People who work in radio don't leave too many comments on articles that critique its performance. You can proof this statement by viewing any number of radio trade journals, online. Stories with suggestions on improvement, or those that condemn current methods of how the radio industry is "joining the internet movement" are met with little, if any, response from readers.
You won't find a shortage of people commenting when some of the radio industry defenders speak, though - they usually come from both sides of the fence;
those who support radio as it is, and those who speak their minds about a degrading quality and/or work environment.
I receive many emails
from people who support what's written at Audio Graphics, but they can't put their names in the comment section below each story. I respect that. They have to keep food on the table. I also receive an occasional rebuttal, which I'm happy to print. Then, there are the comments that say "wait, we do this and this..."
"Like it or not, the days of 45% profit margins are over. Why? Because impressions are now a dime a dozen online, and that comes with proof of performance issued through an amazing maturation of analytics and metrics."
To preface my next comments, I respect Ed Ryan, new Editor at Radio Ink. Since his taking the reigns we've seen an improvement in stories there that challenge the status quo. I congratulated him as such in another article: "We do have one bright spot, though, in a powerful article penned by Radio Ink Editor, Ed Ryan. In it, he asks pertinent questions and offers an important perspective."
Though, here's where Ed and I disagree: There is not nearly enough from Radio Ink that pushes radio industry executives to change.
In a recent AG article
titled "There's More Than One Way to Say 'Radio'" Ed Ryan wrote a short comment:
"We write about many of the other players. We also hold conventions that focus on the Convergence of the Internet and Radio. We also think radio is strong and vibrant, not dead. And we like standing up for radio." He was cordial, as always. But, I also see this as him saying "we cover both sides of this fence," which I don't agree with, and here's why.
Radio Ink is a leader. That's not in question. What would make Ed's statements carry much more weight is if:
1) The comment concerning writing about "many other players" could be supported by fact. (Sorry Ed, I don't see these articles published.);
2) If they can show how Convergence (and Radio Ink's "RadioTECHSummit") actually produced movement within the radio industry;
3) If Ed were to define what "strong and vibrant" means.
It's obvious that a company which makes revenue from the radio industry would publicly state they "like standing up for radio." But having the courage to repeatedly say to its leaders that radio has not been on top of change, and to produce evidence that backs up those claims, is what's needed.
"Radio is strong and vibrant." At what cost? Anyone who's been around the industry knows of its decline in human resources, the degradation of product, and the increase in commercial loads. Having another discussion about voicetracking, newsrooms being cut, "local" talent replaced by syndication, or the false claim that radio still creates "theater of the mind" is futile. "Strong and vibrant?" Are we talking profit margins or community relevance?
Radio Ink's "Convergence"
are short strokes of chasing fads, evidenced by the amount of change that has occurred in the radio industry since these conferences started (very little). Like NAB/RAB get-togethers, they are more about telling the audiences what they want to hear, and assuring them that the move to digital will be easy and quick (it won't and can't be). Afterwhich, everyone leaves, goes back home, and continues to do things as always.
You can't work with new media when you are short-staffed, or employing only peope who don't know new media. Social media is not the answer here. The vast majority of times, getting on Facebook or Tweeting is not productive in the sense of your input vs. fan response. I have been collecting qualitative support for this statement over the past year, and can prove the amount of time invested in maintaining a Facebook presence - or Tweeting - does not produce enough response to cover the cost of the action. Which brings us to analytics and metrics...
How long can the radio industry avoid producing analysis of its objectives in audience count and advertiser response - especially with its online ventures? As recently as May 18-May 19, at Radio Ink's own "Convergence" Cari Jacobs a marketing strategist for a company called Sungevity chastised the radio industry with "I'm still struggling to get information from radio partners that help me get a sense of credibility..." She's not alone. We've also heard from other media buyers who say radio "offers spots" not solutions, there's little creativity. In Ms. Jacob's words
"part of the problem is a radio leadership issue."
I began pitching Radio Ink Publisher Eric Rhoads nearly five years ago on the power of analytics and metrics. How many articles has this publication printed explaining the "how" of this discipline? How many panels at "Convergence" have covered this issue? How many times has the radio industry, anywhere, taken this topic under serious consideration?
Here's what I know:
Criticize anyone in a powerful position and you're shut-out, as all will soon see when Mark Ramsey is no longer invited to speak at NAB/RAB functions. He wrote a brilliant piece
last week which challenged NAB thinking that if the radio industry can just get itself into cellphones everything will be OK.
I'm not foolish enough to think I'll ever be invited to give a report on how analytics and metrics can improve the amount of ad buys in radio. Nor do I believe I will ever be invited to discuss the insight gained by mixing my near three-decades of working in radio with four decades of writing software code. Or, how the radio industry can benefit from offering clients the service of keyword ad buys, email campaigns, or search engine optimizing. I've ruffled too many feathers over the 15 years Audio Graphics has been online.
But, somewhere, somehow, radio has to quit bellowing how it has 93% of the population tuning in once per week. Media buyers are looking for response metrics today. Radio also needs to quit cutting staffs while, at the same time, saying downsizing isn't damaging the quality of product. People have ears. Media buyers and audience members are not fools.
Like it or not, the days of 45% profit margins are over. Why? Because impressions are now a dime a dozen online, and that comes with proof of performance issued through an amazing maturation of analytics and metrics.
To Ed Ryan, and Radio Ink. Thank you for giving exposure to some of radio's ills. Now, please, go a little farther and begin to embrace
the future. Enact Tough Love, it's the only way to get through to an industry in denial.
Be ready to take some heat from the CEOs of major groups in the name of trying to strengthen radio against growing competition. By 2015, if the radio industry stays its course you'll find a loss of revenue much deeper than over the past eight years, comparatively speaking. (A metaphor for this is how broadband penetration was at 7% in 2001, today it's over 80%.) Radio cannot avoid the giant called "online."
This is a weak analogy, but appropriate:
Did Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein back down when reporting about Watergate? Become like Washington Post Editor Benjamin Bradlee and pursue the real story today. What's happening in the radio industry may not be criminal, but it is definitely avoidable.