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Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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Radio Needs to Revamp Its Sales Process

My words often don't jive with the direction radio executives are taking. This comes from a belief that started around the time consolidation began: Keeping your head in the sand will not help the radio industry. Back then I saw no radio trade publication delivering the truth about how radio was being gutted for the benefit of its execs at radio groups and a few on Wall Street, so I began speaking my mind.

"On air, long commercial clusters are painful to sit through. Product separation is also non-existent." Though my company (Audio Graphics) was doing fine producing radio and television commercials, it became my purpose to write about what many in radio were whispering but nobody was openly talking about.

Times were changing. We not only faced consolidation, but the whole of the radio industry was in a deep state of denial about the importance of an upcoming new media - the internet. Having spent 27 years in radio (and longer writing computer code), I aimed Audio Graphics at delivering information on how the internet affected radio.

Back in 1999-2002, all I witnessed from consultants and radio trades was support for whatever-it-was that radio group heads wanted and disregard for what was written about the internet being something radio needed to take seriously. The internet, despite all that it offered, was ignored in lieu of a "stay the course, nothing will harm radio" attitude.

Retrospectively that proved to be a wrong choice. Yet, today there are still those who believe there is little to be concerned about because "radio reaches 93% of the U.S. population each week."

What follows is not about this "reach." Nor does it have anything to do with the content flowing from radio stations, content that is arguably homogenized and diluted (due to tens of thousands of alternative audio sources that did not exist when consolidation started).

Instead, what needs to be said again is not going to please many in corporate headquarters. So be it. My concern remains more for the radio industry than it does for highly paid executives whose main goal is to cut costs.

What we need to discuss is how radio must revamp what it sells, how it sells it, and the way it affirms delivery of results. The reasons are simple and obvious: 1) Radio commercials have become a weak form of delivering a message; 2) For the most part, the people who sell radio advertising do not understand the concept of communicating a message using radio; 3) The internet is taking more away from traditional media every day. (New media offers accountability; radio does not.)

Radio Commercials Are Weak

Having created over 10,000 radio commercials, I speak from a position of experience. Move emotion, and you move product. What we hear on radio stations today holds little ability to connect with the audience on an emotional level. Who's to blame for this degeneration doesn't matter. Though, having a production director responsible for running a commercial assembly line - for multiple stations - is part of the problem. Quality radio commercials take time to produce. Production people are not given enough time to handle the workload. Couple that with many experienced production pros being cut loose to lower costs and you hear the problem.

Radio Sales People Don't Ask the Right Questions

"What would you like to say in this commercial?" is not what a client should be asked; probing questions surrounding their customer's needs are. That is, don't focus the ad's copy on the client's grass seed, but about the results those grass seeds bring - a new, beautifully lush lawn. Digging into the psychological needs of an advertiser's customers will bring far more response than trying to paste together words of puffery.

Filling :60 of airtime bloviating about a product only produces an ineffective ad.

If a sales rep writes the commercial, they need to know what a consumer gains from the purchase. If the production director writes the commercial, they need to meet with the client. "Fact sheets" don't work in conveying a commercial's needs. The proof is in what's heard daily on any radio station. (My bet is that Dick Orkin never produced a commercial without first sitting down with the client for a lengthy conversation.)

Advertising Money is Moving Online

There's no secret why we see such a large increase in online ad dollars. People are spending more time online, and ads there show the level of response delivered.

When radio executives decide to put energy into delivering this same accountability, using over-the-air commercials, the industry will see a new curiosity from advertisers. Until then it's just "old" media, up against a new more accountable cousin. Sales reps may claim radio commercials are effective, but today ad buyers say "prove it" - and new media does.

Nothing is more irritating than to watch something worthwhile dissolve into less worth. Yet - over the last 15 years - by disregarding a constant call for change, ignoring requests for improvement, and insisting that things are fine the way they are, industry leaders have pushed radio to be less than what it was. Small markets may take an exclusion on this as many still "serve their communities," but a majority of medium and major market stations now operate with a voice-tracked short list of songs.

In the area of creating local commercials, though, nobody is excluded. What passes for a local radio commercial today is usually quickly slapped together, practically never re-written, and given little individual attention. And we haven't left the production room.

On air, long commercial clusters are painful to sit through. Product separation is also non-existent. On 7/5/12 @ 4:19pm, on WGAR Cleveland, I heard a Pizza Hut commercial immediately followed by another restaurant chain's commercial, which started with the words "Pizza? Again, tonight? Seriously?" Seriously!

The radio industry needs to revamp "how" it prices commercials, "how" it obtains the information used within copy, "how" commercials are written and produced, and "how" the audience responds to them. Introducing product separation to where it was before consolidation wouldn't hurt either.

The last time we had a major revision in radio advertising was in the early 1960s. It's time to ask why, and then put a plan into action that helps improve radio advertising.

Continuing to waste energy getting an FM chip in cell phones (or promoting HD Radio) will not save radio's day. However, that appears to be where radio leaders are taking the industry - and why I am, again, speaking my mind.

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