A Fresh Attitude

October 3, 2011

Peter SmythI recently returned from our annual gathering at the Radio Show, held this year in Chicago. I was impressed by the increased attendance, but more importantly, the changed attitude on the part of both speakers and attendees alike. What I heard over and over was recognition that our industry survived the Great Recession, bruised but not busted. And now, with cautious optimism, we are collectively turning our attention toward the challenges that confront us.

Unlike the past several years, where there was denial, I heard recognition of our challenges; where there was rhetoric, I saw it replaced with action, and where there was fear and apprehension about new technology, I now see a resolve to integrate and experiment to find radio’s best use of the digital wave that has been crashing around us.

It was reflected in the subject material for the agenda, in which topics that were afterthoughts in previous get-togethers took center stage. Whether it was social media, streaming audio, or mobile and smartphone technology, it seemed like most of the attendees were interested and actively engaged in figuring out their station’s approach to the digital world.

It seemed to me that we’ve finally moved beyond the question of whether we need to retool radio and expand our digital relationships, and are now focused on how to do it. There was much more conversation at the NAB about the specific goals of using tools like social media and the best practices that are emerging. I was heartened that, once radio people give something new their attention, they are quick studies.

I heard examples and case studies that showed real, substantial progress without having to hire new staff, invest in or develop new software, or hire an army of consultants. Yes, we may have to look at each one of those options, but the real digital work is beginning to be done on a daily basis, with constant, incremental progress and it’s happening in the jock meetings, sales meetings and hallway conversations at stations around the country. Program directors and air personalities are beginning to redefine their duties and sales people are starting to have substantive marketing discussions with their advertisers.

There was an almost unanimous agreement that we must move from a selling culture to a marketing culture. From salespeople as well as advertisers, the push was on to change not only our selling technique, but our structures and philosophy. There were many different ways that people referred to it—customer needs, consultative selling, strategic selling— but the challenge was clear. Either we adapt and become accountable for results, or we will be left behind. The striking thing was that there was no debate or pushback; rather heads were nodding in agreement in several different sessions I sat in. I predict that this coming year will be the one where we begin to see the results of this recognition that we are no longer a business of quick hits or annual clients, and that we are going to have to prove ourselves with each sale.

There were several outstanding keynote addresses that reflected the renewed optimism and confidence about the future. People like Jeff Haley, Gordon Smith and Bob Pittman gave everyone who attended substantive arguments for optimism.

There was also the opportunity to single out the excellence around us. Both the Marconi Awards and the Radio Wayne Awards turned the spotlight on the great work being done by radio stations, large and small, around the country. It was proof of the ongoing dedication and creativity of our fellow broadcasters, those who have risen to the challenges and excelled.

In short, an uplifting couple of days. As I flew back home, I could not help but be energized and excited about the coming year.