Car Business

February 9, 2015

Peter Smyth

I’ve written previously in this space about the importance of the rapidly evolving connected car. In the past several months, we have seen new advancements and powerful new players make their presence known.  Google Now and Apple Car Play are names you will hear more about in coming months. They are the two giants’ efforts to extend your mobile phone look and controls seamlessly onto your new car’s center screen. They will allow voice control of the functions as well as a recognizable interface. In short, it will look like an iPhone or Android phone screen.

However, the folks in Detroit are not conceding to the powerhouses of Silicon Valley. They continue work on their own systems.  Most notably, Ford is introducing a whole new approach to the interface for their Sync platform, with a much simpler and cleaner look and feel. Other car makers have moved to include a built-in cellphone connection in the dash, a part of their plans for the intelligent car that lets you know when maintenance needs to be performed and, farther in the future, the autonomous (self-driving) car.   This should prove to be an epic battle with real consequences.

Radio needs to make its case to the lords of the dashboard that customers need and want a simple, readily-available interface to find their favorite stations in the new center stack.  This is easier said than done.  Radio is a medium of thousands of local stations and the auto industry is an industry of multinational behemoths.  It’s difficult to make a meaningful case to a Detroit executive on behalf of one local station, or even one corporate broadcaster. Scale is everything to auto manufacturers.  That is why it is important for every broadcaster to develop a strategy for the connected car. Aggregators do exist like iHeart Radio, TuneIn, or NextRadio, who have the scale and staff to cooperate with the automakers in a meaningful fashion. Even if you have a mobile app for your individual station, you should have an extension strategy with one or more of these national efforts.

It is also crucial that you take a good critical look at your station’s relationship with the local car dealer community. Here is where the station’s local influence can be brought to bear.  These are  some of our best long-term advertising clients, and deepening and broadening our relationship with each local dealer is an important piece of work for every sales staff. The car dealer’s business is evolving and changing as rapidly as our own.  In past years, it was almost a given that car dealers were family-owned and operated, and they had a standing year-round presence on your airwaves.    Today, they are more and more often part of a multi-brand, multi-location corporation and are heavily involved with their own online presence and online advertising. They have retooled their marketing budgets to include a significant online ad presence in response to manufacturers’ mandates.

As significantly, car dealers have new challenges in their selling process. Prospects are asking more questions about technology than horsepower these days, and if you’ve bought a new car in the past several years, you know that the orientation can take literally an hour to cover.  These new demands on dealers’ staff and time can provide opportunities for your station to partner in deeper ways with them. We are involved with their customers and technology; we are a logical candidate to help with some of these consumer demands. An entertaining video explaining the new center stack hosted by your station’s morning team can be more entertaining and informative (and accurate) than using more of their sales staff’s time.   Perhaps a monthly seminar for new car owners would be useful for both the dealer and the radio station.  Your station’s digital staff can help create learning modules for inclusion on the dealer website as well as yours.

In order to develop these partnerships, it requires radio sales managers and senior sellers to sit with owners or dealer sales managers and get a sense of how they are responding to their challenges.  It’s only then that we can explain to them what other capabilities we have beyond the traditional on-air broadcast schedule. We are limited only by the client’s needs and our creativity.

It is a priority for radio to more deeply involve ourselves with automotive. It is not only a prime advertising category; it is a business partner for the continued health of radio as a mobile medium. We have long-standing relationships with each and every local outlet for this category. It is an opportunity that we cannot squander by doing business as usual.

January 2015 – Let the Fresh Air In

January 9, 2015

The coming of the New Year is always a good time to examine what we are doing with our time and resources and ask how we can do better. How this normally works is that we look around and remind ourselves of the items that were on our collective to-do list and for some reason are still sitting there.

Peter SmythWe then take a deep breath and sternly tell ourselves that we’re going to make a resolution for the next twelve months to “spend more time with family”, or “hit the gym regularly.” When it comes to business, we earnestly resolve “to get my pending in on time”, to “do airchecks regularly with the jocks;” or “get my expense report in more frequently.”

While there’s seemingly nothing wrong with those resolutions, I would challenge you to think critically about what will change if you keep each and every one of those resolutions. I predict: very little.

It’s not that little resolutions are bad; it’s that they don’t lead to the kind of innovation and big ideas that can take us outside the box labeled “radio”. And today, more than ever we need to open the box wide and let fresh air – new approaches – in. We cannot continue to simply do airshifts, sell spots and hope for something miraculous to happen. We are the only ones who can effectively change the course of our stations and our business. There are no wise men that we can hire with easy answers.

We need to stand back at the beginning of this new year, and ask what can we do beginning right now to provide value to advertisers, both current and prospective, who are looking for help with their goods or services. If we are sitting down with those businesspeople and telling them the story of how great our station is, we have completely missed the larger opportunity. We have to listen first, to hear what the client’s need is. What’s keeping them awake nights and holding back their business? Then and only then can we begin to create a program – not just spots, but a complete 360 program – to help them. Selling them a 2 week schedule is not an answer. We need to take upon ourselves the burden of guiding the client away from ineffective or bad ideas, and bring our knowledge to bear in solving their problem.

That’s value that the client will appreciate and pay for. That’s selling.

We have to look beyond the Miller Kaplan rankings and the monitors of other radio advertisers and look at the entire advertising opportunity. We need to call on advertisers who are deep into digital media and find out just how satisfied they are. We know that digital works effectively for those who use it intelligently, but how many of our clients are doing digital just because it’s the current vogue? Can we help them define and clarify their needs and goals? Of course we can, and there may be a place for radio in their overall plan. Let’s look for new opportunities in categories like car dealers. We are certain to continue to lose revenue share if we allow more of their budgets to drift to digital without challenging those investments. Healthcare is a huge business with a long list of challenges; how many hidden opportunities can we find in that category?

When we listen to our on-air brands, do we hear the local, live humans who reach out to be companions and friends? If not, what are we doing to foster and encourage that connection? We know it is a huge differentiating advantage for broadcast radio vs. online music services. But are we leveraging it to our advantage, or are we afraid of making a mistake that Nielsen may punish? Now is not the time to be timid.

The on-air personality has been redefined. We now communicate with the audience on a variety of platforms and we have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with our fans and make them even more passionate friends. Do we know the proper usage of these platforms and their strengths and weaknesses? Have we done the hard work of sharing more of ourselves than just introducing songs and pushing buttons? What truly makes an on-air announcer a “personality”? Being interesting and interested in our audiences is only a first step. Storytelling and connecting is hard work and requires both thought and learning.

Too often, I overhear conversations that sound like we are playing not to lose. What happened to our commitment to excellence; the will to play to win? Let us individually and collectively set a course for excellence in 2015. Question everything. How are we organized? Is there a leaner and more effective way to do our routine work? How much time can we free up for new initiatives?

Do we have the skills needed to compete in 2015? Are we able to talk with clients about new marketing approaches like retargeting and audience extension? Have we made the individual investment in our careers to learn about the digital marketing universe and its strengths and weaknesses?

No one has to tell me that the business is more complex and competitive than ever before. I don’t need to be reminded that our financial model is under stress and attack. No one surprises me by telling me there are no easy answers or instant solutions. I understand all too well. But if we are expending time and energy looking backward to how things were, we have less time and mental energy to focus on how to change our collective present and future.

What are we waiting for? The opportunities are more plentiful than ever before, and the stakes are a high as they’ve ever been. If you cannot or will not play at a higher level for your advertisers and your listeners, you are behind the curve.

And this media company, for one, is not going to lag behind the curve.

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