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Friday, October 24, 2008
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5 Action Items for Radio, Online and Off

It used to be a simple radio industry. One station would have its GM, PD, 6 air staff doing 4-hour shifts a day, one production director, one traffic director, and a sales team that battled other local stations for a much larger local advertising revenue pie. Radio was hot. Advertisers threw money at it for an on-air mention. (Labels threw albums and money at it for the same reason.) Programs referenced lots of those little things that only a "local host" would know. Syndication was for news slots and Sunday mornings.

It used to be simple because you knew who your audience was, where they were from, and the places they frequented. You played to your audience with relevancy, every day.

"It was the industry titans, including Peter Smyth, who let radio's creative juices get so low..." Snap out of it because you're into today and things have changed, dramatically. You're in a different radio industry movie now. The plot isn't anywhere near what it "was." What worked before won't anymore. New skills and concepts are needed to get over this economic hump, and they have to come from fewer people creating for multiple media platforms.

You have to produce more, and your product has lost some of its former exclusiveness. That over-the-air audience you used to serve to advertisers can be reached in many other ways today - some, which are accountable.

How can you make a buck in this environment? It's challenging, exciting and profitable if you find the right combination of services. Here are five Action Items to pull it all together.

1) You are still in the audio delivery business. It's just that this arena has gotten a lot more crowded. You're broadcasting on your schedule to an audience that's acquired a much shorter attention span, has a diverse program choice, and often wants what they want on their schedule, not yours.

The concept of a "mass" communications media is outdated for reaching the under 34 demo. To reach this group you need to aggregate audience from multiple sources to sell to advertisers. But selling this aggregate is more of a challenge because it no longer fits in the neat geographic boundries that are within driving distance of your sales team.

2) You are in a Global Market, even when you're local. About 30% of your station web site visitors come from outside the United States. The remaining visitors are split from multiple locations within the US. Only a small portion of your radio station's web site visitors are "locals." (You'll have minor fluctuations within this generalization, but all statistics that I've seen over more than a decade of following these trends says this is an "average" geographic spread of audience.)

Move away from offering your station's web site for local-only sales. Build a new platform to focus on local businesses that sell products and services online (globally). Your radio station's web site advertising - banner, gateway, text, video, and audio - should be a conduit for doing business online for your advertisers. Your analytics program is proof-positive of your ability to drive traffic from all points of the globe.

3) Build analytics and metrics into each sale and program assessment. You already look at Arbitron. What's the difference between looking at Google Analytics, WebTrends, or other visitor-measuring software? Count response like you count song spins. Advertising is moving towards accountability. Advertisers are excited about buying quantifiable response. Analytics and metrics are no longer items you can ignore, whether relative to programming or advertising.

The easiest way to slide into this mindset is to learn "Excel" or a similar spreadsheet program. Knowing how to use a spreadsheet is no longer just for accountants. Assessing your audience, the response to an advertiser's message, or how many persons opened that last email contact you had with them are all required to improve business efficacy today.

4) Get together as a radio industry by putting petty differences aside to fix the larger problem of diminishing respect and relevancy. The Radio Communicators Group is a first step, but its concept of getting radio groups to work together effectively is still unproven after a few tries (LmIV, The HD Radio Alliance, Radio Heard Here).

There are two areas where acceptance of reality must be made. 1) Problems faced by the radio industry today ARE NOT perceptual, as some radio group CEOs are saying. Radio has long hailed "perception is reality" as an industry mantra; therefore, even if it were perception, it's reality. 2) Content must be improved. If it's not, all of these other Action Items are worthless. Anyone who has created content knows how difficult a task this is. It can't be done with continued staff cuts.

5) Create SOMETHING! It has been so long since the radio industry created something new that it's hard to imagine it being a "creative" industry. Set aside the Jack format, which is arguably mildly succesful, and what do you have over the last 15 years? The introduction of the Sports Talk format is the only sustainable programming change that comes to mind.

Radio needs something new to get back into the limelight. Too often radio concentrates on program elements. What it also needs is something new to show advertisers. Getting away from poorly-produced commercials, served in pods, is a start. We need to rebuild the concept of radio advertising, for the sake of the audience and advertiser.

Radio is not dead. It will never be dead. But, it has lost a faithful base of believers in its ability to entertain, inform, and sell. The way out requires extra effort, a willingness to change, and a missionary mindset in spreading the word - much like the one the internet community benefited from between 1995-2004 when it got its footing.

The simplicity that helped make radio great is gone. With one radio industry foot still serving a geographic area and its online foot playing primarily to outsiders, radio must change because its game has changed. Stop wasting time on current promotions based in arrogance and misinformed logic, like HD Radio, Radio Heard Here, and Radio 2020. They are all a lost cause.

Only those radio industry leaders who learn new ways, while motivating the troops to make adjustments, will make it into the next decade. Only those radio stations which acknowledge that they are competing against more than other local radio stations, TV, and newspapers will find enough advertisers willing to pay them money for exposure - and response.

Radio was hot! It can be that again if management recognizes how many opportunities exist, and adopts these new ways. You now have 5 areas to concentrate on and very little time to make the change, because things are not so simple anymore.

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