A friend last week re-introduced me to Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I had read Hill’s uplifting message many years ago; revisiting it in the wake of the economic earthquake we’ve just experienced provided some interesting insights.
It’s shocking to me that some stations in the 21st century aren’t taking advantage of yield management strategies. In lean economic times, pricing your inventory based on supply and demand makes more sense than ever before.
The best argument for utilizing yield management comes from reviewing an unsold inventory report (assuming your traffic system can supply such a report). For stations without yield management, it’s typical for 30 to 50% of each month’s inventory to produce zero revenue.
As of midnight tonight, we bid farewell to a troubled year. There’s no need to recount the issues that face our country and our industry; if you’re in Radio you probably go to sleep at night worrying about poor sales, cutbacks, and what the future may bring.
It might make you feel better to know that our country—and Radio—has faced bad times before. During the Jimmy Carter years, inflation was in double-digits, gas prices were climbing rapidly, and the economy was in the doldrums. Many were pessimistic about the future.
But better times were in the offing. We were just a couple of years away from the Reagan Revolution and a revitalization of our economy. However, it’s important to note that Radio didn’t wait for a change of fortune. Through sales and programming innovation, a positive attitude, and a willingness to try—to beat a bad ec0nomy, no matter the odds—Radio was poised to take advantage of the boom times when they finally arrived.
Consider that Radio—from among all the major media—is best positioned to deliver results for local direct advertisers. TV is far too expensive, the newspaper dinosars are facing extinction, and direct mail costs continue to escalate. And local business doesn’t see the kind of results from the Internet that Radio can deliver.
So bring on 2009 and new challenges. I’m betting Radio is up to the task ahead.
The recent SIRIUS/XM merger hasn’t appeared to help the struggling satellite provider in the short term, with over a billion dollars in debt due in 2009. The company touts its 17% annual growth rate in subscribers as an indication there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But other changes may not bode well for the satellite giant.
In an earlier post, I mentioned how advantageous it can be to learn the name of the decision-taker and gatekeeper when approaching a new client. The question is: what’s the “easy” way to uncover this information?
Here’s how it’s done: pick up the phone, call the potential client, and ask.
Two travelers met in an airport terminal.
“Where are you going?” asked the first.
“Don’t know,” replied the second. “I just buy a ticket and get on a plane.”
“Well, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you’ve arrived?”
Most advertising campaigns are not much different. We sell a client a schedule to “increase sales” and the client is hoping for “more traffic” and “some new faces”, but without a specific goal, it’s impossible to know when the ad campaign is a “success”.
The difficulty lies in the difference between reality and the client’s expectations. When an advertiser runs a schedule with your stations, will he be satisfied with 10 responses? One hundred? One thousand? If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. To that end, the Return on Investment Calculator (shameless plug) can help both you and the client arrive at a realistic, measurable goal that defines an adequate return on his advertising investment. Without such a benchmark, both you and the customer are likely to be disappointed.
But beyond a measurable goal is the requirement for a message from the advertiser that is worthy of a response. Some clients think that by “just getting our name out there” they’ll see an increase in business. And they might achieve that goal. But if the message is on target and compelling, they’ll realize a much larger return.
Several years ago, one of our top-rated stations ran extremely heavy schedules for two non-competing advertisers: an auto dealer and a furniture store. The schedules were such that many of their ads ran back-to-back. The following week, the auto dealer reported dismal results; sales were horrible and Radio didn’t bring in any customers. The furniture store meanwhile reported excellent results; a record-breaking week that was the best in their history.
The difference was the message content. The furniture store offered excellent value and a compelling message. The auto dealer’s message was “come buy a car from us.”
Fixing an advertiser’s expectation of results and crafting the message they will send are two critical parts of success in Radio (and in any advertising medium). Without these goals in mind, neither you nor the client will know when you’ve arrived.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a sales newby.
I had undergone the standard sales training: my sales manager handed me a copy of the yellow pages, a rate card, and pointed to the street. “Go get ’em, tiger!”
It took over a year of making every mistake a new salesperson can make for me to finally realize there are certain things you should do—and others you should definitely not do—when attempting to make a sale. One of the items under the “definitely not” category was talking too much.
Think back to a time when you met someone to whom you were very attracted. You wanted to make a good impression, and there were those awkward moments of silence. To minimize the discomfort, you said something—anything—to fill the void. Unfortunately, whatever you said made the discomfort worse. And saying the wrong thing risked ending the relationship before it ever truly began.
The same is true in sales.
Once, when calling on a decision-taker in his office, I completed my presentation and sat back to await a response. Instead of asking a question or making a comment, the executive turned his swivel chair and gazed out the window. I was somewhat nonplussed.
What was he doing? I fought down the urge to fill the silence. Instead, I vowed I would not say a word…even if we both sat in his office for years as time ticked silently by.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity—but was actually only about 30 seconds—the man turned back to me, picked up a pen and signing the offer said: “Okay, let’s do it!” He took the time to think over the merits of my proposal, and eventually decided they outweighed whatever negatives he was considering.
I’m convinced that if I had given into the urge to fill the silence by saying something, I would have broken his concentration and possibly lost the sale. He had all the information he needed to decide…he just needed a moment to think things through logically.
If you’ve had the quick salesperson’s course, add this bit of experience to your fund of knowledge. If you’ve said all you need to say to make the sale, say no more. Become “comfortable” with silence and let it work for you.
Christmas Eve, sitting in a supermarket parking lot in West Palm Beach, FL.
While waiting for the wife to obtain a few last-minute items, I switched to the AM band and pressed the “Scan” button on the radio. The digital dial spun like a slot machine display and ended up at 1000.
My ears were treated to a very unusual format. Instead of talk, music, sports, weather, or some other mundane format, I heard: “is-is-is-is-is-is…”
It was obvious that the station’s automation system had locked up. The audio source—whatever it might have been—was repeatedly sampling the word “is”, perhaps as a holiday tribute to President Clinton’s infamous quote about the meaning of “is”.
I checked back from time to time to find out how long—if ever—it took for someone…anyone at the station to realize there was a problem. I gave up after two hours.
The obvious conclusion: this station was part of a group and the attention was being given to the “important” stations, namely the FM outlets. The AM was automated, unattended, and ignored.
Unfortunately, this condition obtains in a lot of companies in a lot of markets. The idea behind consolidation was to maximize revenues while minimizing expenses and resources. In theory, all the stations benefit. But experience shows that when multiple stations are added to the same cluster, 100% of effort cannot be allocated to each one. A five-station cluster means each station garners an average attention of 20%. Providing more attention to one means the others will suffer. This is not the way it is supposed to work—but in the real world things often don’t work out as intended.
The bottom line: if Radio people don’t pay attention to all of their stations, don’t be surprised when listeners don’t pay attention, either.
“Radio never takes a holiday.”
That liner was a reminder that local Radio stations were always on hand—even through major holidays—to provide the music, news, weather, sports, and more that both listeners and advertisers depend on. Today, thanks to the giant strides in station automation, all but a very few station staff members will enjoy days off. In many markets, the stations will be on complete auto-pilot with no human hand at the helm.
About a decade ago, things were very different. While the sales and administrative staff would spend a holiday with family, a good portion of the air staff of local stations was on the air as normal. Prior to automation, each station had at least one staff member on the air on Christmas day and again on New Year’s day.
What will Radio be like a decade from now?
It’s difficult to predict. But I suspect Radio will still be here; still providing the music, news, sports, weather, and more. It may be radically different from what we know today, but it will be here.
Even on holidays.
My wife recently experienced the depths of automated telephone systems when she placed a call to a well-known, national service provider to inquire about an unauthorized credit card debit.
Calling the designated national number, she became lost in a telephone tree with five choices, none of which addressed the issue about which she was calling. To make matters worse, if she pressed “0” (a logical choice to be connected to an operator/live person), she was returned to the very front of the automated message where the process started all over again. After three tries, she hung up.
Next, a call was placed to the local branch office of the organization. After another trip through a telephone tree, she managed to reach a real person who forwarded her to another office. There she was greeted with the message that “all our representatives are busy” and informed to leave her name and number and they would call her back…eventually.
Finally, a call to a third office managed to reach Katie, a real, live, competent person with a positive, how-can-I-help attitude. Not only did Katie take immediate steps to resolve the problem, she took pains to relay exactly what she was doing and how it would ensure the problem would not occur in the future. In every way, her performance was exceptional.
What type of service do your customers (both advertisers and listeners) receive when calling your station? Are they greeted professionally and receive prompt responses to their queries, or are they relegated to some type of telephone hell? How many people do they have to go through in order to obtain an answer/resolution?
The best way to find out is to ask your clients. The feedback you receive may surprise you.