Lee Davis: Univision Radio EVP/Sales


Lee DavisDavis oversees all ad sales for Univision Radio—70 stations in 16 of the top U.S. Hispanic markets including five stations in Puerto Rico. Davis spent most of his career at CBS Radio, initially at WFAN-AM and most recently at 1010 WINS in NYC. While GSM at CBS Radio’s highest-billing all-news radio station from 2009 to 2011, he led its sales organization to be among the top ranked revenue producers in America, with oversight of all of the station’s revenue platforms.

Prior to his return to CBS Radio, Davis worked for Cox Radio from 2006 to 2009 as VP/GM of its Southern Connecticut cluster of stations, where in his first year he led them to their highest cash flow year ever. Early in his career, Davis was a key member of the team that built WFAN into a sports radio powerhouse. He was promoted from account executive in 1990 to local sales manager in 1992, GSM in 1993, and VP/GM in 1998. With all of the changes and new deals going on in Hispanic Radio of late–and with Univision Radio being no exception–RBR-TVBR asked Lee for his thoughts:

How do you see the marketplace right now with all the changes going on in the Hispanic radio industry – some of the alliances going on – and how is Q1 for Univision radio?

Companies that are looking to tap into the Hispanic space are realizing the value of the Hispanic community, and from an advertising perspective, advertisers are beginning to realize that by not talking to Hispanics they have a flawed business model. Companies on the business side are learning to talk to a very important consumer going forward. As for Q1, I think it finished somewhere between flat and up one or so, right in that range. Univision’s right in line with the industry.

I’ve been hearing from some people that April was a terrible month, but that’s just part of second quarter. How is second quarter shaping up, and maybe what’s your projection for the balance of the year, and what are the factors that will bring about the numbers you’re forecasting?

Q2, from what I’m gathering from the industry, is going to be down slightly. Again, I don’t have much more intel than you probably do, but that’s what I’m understanding right now. Remember there’s an Olympic year. It’s a World Cup year also, which is great for Univision. It was a very dramatic winter season, not just for the typical areas – the northeast or the Midwest – but the south actually went through a lot of winter woes as well, and a lot has caught up in second quarter. When you pile all those things together, it’s something that certainly has an impact on the industry. For the back half of the year, I think there’s some optimism out there. The plans are for a rather robust political season, that’s what all indications are. We know how a contentious political season can be, and it seems to be ramping up already. For the back half of the year, with political and automotive continuing to sell cars, I think there’s optimism.

I think people realize more than ever the power of the Hispanic voter as well.

Without question. It’s just like a business, and a business is just like politics. If you’re not talking to the Hispanic consumer, you really have a flawed plan. We hear more and more about people that may not have wanted to, or felt the need to, connect with Hispanics, now trying to figure out how to do that.

Do you see regions of the country that will be stronger for your stations politically in ad revenue? What other categories are you relying upon other than political?

Automotive is the life-blood of local advertising. Automotive has held up, again, despite a very rough sales period for them in the winter. Their business has remained pretty consistent. That’s with not selling as many cars as they have in the past. There’s probably pent-up demand in the auto industry that’s starting to fulfill itself right now. I think automotive will accelerate during the year. Telecommunications is an industry right now where there are several companies really trying to be disruptive, and they really have some aggressive marketing plans. Automotive and telecommunications are two categories that will help propel the market along with political for the back half of the year. Your first question, regarding political regions for us that are very important: California, obviously. California’s more of an issue state – more about specific issues throughout the state. Those always start to build up momentum during political season. So California will be very strong for us. Of course Miami is always a political battleground. Lastly, we have a lot of hope and indication that Texas will become a state where there is significant political spending. There are some key races, so Texas could be a real battleground state also.

We are reporting a lot right now that radio seems to really need to pitch itself with a digital component at all times, and that of course includes social media. But you have your own service, called Uforia. We were wondering how that’s being monetized so far, who’s interested in advertising on Uforia, and maybe some of the latest numbers on ad dollars and subscribers. Is it successful for you so far?

Uforia has been a huge success for us. I won’t get specific in numbers but I will tell you that Uforia really helps us extend our brand. When we’re talking to advertisers, it helps really fill in the gaps. Every advertiser should try and figure out how they can connect with listeners or potential consumers. It’s no secret more and more consumers are walking around with their mobile devices. The fact now they can hear their local radio station or make a custom radio station only makes this story – our story – a stronger one to advertisers. We are wherever our consumer is. From a uniqueness proposition, Uforia and Univision, we really have the only music service that is geared toward Hispanics. None of the Pure Plays can say that. None of the other radio companies say that they do it as well as we do. We understand the taste of Hispanics. We understand the nuances. Hispanics are not one-size-fits-all. There is certainly uniqueness between every Hispanic nationality. There is only one company that I think really serves them, and that’s Univision and Univision radio.

Our app has been downloaded since 2011 when we initially launched, nearly 2.7 million, so there’s definitely a need for that. We don’t think there’s any reason it can’t be done in conjunction with over-the-air radio. Some of those numbers, they pale to what over-the-air radio is, but there’s certainly a place for a digital offering, whether it’s Uforia or some of the Pure Plays or some of our fellow over-the-air broadcasters.

Do you think TuneIn is becoming a threat of their recent moves to create advertiser-oriented channels and to move into signing some deals with broadcasters to – I think Radio One just signed something with TuneIn. Is that considered a good thing or a threat? I think some of your stations are available on TuneIn.

Univision radio is on TuneIn. We were an early partner of theirs. I don’t consider them a threat. I consider them another distribution point. They’re a distributor of our content. Yes, you can get your radio stations on there, which is great. We still have our Uforia offering, which gives many more options for our listeners whether it’s customizing channels or branded channels or hearing best-of programs with our DJs. Uforia fills in that niche along with our radio station, and TuneIn is just a distribution point for our radio stations.

Univision Radio and Clear Channel, they’ve done some fairly heavy layoffs in sales. Can you tell me a little bit more about why those decisions were made?  Considering Univision and Clear Channel both are doing the same thing, it looks like there’s a bit of a trend here, a line of thinking in the reason they’re doing this.

I would never comment on what Clear Channel is doing. However, change is always difficult, but there comes a point where you need to take your resources and dedicate them to areas of growth, and it’s never an endless supply of money. You have to make difficult choices. We feel in order for us to deliver in those growth areas, we need to take some of those resources and put it towards those. Ultimately what we have to do is deliver a great experience for our listeners wherever they want to be. Technology is changing quickly. We need to be able to put our product wherever our listeners choose to listen to it. Whether that’s in their car, on their AM/FM radio, or on their mobile phone, we need to be set up to deliver for our advertisers. Again, never easy to make those changes, but sometimes it’s a necessary thing.

How can advertisers today really effectively implement a cross-platform marketing platform with quick and nimble mediums like radio and mobile and social, in the Hispanic or Spanish radio marketplace?

Speaking of Univision only, we have all of the tools that any other radio or media company does from a social media perspective. The first thing is advertisers need to be using it. It’s there, it fills in the holes. The difference between an advertiser what an advertiser talking to a Hispanic might want to consider as opposed to English is just, is to offer culturally relevant content which is what we do best. It is also important to be aware of the cultural nuances as to how you connect with a Mexican consumer might be completely different than how you might connect with a Caribbean or a Cuban-American. The cultures are different. There are similarities across all the cultures, whether it’s their love of family or food, but advertisers need to know what those nuances are. That’s where a company like Univision has the advantage, because that’s what we do all the time. We’re not here part time serving Hispanics. It’s our full-time job.

Not to mention you have a line of TV stations and the network.

Correct. We cross all the platforms.

Jelli’s RadioSpot programmatic buying system. They just made a deal with Marketron to get in with the offering for a lot of the Marketron stations that are currently using Marketron products. What do you think about what they’re offering and do you see it as something you’re planning to implement on your stations?

I do think there’s a place for Jelli and other products like it, whether it’s electronic buying or programmatic buying. Certainly there is a place for that. I just don’t think that it’s a replacement for real strategic thinking, and coming up with real marketing programs. It’s much more of a commodity-based mentality, as opposed to a strategic-based mentality. I’m sure there’s a place for it. I just don’t know that it will ultimately replace old-school sitting down and figuring out “Here’s what my goals are. How can your product help me accomplish those goals?”

–Carl Marcucci

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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.