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Wizard of Ads

'I Tried Radio And It Didnt Work.


Radio desperately needs a new reputation. The more gracious and elegant leaders in our industry may use different words than mine, but if you listen closely, theyre all saying what I just said.

I believe I have a solution to that problem of reputation. But like most solutions that are real and true, my solution isnt a quick one. It isnt a slogan or a series of ads or a goofy publicity stunt.

And it certainly isnt painless.

Today Im going to suggest a new commission structure for account executives. I pray only that someone, somewhere, has the courage to test this commission plan, because I honestly believe it will work.

Lets begin with a questionable metaphor and a not-so-questionable look at history:

A farmer with integrity harvests a crop that he himself planted. He doesnt raid the farm of his neighbor in the middle of the night.

Radio sales reps often limit their careers to calling on people who are known to be radio advertisers people who were introduced to radio by an account executive other than themselves. These steal-the-account AEs remind me of Hernando Cortez, the Spanish conquistador who came to North America and immediately began raiding the cities of the Aztecs, hoping to steal the gold of Montezuma.

Advertisers who believe in radio were fortunate to have had a positive first experience. But very few have this good fortune. Most business owners were introduced to radio by a sales rep whose manager was Hernando Cortez: Come back with Aztec gold by the end of the week or youre fired.

If you call on 30 business owners who are known not to be radio advertisers, the song youll hear sung most often is, I tried radio and it didnt work. Can you imagine how much higher radios billing would be if these advertisers sang a different song?

Radio didnt work for these advertisers because most new advertisers are introduced to our medium by radios greenest and least-experienced reps.

A business owner has a problem, an opportunity, a hunger, or a dream. In comes dancing the new sales rep with a package and a promise. Our audience is perfect for your business. Your only problem is that you havent been reaching the right people, but my stations got exactly the right people for you. Here, let me show you....

This AE, of course, has been trained not to sell radio, but to sell only the special qualities of his or her audience. This is the danger of using qualitative selling to sell mass media: Its a pitch that allows the advertiser to run flaccid and pointless ads in the misbegotten belief that his only problem is that hes been reaching the wrong people.

Ive never seen a business fail because it was reaching the wrong people. But if you listen to AEs, this is the only problem a business needs to overcome.

The second problem with the inexperienced sales pitch is that it almost always revolves around a short-term package. To become a successful investment, a short-term package requires the advertiser to deliver an urgent and convincing message for a product, a service, or an event with a very short purchase cycle. And this almost never happens. Thus, at the end of that initial run and forever after, I tried radio and it didnt work.

Now lets talk about that new commission plan. Ill pose it as a question:

What would happen if you paid a significantly higher commission plus a meaningful bonus to any AE who brought a first-time radio advertiser into your station with a 52-week schedule? My suspicion is that radios saltiest and most experienced AEs would begin spending more time looking under rocks and behind bushes for virgin accounts.

Few things energize a station like a small advertiser thats seeing great results from his or her schedule and is growing by leaps and bounds because of it. The amount of new business that comes to a radio station as the result of such a client is amazing. Ive seen this many times. Ill bet you have, too.

To create a success story that will ring the bell of your city requires an advertising partner that is:
1. not already well-known
2. does not use a media mix, but
3. is giving the vast bulk of their total ad budget to radio.

These success stories arent hard to create. You already have AEs that can sell these business owners on a 52-week schedule if theyre utterly determined to do it.

The problem is that no one is calling on them.

Put together a compensation plan that rewards AEs for the extra energy and patience it takes to land a virgin 52-week account. And make sure the plan rewards AEs for putting A+ efforts into the strategies and ad copy that will be required to make this new account a big success.

If every station in America began 2014 with just two or three such new accounts, America would regain its respect and admiration for radio by mid-2015.

Grass roots. Thats where weve got to begin.

Theres a chance Im wrong.

But I doubt it.

Roy H. Williams is president of Wizard of Ads Inc. E-mail:

(1/15/2014 4:12:15 PM)
I would respond by turning the focus toward the customer and say "if I bought an inferior product from YOUR competitor does that mean I shouldn't buy from you either?" Nobody wants to be judged by a lousy provider. We hear crappy radio ads all the time. It's still an awesome product when used properly. Too few know how to do it anymore.

- Sanford cohen
(12/27/2013 9:30:42 PM)
While it's a bit outrageous to be expecting a "52 week annual" from an advertiser new to Radio, you've got the right idea. When I sold and managed Radio sales teams I specifically prospected non-radio accounts, and closed many of them.
But with corporate radio, you have a product that's been weakened, whored out, & converted into a commodity.
I don't envy those of you who have to bring home the bacon in these times. But remember, you're selling ideas that convert to sales for your client.

- Panama Jack
(12/20/2013 8:08:07 PM)
Yes, Phil, I did indeed suck at radio sales - in 1969. A little water has gone under that bridge since then. Further, I will comment where I think it might be useful or warranted. I didn't grow up in this business in a programming bubble.

Meanwhile, Roy promotes a better deal for the sales folk based on the longevity of the programs they are pitching. Agreed. Good. Next...?

Just don't ask me anything about engineering. In that area, I truly am clueless.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(12/20/2013 4:59:29 PM)

I really have no interest in a dialogue with you, but I suggest that since you've admitted publicly that you were a failure at radio sales that you refrain from commenting on that subject.
Roy's topic was related to sales and retaining salespeople.

- Phil
(12/20/2013 12:14:17 PM)
Our industry doesn't attract good sales people because they could go sell cars, the customer comes to them, so there's no work on their part, and a single sale is often over $20000. Compare that to radio... we have to identify the customer, get past the gatekeepers to the decision maker, and arrange to go meet with them. If you're not a top station or you're in a small market, the spot rate is only a few measly bucks. Then you have to write, cut and schedule a spot...

- Mike

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