Have a very Happy and Safe New Year! The JacoBlog will return on Monday, January 5.
Fred Jacobs is President of Jacobs Media, a media research and consulting firm. Jacobs Media clients have included CBS Radio, Premiere Radio Networks, Citadel, Greater Media, MTV Networks, Playboy, Amazon, Electronic Arts, NPR, Sylvan Learning Centers, and Taubman Malls. Learn more about the company here.
As we come off a tough political election campaign, the subject of "attack ads" is a constant in post-election analysis. Did either McCain or Obama's attacks hit the mark, did they backfire, and who did the best job of playing offense and fending off attacks?
While I'll leave that discussion to you political junkies, let's turn to the topic of whether attack advertising works with consumer products - such as radio. While I've seen some attack ads work well - especially during the old YSP versus MMR wars back in the '80s - most of the time, naming names is a tactic that stations shy away from. Many marketing experts concur they just aren't that effective when you get out of the political arena, and they can be downright dangerous. Clearly, some in radio - especially a guy like Larry Rosin, who has been involved in political research for years - would take exception.
So why don't more stations do it?
First, it's not easy. There's a certain tone that's required in an attack campaign that needs to stay on the positive side of center. Otherwise, the ads can sound downright mean, and most people are turned off by that approach.
Second, an attack campaign has to be rooted not only in truth, but in areas that are of importance to consumers. We can all think of limp radio attack campaigns that called out "Station X" for doing something that is of no major consequence to listeners. Too often, the ads are just so much minutia.
Finally, humor can play a major role in these campaigns, but of course, being funny - while staying on message - is something that most writers simply cannot pull off.
But when you think about the wildly successful Mac versus PC "Get A Mac" campaign that Apple has orchestrated, it has all these elements - and more. And it has clearly been a winner as Apple's share of desktops and laptops continues to rise. While the iPod has been a major contributor toward consumers wanting to get a Mac for home or business use, the "Get A Mac" TV spots have clearly had a major impact.
They are well-written and funny - two of the key ingredients in making attack ads successful. They are also extremely well-cast. The actors who play the roles of Mac guy (Justin Long) and PC guy (John Hodgman) are perfect. (And I've always made a connection between PC guy and Bill Gates, just to make these ads a bit more personal.)
But the key reason why this campaign works is that it's rooted in truth. When we see these ads, they are very identifiable and they are funny. And you tend to nod along with their message because you've probably experienced these same drawbacks and issues with Windows PCs - they crash, they're slow, Vista has been a crashing disappointment, etc. This is how attack ads truly resonate - when they remind us of the actual shortcomings of a product, and do it in a way that we don't feel bad about.
It's also noteworthy that Microsoft's "response ads" have been lame. The Seinfeld/Gates campaign should have worked. Seinfeld is hands-down one of the most popular funny guys ever. And Gates is amazingly flexible and actually quite humorous in many on-camera situations. But these spots fizzled because they really didn't have any substance or depth. Nor were they funny.
The next idea was the "I'm a PC" campaign, using "real people" to depict how widely popular and diverse Microsoft users truly are. Nice idea, but besides having a slogan that sounds like "I'm PC" - which may not have a very positive connotation - how many people truly want to stand up and be proud of using a Microsoft computer?
Jacobs Media's Paul Jacobs provides us with insight on how the RAB and local broadcasters can become proactive and compete for shrinking newspaper advertising dollars.
Consider these two headlines from earlier this month:
December 16, 2008 - Detroit Newspapers Announce Suspension of Home Delivery Four Days/Week
December 17, 2008 - The RAB Announces "Imagine A Day Without The RAB"
These seemingly unrelated announcements one day apart actually have a great deal in common. While radio's biggest competitor for ad dollars - newspapers - is shrinking before our very eyes, the radio industry's sales trade association conducted a publicity stunt designed to demonstrate its high value.
What's wrong with this picture? While we don't fault the RAB's intentions, the Detroit newspaper announcement is where the action is. All observers concur that it will free up enormous advertising dollars at a time when radio could benefit - especially in Detroit, a city that has been hardest hit by the recession.
This is an opportunity for the RAB to demonstrate its true value by coming together to aggressively sell radio's benefits, reach, and results to advertisers who will be soon looking for other places to spend their ad dollars. This isn't the time to sit back. Rather, this is the time for the RAB to put together a task force here in Detroit to work with local broadcasters to create a meaningful initiative to move the needle on the metric that really counts - revenue.
We're big fans of newspapers and journalistic excellence, and it saddens us that America is losing great journalistic institutions. The scandal involving Detroit's "texting mayor," Kwame Kilpatrick, was uncovered by the Detroit Free Press. Losing an important voice in the local media landscape is painful. But it's a fact that newspaper readership just about everywhere is on a fast decline. Technology and demographics have conspired to squeeze this industry, and we don't see any realistic way they are going to turn things around. Compared with the relatively minor declines in radio listenership over the past decade, the newspaper model is in deep distress and is ripe for the picking by an aggressive radio industry.
Is the decision by the Detroit newspapers an isolated one or will there be similar "experiments" conducted by publishers around the country? Have we forgotten about Tribune? The whole media world will be watching Detroit - and not just because of the carmakers. How this media drama plays out will be the subject of research, study, and PhD dissertations.
This is the moment for the RAB and local Detroit broadcasters to come together and design a model that aggressively goes after newspaper dollars. Because if it works, it will be scalable in the next market where a newspaper fails.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi
"We are the change that we seek." - Barack Obama
Two different philosophers, decades apart. Same message.
If we keep waiting for our industry to change for the better, we're going to be waiting a long time. The traditional leadership that always moved the needle in the right direction is struggling to redefine their own businesses.
Both are brilliant, wealthy businessmen who have set the financial tone in media for decades. Now each is struggling to get their heads around the direction of their respective companies. For Karmazin, the promise of satellite radio has been trumped by new media, and a business plan that - by definition - is simply limited in scope. For Zell, all of the exciting new staffers and energy couldn't transform a tired, failing industry. And yet, hundreds of traditional radio employees ran to both Sirius (XM) and Tribune in the hope that both patriarchs would have the magic pill that would guarantee media success in the new millennium.
It's not going to happen, because in this movie, change has become democratized and individualized. Small companies, little research and consulting firms, and smart individuals can now have as much impact as "the bigs," provided they are taking risks.
How else do you explain SBR's streaming radio channels? Or Edison's "30 Under 30?" Or Kurt Hanson's ongoing streaming initiatives? Alan Burns' "Movin'" format? Coleman's PPM research? Media Monitors' PPM analysis tool? Ruth Presslaff's innovative email database program? And yes, our iPhone app. By a long shot, this isn't the definitive list, but it gives you a good sense of how many "little guys" are out there doing big things.
This time around, change isn't likely to occur from the biggest consolidated companies, all of which are struggling with debt, while reaping few benefits from "the economy of scale." This time around, it may be up to the rank and file - perhaps led by some of the currently unemployed broadcasters out there with an idea of how to transform an industry that needs help.
The Osgood File. I'm Charles Osgood.
Most meteorological events, including the tropical depressions that become hurricanes, happen independent of what we do or don't do. We can track them, try to forecast them and get out of their way when possible.
Remember, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"? Well, I have found a document, previously unreleased, that may well be the long-lost Grinch recipe for making a recession, extending a recession, and turning it into a full-blown depression.
With all due respect to the late Dr. Seuss, who gave me a new way to look at the news, I believe I have found an amazing description ... of what seems to be a depression prescription.
It spells out in detail, step by step, inch by inch ... in the tell-tale and Grinchified style of The Grinch ...
What goes into a slump that becomes a recession ... and how to turn that into full-blown depression.
If business falls off, you must not advertise. Oh no, for that would be extremely unwise.
You must pull in your horns and not let people know ... how great are your products when business is slow.
If you let them find out, they might go out and buy. You don't want that to happen, so don't even try to spark any interest in things that you make. This might slow down the slowdown, for heavens' sake.
There once was a saying that you can dismiss.
If I recall, it went something like this:
"Here's the secret of success," I heard someone say, perhaps on CBS,"Early to bed / Early to rise / Work like a dog / and Advertise!"
If you want a recession, remember that verse ... then go out and do exactly the reverse.
If you're a salesman, don't do any selling. Cancel your ads --- they might be too compelling.
If you're a lender, don't lend any money. Wait 'til the skies clear, and everything's sunny.
Creating depression is really a cinch.
That's how you do it ... Yours Truly, The Grinch.
The Osgood File. Transcripts, podcasts and Mp3s of these programs can be found at theosgoodfile.com.
I'm Charles Osgood on the CBS Radio Network.
When you work in radio, sometimes you begin to think that you're working in the most difficult environment ever. But if you think about some of the unbelievable things that have occurred within the past few weeks in other industries, you might conclude it's just as bad - if not worse everywhere.
Consider these examples...
The Houston Comets are no more. This is the WNBA franchise that won the first four league championships when the league was born. A search for a new ownership group failed, so 37 people are now unemployed, Houston is without its WNBA team, and former great players like Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper are wondering what the hell just happened.
The Detroit News & Free Press are curtailing home delivery. You've probably read about this one, but it's still a mind-boggler. Calling it a "bold transformation," the papers will only be delivered three days a week in the hope that readers (yes, newspapers are especially appealing to older consumers) will go online to enjoy their daily "paper."
Best Buy has offered a buyout to almost its entire corporate staff. After reporting lousy third quarter profits, the retail giant has offered voluntary severance packages to just about every one of its 4,000 corporate workers. What if they all took the package, you ask? That's a good question, and it makes you wonder about how these employees must feel about their value when their parent company is ready and willing to get rid of all of them in order to save money.
And no, I haven't even bothered with the Bernie Madoff or GM/Chrysler merger stories. So, when you read the next crazy, unbelievable, or even lameass radio announcement that is sure to come down soon, think about the fact that every business and industry is experiencing unprecedented times.
How much longer until the Inauguration?
Mark's a good friend and a great observer of the media landscape. But in this morning's blog, he disparages the individualized radio station iPhone application, and instead, lauds RadioShiftTouch, an app that he says can get any station anywhere - for $9.99. So, you can get thousands of radio stations - terrestrial, streaming, etc. on your iPhone...
As Mark points out, "The iPhone is not about you, it's about your audience and what they want."
Precisely. And our nationwide Tech Polls continue to show that your audience wants to stream your station on their computers and handheld mobile devices. Yes, some of your more adventurous listeners might want to seek out that Ska station from Ireland, or a station they grew up with back in Omaha. But by and large, they want to be able to - simply - find your station on computers and phones, and listen whenever and wherever they want.
Big aggregator sites that offer thousands of stations aren't about the listener - they're about making lots of money by combining many, many stations together. The tyranny of choice is one of the reasons why satellite radio is failing. While subscribers have a couple of hundred stations available to them, the fact is that most people just tune in a handful. Similarly, that's the way most of us watch cable or satellite TV. We find our handful of favorites, and that's where we gravitate. The fact that there are hundreds of available stations is irrelevant to most people.
But even if you believe there's value to being a part of a Wal-Mart "big box" site, there are cheaper ways to be there, such as FlyCast (free) versus having to pay $10 for RadioShiftTouch. Most iPhone owners aren't crazy about paying for most apps to begin with, and this one's more expensive than most.
So an app that contains hundreds or thousands or an infinite number of streaming stations for $10 isn't really a service to most consumers. In fact, it's confusing and relatively expensive. A real service to your listeners is making it easy to receive your station on popular handheld devices.
I frequently agree with Mark about most things digital and media. But not this time.
And by the way, why wouldn't stations want both - their own individual icons on iPhones and being a part of aggregated sites?
Full disclosure - we are selling individualized iPhone apps, they are selling fast, they are working wonderfully, they are positively reviewed by consumers, and we couldn't be happier to be able to bring this service to an industry that could use a little good news.
It is fascinating that as the recession deepens, and media outlets big and small recalibrate their losses, radio continues to look good - in certain metrics. New national Arbitron data indicates that while TSL has dropped, overall listenership in the U.S. has jumped from 232 to 234 million this year to last. That's not a bad story overall, when you consider that "flat is the new up."
And why shouldn't the radio story get even better? As consumers reassess everything, there is increasing evidence that media and entertainment expenditures are under intense scrutiny. This is especially true for media that people pay for. We're all going through it, asking ourselves the ever-present question: What do we really need and what would be best left for better times?
Comcast is experiencing this right now as customers are calling the company looking for relief from high cable bills. They have developed more inexpensive cable bundles that limit channel access, while lowering monthly outlays. You have to believe that Sirius XM operators are taking similar calls from nervous subscribers.
A recent study from Nielsen Mobile indicates that more and more consumers are questioning why they have a cell phone and a landline. And many of them are in the 35-54 age range, not struggling college graduates or twentysomethings.
This is more evidence of the importance of our annual Tech Polls, the fifth of which is planned for February. As the recession alters media habits and expenditures, it will be even more important for radio to seize available opportunities. How are consumer habits changing? Are we possibly looking at lowered numbers for satellite radio and even iPod purchases in 2009?
Meanwhile, a free medium that offers so much entertainment and information may be perfectly cast for recessionary times. Radio could actually glean even larger audiences in the next year or so, especially if it more effectively makes its case to consumers - and advertisers.
There is a marketing campaign here. After all these years of satellite radio redefining our industry, isn't it time for radio to step up and aggressively take pride in what it does best, while pointing out radio's inherent assets? Is it "Radio Heard Here" or is it "Free Radio NOW?"
Paul Jacobs, vice president and general manager of Jacobs Media, advises radio there is an opportunity to generate huge revenues due to one of our competitors changing their business model.
Everyone in radio is tired of being battered in the press for being part of "old" media. Maybe another word for "old" is "over," meaning that in some pundits' minds, radio's relevance in moving forward is a thing of the past.
While we'll grant that radio's luster has faded, the 90+% cume figure certainly shows relevance. The same case can't be made for newspapers. In the past two weeks, the Tribune Company has filed for bankruptcy, and our hometown newspapers - The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News have announced that their business model has failed and they will only provide home delivery on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. During the other days of the week, Detroiters can buy a scaled-down version of the paper on newsstands or subscribe to the digital edition of the paper. In other words, the system that has served them well for more than a century has gone belly-up, and they need to make major adjustments in order to stay in the game.
While it's easy to write off the demise of Detroit's two daily papers as a symptom of the major economic trouble Southeast Michigan is facing, the issue is much larger than that. And radio needs to not only understand the implications, but also the opportunities this presents:
1. Adapt or die. The newspapers realize they can't keep going down the same path. Economic, technology, and generational forces are working against them.
The Detroit experiment is a canary in a coalmine, and is probably the tip of the spear - expect more to follow. Radio needs to heed this warning as well. Getting quality, branded station content on web sites, in iPhones and other mobile devices, HD Radio and more is paramount to the industry's long-term success.
2. Think multi-media. The newspapers no longer view their web sites as online editions of their print editions. They are arming their reporters with video cameras and will provide significantly enhanced content online that matches consumer needs. We know from our Tech Polls that video is a key reason why consumers go online, and its proliferation is stunning. Radio cannot afford to limit its digital efforts to audio-only, unless it wants to shrink further into irrelevancy. We need to arm our street teams, morning shows, and other jocks with video cameras to record events, listeners, and more. We need web cameras in the studio. We need to invite the audience to submit vids. We are no longer merely "theater of the mind."
3. THIS IS A HUGE REVENUE OPPORTUNITY FOR RADIO. Think about it - the newspapers in Detroit won't be delivering four days per week. Sure they will be selling online ads, but what are advertisers going to do to get their message in front of hundreds of thousands of consumers in a creative way? That's right - radio. This is our time to step up our efforts, position against newspapers, tout our strengths, and develop competitive multi-media solutions. We are witnessing the demise of one of our major competitors. And the timing couldn't be better.
This isn't rocket science. It's Radio 101. Great local compelling content. Creative, aggressive sales staffs. Huge cumes that are easy for advertisers to target. Low production costs. Multi-media solutions.
It's time to go for it.
Lately, there's been a lot of focus on Detroit, and how Ford, GM, and Chrysler will pull out of this mess. There are a lot of factors in play, from the quality of their cars to union wages. But for those of us who live in and around the Motor City, there's also a sense that the marketing efforts from the Detroit 3 have been uniformly abysmal.
A case in point is the incessant promotion of satellite radio. Our Tech Polls - and now just about every media and technology pundit in America - continue to tell us that Sirius XM isn't the "X factor" that will sell new cars and trucks. Yet, you continue to see satellite radio touted in commercial after commercial.
We know these ads could be much more effective if they promoted the ability to plug one's iPod into the vehicle’s sound system. For so many consumers, that's a key selling point.
So why should we be surprised by the results of a study from Prosper Technologies that suggests that a new media allocation model is long overdue in the automotive industry? Surveying more than 17,000 consumers, they conclude that there's a "disproportionate allocation of spending on TV versus other media."
Yes, the advertising mavens tend to spend about 40% of their automotive budgets on TV, and yet, which medium does the Prosper model suggest is more effective?
As James Geoghegan, President of Media Head, points out, "These findings are nothing short of a complete re-think of media planning." Well, I guess so. And yet, radio takes a distant back seat to television in automotive media advertising. And it's looking more and more like the Internet could be the big winner in 2009. So what's the problem?
Some of radio's CEOs have submitted that it's all about perception. While many would take exception to that claim, in this case, they may be right. As the Prosper model shows, "the amount of radio consumed, its influence to purchase, combined with lower costs makes it a stronger media option, which according to consumers is under-utilized."
Sadly, radio is making a lot of negative headlines these days. Ongoing layoffs, the firing of popular personalities, and other events continue to put the medium in a bad light. And yet, the intrinsic value of radio - which was always overlooked even in good times - remains as an incredibly effective way to sell just about anything.
Recently, I had the pleasure to participate in Arbitron's Consultant Fly-In. Gary Marince - who always puts together a great agenda - was kind enough to have me moderate a fun PPM panel. We answered more than 60 FAQs about PPM in 60 minutes, thanks to the expertise of Arbitron pros, Jay Guyther, Brad Feldhaus, Beth Webb, John Snyder, Bill Rose, and Nancy Weismann.
But the motivation for this blog was the panel that preceded it - a fabulous session featuring three Philly radio programmers on videotape - WMMR's Bill Weston, WXTU's Bob McKay, and KYW's Steve Butler. It was an insightful look inside the minds of these PDs, and how their lives have changed since the advent of PPM.
One of the moments that really hit me was an aside from KYW's Butler about some of the sales pressures he faces. His problem? All-News institution KYW - which typically averages a 5th or 6th rank in 25-54 adults - doesn't have enough younger demos, specifically 18-34s.
Gee, is this a surprise for an all-news station on the AM band?
But it reminded me of how just about every station we work with faces similar criticism and pressure. A top-rated station in a major market with dominant morning numbers garners sales complaints because the show doesn't have enough 40+ audience. An Active Rocker that often hits #1 25-54 doesn't have enough women. A Classic Rocker that is always #1 or #2 in 25-54 adults is too 45-54 centric. An Alternative station that is now firmly in the Top 3 12+ still doesn't have enough 25-54 numbers to suit sales demands.
Don't get me wrong. I totally understand what the sales people are going through. Advertisers are using an especially vulnerable period for broadcast radio to make even more unrealistic demands, while using every station's weakness as a negotiating wedge.
Isn't that the way it's always been? Every buyer's job is to find a way to focus on a station's audience vulnerability in order to score a better rate. And because every strength has a weakness, it's easy to pull this off with any station.
But here's the rub - too often these days, management or ownership is taking these negotiating techniques seriously. A station with perfectly good ratings starts making fundamental brand changes in order to somehow placate the clients, given the sales pressures. Music is being added to broaden demos, morning shows are being altered to help shift gender appeal, and brands are being damaged in the process.
Keith Cunningham, Jacobs Media AM Show & Talent Development Specialist, provides today's guest blog reminding us that what we say does matter.
Our words matter; more than we think.
Policy and X-factor aside, historians and strategists are trying to pinpoint exactly how and why Obama won the ’08 election. I don’t claim to have the answer, as I believe there are many reasons, but I think his words were a major factor. And that’s something Radio should consider – the words that stations use to describe themselves and their brands.
Team Obama is full of brilliant marketers and campaigners, and they knew that to truly represent “change” and achieve victory, Barack needed to say things differently. His policies weren’t necessarily that far apart from some of his competitors, but his words were from another world…or generation. This led to some of his critics claiming he was nothing but a great speaker. While he’s is indeed a fantastic orator with a strong presence, it was his words that truly made his speeches great.
In addition to himself, Obama had up to three speechwriters on the trail. The oldest being 30, with the other two in their mid-20s. Think about that. Obama didn’t hire the usual gray haired, out-of-touch, political hacks who would have probably cranked out the same ole speeches we’ve heard from every other candidate over the years.
As I travel the country, fixated on listening to radio stations and what they say about themselves, it strikes me that most promos, liners, DJs, sound effects, voiceover guys (and girls), and even formatics, regardless of format or demo, all sound pretty much the same. Literally, I hear Alternative and Active Rock promos with virtually identical language and voice as the Classic Rock and CHR stations. And I hear many DJs that have no connection to the music, demo, or market.
This needs to change if radio is to become less predictable, more relatable, and more meaningful in the overall media scheme of things. And it’s even more important when stations are locked in a music battle. In cases like that, the words used may be the silver bullet.
As you plan your market domination strategy for 2009, think about all of this. If you’re programming a station for 18-34s, why not have an 18-to-24-year-old write the copy – not someone in their forties. If the target is females, think twice before giving the golden copywriting pen to a man. And if morning show talent is older than the demo, get some age-appropriate staffers to help plan the strategy, some of the content, and the language and tactics.
Finally, there should always be some in-demo listeners, not just jaded staffers, who are asked to participate in music and creative meetings. Now more than ever, radio must include the demo and speak their language.
Today's guest blog is from our own Bill Jacobs, who provides reasons for us to listen to terrestrial radio. Why, you ask? Because it's free!
You don’t need me to tell you that we’re living in a very unique time, one that none of us could have ever imagined. With the exception of gasoline (which is definitely nice to see), prices are high or rising and so is unemployment. Concurrent with that is the reality that consumers are spending less on nearly everything – auto industry sales are plunging, and the Christmas retail season is looking scary. Satellite radio's woes are well documented, and an industry where subscribership has historically held up well - satellite television - Dish Network is experiencing declines.
All of these subscriber-based services cost money. Yet, terrestrial radio does not, and that remains one of its key selling points during this unprecedented economic tsunami. Few things in life (that are any good) are free. Douglas Gomery, the emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, notes that in rough economic times, two winners -- at least should be television and good old terrestrial radio. For the same reason that low-cost providers such as Wal-Mart (the lowest prices) and McDonald's (dollar menu items) appear to be weathering the economic storms, it stands to reason that, “TV and radio will both do well during a deep recession," according to Gomery. He goes on to state that “A poor economy is not likely to be kind to satellite radio services XM and Sirius – even as merged.”
In recent months, radio stations have faced tremendous cutbacks in all areas, but the expectation of viable entertainment every time a consumer punches up a station hasn’t waned. That, coupled with the fact that radio is arguably the best free media proposition, means that broadcasters must maintain a level of quality and consistency, even in difficult economic times. And while staying positive is a challenge, it's a must.
Should radio stations go on a full blown on-air campaign touting the fact that we're free? That’s a station-by-station call but certainly there’s a lot to be said for pointing out this very fact:
“WHO says the best things in life are free? WE DO – Rock 102, always on, always rockin’, and always free.”
As consumers continue to cut back on many entertainment options, it is crucial to remind listeners they get the most bang for their buck from radio:
"Cost of a new iPod? $299”
“Cost of four tickets to a Lions game? $200 and unending aggravation.”
“Cost of going to a movie with the entire family? $50.
“Cost of listening to Rock 102? Not a dime, though if you’re inclined to send us some money, we’ll gladly take it.”
How's that for a little free advice?
It was just a matter of time before Country wised up, and saw that the Rock and Classic Rock genres were dominating play-along video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. There's just something about seeing a 12 year-old play "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges that has to get you wondering why Country has been MIA in these games.
To meet this need (just in time for Christmas), a new Rock Band 5-pack containing Brooks & Dunn, Brad Paisley, and Dixie Chicks (obviously recovered from their Bush bashing) is about to be released. As R&R's Mike Stern asks, is this trend brand extension or "band extension?"
Actually, it's both. Making music available to fan-participant applications like Rock Band is just plain smart, especially when video games are outselling music downloads and CD sales by a wide margin. And we know from our Tech Polls that these games sell music, while exposing whole new audiences to music they've never heard before.
What's next for Rock Band - a classical version where older listeners can play everything from a cello to a French horn along with a Beethoven symphony? Or multiple mics for a CeCe Winans gospel hit? Don't laugh. The music industry - while making gargantuan mistakes since the advent of digital - is moving toward a multi-access philosophy, and video games is their killer app.
In radio, we face the same pressures - how to move our best brands to multiple platforms - computers, iPhones, and anywhere that consumers access entertainment and information. Why not have KROQ or WMMR branded versions of Guitar Hero, made available in L.A. or Philly so that locals can enjoy the best music on their favorite stations? We continue to watch the video explosion from the sidelines, as Guitar Hero and Rock Band feature our best songs in new ways that fans can enjoy them. It's time for radio to step up and share in the gaming industry's success.
No, it's not a political slogan, but the way an Advertising Age web article describes reaching consumers at work. A recent study from WorkPlace Media - a company that helps a brand reach consumers at work - shows that 93% of Americans consult their co-workers before making a purchase.
So, for many advertisers, the challenge is this: How do we reach consumers while they work?
I can solve this dilemma for them - radio - over the air or online. And what's interesting is that PPM data in every market where Arbitron meters are "current" or "precurrent" shows the same thing - full time employees listen to more radio than their unemployed counterparts. (Yes, the opposite is true in markets measured by diaries, where the unemployed have higher numbers.)
For many stations, radio can effectively be that conduit for advertisers - if we're able to get our PPM pitch to the right agencies and brands. From our narrower perspective in Rock Radio, Classic Rock and Mainstream/Active stations often lead the way in this dimension, which is more evidence that these stations have even greater viability in the metered environment.
As Stephanie Molnar, the CEO of Workplace Media, notes about the at-work setting: "It's a traditionally advertising-free and uncluttered environment." Thus, it's a great opportunity to market to consumers while they work. Hopefully, the RAB has seen this study, and is connecting the dots, but for your Rock station especially in PPM markets, it's a great pitch at the right time.
OK, get back to work.
As video gaming becomes an even more significant part of the overall entertainment economy, think about the deal that Rock Band creators cut with Viacom back in '06. The company paid Harmonix $175 million, but an earnout agreement earned them a $150 million bonus.
It was based on the success of the game. And by the looks of that bonus, Rock Band has been a huge success for Viacom.
But wait, there's more - Harmonix founders Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy have another bonus coming in '09, which is expected to exceed this year's windfall.
The math is simple - a $190 game that sold 7 million copies last year, plus 26 million downloads from the game (at about $5.49 for a typical 3-song bundle). That's some serious revenue.
So who had a good third quarter this year? Not too many business categories or companies, that's for sure. But there was one shining exception - the Hershey Company, makers of chocolate treats from Hershey Bars to Reese's to Kit Kats.
While some might simply attribute their success to Halloween, their CEO, David West tells Advertising Age that an increase in advertising spending was a major driver. As he notes, "We are encouraged on several of the brands where we'd made the investment (in advertising)."
Whoa. Radio getting a little love from an advertiser? After the multitudes of articles claiming the industry's death is imminent?
Well, it's no surprise to those of us who continue to champion radio as a fabulous, cost-effective ad medium. In fact, with the economy being on the brink, there's never been a better time to cut great deals in radio.
If I'm the RAB, I'd put together little packages that contain this Ad Age article and a Hershey's Kiss for every advertiser, national and local. In individual radio markets, there's no reason why stations couldn't do the same on the local level.
So what do you do when you're in the entertainment business in an economically depressed market, and your ratings are down? Simple - get your big celebrities out there and give away some free gas.
But wait - this isn't radio - it's the Detroit Pistons. Two days before their home opener, the team had their multi-million dollar salaried players pumping that 'tane at a local service station for two hours in a cold October rain. The event was covered by three local TV stations, at least one local newspaper, and of course, the Internet.
It's all about putting butts in seats, and this is where celebrity comes into play. While many stations are watching their promotional and marketing budgets get slashed, while others are experiencing painful layoffs, having strong, well-known jocks can be a difference maker. But you have to utilize them effectively.
These are tough times for most Americans. They're looking for warmth, comfort, and a friendly voice. Providing them with a connection and a celebrity sighting can move the needle, and wake up your fan base.
Of course, signing Allen Iverson isn't a bad idea either.
A recent Nielsen "Consumer Insight" report does a great job of exploring the growth of Electronic Arts' Madden NFL game, from its debut in 1988 up to today. When the game was first released, former coach John Madden was a lot bigger than Electronic Arts, and he was hired to give some credibility to a new video game created around the NFL. Today, it's a total flip-flop, as the game has dwarfed the color analyst, and has a life all its own. To give you some perspective, two weeks after Madden '09 was released, EA reported sales of $133.5 million, topping the previous year's release by 6% at the same time.
The way that EA has grown and nurtured Madden NFL is a fascinating lesson about marketing, and growing a brand. There are some great applications to radio, even in these difficult times. Here are some of the ways that EA has taken steps to ensure that Madden NFL is the industry's top video game, followed by ways that radio can respond in kind:
The online reality - EA moved Madden from the video screen to the computer screen by taking the game online. Last month, Microsoft announced that more than 14 million users subscribe to XBox Live, a way to connect their systems to the Internet, allowing gamers to play against friends and fans from around the country.
This creates the type of social networking experience that radio is still trying to get its arms around. It is not just a good idea anymore for stations to have an online presence and to create digital brand extensions - it is essential to growing radio's brands.
Fantasy - Realizing the power of fantasy football, EA created a new "Fantasy Football Phenomenon," allowing gamers to participate in a fantasy draft, and import their fantasy teams in Madden '09.
As we've seen in our Tech Polls, fantasy leagues are a part of the online experience for about a quarter of our sample. This is why bracket contests, online voting, and providing station fantasy football leagues are smart ideas for radio.
Mobile applications - Gamers can now play Madden on their phones, a version that has now cracked the top ten mobile downloads list. At more than $4 per download, this is another profit center for EA, and gives the game presence in the most important digital location.
For radio, mobile devices are what it's all about. This is another reason why we're offering radio stations the chance to create their own "stationalized" icon for iPhones, while encouraging stations to incorporate texting applications in their programming and marketing strategies.
Steady improvements - Every year, EA brings more realism to the action with better graphics, cooler replays, and even situations that reflect the changing reality of the NFL (salary holdouts, injuries, etc.).
In radio, we are often too comfortable creating evergreen events that are essentially the same year after year. The Madden story should encourage radio to make each year's listener experience better than last year's model. It takes work to make a better, improved concert festival, for example, but that's what will keep attendance strong, and discourage listeners from taking stations and their events for granted.
Personalization - To make the game more individualized, users can take a Madden IQ test that assesses their talent level, and then the game makes the proper adjustment. Additionally, the user can become more involved by playing the part of the owner (setting ticket prices, for example), the GM (player drafts, etc.), and of course, the coach (play calls, depth charts, etc.).
Radio stations can bring the listener into the experience with playlist features, and even contests like "Owner For A Day," thus giving the audience a chance to actually participate with the station. Online voting for features, special weekends, and other programming features is another way to empower the listener to make him/her feel more a part of the station.
Partnerships - Realizing they had a good thing going with Madden, EA forged alliances with the NFL and ESPN. Thus, a hugely popular game combined forces with the biggest sports league and the pre-eminent media sports authority. This also works for the NFL as regular gamers become savvier viewers. And for ESPN, EA has worked with the network to create a reality TV show, Madden Nation, as well as using Madden '09 graphics to diagram plays, and produce game simulations as a part of their reporting, sportscasts, and analysis.
Radio often benefits when it gets out of its comfort zone, and creates strategic partnerships to better promote and market its programming. A great case in point was many of the original "Rock Girls" campaigns that were co-presented with Comcast. Radio can now use its monster PPM cumes to attract strategic alliances with other media outlets (newspapers, television) that are also looking to expand their reach during tough economic times.
Sponsorship opportunities - EA doesn't hesitate to integrate sponsors into the games (including NFL sponsors), making it easier to reach young males. Sprint, Snickers, and Under Armour are very visible in Madden, and are also league sponsors. There's a synergy in Madden partnerships that allows EA and the NFL to both benefit from advertiser exposure.
Radio needs to better integrate advertisers and sponsors into its best events, and do so in more creative, non-traditional ways. The days of simply turning over events for the sales reps to sell are long gone. Today, events that can be created around sponsors - while still supporting the strategic values of the station - are where it's headed.
Flexibility - EA has made the cover of Madden a media event. This year's game came with some controversy, as Madden '09 featured a retired player, Brett Favre. When Favre "unretired" and became a Jet, EA could have had a disaster on its hands, as he was pictured in a Packers uniform. Instead, EA released a downloadable roster patch that placed Favre on the Jets roster, and thus generated even more buzz and interest in Madden '09.
Radio stations need to do a better job of integrating "what's going on" in the world, the U.S., and in local markets more a part of its programming, features, and marketing. Whether it's building promotions around the Presidential election or the Super Bowl, Radio could sound less static and predictable, while adding a more current feel to its programming and promotions.
Mass appeal - Madden is a "big tent" experience, with appeal from first-time gamers to adults with families. In fact, EA reports that seven of every console owners are married. The game also crosses racial lines, and is especially appealing to African-Americans. The game also now has a Spanish-speaking version.
Especially given PPM-sized cumes, many radio stations have the ability to expand their appeal, play the hits, and become more mass-appeal entities in their markets. Too often, programmers overly-niche and narrowly focus their stations, thus ensuring "specialty shop" sized audiences.
Marketing - In spite of the success of the game, EA aggressively continues to market it, and does so in a very targeted way. There are two dozen different television spots, for example, that are designed to reach advertising expenditures in the past year.
Like a lot of big brands (Apple included), EA realizes that its most popular game needs to be marketed. In radio, companies often spend ad dollars only on startups or weak stations, rather than support some of the biggest stations in the country. Of course, the current economic environment makes it virtually impossible to market at this time, but when the recovery occurs, radio would do well to put some support behind its biggest and best brands.
It is always fascinating to watch how some of the best marketers in the world treat their most successful products. There are lots of lessons to be learned from EA's Madden strategies and tactics.
Recently, a post described radio's great opportunity to use station websites to sell logoware, and other related merchandise. Now, a CNN success story reinforces the potential. In the day after the election, they sold 5,000 Obama commemorative T-shirts - that's $75,000 in sales.
Using web-based merchandising suppliers, your station could do the same - for any number of events or features. From "I Saw AC/DC With WRIF" to "I Voted For the Sexiest Bills Fan on 97Rock," there's no limit to the revenue potential that strong radio brands and personalities can generate via their sites.
Cumulus' Lew Dickey talked about the myopia of radio sales during his company's Q3 call. Let's turn up the heat, and ask the question why stations aren't doing a better job leveraging the power of their brands to generate revenue that doesn't clutter the air sound, while adding much-needed, easy revenue to the bottom line.
Last weekend's news that "Boss Radio" creator, Bill Drake, passed away struck me as both sad and ironic. As the radio industry goes through its difficult gyrations to stay alive and vital, the guy who helped redefine the industry, while making it come alive in the '60s, has left us.
If you're over 40, you probably grew up with a Bill Drake station - or certainly one that he influenced. Whether it was CKLW here in the Midwest, or KHJ on the West Coast, Drake's impact on radio was indelible - and still says a great deal about how radio is programmed today.
Drake was the guy who brought discipline and tight music lists to radio. In many ways, radio programming has devolved in recent years to a point where Drake couldn't have liked what he heard. I never met the guy, but I did some work for Paul Drew and Rick Sklar in the '70s - both of whom were Drake disciples and/or heavily influenced by his doctrines. They were both tough programmers, strict disciplinarians, and insistent that a station's sound and packaging be executed to the letter.
Drake's style of radio was big, bold, and exciting - very different from how much of radio is perceived and programmed today. Drake stations didn't apologize - they were leaders, they set the tone, and they made hits. They were also disciplined - during the day, at night, and on the weekends. When so many stations today are mailing it in, and hoping no one notices, those Drake Top 40 stations sounded tight and bright whenever you tuned them in. It was all about the presentation.
And they were seemingly everywhere. You could make the case that Drake was fortunate that he crafted his format at a time when there were no iPods or Internet. But you get the feeling that he would have figured out how to make his stations sound big and brash, digital or not. The good news is that his influence still abounds and his theories were right on the money. It still makes sense to "play the hits," as evidenced by the fact that the most successful satellite radio music channels - despite all the "variety" on those niche "Long Tail" stations - are the ones that are most Drake-esque. And with Internet streaming stations like CBS' "#1 Hits," Drake's influence is still coming out of speakers - and ear buds.
But so much of what Drake espoused - excellence, tight and bright, that big showbiz sound - is slipping away, as programming is downsized, consolidated, repackaged, combined, economized, commoditized, and simply shredded. Drake realized the importance of content, long before that term was redefined in the '90s.
Please excuse the pun in this post's title, but the news that the Bayliss Roast will be on hiatus for 2009 is yet another sign that it's not business as usual in radio - or anywhere else. The John Bayliss Broadcast Foundation has held these annual fundraisers in New York City for nearly 25 years, and as luck would have it, I attended my first one earlier this year.
Greater Media's Peter Smyth was the "roastee," the jokes were flying, and it really was a very enjoyable evening. The food was great, and the room was an opulent restaurant (the former Bowery Savings building), Cipriani. It's an amazing venue - marble pillars, high ceilings, and great service.
But as I sat there with broadcasting's luminaries, I couldn't help but think about being in the stateroom on the Titanic just before crashing into the iceberg. Everyone was in a good mood, decked out in tuxes and cocktail dresses, despite the impending sense that the radio industry was heading for serious trouble.
Here we are just eight months later, and the Roast has been cancelled for next year. The Foundation has made a wise decision. Given the climate, they would have been tone deaf to go ahead with this lavish affair.
But the Roast's hiatus shouldn't detract from the importance of the cause it supports. In case you don't know, the Bayliss Foundation has awarded more than 330 scholarships to students in radio broadcasting programs across the U.S. It also started a paid internship program in '05 that has placed more than 90 students with some of the biggest broadcasters.
One Bayliss activist on the college level is a professor at Michigan State, Gary Reid. I'm especially close to Gary because back in the '70s, he replaced me at MSU as the instructor of the radio broadcasting courses. More than a quarter of a century later, he has become a rock star at that school, championing the careers of many students who have the desire to pursue radio as a career. Reid has a direct understanding about the need to support students in their efforts to become radio professionals. Through his work with Bayliss, the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, MSU, and Impact Radio, Gary does more to support our business than most of us who work within it every day.
We need institutions like The Bayliss Foundation more than ever as an industry, Roast or not. You can understand why the numbers of young people who want to go into radio as a career are dwindling. At a time when radio is cutting back on its product and its infrastructure, it becomes even more important that college-aged adults are supported in their efforts to succeed in radio.