flexibility. It has been challenging –so many people went out of business, now they are struggling to find workers so they can stay open—all of this has had a big impact on our business.”
Radio Sales is TUFF. You have to have the stomach for it. But for Wendy, it’s been very rewarding. “When I was a seller, I used to get the biggest high when I would close a huge deal. Now, it’s watching those young sellers, and even veteran sellers, get so excited about closing a deal,” she says. “The biggest compliment is when I get a call from one of them who has moved on, and they say what a great mentor I was (and I did not even realize that I was).”
Wendy’s best advice for anyone looking to get into radio sales? “Whenever I interview anyone, I give them the good, the bad and the ugly about the job,” says Wendy. “It is truly a job where you get out of it what you put into it. If they watch and learn, they can make a lot of money, but it does take work. The big gratification is they will determine their paycheck—financially it can be a great career.”
What keeps Wendy up at night? “Everything used to,” she says. “I have now learned I can only worry about what I can control, so now it may be the big presentation for the next day. With everything that I have gone through, from Katrina to COVID to Ida—you can’t sweat the little things and you have to trust everything will work out.” How does she accomplish that? “I work out every morning (I am also a fitness instructor and personal trainer),” she explains. “This starts my day off right, and then when I leave work, I have my family, dogs and a glass of wine. The saying work hard play hard?—well work hard but take time for yourself.”
What’s ahead for Wendy? “With everything that has happened over the past few years, I just want a normal 2022, whatever that may be,” she says. “I always resolve to be better for the next year than I was the prior year, both personally and professionally. That’s my New Year’s resolution this year.”
Follow Wendy Guillie on LinkedIn