Shuffling the C-suite chairs at NZME

NZME gains a new head of radio and commercial and MediaWorks loses its head of news in the latest round of media industry upheavals. 

Media company NZME has hired former MediaWorks radio chief Wendy Palmer to take over its own radio business - and thrown in responsibility for all of NZME commercial operations.

At the same time, MediaWorks' head of news, Hal Crawford, has resigned to return to Australia in February, a move said to be unconnected to the company's shock decision last week to put its television business up for sale.

Palmer's appointment as chief radio and commercial officer was announced just days after the NZME entertainment boss Dean Buchanan's departure was made public, a move lost in the wash of MediaWorks' decision to put television channel Three up for sale.

Unannounced is the fate of current NZME chief commercial officer Matt Headland, whose role seems to have been subsumed into Palmer's, effectively seeing her take two of the nine positions on the current C-suite at the company.

NZME has been looking at the change for some time. While radio is one of the better performing sectors in the media industry, with publishing, digital and linear television struggling, NZME has not been able to make up much ground on MediaWorks' commercial radio brands in the six years Buchanan has been at the helm.

Its share of the commercial radio market has been up and down in recent audience surveys but in September it stood at 37.6 to MediaWorks' 52.4, a loss of 1.2 share points from the previous survey.

NZME radio has successfully targeted MediaWorks' talent over Buchanan's time, snaring Fletch & Vaughan, Mike Puru and this week Jono and Ben from The Edge's successful drive slot. And it has used the business' association with the New Zealand Herald to maximise promotion in print and online of its radio brands and stars.

But the only brand it has been able to find enduring success with has been NewstalkZB, which has stayed at number one in the ratings almost unchallenged. NZME's music brands are smothered by the MediaWorks stations More FM, The Breeze, Mai FM, The Edge, and The Rock. Lately, NZME's ZM network has started to rise, but is still fifth biggest in total audience across a week after The Edge, More, The Breeze and Newstalk.

Radio revenues fell 4 percent for NZME last year and make up 28 percent of its income.

NZME has been looking at new leadership for the business for some time and has been able to announce Palmer's hiring just six days after Buchanan pulled the pin.

Palmer led the MediaWorks' radio operations at the time former chief executive Mark Weldon forced the radio and television divisions together. For the past two years she has worked in her own market research company. One of her predecessors running radio at MediaWorks is Sussan Turner, now on the board of NZME.

The NZME chief executive Michael Boggs welcomed Palmer's acceptance of the role: "Wendy is one of New Zealand’s most experienced and most highly regarded broadcast media executives. She has extensive experience leading teams of content creators and revenue drivers with a dedicated focus on growing audiences and delivering results for clients. I’m delighted that Wendy is joining our team."

Whether the NZME board sees her as a future replacement for Boggs, who has been in the role for three years, is unclear. Palmer said today she was impressed by the "ambitious plans of the board and executive" for NZME. She joins in just over a fortnight.

Headland had restructured the agency sales team at NZME and been responsible for revenue growth. He is also an ex MediaWorks executive.

Another former executive from that company, Paul Hancox, is now chief revenue officer at NZME. He is known in the industry to be close to Palmer. 

NZME's share price today was at a record low of 41c on the NZX, having listed at 86c but been under 50c since announcing its half year result in August.

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