Thoughts On Radio’s Reinvention—Part II


Current radio industry initiatives such as PPM and posting do little to close the accountability gap. They represent progress.  They are absolutely necessary.   However, even these initiatives will not solve this problem. A station guaranteeing that the next estimate will be as good as the last estimate is not the answer.

There are opportunities for radio to begin to close this gap. Technology offers us the opportunity to evolve our relationship from one to many to one to one. There are several companies out there that offer radio-centric applications that allow you to engage your audience one listener at a time. The best ones allow you to track that engagement across different platforms like text and streaming. Every radio station needs to have a direct relationship with as much of its audience as it possibly can. Permission is the asset of the future and radio’s unique relationship with the audience, if respected, can be utilized to build a tighter, more relevant, one to one bond. Eventually, this bond and the engagement created by it will yield more advertising revenue than running spots.

Arbitron is a lot like some of the pharmaceutical companies out there these days- they cure one problem but bring on a host of other potentially negative side effects. Radio has enjoyed the benefits of standardized ratings for many decades now. There is no doubt that this standardization played a major role in the growth of the medium and provided the currency for which a $10-15 Billion transactional marketplace was built.  It has certainly served the industry well on many fronts.

However, moving forward we have to free ourselves from the vote getting programming and promotion strategies of the diary system. PPM will obviously help this but it will be quite some time before it gets everywhere. The idea of content sweeps followed by extended commercial breaks may work for driving ratings in the diary world but it’s unlikely to produce ratings or fly with advertisers in the go forward.
Last week Fox Television announced plans to cut spot loads in half for several new shows in its upcoming fall lineup. I wonder what would happen if a radio station did this. Sometime soon a station will be this bold and it will likely succeed.

Many agencies and advertisers we meet with believe radio is in the “audio spam” business and that our delivery of content followed by “interruption marketing” is antiquated. Television is rapidly finding the limitations of this model as more Americans acquire DVR technology and race past ads.

Moving forward radio will have to re-think the current content to advertising ratio and blur the lines between the two by integrating much more of the advertising into content.

All of this content reinvention must lead us to the creation of a new kind of Program Director. Tomorrow’s PD will have to be the custodian of the “brand essence” everywhere the brand goes. They will have to combine many of the skills of traditional PD’s with a digital marketing skill set in order to deliver a collective platform that drives audience and revenue. The new reality is that the brand and content manager must deliver cume, TSL, uniques, TLH, page views, community members, WAP applications, listening/viewing sessions, pages per visit and a host of other key performance indicators. The leadership of this content director must permeate through the entire brand and the staff. We can’t think in terms of air shifts anymore.   We must think about driving engagement, and each brand talent must have a deeper commitment to delivering that engagement. This means they are active when not on-air, they are blogging, chatting, uploading content into the community or otherwise engaging with the audience.

Moving forward there must be a synchronization of content and sales. As we move away from the “interruption marketing” model and into a deeper contextual delivery, content developers and the sales/marketing staff will have to communicate, cooperate and synchronize with one another.

I’ve said for years that way too much time gets bought and not enough gets sold in this industry. While we were running around with our pocket full of AQH and buying sushi lunch for Sally the buyer at agency X the last 20 years some bad things happened. We actually came to believe that a few sexy bar graphs about how station A was better than station B combined with a few spicy tuna rolls was selling. Our mindset became intramural- it was station vs. station, transaction after transaction and this activity filled the bucket enough to grow the business most every year. Sure, most stations had an NTR director but there wasn’t really a commitment.

An account executive who once worked for me used to say, “Radio stations are like babies, they are all beautiful”. I would respond “yeah, but WMAL’s baby is much prettier than WTOP’s”. That was my response until we lost representation of WMAL and picked up WTOP.

A reinvention of the business can’t go on without a reinvention of sales. It seems to me to be insanity that in 2008 there is no such thing as a purely electronic transaction in radio. I don’t mean remnant plays but rather an electronically negotiated, purchased, executed and accounted for transaction. If the time is being “bought”, which in the majority of situations it is, why in the world would we not build a system that allows for a more efficient transaction? Our sales force must bring value, and while nobody likes letting people go, the reality is that it is incumbent upon all of us to evolve, grow our skills and validate our existence professionally. An optimization of your sales force through an injection of technology is a necessity.

 You may have some great sales leadership and great sellers on staff or you may need to pink slip many. The focus should be similar to the content side of the fence. Our future is dependent on a sales and marketing staff that can present the brand in all its dimension. They must be able to capture and articulate the value of the cumulative engagement delivered through all the touch points to the benefit of the advertiser. This necessitates a skill set that combines an understanding of digital assets with those of traditional radio. Few among us have this combination of skills today which is why quality training will be mission critical. Every brand and every company is going to need to commit to an immersive sales development curriculum.  If you don’t, time will surely pass you by.

Our value proposition is the relationship we have with the listener. We are “community” and we must leverage that relationship to our benefit by providing the best tools of engagement.

You have to stream, but don’t just stream your terrestrial brands. Utilize available technology and deliver sub-channels underneath those base brands. If you are an alternative station, how about an 80’s channel, 90’s channel, acoustic channel, active channel etc. Provide on-demand and UGC features with your player. Create real experiences on the player for greater engagement.

Take advantage of your loyal audience by creating a VIP Community. Use rewards to drive deep engagement. You are the listener’s friend, they’ll text you, they’ll give you their opinion on many things, they’ll refer friends and family, they’ll show up for your events and appearances, they’ll visit partner websites, they’ll chat, they’ll engage with collaborative tools, play your games and stream your content.

Take back the first click by delivering a meaningful music discovery experience on your website. Provide artist information, pictures, biographies, merchandise, downloads etc and synch them with your on-air delivery.
Make sure all of your promotions contain a digital dimension. Use the interactivity to make sure everyone wins. Take it virtual and make it collaborative with new tools that allow you to have virtual remotes and events. You can generate meaningful revenue without the traditional expense with online career expo’s/ bridal fairs /go-green or health and fitness events.

Add the dimension of video to what you do. In studio, on-location and on-the-go, everything you do can be captured for viewing.

Invest in your website and tools. This is not the place to save dollars. Content, content management, ad serving, streaming, podcasting, VIP community, UGC tools, video-these are your tools of engagement for the future. You’ll need good ones.

If you’re courageous, forward thinking, creative, hard working and love to be challenged-the world formerly known as radio will be a great place to be moving forward. However, there will also be no place to hide if you’re not!

Mike Agovino is COO of Triton Media Group.

See Part I here