Lately, I have been spending more time in sales meetings. That's a pretty amazing admission for a programming consultant, but it is emblematic of what's happening in radio in 2008. In some ways, it's a sign that broadcasters are realizing that strategy meetings that don't include programming, sales, and web managers aren't accomplishing a whole lot. More and more, it is dawning on stations that multiple departments have to work together in order to create content, while figuring out ways to monetize it.
Yet, we're still not talking about the right tactics. In a recent meeting, we spent 45 minutes talking about "van stops" in a lengthy conversation about the ongoing need for "value added." This is no knock on the station or the sales managers. They are in the difficult position of having to overcome the advertiser pressures caused by everything from the failure of "Less Is More," the exodus of national business, and the ongoing bad PR that makes buying radio time out-of-fashion among many in the buying community.
But haven't we essentially committed sales suicide with these "extras" over the years, depleting our internal staffs, creating meaningless "events" that draw very few listeners, while literally demonstrating to clients that these activities have become essentially useless because of their sheer number, and our inability to make them big and special?
While showing up with the station van loaded with T-shirts and bumper stickers used to be an effective way to create grassroots presence around town (Does anyone buy bumper stickers anymore?), those days are long gone. Given the glut of appearances that stations have to make, the station may be only interacting with a couple dozen "listeners" at these "appearances." And what message is that delivering to the local retailer? You get what you pay for.
How can radio utilize its ability to be on the ground in local markets in a different, more effective way? Why aren't we planning and strategizing on a more regular basis about integrating the website and its many offerings, rather than negotiating "value added" and live reads? In a recent Business Week web article, Jon Fine makes the claim that newspapers are well ahead of radio in the transition to online content and revenue generation: "...of all major consumer media, radio is the least suited to an online transition."
His point is that newspapers have the infrastructure to generate content, and its sites are up, running, and generating millions of page views. But Fine hasn't obviously spent much time analyzing a "Rock Girls" promotion, for example. These are combined online, on-air, and on-the-ground events that integrate webcams, video, bracketing, voting, personal appearances, and a myriad of other features that use station websites to extend the brand, while interacting with listeners in a very different way. While sales staffs may still struggle to figure out how to best market these efforts, the bottom line is that programmers and web masters are well on the way toward creating major online events that are marketable, integrated, and connecting with listeners. Additionally, the thousands of loyal database members that most stations have aggregated are a bona fide digital benefit where radio has excelled. (More on this lost opportunity in an upcoming blog.)
Recently, Anheuser-Busch VP of Global Media, Tony Ponturo, spoke at the Association of National Advertisers' Everything TV & Video Forum. He noted that back in the day, Bud was content with buying Super Bowl spots as a central marketing initiative. Not these days. As Ponturo noted, "Everything we do today is about how to extend our traditional media buys with new technology." If a major honcho at A-B is espousing this philosophy, isn't it logical to assume that other major brands are thinking (or soon will be thinking) along these same lines?
Beyond their Super Bowl spots, A-B attracted an additional 32 million views of its ads online following the game. And they created more risqué web content than what actually aired during the game, because of the more open and improvisational nature of the Internet. Porturo points out the changing needs of his brand:
He's not looking for more bar nights and van stops. Those were the "value added" components of the '80s and '90s, and those days are over. Instead of finding interns who can hang banners and pass out stickers, we'd be better off determining if they have video editing skills on those Macs they're lugging around.