It has to be more than “You wanna buy a spot?”

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It appears the buzz word in radio today is LOCAL.  Bill Stakelin has increased his local sales staff. SAGA’s  Ed Christian recently wrote that today’s financial stuggles affecting everyday Americans can trickle down to the radio industry. Paul Weyland mentioned it in his recent article.  The fact is  LOCAL has become even more critical in today’s economy where advertisers are watching their dollars more closely and looking at new avenues, Did someone say on-line?


But there’s another step where radio can cash in as can no other media because of our unique flexibility and other unique factors, and it’s  goes beyond special packages,  cutting rates, etc.

It comes from the “street” which I learned over many years  working for stations which were either in non-rated markets or had no ratings to two major stations in NY City.  In many cases we did it to survive and recognizing that to get more business  we had to answer one question retailers always had, whether they expressed it or not:

               “How can I be sure I’ll get response?” 

That is particularly true today. When I was in the rep business the guy in the next office used to come in every morning, stick his head in the door and say:  “You wanna buy a spot?” That may work in the rep business, but it doesn’t with the local restaurant owner, the car dealer,  et al.

There was another problem, especially in mid to small market stations.  I hear it every day talking to stations in  my present position in station affiliations with The Business TalkRadio Network and The Lifestyle TalkRadio Network..

                          “We can’t find sales people!.” 

And too often, even when you do find someone you can’t afford to pay what they’re asking. In the smaller markets we finally gave up and changed our tactics.  We stopped looking for people with radio sales experience and looked for people who had “fire in their bellies” and then we trained them  for “life on the street.”

We also realized that if we could develop a plan which went beyond spot selling they would have a better chance of succeeding. The local business owner really doesn’t give a hoot about Arbitron, cost per point and gross impressions.

 Today – and actually in any time – it takes more than special packages and cutting rates.  What we did was create sales promotions which achieved the first step in the “5 Great steps of Selling – THE ATTENTION STEP.  But .because of something so many stations face – limited staff and funding – these promotions also had to have the following:

  Sound good on air.

  Be non-work intensive. 

  Cost the station little or no cash outlay.

   These promotions also achieved  the 3 R’s.

            We rarely geo questioned on Ratings. 

            We got higher Rates. 

           We got Renewals.

We made a lot of money we never would have gotten otherwise because of these promotions.  Matter of fact, this philosophy even worked on a network – The Music of Your life – where a simple promotion with a Broadway show got $68,000 from 2 clients via their agencies that previously hadn’t even considered us, and this on a network with an audience that was primarily 65+!

Allow me to digress for a moment with my 15 minutes of fame note which was instrumental in getting me on the promotion kick.:  Early in my career I had one promotion sold by the GSM at WNEW AM, a guy named Mel Karmizan. Let me pose this question: Do you think your sales people would get more appointments if they could call a client and say: “WE HAVE A PROMOTION THAT GUARANTEES YOU NEW      CUSTOMERS, AND I CAN PROVE IT!”

Consider how much more enthused a sales person would be if they could say that to a prospect, a restaurant owner, for example. That one promotion was responsible for 40% of a 250w AM stand-alone’s total annual billing with a relatively inexperienced sales staff.  Many of the sales were one-call sells.

That was just one of many that alone brought in hundreds of thousands of new local dollars.   And once the sales people they saw that this promotion really worked they were making more calls, and their appointment-getting percentage soared.

Note:  One of the businesses suffering heavily today is restaurants, not only because of the economy, but because of the high price of gas keeping people home.  How do you think you could do if you could guarantee them new customers? Or put another way when pitching the client:  How much is a new customer worth to you?

We also found that the most effective way to sell these promotions was to create turnkey presentations so the sales people could do it in a quasi-flip card manner, and then use it as a leave-behind. Sometimes we were even able to tie-in co-op, which was how we got a tire dealer on for 3 years…every month non-stop.

Another aside:  One sales person somehow got an appointment with the President of the Bank of NY in Rockland County. When we finished the presentation the client asked: 

                 “What’s this promotion going to cost me?”

Our answer was:  “No charge.  It comes free with an annual contract.”  One-call sell!

And renewed!

The bottom line is local sales is a station’s one safety net when business is tight – and for that matter, all of the time.

Some of these ideas were developed from sales meetings and the AEs themselves..  One guy got a stone quarry on the air.  They were looking to improve their image in the market and needed an idea on how to do it..  We developed a series of historical vignettes – LOCAL – and this got the buy.  In addition, these vignettes – very simple to create – were responsible for $100,000 in sales, again on a small AM-stand alone in an unrated market. It worked in other markets, too.

Finally, it takes creativity and excitement and out-of-the-box selling.  There was a retailer in Buffalo who once told me that almost every sales person who called on him had a sign on their forehead that said: 

         “I WANT YOUR MONEY.”

Are promotions the answer all the time?  Of Course not.  But they do enable you to tap in on  a market that you would not ordinarily cash in on.

The bottom line is a station’s life insurance policy is LOCAL SALES.  And sales promotions often  work better than cutting rates and “You wanna buy a spot?”

Zim Barstein, ZIM BARSTEIN ASSOCIATES

Presently:  Affiliations Representative with The Business TalkRadio Network, The Lifestyle TalkRadio Network