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Friday, January 20, 2012
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Holding Onto the Past Doesn't Prevent Tomorrow

It's another year in the radio industry. Knowing this, the question of the day is, "Does it cause you to yawn or smile?" Your answer says a lot about how the next 12 months will flow.

Depending on if you just dive into radio trade journals, dig a little deeper into tech-oriented publications, or only poke around web sites that cater to the public (like Wired), you'll have a different view of what to expect. Do all three, and your future can be bright.

"Holding onto the past when the world is moving into the future only guarantees comfort for a short time." Readers of only radio industry trades are going to continue as if there's nothing to be concerned about. After all, each publication constantly points to 93% of Americans listening to radio each week. Other recent claims reflect the view "now that Bob Pittman is at the controls of our largest group we're in good hands." We also have the heritage comment, repeated ad nauseam: Radio will do just fine because it supplies "compelling" content that's "live and local."

For those who dive into tech-oriented publications like Marketing Pilgrim, they'll see an undercurrent that listening to radio is dead (or close to it). If you don't believe that concept just travel to any of the hundreds of online sites devoted to today's way of communicating, finding entertainment, or news, and read the comment sections. I'm not saying these folks are right. Though, I am pointing out that they share a different view of the radio industry's health than is found at, say, Clear Channel owned Inside Radio.

About web sites catering to consumers (for example, people interested in music), go scan their pages to see how many times the term "radio" appears. You may consider a comforting cup of tea prior to this action, because what you don't find should cause concern.

I do a daily jaunt from one category of read to the next; radio industry trades, to technology journals, through to consumer publications. It's the way I stay abreast of how quickly our world is changing, and how stagnant some folks remain. For me, what's continually evident is how many people in the radio industry resist change, and how often articles in trade journals reflect a defensive posture instead of instructions on moving ahead.

Borrell Associates released its latest report titled "Assessing Local Digital Sales Forces - Jan '12." In it is this sentence: "The number of traditional media companies reporting that they had digital-only reps declined from 60 percent to 46 percent over the past two years." For radio, with a history of attempts at pushing audience to its web sites, this other Borrell observation should give reason for pause: "...sites with dedicated digital AEs outperform those without by a factor of 2.5."

How can a person selling radio advertising fully comprehend what's available for the client in new media - the radio station's web site - with no training? And, please, do not point to the superficial RAB "Certified New Media Consultant," or whatever it is they call this brief introductory course. (After 5-minutes of searching for its name at, I gave up.)

If your routine is to only check radio industry trades for the latest innovative ways to attack a multitude of opportunity in new media, you're destined to be like the radio account rep who asks "I am looking for some fantastic copy idea starters. [Can anyone help?]" That's a real post, pulled from a real radio industry sales web site. All it shows is this account rep is nowhere close to trying to solve the client's problem. They're just looking for a way to put dollars into their own pocket. (Sound familiar?)

The seismic shift of "how" audiences are entertained, "how" advertisers are reaching targeted groups, "how" consumers are researching and purchasing is blindly passing anyone who wants to hold onto radio's past.

If you don't spend at least a half-hour each week digesting articles from new media web sites, which have become standard reading for consumers and clients, these next 12 months may prove to be the last you'll spend in the radio industry.

Adding information sources that are popular with youth and the technology crowd, along with reading articles where people voice opinions that corporations have ruined what's found on local airwaves, doesn't just open your eyes to the vastness of choice - it helps you understand there is an opportunity embedded within the new media model that radio has fought for a long time.

Holding onto the past when the world is moving into the future only guarantees comfort for a short time.

The radio industry has been trying to hold its heritage high, as evidence of the potential in its future. (i.e.: Radio delivers compelling content that's live and local.) This strategy simply doesn't work, anymore. And it certainly won't stop the new media progress we see posted every day.

I asked Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, what would he say to the radio industry at-large. Here is his response:

While I'm disappointed to see that the radio industry lags its competitors in newspapers, TV and yellow pages in the digital arena, there are rays of hope. I see a lot of smart activity and innovation by a few groups like CBS and Cox and even small one-station operations like WCHL-AM in Chapel Hill. I hope they become bellcows that everyone else falls in behind and starts mooing.

I've been perplexed by the industry's inactivity for a long time and have worked directly with a handful of groups. I think I know where the problem rests. It's at the ownership level -- the CEOs and particularly the owners. When your incentive is to maintain profits, you won't use a portion of the profits to investment in new revenue streams. It's a shame, because the industry is in slow-motion collapse when it should be in slow-motion metamorphosis.

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