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Monday, November 6, 2006
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New Position for Radio Sounds Good...

Peter Smyth is coming across as a strong supporter of moving the radio industry into the 21st century. I've been following his ideas through the Greater Media web site page "From the Corner Office," where this company CEO lays out his concepts.

Mr. Smyth's position and comments matter, and how the industry responds shows whether this is a token seat or not.

He's carried more weight since his acquisition of the lead chair on Radio Advertising Bureau's Board of Directors. What he says does say that Mr. Smyth gets it! That is, he understands where radio is perceptually and realistically. He's pulled no punches in what I've read so far. His ideas come from knowing the world moves forward with or without radio.

"This is technology changing radio's landscape. Change with it..." I've written praised words for Peter Smyth, which have been accompanied by a note that speaking words of action and the action itself are different means of moving into the 21st century.

Now, after reading his comments for this month, I thought it appropriate to list what I consider points of contention and promise.

That we need change within the radio industry is old news. We now deserve action.

Promise: The RAB needs to become the "marketing arm" of radio - selling both the benefits and opportunities that our industry provides to its listeners and advertisers. This one act alone would bring immeasurable resonance within the industry and to those it serves. Until now RAB has been a cheerleader in a losing game, constantly reinforcing the notion that all was well in a rocking ship. Proof is found by viewing comments made by the previous RAB President Gary Fries.

Promise: Someone has to go, one to one, and make the case to convince businesses that we have a solution to their problems that's local, effective and affordable. Radio needs to start in its own backyard, cleaning up the piles of trash that accumulated over the years. The generation representing arrogance, overpricing, obscure audience numbers, paperwork, ineffective copy/production, and pitiful web sites needs to be shown the door.

The replacements need to have a peer-relationship with advertisers. They must understand that advertising rates are going through a downward transition, accountability (which is on everyone's lips) should be enacted, electronic trafficking and invoicing must become reality, and testing of copy and production (used in nearly every other media) should be offered. Radio's online presence needs an immediate cleanup, too. (Five years later I'm still asking why there is no web site to help local advertisers investigate radio advertising. is radio-centric.)

Promise: The industry has been reactive to the pace of change and we need a focused effort to get ahead of the curve. I will argue this point. Until recently the industry has been non-responsive to change. But, now that the opportunity appears to be here with Mr. Smyth, a focused effort to propel radio forward is mandated. There is no option.

However, we are not seeing radio hire experts in technology. Visit your radio trade web sites and view their job openings. In nearly all cases, postiions are to bolster sales or management.

Contention: Speaking of Google's bid into radio, Mr. Smyth says: Along come guys without a vested interest in keeping all those time-honored [radio] systems in place, and they look at our medium and ask, "why can't the ads I hear on the radio be targeted to my life and what I'm doing right now?" If I'm driving by the Best Buy and I'm in the market for a flat screen TV, why can't the radio station run an ad that's going to get me to turn in and take a look at the one they have on sale?

The process is called 'disintermediation' by the tech-heads, but it's far more than just another jargon word. It's a process that we should embrace...

Then he says this: I don't believe that an eBay-type marketplace, such as some TV advertisers are working on, is the answer for radio. This is a forked-tongue message.

Technology, advertisers, and audience are coming together. Yet, RAB's BoD Chairman is saying it's not an "answer." If I'm reading this correctly, there's a lean towards radio creating its own online sales system, which would be a huge mistake. (Also, note: Google's AdWords is not capable of matching a listener with Best Buy, as Mr. Smyth describes. What it does bring to the table is unsold inventory management for the station and access to that inventory by advertisers.)

Soon you'll learn that I've been working behind the scenes in the field of reverse online radio auctions. Having a better understanding, I've changed my opinion that selling radio time online, in an auction format, is the death of an industry. The process is so simplified, and brings with it so many benefits to the advertiser, that radio companies are either going to accept it or find themselves "bought around."

All eyes have been on Google since its dMarc purchase, yet even this received inaction from radio when first announced. Be forewarned, though, that there are others talking with advertisers - like Bid4Spots. So far, you've only seen the tip of this radio ad selling iceberg. The era of buying advertising online (be it the internet, television, print, or radio) has arrived.

Instead of being cautious, protecting its turf, or attempting to (again) replicate a system that it couldn't conceive itself, the radio industry needs to respond to what's available. This is technology changing radio's landscape. Change with it, or become rubble in its aftermath.

It worries me that we are not reading about Peter Smyth's position in radio industry trades. Come to think of it, there's not much being printed in these mags that extol the virtues of change, or ways to go about changing. (Example: How long has electronic invoicing been around? How much have you read about it?)

Now that a radio leader is on board, willing to address the issues, we'll see if the industry is ready.

If radio doesn't change (especially its sales process, as Mr. Smyth urges), it will again miss the boat, and find itself in an even worse position.

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