Tag Archives: Google

Put Your Money Where Your Mouths Are

1021_boomboom 1

Boom Boom Brannigan, June 1, 2000. (Times Union Archive)

Last week, I wrote about the power of the human voice. Each of us who decided to make radio a career was influenced by the voices we heard coming through our radio speaker.

Zenith Radio

My first radio, a pocket Zenith Royal 50 transistor, was purchased at Sammy Vincent’s Music Store on North Street in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. My first SONY reel-to-reel tape recorder would also come from Sammy Vincent’s.

Both of these wonderful electronic devices would be the foundation of my lifelong radio career.

Sammy Vincent’s was also the place to get a free copy of the latest WPTR-AM1540 Top 31 songs of the week.

Boom Boom Brannigan

WPTR had many famous voices travel through its 50,000-watt AM broadcast signal. Its most famous voice was that of Boom Boom Brannigan. You can hear an air check of Boom Boom from January 1974 here. The Albany Times Union wrote upon Boom Boom’s death in 2010 at the age of 82, “Boom Boom Brannigan, a pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll radio in the Capital Region was known for his energetic personality, sideburns and bright fashions. For decades, Brannigan was the voice of the local airwaves, a high-profile DJ who delivered the hits that defined the music of the baby-boom generation.”

Every market had their own Boom Boom.

For example, Boston had Arnie Woo Woo Ginsburg, New York City had Cousin Brucie and Los Angeles had The Real Don Steele.

Each, larger than life personalities, that lived the part of being a radio star. Each more important to their listeners than the hits they exposed them to.

Radio Stars

Bob Lawson, who worked with Brannigan at WPTR in 1964 put it this way, “They were the real stars in those days, and Boomer was the epitome of radio stardom.”

These legendary radio personalities caused so many baby boomers to get into the radio industry.

I had the opportunity to meet Boom Boom one Saturday afternoon when he was broadcasting from a little phone booth like studio in the transmitter room, next to the huge 50,000-watt transmitter. He was the consummate gentleman and further inspired this young broadcaster as he let me sit in with him during his broadcast that day.

70-20-10 Rule

Fresh off CES2018 many radio executives are talking about the latest shiny new things that are on the horizon and how they will impact radio. Everyone’s talking about how radio needs to innovate. The big question is how does the radio business manage its innovation resources.

In his book, Mapping Innovation, author Greg Satell cites the 70-20-10 Rule that is used by companies like Google to allocate resources.

70% of a company’s resources should be invested in sustaining improvements to existing products. Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman, said the 70-20-10 Rule insured that Google’s core business would always get the bulk of the resources.

20% of available resources should get invested in exploring adjacent opportunities.

The remaining 10% are for creating something entirely new. Something that most likely will crash and burn, so you want to be able to sustain this effort without it damaging your core business. What Satell said he learned about businesses that invested in basic exploration was they all eventually hit on something big.

Radio’s 70-20-10

What would you say radio’s 70-20-10 rule is? 70% goes to pay down the debt? I’m sure many come away with that impression from what they read in the trades. But not every broadcast company is in that predicament.

How about your radio company?

Consider this operating strategy: 70% of your resources should be invested in your people who create the radio you broadcast every day. 20% should be invested in the adjacent delivery pipelines, like streaming, NextRadio and voice activated devices. And 10% should be invested in building a new paradigm.

What’s happening in the 21st Century is the acceleration of change for all industries. Innosight predicts that about half of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2026. Back in 1965 33-years was the average tenure of a company on this stock exchange. By 1990, this narrowed to 20-years. By 2026, it’s forecast to drop to 14-years.

So, the gale force winds of change have never blown with more velocity.

Community & Companionship

What great local radio personalities each created in their markets was a sense of community and companionship for their listeners. That’s radio’s core business.

It’s where the bulk of your resources should be directed.

Put your money where your mouths are.

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History’s Technology Rhyme

Transistor Radio, Car Radio and Rock & Roll

Transistor Radio, Cars & Rock ‘n Roll

I’ve written before how history never repeats itself, but usually rhymes. So when I was reading an article in the NY Times about “Tech’s ‘Frightful 5’ Will Dominate Digital Life for Foreseeable Future” it hit me. Here was how history was rhyming when it came to communications. Fasten your seat-belt, this will get bumpy.

What this article’s author Farhad Manjoo wrote was how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft (others include Netflix in this mix) came along at a perfect time to roll up their user base. They were in the right place, at the right time in other words.

Geoffrey G. Parker, a business professor at Tulane University has co-authored a book called “Platform Revolution” where he explains how these tech companies were able to ride the perfect wave of technology change – that being a decrease in the cost of IT, an increase in connectivity and the introduction/fast adoption of mobile phones.

And when it comes to advertising, these companies are in the right place to leverage digital marketing and enjoy most of the benefits of this growth area as well. In fact, since there is a sense that these major digital companies will receive most of the online advertising monies, traditional media – like radio & TV – could see advertising monies return to them.  Let’s hope that happens.

So, where’s the rhyme in this story? Well consider this other time in communications history when television burst onto the scene after the end of World War Two in the 1950s. Radio, a lot of people thought, would cease to exist. Radio’s stars, programs and advertisers, to a large measure, jumped into television. Radio had to find a new act.

Radio was in the right place, at the right time for the birth of three things when TV came along; the transistor radio and the car radio. Both of these technology advancements would be the savior of radio along with one other important development; rock ‘n roll.

Radio was in the perfect place to ride the baby boomer youth wave of rock music, cars and transistor radios. Television grew in large measure by scarcity, only two or three television networks and few TV stations.

When broadband came along, that scarcity factor went poof. Radio now sees its dominance in the car being challenged by a digital dashboard.

The newest radio format to have come into existence – all sports/talk – is now 29 years old. Clearly, innovation in the radio world has stalled.

The good news is radio in America has more reach than any other form of mass media. The bad news is it sees annual erosion of its TSL (time spent listening). This can be fixed. To do this, radio needs to address the very factors that are causing its TSL to erode.

The thing most often heard from consumers about what they dislike about radio are its commercials. Yet, commercials don’t have to be a tune-out factor. No one tunes out the Super Bowl when it’s a blowout because they want to see what other clever commercials might still be coming on their television.

Most radio stations long ago did away with their copywriters. These masters of the spoken word who can craft a story about businesses need to be enticed back into the radio business at every radio station.

The number of commercials in a break needs to be reassessed by the radio industry as well. You can’t kill the goose that lays your gold revenue egg and expect it to continue to lay you golden eggs.

Bring back personalities. They not only sell the music (the record companies need you!); they sell your station and through live reads, your advertisers’ products and services.

Those who remember Paul Harvey News & Commentary will tell you that page two (his first live read commercial) was always something you turned up the radio for. I remember reading Paul Harvey brought in more money for the ABC Radio Network than everything else they did. And everyone loved Paul Harvey’s commercials and bought the products he talked about.

I think retired CBS Radio President Dan Mason said it best when he said this about radio:

“Without community and companionship, we have nothing.”

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Radio Doesn’t Get Any Respect

24I remember the first radio station I worked for doing an experiment with one of their best clients, a men’s clothing store, to prove the power of radio advertising. Back in the 60s the dominant advertising vehicle in my hometown was the newspaper. This clothing store used both radio and newspaper, but felt it was the paper that drove their sales.

What the radio station did was create an imaginary character, a store mascot, using radio’s “theater of the mind.” The plan was to have the store’s clerks ask listeners where they learned about the store’s character when they shopped the store. This imaginary character was only featured in radio advertising.

What shoppers gleefully told the clerks when asked where they learned of their store’s mascot was “in the newspaper.” Virtually no one said they heard about the character on the radio.

What the store learned was how powerful their radio ads really were. What the radio station learned was how BIG the problem was in the perception of the customer as to what influenced their shopping decisions.

Fast-forward to today. Sean Luce moderated a panel at Radio Ink’s Convergence 15 conference in San Jose in May 2015. Sean shared the radio industry’s gross revenue estimates as compiled by Borrell Associates for 2008 ($14.9 billion), projected 2015 ($10.6 billion) and the projected 2019 ($9.5 billion). For an advertising medium that today can claim not only the best advertising frequency for advertiser messages, but now claim to be number one in reach in America too, this is a very disconcerting trend line.

Meanwhile, the online industry’s gross revenue looks like this for the same period of time: 2008 ($12.2 billion), projected 2015 ($50 billion) and the projected 2019 ($94 billion). Yikes!

As Mark Twain remarked, “History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” I believe what we are seeing is the problem my hometown radio experienced in the 60s only now instead of the newspaper getting all the credit it’s Google or some other online search algorithm or App.

People learn of your product or business over-the-air and then make a mental note to find out more later. They don’t need to remember your phone number (most can’t anyway, so why do radio ads still include them?). They don’t need to remember much of anything but your name. And the next opportunity they have to go online they Google your name to learn more. And Google gets the credit.

Great radio ads will engage the listener, cause them to see themselves doing or using the product or service you envision. Effective ads will stimulate people to know more and they immediately go online and Google you. (Google is now 18 years old. Google dot com was registered in September 1997. It just seems like it’s been around forever.)

Sophisticated advertisers will know what kind of traffic they were getting before they began their radio campaign and when the traffic through online increases they automatically credit your radio station, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, doing things like “tell them you heard it on WXXX” or “mention this ad and get 10% off” are ineffective because so many variations on these types of Pavlov-type tricks are only confusing and annoying radio listeners.

Radio is intrusive advertising that, used effectively, tells stories, builds brands and makes your business something people will want to go online and search for.

Create radio ads that are unique, like Bud Lite’s “Real Men of Genius” (http://budlight.whipnet.com/) and you will never have to ask if they heard about you on the radio. And maybe that’s the real problem. Radio’s copywriting. It can’t be an afterthought done by your sales reps or one-armed-paperhanging production person who’s banging out spots for multiple stations and the web. Creating great radio commercial content is a specialized skill (don’t try this at home) and done right will not only benefit your advertisers, but your radio station’s TSL and the advertising rates you can charge for your service.

It’s time radio spent as much time worrying about the content of everything that isn’t considered entertainment as it does its personalities, its records, its news/talk programming.

We don’t have a minute to waste.

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Get The Led Out

mrr_peabody_canvasLed for Lunch (an hour of Led Zeppelin music) pre-dates a lot of things, not the least of which is my iPhone. But this radio programming staple along with “Two-fer Tuesdays” and “Million Dollar Weekends” (in a billion dollar world) remain on so many radio stations. It’s like Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back Machine broke down in 1972.

My iPod contains a large variety of music. You would probably toss your cookies if you had to listen to it. Variety has always meant something different to each individual. That’s why radio stations that promote “the best variety” are usually wrong with a wide variety of listeners. Another worn-out, if ever appropriate, positioning phrase.

Howard Stern and Adele have a lot in common. They’re one-of-a-kind. They both understand they are not for everyone and they don’t care. We are attracted to people like that. Successful radio stations are like that.

When CBS lost Howard Stern to Sirius Radio, it suffered a meltdown. When Comedy Central lost Jon Stewart, it didn’t. Why? Comedy Central seized the opportunity to move in a new direction by attracting younger demographics, as well as increasing its black and Hispanic audience. It also read the tea leaves and made the show more accessible on the social media platforms. The result is the show is doing better than Stewart with where the “cut-the-cord” millennial’s are getting their media fix. Radio needs to embrace this changing audience usage pattern and have fulltime people paying as much attention to IoT (Internet of Things) as they do their over-the-air product. (Personally, I love both the new Daily Show & Nightly Shows and they are becoming a habit.)

Speaking of habits, they take a long time to cultivate, but once you get people in the habit of doing something, they aren’t quick to change. (It’s the reason I publish this blog every week. I’m trying to get you in the habit of expecting it and reading it.) Too many radio operators, in the name of budget cuts, eliminated the very reason many listeners had the habit of tuning into their radio station. Personalities are what differentiate a radio station and create the habit of daily listening.

Personalities and radio stations that are part of the fabric of the community will be found on every radio, including the new digital dashboards appearing on the latest vehicles. If people want what you create, they will find you.

The art of the tease has changed in a world with smartphone access to Google. If you tease a viewer or a listener, you better be the only place they can get the pay-off or you have effectively sent the person packing for another source.

Demographics are so yesterday. Psychographics are today. I like many of the same forms of entertainment that my grand kids like. (They also probably can operate my smartphone better than I can.) If age was ever a good way to define listeners or viewers, we definitely know it isn’t now. Pick a tribe you want to super-serve and then do it relentlessly.

What should you focus on most? Everything. The devil’s in the details and no one’s focused on the details anymore. All great entertainment is laser focused on the details. Go see a Cirque du Soleil performance if you need an example to emulate or watch the coaching staff instead of the playing field during a college or NFL football game.

Nothing stays the same. You’re either getting better or getting worse.

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The Outlook for Radio vs. Print

John Cassaday retired. For a quarter of a century he had an up-close and personal view of the communications revolution. For sixteen years he was the CEO of Corus Entertainment, a leading Canadian media company. When he stepped down from that position in March of this year, he was asked to reflect on the broadcasting industry. I was most interested in his thoughts about the outlook for radio.

What’s the outlook for radio?

Cassaday was asked that question by The Globe and Mail. He responded:

“Radio is probably the most sustainable traditional medium. It’s becoming the only truly local advertising opportunity.”

The thing that separates chronically positive people from everyone else is that while they know everyone has their problems – it’s a part of life – it’s that they keep in perspective, that adversity brings growth. But what happens if your medium is headed for a cliff?

What’s the outlook for print?

Print aka newspaper revenue was over a $65-Billion (adjusted for inflation) behemoth as the world approached 2000. The current trend line has it eroding to less than it was in 1950; a little over $17-Billion. But it’s worse than that.

NYU professor Clay Shirky sees print revenue headed for a cliff.  One of the tipping points will arrive when the cost of printing the paper is more than the advertising dollars/subscriptions that support its printing. But that’s still not the worst of it.

Shirky believes there’s another even more important tipping point that will occur before the one I just mentioned. That’s the one concerning the psychological threshold for the advertiser. The point where the amount of papers printed and distributed no longer justifies the investment in this form of advertising. How attractive will print advertising be when it no longer delivers the massive audience that an advertiser desires? That’s the point when revenues go from bleeding to hemorrhage.

One of the suggestions Shirky puts forward for newspaper owners is to get their best customers to think about getting the paper more as membership than a subscription.

The NPR Membership Concept

The concept of having people so loyal, so dedicated to the content you create that they want to be part of the family is the powerful concept that has been used by public radio stations to raise the necessary funds they need to operate. But let’s be clear, NPR has made a major investment in content creation and serving it up on any platform a member desires.

Much as HBO used to say “It’s not TV, its HBO,” NPR could just as easily proclaim “It’s not radio, its NPR.” And if you think that’s absurd, more than one focus group has shown that people, who say they don’t listen to radio any more, still listen to their local NPR radio station and support it through membership.

The iPad was never going to save newspapers

Shirky says you can add the iPad saving newspapers to the long list of cruel jokes Steve Jobs played on the media industry. Jobs was always about doing what was right for Apple. How do you think Apple became the most valuable company in the world?

Google+ is not Facebook

Even media companies that we think have all the answers, don’t.   Google+ was a bad Facebook. Instead of trying to figure out a new niche that wasn’t being served and doing an incredible job, Google created Google+. The world wasn’t asking for another Facebook. This isn’t all that different than HD Radio. The world wasn’t asking for another type of FM radio either. The digital difference for the radio consumer has never been seen as a “must have.”

Shared interests is the new local

It’s clear that while geography used to be the only thing that defined what it meant to be “local,” going forward local is going to come to mean people who share similar interests. To a substantial portion of the population, where they live may indeed be the very interest they share. But radio operators will need to clearly identify and serve those interests if they are to survive and thrive. Leverage the opportunity to deliver desired content to your “members” or someone else will.

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What if…

I had the opportunity to sit in on a webinar on “The Creative Economy” that is considered to be the direction the future of business is headed in compared to the traditional business methods of the past. What is meant by the term “The Creative Economy?” It’s one where business revolves around the customer versus the past where the customer revolved around the business.

The Creative Economy also breaks from tradition in the sense that it means the goal of a company is no longer about making money for the stakeholders but about delighting customers. But, you ask, isn’t “maximizing shareholder value” the mantra of Wall Street? Good question. Listen to what these CEOs have to say about that mantra:

            Jack Welch former CEO of GE: “the dumbest idea in the world”

            Vinci Group Chairman/CEO Xavier Hulliard: “totally idiotic”

            Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever: (has denounced) “the cult of shareholder value”

            Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce declared this still-pervasive business theory “wrong”

I guess it’s quickly losing favor with those who should know.

The Internet and “The Cloud” are enabling “The Creative Economy.”

Which brings me back to my initial question, “What if…”. What if radio stations were supposed to be small operations? What if the radio industry wasn’t meant to scale?

When I entered the radio business, companies were limited in the total number of radio stations they could own; in the entire USA. It was known as the 7-7-7 rule. A single company could own not more than 7 AM, 7 FM and 7 TV stations in all of America.

What this created was competition between owners of radio stations in a market. Each station was a team of people working as hard as they could to win the audience in that market. The focus was all about the listener or the viewer. Win the most listeners/viewers and advertisers would soon follow to showcase their wares on that radio or TV station’s airwaves.

Hearing “The Creative Economy” described on this webinar was like radio déjà vu.

In 1996, President William Jefferson Clinton signed the Telcom Act of 1996 into law. That was the moment that the “land rush” for broadcast properties began and Wall Street became heavily invested in the radio industry. Wall Street would bring its “maximize shareholder value” mantra to broadcasting.

This point was really brought home to me in 1999 when my stations were sold to a large radio consolidator. The head of this “big box” radio operator told us that we needed to “sell, sell, sell” that it was all about making money for the company and “maximizing shareholder value.”

This “pump up the troops” speech left me cold. I was brought up in a radio world that was about operating “in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity.” I was brought up in a world where if we treated the members of our team well, our team focused on delighting the listener, the advertisers would flock to our station and the owners would be rewarded for doing everything right. That view of life served me well my entire radio career.

Needless to say, I opted not to remain with this new company.

However, I would find myself playing “musical chairs” going forward as it was getting impossible to not be working for a company that hadn’t adopted this modus operandi.

Steve Denning, who writes for Forbes, lead this webinar and pointed out that economics was driving the change for companies worldwide. He told us that no company is doing it all right. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Salesforce are moving in the right direction. In fact, Tim Cook is better at navigating the change to this style of management than Steve Jobs ever was and it no doubt is contributing to Apple being the most valuable company in the world. To give you an example of what it means to focus on the customer first, consider Tim Cook telling an investor in Apple this:

“If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

That was kind of radio world I grew up in. We always tried to do the right thing for our employees, our listeners, our advertisers and the money would follow.

I’m encouraged that radio people who sold out when Wall Street was buying, are now getting back into the radio business with that same ethic, spirit and sense of innovation that seduced me into a four decade long radio career. They understand the concept of “The Creative Economy” because that’s how they built their radio companies the first time around. They also understand that today, radio is more of a concept of operation than a method of delivery.

I’m excited to be working with the next generation of radio broadcasters at my university knowing that radio’s future has never been brighter.

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Will Programmatic Buying Help Radio?

My good friend Pierre Bouvard circulated an article on LinkedIn that was published in Ad Age titled “Programmatic TV: Lots of Talk Lately, Not Much Real Action.”  We know what happens in TV land trickles down to radio. That’s what got me thinking about the impact that programmatic buying might make on the radio industry.

First, if you haven’t heard the term, programmatic buying is letting computers buy advertising time. This type of advertising placement is already pretty commonplace in the online world. It can take the form of data-driven real-time purchasing, online auctions or private exchanges, with transactions handled by machines according to Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at GroupM. It’s fast, efficient and needs no human sellers.

The large radio companies have been trimming the work force since the beginning of the “Great Recession.” Don’t waste a good crisis was the way one radio industry leader put it at a meeting I attended. Meaning, when the economy is in the dumper and all companies are trimming their expenses to survive, you can use this type of environment to make lots of cuts; especially through RIFs (Reduction In Force).

Computer automation equipment, voice-tracking, syndication, and networking has all replaced live and local radio program origination. However, when it came to ad revenue, the personnel has largely remained intact. Could programmatic buying do to radio sales staffs what the aforementioned computerization did to programming staffs?

The short answer is yes.

At the end of the last decade I watched Google’s ad insertion system place ads onto my radio stations in the very early morning hours. Google’s hardware recorded air checks of every ad they placed on my stations and Google was able to give their advertisers not just a paper verification of the ad running but air checks of every ad, run on every station. Something my local sellers could not do for their clients. It was impressive.

The downside was Google had no idea where anything was in my state and so many of the ads were not appropriate to be airing on my stations for any number of reasons; the most important reason was that business was a hundred miles or more away.

Now while I realize that what I’m talking about here is more programmatic ad placement than programmatic ad buying, I’m making the assumption that the selling of those ads were executed in a similar manner; via automation like Google sells online.

The Ad Age article stated that one big reason that programmatic buying of TV would be a ways off was due to “TV networks also still need to approve the ads before they run, both for standards and to make sure they fit with the surrounding programming. That step doesn’t exist in programmatic ad sales online.”

Remember when radio stations had program directors that listened to everything that would go out over their airwaves to make sure that it met their standards and made sure it fit with the surrounding programming? Ah, the good old days of radio. That attention to detail is why radio sounded so good.

The Google experience taught me that even as a market manager, I no longer had any control over what might be heard over my air. Automated ad insertion is why streaming commercial breaks might air the same commercial multiple times during the same break. It’s a reason that many listeners find listening to over-the-air radio stations online so annoying. (I know I do)

ESPN’s Eric Johnson put it this way: “Programmatic buying means a lot of things to a lot of people. It includes providing some automation to the buying and selling process.”

For radio, only one thing has ever mattered; what comes out of the listener’s speaker. My fear is that as radio continues to abandon this critical aspect of its product in the pursuit of saving money it will kill the goose that lays the golden egg. No one is looking out for the radio listener and in a world of infinite choice, the listener will simply go elsewhere.

You can’t save your way to success.

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