Sold-out National Media Credit Conference Tackles Range of Topics Relevant to Credit & Collections Pros

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Timed fittingly with the growing concerns faced by media and entertainment credit and collections professionals, nearly 100 of us met in New York City on Thursday, September 14 to learn, share knowledge, and network with like-minded specialists. The daylong, jam-packed event covered how economic conditions, bankruptcy regulation, artificial intelligence, digital payment processing and changing workplace dynamics will impact the creditworthiness of advertisers – and the adjustments they and their companies will have to make to thrive in an increasingly complex environment.

The National Media Credit Conference was co-sponsored by MFM and the National Media Credit Professionals (NMCP) and attracted a record number of attendees from across the media landscape. Here’s why you need to plan for it next year:

Economist Richard Hastings set the stage for the day’s discussions with an overview of the positive and negative economic factors likely to affect credit risk, particularly to small businesses in the U.S. Hastings, a frequent guest on CNBC, Bloomberg, and other business networks, pointed to an escalation of the Ukraine war, climate change, the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and China and the political battle over the debt ceiling as looming negative factors.

On the positive side, he highlighted the optimization of artificial intelligence, progress toward renewable energy, and enhanced productivity through improved learning skills for workers. Hastings’ overriding message was that credit professionals need to be aware of all these moving parts and be able to assess their potential impact on the businesses that comprise the ad market.

“[Richard Hastings] got the crowd immediately engaged with his risk scorecards and thoughts on the economy, looking back at historical trends and looking forward to new trends,” said Ellen Lehr, Senior Director of Accounts Receivable, Finance at Audacy. “[He] spoke about the impact of WFH on both commercial and residential real estate,” added Tonya Sorrells, Director, Credit & Collections at Hearst Television. “That was a fascinating analysis.”

Bankruptcy experts Bruce Nathan and Andrew Behlmann updated attendees on the surge in bankruptcies across the U.S. They pointed out that the injection of cash into the economy by the government during the Covid pandemic “brought bankruptcies to a halt” because it allowed struggling companies to “kick the can” and ignore financial weaknesses for two years.

Now, however, with government funding running dry and inflation increasing prices for virtually every good and service, companies are filing for bankruptcy protection at a record pace. Moreover, Nathan and Behlmann indicated that Chapter 11 procedures have fundamentally changed so that they are no longer a way to provide management the time to “fix” the company, but rather they are now often pre-packaged deals to sell what remaining assets failing companies have.

Expounding on one of the most popular topics at MFM’s Annual Conference in May,Scott Garger of Creditsafe explored the potential efficiencies artificial intelligence could bring to the credit assessment and collections processes and a panel composed of representatives from Edenred Pay and Mastercard followed that up with a detailed discussion around digital payment trends that increase efficiency and boost profitability.

Several attendees commented that they gained valuable new information they’d not gotten anywhere else. “One thing I learned was that there are many companies out there that have payment portals for customers to access,” said Ed Ienner, Executive Director, Credit & Collections at Dotdash Meredith. “I didn't know so many had them.”

Jen Hartman and Victor Kao of RSM closed the day’s program with a fascinating review of “Generational IQ” – the knowledge organizations need to effectively manage and leverage the strengths of employees from diverse generations now working together in complex environment that mixes in-office with work-from-home employees. Said Sorrells: “The GENIQ presentation by RSM was also a nice change in pace and very interesting. It was a good way to close out the day.” Lehr agreed: “I plan on using what I learned from this session to help manage and lead my team.”

The highpoint of the day may have been the 90-minute roundtable discussion, in which attendees had the opportunity to share knowledge about the real-life challenges they and their colleagues face in the workplace. Topics ranged from the value of credit reports to digital payments to performance metrics; the conversation among attendees highlighted the value of establishing a network of professional peers and creating forums where those network members can share ideas and solve problems.

In short, the session demonstrated the value of belonging to MFM. Participants agreed: “The roundtable is most valuable to me because the attendees/peers are able to participate and collaborate,” said Sorrells, who served as a roundtable leader, along with Lehr and Ienner, who added: “There was so much to talk about, I think we could have been there an additional hour.”

The day ended with a well-attended cocktail and networking time, which allowed attendees to interact with presenters and meet others in the industry who aren’t yet MFM members. “The networking opportunity with the attendees and conference sponsors was very valuable. It is always refreshing to connect in person with folks who you are used to seeing on Zoom calls,” said Lehr,

“[There was] lots of content, the conference flowed very nicely throughout the day, the facilities were top-notch, and the food was great. Joe [Annotti] and Mike [Denson, head of NMCP] did a fantastic job,” Ienner summarized, with Lehr adding, “I hope this joint conference is the first of many.”

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