I read the transcript of the interview Mark Ramsey did with Gordon Borrell about how radio advertisers are less interested in audience and more interested in a buyer. It got me to thinking about my own radio sales experiences over my career.
Live by the Numbers, Die by the Numbers
Anyone who sells in a rated market has probably heard that phrase about what happens when all you sell are your ratings numbers. But what happens in unrated radio markets? How do these folks sell?
Cash Register Rings
Early in my radio career I landed my first general manager position at the age of thirty. It was as GM of an Al Ham formatted “Music of YOUR Life” thousand watt AM daytimer with no pre-sunrise or post-sunset authorizations.
In a market with no audience ratings measurement what we did was create a fan club for our listeners. We then created a fan club book of the names and locations our listeners lived. This book included state representatives, mayors, major business owners and even television & movie stars. It was a pretty impressive foot-in-the-door and helped us to close many sales.
But the way we measured the impact of our advertisers’ radio commercials were in cash register rings. That’s the real measure of R.O.I. (Return On Investment) for local owner/operators.
Does Anybody Really Listen to THAT Music?
I remember calling on the manager of our local Agway store as if it were yesterday. Rick Hurd was his name and he was about as old as I was at that time. He loved contemporary music and the big band selections my station played were definitely NOT his “cup of tea.”
“Does anybody really listen to THAT music?” he always asked. I said “YES, lots of people do and they are the very people who own the big country estates that you should be doing business with.”
After lots of weekly calls, Rick Hurd gave me my opportunity to show what my radio station could do.
Tell Our Advertisers You Heard About Them on “The Music of YOUR Life”
A key component of my marketing strategy was to air on a continuous basis how important it was for listeners of my radio station to tell our advertisers they were listening. We did this in a variety of ways and made sure to keep this type of messaging fresh.
Shortly after Rick began his Agway store advertising on my radio station, I stopped in to see how it was going. He said, “Dick, I still find it hard to believe that anyone enjoys the music you play over the radio, but WOW are those folks ever vocal and passionate about your radio station.” “I hear about your radio station at least once an hour from customers, some of whom I’ve never seen in the store before,” he told me.
How Many Listeners Do You Need to Be Effective?
I won’t ever know how many listeners we had to that radio station, but I do know how many were in our fan club.
The “secret sauce” of our marketing was making sure our audience understood how important it was for them to tell our advertisers they were listening and that they loved our programming and that in order to keep it on-the-air, they needed to patronize our advertisers and tell them what brought them into their place of business.
Bonneville Beautiful Music
Based on the sales success I had with an AM daytimer, my company’s President/CEO promoted me to general manager of his newly acquired Atlantic City radio stations. The AM station was a thousand-watt full-time news & information station and the FM was a 50,000-watt Bonneville Beautiful Music formatted radio station. Both stations appealed to a senior audience.
Atlantic City was a rated market and so Arbitron Ratings were important, especially for the advertising agencies out of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore etc.
But what we really sold was the quality of our audiences and we worked very hard to build personal relationships with all of the buyers.
As general manager, I often went on out-of-town trips with my director of sales to call on the people who bought the advertising. We constantly heard “we’ve never met anyone from any of the radio stations in Atlantic City before.”
Relationships are VERY important in the radio business.
And as Simon Sinek likes to say “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Another factor I employed in talking about the quality of our audience and the tremendous buying power they wielded came from the research of Dr. Ken Dychtwald that he conducted during the period of 1973 to 1979.
In 1986 Dr. Dychtwald coined the term “Age Wave” and formed a company to consult companies on how to market to a mature market.
I devoured Ken’s book and used it to market my Atlantic City radio stations to advertisers.
Key Factors to Consider
The Age Wave http://agewave.com/ website lists four key factors that will reshape supply and demand as the boomers move into maturity. The two that radio should be considering how to leverage are:
- Boomers will have increasing amounts of discretionary dollars (for many) over the long-term as a result of escalating earning power, inheritances, and investment returns
- Boomers will undergo a psychological shift from acquiring more material possession and towards a desire to purchase enjoyable, satisfying, and memorable experiences
The future is filled with challenges and opportunities, but then that’s always been the case for those who could see them and were willing to roll up their sleeves.