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Tuesday, November 8, 2011
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Radio - Getting Back on the Path

I do a lot of reading, mostly about the radio industry and how it a) offers compelling content, b) struggles to maintain margins, c) needs to move into digital, d) that it is losing relevance, and e) reaches 93% of Americans weekly. It serves two increasingly fickle clients: the advertiser and audience.

Knowing radio is producing a decreasing amount of local content, by a shrinking workforce faced with generational demands that radio is not meeting, doesn't make the future look bright.
"Radio is a vehicle that brings theater to the mind.

How often, in the last twenty-four hours, have you had an image planted in your mind by any of your town's radio stations?"
There is a future for radio, though. It requires a morphing of what was to what is, and it's based on something that is as effective today as when I first wrote about it in 1996. That digital is another delivery vehicle for radio's audio product doesn't change a thing.

The radio industry needs to put more creative production directors to work - as in the number of production directors and the degree of originality they bring to radio.

Sales also needs to approach their part in a way that works more effectively - not just using new media but getting the creative person at their station involved in the selling process.

(What follows is an article I penned for the October 25, 1996 issue of "Radio & Records." It's as applicable today as then.)

I remember being a teenager and hearing that Stan Freberg radio ad about the giant sundae in Lake Michigan. Thinking about it today leaves as vivid an image as it did then, when we heard it coming from our car speakers. (If you're too young to remember: This was a promo boasting a "theater of the mind" concept. Mr. Freberg spoke of asking listeners to visualize draining Lake Michigan, filling it with ice cream, whipped cream and nuts. Then, to exemplify his point, he place a giant cherry on top and asked the audience if you could accomplish something like this on television. It boosted radio's creativity in the mind of advertisers, agencies and the audience.)

Many times, this ad has been used as the example of why radio is such a flexible medium- except, in this day of group ownership and sales reps who sell "time" instead of concepts, what this ad stands for isn't true.

Today, radio station sales strategies don't use creative production qualities as a marketing tool; because it's much easier for the sales staff to sell our service as a "vehicle for delivery."

We've taken Stan Freberg's concept and ignored it.

Want creativity. Go to an agency.

Today's Radio Sales Staff regards creative/production as an "I don't have to mention it cause I really don't understand it" element in their sales pitch.

They continue to rely solely on "sales" techniques, while using none of the creative aspects of advertising to sell a client. All this does is strengthen the notion radio is simply a delivery vehicle.

You want to increase your station's ad-buys? Follow these suggestions.

1) Your sales staff should understand the production department is their "tool."
It's as important as the telephone.
A properly run production department is the liaison between the customer and the idea. I've seen it many times over 30 years in the business, a sales department that sells time without any idea of how to "use" that time.

2) Create ideas that sell--not just words to fill.
The downside of radio is it's filled with a lot of lazy people who don't take the extra steps required to service client accounts.

Want proof? Ask your sales staff, one-by-one, what copy is running for each of their clients, when does it end and what's going to replace it? Next,how many questions were asked and how many different ideas were presented for each client's campaign? Finally, when pitching the account, how many times was the production director brought to a meeting with the client to discuss their ideas?

3) Show the client you're prepared to act, not as their radio advertising medium but, as their creative department.

This means becoming involved more for their interests than yours. Ask questions regarding their overall business, not just "what would you like to say in this ad?"

4) Demonstrate the broad creative brush your station carries,

Make your sales team use a spec tape that shows your station's diverse creative ability with high-quality production. Showcase your production department as a unique, idea-generating, part of your station.

List previous and current advertisers who have had ads developed by your staff. This generates credibility, and may cause the client to remember hearing those ads. Everyone feels more comfortable purchasing a familiar product/service.
5) Give more lead-time for campaign development.

"Just get it on the air" is a term heard so often it's a lexicon in the broadcast industry. How many times is the average radio spot "re-written" before it hits air? Why, if an advertiser is going to dump a few-hundred to a few-thousand dollars on an ad buy, would anyone want to "hurry up and get it exposed?"

Radio is a vehicle that brings theater to the mind. How often in the last twenty-four hours have you had an image planted in your mind by any of your town's radio stations? We don't do that very well anymore!

Today's radio doesn't have the bite of when Stan Freberg built his sundae because we've lost the ability to be an equal player in the development of advertising campaigns.

Our sales reps don't do anything anymore except sell 30 or 60 second increments of time for as close to rate-card as possible. Our production departments are so flushed with "rush" orders, there's no time left to 'create' advertising.

(Example:) How many last-minute copy changes are caused because "the client just informed me"? If the client "just informed" your account rep, he/she didn't plan the campaign, they placed an order.

Why Radio is perceived as the also-ran advertising medium: Radio is sold as a delivery vehicle.

Today's sales staff is taught to talk cpm's and demographics, not how to create - that is left up to the production department - yet, the production department is never brought into the sales pitch.

We're not using an important link between our product (airtime) and our client, and we're missing an opportunity to display a service with our product-- giving "added value" to what we sell.

The production department's relationship with programming, sales and traffic should be well defined. It is not just a function of programming as most stations consider it. Instead, the production department is a company within a company devoted to serving all these departments.

So, how do you improve your image for producing quality radio commercials? Expect a high-degree of creativity from your production department-- one that pushes the envelope on ideas and style. If you can't get it with your current production director, hire one that delivers.

Set reasonable production order deadlines that require account reps to plan their clients campaign.

Give your production director something to work with-- more than a simple "fact sheet." Having a face-to-face meeting with the client not only accomplishes this, it gives the image your station is putting the client in touch with the creative 'talent' on your staff... a talent as valuable as any air personality.

I have seen the enemy and it is us.

Until we start presenting ourselves as an equal player in the development of advertising campaigns, and not merely the messenger, we will maintain our course. Somewhere along, radio got away from placing faith in our ability to create. As a result, clients became increasingly shy of allowing us "creative freedom, and our sales force gave in knowing "a sale is a sale..."

(Added 11/8/11: Think of the possibilities - now that we have the internet to work with! It's time for the radio industry to grab opportunity and get back on the path to greatness.)

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