PROFILE: Dollinger brings lucidity to Clear Channel's message

Armed with contacts and confidence, Lisa Dollinger has risen rapidly at Clear Channel Worldwide by helping the comms function keep up with the US radio giant's growing visibility.

Armed with contacts and confidence, Lisa Dollinger has risen rapidly at Clear Channel Worldwide by helping the comms function keep up with the US radio giant's growing visibility.

After Natalie Maines confessed her shame about George W. Bush hailing from her home state, Lisa Dollinger's inbox filled up quickly. That kind of thing happens when you're the top communications officer for the nation's largest radio chain. But the press - and the Dixie Chicks-loving crusaders who posted Dollinger's e-mail address on the internet - got it all wrong, she says. Clear Channel Radio itself didn't force stations to pull the Chicks off the air; a few local managers made that call on their own. Dollinger had much to set straight upon joining Clear Channel in January. What she most wants people to know is that those running Clear Channel's 1,200-plus stations are hometown neighbors, not Big Brother minions. The youngest of five successful siblings, Dollinger considered becoming a lawyer like her father, an East Texas attorney who died when she was 10. She instead gravitated toward language. "I grew up in a family of storytellers," she says. "I really consider myself a writer." Now the single mother of a teenaged daughter, Dollinger occasionally writes short stories for her own amusement. Dollinger caught the first wave of radio industry consolidation. Steve Hicks, brother of Dallas sports mogul Tom Hicks, founded Capstar Broadcasting in Austin when the 1996 Telecommunication Act loosened radio ownership restrictions. His first move was hiring Dollinger, then PR director for Keller Williams Realty. Her early duties included business development and various communications responsibilities. "We wanted to make sure that people still saw these radio stations as valuable members of the communities they were in," Hicks explains. "Prior to 1996, around 60% of all radio stations were threatening to go dark. They were in the red," Dollinger adds. Consolidation pumped resources into struggling local stations. Capstar bought enough small and midsize stations to become the US' largest radio owner, then merged twice in 2000. Capstar first joined with Chancellor Media (both companies were backed by Tom Hicks' investment firm) to form AMFM Inc. That company in turn combined with Clear Channel, and Dollinger was merged out of a job. "I decided at this point that I had the relationships, expertise, and confidence to serve clients one on one," says Dollinger, who founded her own consultancy. Never far from the radio biz, her client list included Triad Broadcasting. Last year, Dollinger came to a bridge she didn't want to cross - hiring more people. "I knew the more people I hired, the less I would be doing the work," she laments. Meanwhile, changes were afoot at Clear Channel, which had quickly gone from a midsized company to a national giant. Its communication function had to catch up, says Keven Bellows, corporate communications SVP for its Premier Radio Networks division. "Clear Channel was quickly becoming the US' most visible radio company," she says. Last summer, John Hogan was promoted from COO to CEO of the radio division as the group's headquarters moved from Covington, KY to San Antonio. "It was clear to me that we had an opportunity to improve our communications," Hogan recalls. "We had a number of communications and press challenges, and while we tried to handle them without the services of a skilled, experienced professional, it was clear we'd do much better bringing someone in who focused on that exclusively." Dollinger seemed a natural for the job and wasted no time immersing herself in the not completely unfamiliar company. Capstar once owned many of the stations now under Clear Channel. "I think I hired her at 11am, and she was working at 11:01," Hogan quips. "Lisa has probably been the fastest promotion I've ever seen," he adds. Within a few months, Dollinger became worldwide communications SVP for the parent company, which includes other divisions such as TV, entertainment, and outdoor advertising. "[Clear Channel Worldwide CEO] Mark Mays saw immediately what a great resource we had, and asked if I'd mind giving her up for the greater good of Clear Channel." Dollinger's ascension is part of a restructuring that puts four SVPs in charge of specific areas of communications - Dollinger on external PR, Diane Warren on internal communications, Andy Levin on government affairs, and Randy Palmer on IR. "She is empowered to come up with things for the company that are more along the lines of policy," notes Eric Rhoads, chairman and CEO of Streamline Publishing, which produces trade title Radio Ink. She quickly attacked misperceptions about Clear Channel by demanding corrections of erroneous news stories. For example, Dollinger notes Clear Channel Radio didn't encourage station-sponsored support-the-troops rallies during the Iraqi war. A grassroots phenomena, the events were sponsored by many individual stations, including a few owned by Clear Channel. With defense working well, Dollinger turned her attention to offense - introducing the press to the real Clear Channel. Newly hired Brainerd Communicators helped organize her first media tour to New York last month. "We talked to some journalists who had deeply held views about the company based on misperceptions," says Michele Clarke, managing director at Brainerd. "Her ability to help them understand the true story in a very firm and yet still amenable way was extraordinary," Dollinger's core message hinges on Clear Channel's decentralized management. "At its heart, the company is a collection of smaller businesses run locally and serving their communities first," she concludes. ----- Lisa Dollinger 2003 Clear Channel Radio, SVP of marketing and comms; Promoted to SVP of worldwide comms for parent company Clear Channel Worldwide 2000 Founds own PR consultancy in Austin, TX 1996 Joins fledgling Capstar Broadcasting Corp.; Becomes corporate comms VP 1995 Keller Williams Realty, PR director 1992 Capitol Services, a national public records service based in Austin, TX, director of marketing and comms 1986 All Saints Episcopal School, Beaumont, TX, PR officer and development director

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