Haley To The Chief: Outreach, Optimism Define Jeff Haley’s RAB Leadership Plan (02/05/07)
By Editor-In-Chief Joe Howard
In every industry, there are organizations and people whose work — and words — are scrutinized with a careful eye. In the radio business, the Radio Advertising Bureau is one of those organizations, and its leader is one of those people. Solely by virtue of the job, the leadership post of the RAB is one of radio’s most high profile positions. So when former RAB President/CEO Gary Fries announced his retirement, the group’s selection committee was faced with finding a replacement for a long-tenured and well-respected leader.
During a protracted search, the names of many familiar radio industry figures were whispered as possible candidates. However, the committee ultimately selected Time Warner Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Jeff Haley, a seasoned marketer whose hiring served as a clear indicator of the direction the RAB board wanted to steer the group. Less an experienced radio executive and more a savvy marketer, Haley’s hiring proved that the group wanted a leader with the skills to simultaneously elevate radio’s image and help it improve on several years of lackluster performance that have critics wondering if radio can bounce back.
Not surprisingly, Haley doesn’t share that concern. In fact, his belief in radio’s strength contributed to his decision to accept the job, and he’s convinced that the industry’s recent weakness has more to do with economics than with the medium itself. “With the exception of online, all measured media is suffering somewhat from a decline in growth,” he says. “Radio is experiencing it as well, but I think we are more flexible, we’re more facile. We can dig our way out of this situation faster than some of the others. I think ’06 closed with some shades of very positive trends, and while first quarter is usually soft for measured media, I hope we start to see a very robust year.”
And it’s that outlook that he hopes will permeate the industry during his first full year with the RAB, and beyond. “There is a role to play for everyone who represents radio,” says Haley. “Be relentlessly optimistic about where our medium is, and where it’s going.”
RADIOINK: What are your priorities your early tenure as chief of the RAB?
JEFF HALEY: This is key, because the priorities change, sometimes from hour to hour: The way we’ve structured the RAB, all of our activity will focus on three areas: sharing knowledge; facilitating industry consensus — no matter how divergent our opinions, I firmly believe there is one thing we can all agree on about virtually every subject; and driving revenue. At the end of the day, the Radio Advertising Bureau is measured on the performance of the industry overall, and where advertising is going. It has to grow, or we should be held accountable.
RI: How important is facilitating industry consensus?
JH: It is a biggie. Consensus doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Consensus has to be led, and to lead, you have to be trusted. It would be the height of arrogance for me, within the first six months of this role, to assume that I have the industry’s trust and belief. That is something you earn over time. It’s easy to get consensus on certain things and harder on others. But, it will get easier over time if we develop a track record for helping people reach the commonalities that join us together rather than divide us.
RI: To grow financially, some say radio has to focus on the basics. Others believe the industry must reinvent the wheel. How will you bridge that gap?
JH: I believe more in the former than the latter. The way you change perceptions about radio depends on how you create experiences with radio. That can happen, whether it’s a local advertiser in a small market, a national advertiser in a large market, or some combination of both. The roll-up-your sleeves, account-by-account work in the trenches needs to be done, and I’m a roll-up-the sleeves type of person. In the context of advertising and advertising sales, I don’t think a reinvention is necessary at all. The idea of channel-neutral content development on behalf of broadcasters, station owners, and groups is alive and well, and strongly embedded across our industry now. I don’t think that’s a shockingly new concept. We have to keep reminding ourselves that that is the business we’re in, even though the majority of our revenue still goes to, and will always go, to terrestrial channels. These other channels are vitally important for broadening our existing audience and developing programs and ideas for marketers to take advantage of different ways to engage the consumer. Those things are crucial, but the lion’s share of our business will always be where the ease and universality of radio is: on your dashboard, in your home, and everywhere else.
RI: Have you met with a lot of industry leaders?
JH: I set out in the first 60 days of joining the RAB to see as many people as I could. That included attendance at the Idea Bank Conference in Danville, IL, for small-market radio broadcasters, and I’m visiting as many of the larger operators as I can. It’s been a tremendously positive experience, incredibly welcoming. Everybody seems poised to support new growth in radio, open to change, and open to taking some action steps to benefit radio.
RI: What experiences do you bring that will help guide you at the RAB?
JH: I graduated from college in 1984, and the first job I had was selling advertising space for a magazine. Since then, I've sold television and on-line advertising, and have also developed a variety of integrated programs. So I’ve always felt like I sold media. Although people describe me as an outsider to the radio industry, the job of an advertising salesperson has a fair degree of common aspects from medium to medium. Looking at the glass half full, I’ve been part of teams that have sold all other media, which gives me a broader perspective on what marketers are looking for when it comes to media mix and marketing mix. They’re looking for very specific, innovative ideas; they're not looking to buy media for the sake of media. Coming at it from a broader base of on-line, television, and print experience gives me some different perspective.
RI: What’s working well at the RAB? What isn’t?
JH: From the outset, the board was unanimous in its opinion that things were working well — that this is not an “it’s broken, go fix it” scenario. For example, our training and our services are used by the mass majority of our 6,000 member stations. That is a key point of focus for us.
Where we’re planning to enhance our activity is on the direct-drive revenue side. We plan to reach out to and focus on a small list of key people to partner with, to engage those folks in a long-term relationship and change their experiences with radio.
RI: Are you talking about people who aren't currently using radio?
JH: These are a variety of advertisers; some are leading radio advertisers, some are leading national advertisers who use a disproportionately small part of radio, and everything in between. Some are category leaders and some are category laggers in terms of their radio percentages.
RI: How will you approach the laggers?
JH: We'll point out the strength of radio, its reach, its local impact. We will come up with ideas that are very specific to their marketing needs, as opposed to just offering new facts about radio that they didn’t know. Most marketers today are not looking for facts about media, but facts about their businesses and how we can enhance them. That is a very different role than 20 or 30 years ago, when it was just about spots and what they cost. This is now about marketing, how our medium can help shape and improve their business.
RI: Are there new initiatives you want to launch?
JH: This focus on key advertisers is very new. The approach we plan to take is fairly unprecedented for the RAB. We will be explicitly linked to the track record of 35 leading advertisers.
RI: What are some of your biggest challenges? What are you worried about as you take on this high-profile role in an industry that some people feel has leveled off?
JH: I don’t think I would have chosen this as the next curve in my career path if I felt that way. I’m very bullish on radio. I spent a lot of time looking at the space from the due diligence standpoint, and I think radio is far and away the most flexible and facile medium out there. I define radio simply as audio content that is sponsorable, whether it’s broadcast or streamed, in our current format or in HD. Radio is inclusive of all of those things, and needs to be. It’s one world for radio: audio content that can be sponsored.
RI: What is your outlook for revenue generation through podcasting, online content, streaming, etc.?
JH: Our members are embracing new technology, and positioning themselves for growth any way they can. As an industry, as a trade organization, we’ve always called it non-traditional revenue. NTR has been a bucket that’s included everything. Over the next three or four years, you’ll see that category broaden into a more clear explanation of where spending is going.
RI: How do you feel about the revenue-generation possibilities for HD and multicast channels?
JH: We have to let that aspect of the medium develop a bit before we will know the answers, but the capabilities of the technology are fascinating. There will be a way to leverage it from a programming standpoint that drives a more engaged audience. It also allows more data to be transferred to the consumer. It will attract advertisers because it is a valuable, cool new thing.
RI: How will the Portable People Meter affect how radio is sold?
JH: It’s important to note that all media are shifting their measurement from perception-based tools to behavior-based tools. Everybody is moving in that direction; online has always been behavior-based, television has moved there, and radio has to join. How we do it, exactly what the right measurement is, and what the impact will be will take some time. But, we seem to be getting to a point of consensus about what this new measurement metric means for radio: a better reach vehicle, which is a great development for us.
RI: What are some of the concerns you’re hearing from broadcasters about PPM?
JH: I don’t want to go too deeply into that because it is a sensitive area, but there are concerns about how we’re going to affect behavior-based measurement. But, I believe that in the next 36 months, we’re likely to see that resolved.
RI: Is that your prediction for how long it will take for the industry at large to embrace electronic measurement?
JH: I don’t see that. We’re rolling out now, but I think we’ve got a longer timeline on this in terms of its impact. I wouldn’t look at it as some sort of prediction. What we’re looking at is radio joining the rest of the pack with behavior-based measurement. We have a couple of ways to resolve that soon, and that’s great news. When we arrive at the point where we have a consistent behavior-based measurement tool, that will be even better news for radio. What’s important is that, as an industry, we're taking deliberate steps toward that. And the advertisers are behind it. They’re saying, "Good, you’re going to be on track with everybody else."
RI: Do you think there’s a legitimate chance for some competing measurement in the next couple of years?
JH: Yes, but I don’t want to comment specifically on any vendors. It is important as a centralized trade organization not to appear biased with regard to any industry vendors. There are multiple solutions for behavior-based measurement, which will create an environment of the best possible performance against this subject.
RI: Do people take radio for granted? Does the radio industry need to do more to improve radio's image?
JH: We have phenomenal reach. Everybody listens to the radio. Whether or not they take it for granted is an advertiser concern, not a consumer concern. Like any medium, I’m sure our programmers work tremendously hard every day to ensure that consumers are aware of what they’re listening to, that they like it, and that they come back. We seem to be doing a pretty good job at that because our total listeners have grown and our total time spent listening with radio over the past 16 years has largely been retained. We’re a strong, universal, well-liked medium. People enjoy it. In receptivity studies we asked people how they feel when they consume radio, and it's emotively a very positive experience. So, I don’t think the idea of radio being some sort of background medium is all that relevant.
RI: What about advertiser perception?
JH: Advertiser perceptions are different. Advertisers are always enraptured with the new and different, so radio has to portray its great ideas as new and innovative and different. Lots of terms get bandied about that have a curious connection to radio. For example, wireless — we invented wireless. Experiential marketing — isn’t that a live remote? Embedded content, another hot phrase in 2006 — isn’t that a live read? Radio has all these things as part of its makeup; it’s presenting them in the right light through the right prism with the right specific opportunity per advertiser that is the hard work. That’s what we’re getting at day in and day out with the key advertiser focus initiative.
RI: What advice do you have for local sellers who are trying to battle for local dollars?
JH: Obviously it is impractical for us to say we’re going to be a hands-on helper in all 6,000 stations’ sales efforts. We don’t have that kind of scale. What we do with our national advertisers is analogous on a local level. The way national advertisers use radio, the way they have an impact with their national efforts, can be very relevant for the local folks.
RI: What would you say to local sellers to help them compete against the myriad options out there for advertisers?
JH: Be passionate and enthusiastic. Fight for the guy who says no and buys too small a program.
RI: What would you tell sales managers in terms of guiding their people?
JH: Sales managers need to focus on some of the broader issues for radio. We’d love to get input from everybody on what is and isn’t working on the street. We need to be more collaborative and collegial across our industry to find solutions that work for everyone, as opposed to just moving your market and your station.
RI: How has consolidation affected the local salespeople and the local sales market? Will the shrinking of the industry’s largest company reverse the trend?
JH: I’m a little too new to radio to comment specifically on the impact and effects of consolidation. But I’m very pleased to see some of the leading investors in the world putting down big bets in radio, because that tells me that they see what I see — a real future for growth.
The solutions we work on and the vision we hope to have for radio point to a very long-term success cycle, and I think that’s also the case with these new investors. They deal on multi-year horizons, as opposed to multi-quarter horizons.
RI: Do you think the pressure to deliver quarterly results hinders a public companies’ ability to think long term?
JH: I have not heard that explicitly. Whether our members are part of a large public conglomerate or a small, family-run business, they all have a passion for the business, and very robust business models. I also see a lot of diversity in their approaches. But there’s a single, common success point in radio: It is a great cash-flow business, and it derives its success primarily from its local impact.
RI: How are you feeling about your first RAB conference?
JH: I’m very excited. It’s an opportunity for me to speak directly to the sales side of the industry, as opposed to the operator side of the industry. That is where the rubber meets the road, so you get a fresher input and a clear direction on what’s important to people on the street.
RI: Speaking of fresh input, you’ve got a new chairman in Peter Smyth. How are you and Peter working together?
JH: Hand in glove. He’s a fantastic boss, and he’s been a real champion for me in these early months. I couldn’t be more appreciative of his advice, his support, and his approach to the job day in and day out.
RI: What ideas has he brought to the table?
JH: He’s leading a broad-based strategic plan to create a new direction for radio in three primary areas: transactions, marketing, and a vision for growth. In the past, radio’s great leaps have either come from technology, like FM, or from programming, like Top 40. We must all believe in a long-term vision for growth, maybe four or five years. This strategic plan will help define that. Peter is the perfect guy to lead the broad array of participants, because he is an optimist and a longer-term thinker about our medium.
RI: Tell me more about this three-pronged plan.
JH: What we do at the RAB day in and day out is drive revenue and facilitate consensus. When we consider a future strategic plan for radio, we think about things that will affect how this medium is perceived by advertisers and by the general public. That’s where the three areas of transactions, marketing radio to the advertiser, and our vision for growth are focused.
RI: Can you elaborate on “transactions”…
JH: “Transactions" means how one goes about buying radio and putting an ad on the air. There are a lot of developments in this space, a lot of new vendors, new approaches. There’s a real demand on behalf of the advertiser to make it easier to buy radio, and we need to devise a common strategic direction to address that.
RI: How will commercial inventory sales systems like Google Radio affect the radio business? What are group heads saying?
JH: It’s too early to tell. I don’t think it will affect the radio business materially in the short term. It is part of a mix of things we need to look at as an industry that could make it easier to buy radio. No single solution is evident right now; there is a diversity of opinion about a diversity of vendors. What we’re responding to with this strategic plan is what kinds of developments can happen, longer term, that would make it easier to buy radio, and that is good for everyone. Our vision is very broad; it may be something as simple as a common schema for e-invoicing that makes it easier to buy radio.
RI: What is the key to marketing radio in the future?
JH: It’s similar to what I said earlier about wireless and experiential marketing and embedded content. The fact that we do all those things already tells us that we’ve got the right medium and the right mix of tools in our bag. We just need to frame the conversation with the advertiser constituency a little bit differently. It’s not reinventing the wheel; it’s shifting the prism through which we view radio.
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