Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Leveling Effect

Broadcasters in markets of every size are beginning to see that things are turning around for them. Many broadcasters, looking back a few months, have concluded that this was as bad as it ever has been in their careers.

Amid all this and doom and gloom, I can think of one positive thing that the recession has done for our industry. It has leveled our business, to the extent that large market operators and small market operators are focused on the same thing for the first time in a long time: building local direct business.

Whenever I talk to a small or medium market broadcaster, there is an underlying sense of confidence and control over their environment. Those broadcasters know that the key their success and growth lies in their hands. They can go out every day and sell more ads.

Sure, in bad times it’s more difficult to do, and we’ve all certainly experienced the frustration of falling behind. But it is nothing compared to the frustration experienced by the large market broadcaster who has built a successful career on taking orders from time buyers. When national business went in the tank, those same large market broadcasters literally didn’t know what to do. They turned in desperation to their local advertisers and discovered, as most of our readers have always known, that presenting the benefits of radio to real, live business owners is productive, rewarding and—dare I say it?—fun.

In fairness, I should point out that there are a great many excellent broadcasters in large markets. I should also point out that most them came from small markets.

The Worst Remedy Ever

We are (hopefully) emerging from a long dry spell. Broadcasters have had to make many difficult decisions to maintain equilibrium during these times, but one move stands out as being a really bad idea, the consequences of which will be felt for some time to come.

I’m talking about the tendency of operators to slash their sales training costs during bad times. While this may result in relief in the short run, the long-term consequences are disastrous. Without proper training and support, what salespeople you have left are ill-equipped to take advantage of the turnaround.

We’ve all had to be very creative to preserve any sort of bottom line at all, but let’s learn this lesson well: Doing anything to the detriment of the revenue center of your radio station is a bad idea.

Not a Bad Idea After All

Stacey Woelfel, Chairman, Radio Television Digital News Association——stumbled upon my earlier posting that we small market operators need to work together to ensure we are represented, and have a seat at the table, at all influential industry groups:

I’m all for your idea of getting together a small [market] radio representative to run for the [RTDNA] board. If you’re able to make it work, let me know and I’ll let him/her know how to get involved.

Thanks to Stacey for his encouraging note. The door is open; let’s walk through it.

The Tangled Web

Something that is been occupying a lot of my time recently is relaunching our web development business. We sort of got into the business by accident about a year and a half ago, but we tapped into a very real need and desire on the part of small market broadcasters everywhere to have a high-quality website at a small-market-affordable rate.

While we are proud of the work that we’ve done for clients thus far, we had seen the need to move up a notch to reflect what’s going on in the interactive world. Accordingly, we are rebranding our business as, and we are putting together what we humbly consider to be the Absolute Ultimate Radio-Specific Content Management System. It’s a lofty objective, but as the only web developer with solid small market management and ownership experience, we think we can pull it off. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Strength in Numbers

We always look for small- and medium-market representation in our industry organizations; unless it's there, those organizations can be blind to the concerns and workings of what is arguably the most vital part of our industry.

For example, we note that the regional directors of the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) include no small market radio news directors, and just one medium market ND.

Granted, the RTNDA isn’t exactly a must-belong for most of us, but it would be productive for us to have a presence. Wacky thought: What if a bunch of stations in a region or an affinity group (like the Presidents Club or the Idea Bank) get together and buy a membership for a broadcaster willing to take on the responsibility?

Here’s one for you: the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Yes, membership is pricey, but to paraphrase, many wallets make light work. And who doesn’t agree we should have a seat at that table?

Small market radio complains that its voice is not heard in many quarters. Well, let’s get organized, pick our targets, and step up.

The Never-Ending Story

I’ve been talking to a lot of broadcasters lately about the state of radio sales training. The resources are there, from the excellent RAB programs to a bunch of solid, basics-based independent consultants (many of whom are contributors to this publication). But in the current environment, we’ve cut back everywhere, including in places maybe we shouldn’t—which, in my opinion, includes sales training.

But even in the best of times, it’s easy to be discouraged in that area. No matter what we do, no matter how much training, support and money we throw at our salespeople, our turnover rates are astronomical. Who wants to throw money down that black hole?

The RAB, recognizing the problem, has had a policy where if a salesperson you’ve run through one of their programs leaves you within a certain amount of time, you can send another one free. That’s a great benefit, but there’s still a time/money investment at stake.

I recently asked former RAB Chief Gary Fries, the biggest proponent of street-level sales training ever, whether in his 15 years at the helm of that organization he ever felt, on the one hand, that the battle was being won. . .or, on the other hand, discouraged that it wasn’t. His response could only have come from someone with roots in small market radio: No, the tide hasn’t turned. . .and no, he never got discouraged. “You just get up every day and do your best,” he told me.

And isn’t that what we do anyway?

The lesson is this: no matter the leakage—which can be mitigated by better hiring practices, which can be learned—we’re much better off investing in good sales training, in good times and, especially, bad.


I think we need to acknowledge that despite all the drama Arbitron is enduring in the PPM arena, it is not preventing them from making constant improvements in the diary methodology. I know Bill Rose and Ed Cohen well, and they and their team are absolutely, unequivocally committed to giving better service to Arbitron’s diary clients.

Now, if we broadcasters could just learn how to use the information properly. . .