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.