Radio Sales: It’s Knot A Mystery (Anymore) (11/05/07)
Whether you’re a newcomer to radio sales, a seasoned veteran, or a top-billing hero, you know the changes and challenges the industry is facing. The economy is uncertain, the Portable People Meter is rolling out, and radio is looking at more competitors, digital and otherwise, than ever before.
In this special sales-themed issue of Radio Ink, we ask some of radio’s top sellers their strategies for overcoming radio’s most familiar obstacles: the optimism and apprehension surrounding new media; the age-old misperceptions about radio’s effectiveness; cutting through the clutter of a crowded marketplace; the challenge of making clients’ money go further; and the ever-challenging stress of time management.
Radio Ink asked these pros how they’re rising above it all — and reaching new levels of success.
RADIOINK: What has been your toughest challenge in radio sales, and how did you overcome it?
Carla Forsyth: Losing a key agency to national that represented 40 percent of my billing. Keeping a positive attitude helped me focus on future opportunities. I worked closely with my sales manager to develop a game plan that included targeting a handful of other key accounts that had growth potential; and honing in on serious new business development.
Chad Harris: The toughest daily challenge is standing out from the crowd of reps out there. The way to stand out is with credibility accomplished through knowledge, confidence, trust, respect, and definitely creativity.
Dawn Hauser: The biggest challenge has been prioritizing, and learning to discern between the business/clients you can affect and those you cannot. It’s been trial and error, but I’ve learned that there are just some pieces of business that I cannot affect. Put them where they belong, deliver their CPP and value added requests to the best of your ability. I have learned to pay attention to the transactional business to the degree it deserves, and focus on accounts I can affect with solutions to their marketing objectives.
Chris Corson: Integrating new media technologies to traditional radio has been, by far, the biggest hurdle. We came up with a powerful radio-web business model that offered solid documentation of web-generated sales activity. This business model is reflected in the www.600cars.com website. It took boatloads of “discussion” to get the client to not use a corporate website, but to use a (potentially) disposable project URL. Supported by traditional radio, this site generates 200 to 800 unique visitors per month — people solely interested in buying a pre-owned vehicle.
I fear that the radio industry will be too slow to adopt adequate digital production budgets and equipment. With the web elements fully in place, we are audio and visual. This is where the revenue growth will be highest.
A disappointment has been the observation that radio is, just now, becoming perceived as a reach medium. Many radio executives have bought into the “radio is a frequency medium,” and this has cost us huge share loss compared to TV/cable and print.
Michele Tagye: Establishing the value my radio station has to offer my clients versus viewing it as a commodity has been a challenge. Creating value for our promotions and programs allows clients to buy more than spots.
Adam Akins: My biggest challenge has been lack of training. I had no choice but to use our best friend — the Yellow Pages — and make cold call after cold call!
Also, clients don’t want to lose touch with how local radio truly is, so it has been a challenge to keep the local aspect with the Internet.
Robert Topping: Tracking and sourcing an intangible medium has been a challenge. In the past, clients have told me: “Radio didn’t work. Nobody came in and mentioned the ad.” I have learned to ask them if traffic has increased, if other types of advertising are sourcing better, and if their net profitability has gone up. Sometimes, all it takes is re-educating them on how radio works. As Chris Lytle said: “You don’t listen to the radio; you bathe in it.”
Tammy Tibbens: My toughest challenge is selling radio to customers who do not have a tracking system in place for their advertising. One of my biggest accounts canceled because the majority of their leads were coming from the phone book. I tried to explain that radio was driving customers to the phone book. One year later, they were back on the air.
Now, I describe upfront how radio will drive listeners to the Internet or the phone book to look up their information. We typically list a client’s website in a commercial instead of the phone number; it’s much easier to remember a website than a 10-digit phone number. I ask the client upfront to measure how many page views and unique visitors they have on a website prior to advertising on the radio, and then compare the increase in traffic to their website after the campaign starts. I also help my customers create a promotion with a call to action; the response to the promotion is a direct way for the customer to measure the results.
RI: What issues or trends are top of mind with your clients? What questions are you hearing most from your clients?
Robert Topping: The economy, stupid! Seriously, every single one of my clients has been impacted by the economy in the past few years. I tell my clients to ride it out. In good times and bad, businesses that keep advertising take market shares away from those that don’t.
Chris Corson: PPM is a key issue at the agency level. Its impact on traditional reach and frequency models is a concern. Strangely lacking at the professional agency level is a concern about the impact of DVR, web TV, and satellite on commercial television viewing. In Dallas/Fort Worth, these two elements negatively impact at least 30 percent of all potential TV/cable viewers.
Clients are perplexed by the same challenge as radio people — integration of new media with old.
Tammy Tibbens: My clients’ top issues are reaching their target audience, increasing sales of their products, and being able to measure their advertising success.
Michele Tagye: Clients are very interested in exclusivity, whether it’s an endorsement, sponsorship, or banner on the web. The question I am hearing most: How can you help make my budget work harder for me? Clients want me to find ways to make their budget go further without spending additional dollars.
Chad Harris: What I’m hearing from clients: What about satellite radio? You want how much? I can get cable a lot cheaper.
Kathy Smith: The biggest challenge facing my clients is how to make their message break through the clutter that barrages consumers everyday. Many clients are inquiring about digital platforms available to them as a vehicle to do so.
Bob Saunders: Digital, without a doubt. Clients are asking: What works? How do I use it effectively? How do I measure it? What’s it worth?
RI: What challenges are you facing today that you didn’t face 12 months ago?
Michele Tagye: In January, the PPM was launched in Philadelphia. PPM has certainly changed the way we do business. The ratings in the market have become very compressed. This makes it more difficult to reach buyers’ goals as compared to the diary method.
Chad Harris: More advertising opportunities — phonebooks from every phone company under the sun, both English and Spanish versions; digital billboards; additional cable channels; additional HDTV stations, etc.
Carla Forsyth: We have adopted a new sales model in which we are on consolidated sales teams representing all six of our brands. This requires being an expert on six brands, working as a team to build business, and having faith that your teammates will work as diligently as you to serve your clients and secure the business.
Tammy Tibbens: Business tends to come in later for me, so it has become harder to project my billing. I am also mentoring new hires on two of our radio stations, so I find it difficult to balance my time.
Adam Akins: My ability to continue to go after new direct business as well as handle more agency business.
Kathy Smith: Time poverty. When I began in this industry, I sold advertising. Today, I develop and implement tailored marketing solutions that encompass on-air, on-line, and on-site elements. Furthermore, there is now a level of accountability that didn’t exist when a straight media buy was placed.
Chris Corson: Multi-layered sales campaigns of terrestrial radio, digital radio, HD Radio, micro-site creation and contesting, video on the website, as well as special event and sports marketing. This creates complex goal setting, commission levels, and chronic administrative hurdles unheard of in the past.
Dawn Hauser: The rapidly declining transactional business. Attrition is a major issue; a radio account manager is not going to find growth in key accounts from last year. Growth will come in new account development to replace the transactional business decline.
Robert Topping: I have to learn a whole new technology in PPM. I can remember schlepping reel-to-reel dubs in the ’80s and early ’90s late on Friday afternoons, so I suppose change is good, right?
RI: How have market conditions changed in recent years, and how have you adapted your selling skills to meet these new challenges?
Chris Corson: As we moved to the digital age, we had to come up with new ways to mesh the old and new into an “edge” for our clients. Reading digital media articles and trade magazines are a source of some information.
Tammy Tibbens: I believe in the power of networking; I refer business to other forms of media when I can and, in turn, receive referrals from these other sources.
Robert Topping: It all boils down to making multiple impressions on the right target demographic. If you don’t clutter it up by making things more complicated than they really are, you will see clearly what you need to do. As my radio station’s owner, Tim Sullivan, often says, “It ain’t brain surgery.” Good advice from a multi-millionaire, I say!
Kathy Smith: In a market with a flat economy at best, we need to be more strategic with our marketing solutions. Where we once could afford to be myopic and sell the package de jour, we must now thoughtfully look long term at annual and multi-year contracted programs.
Chad Harris: We are about to have a major influx of 11,000 soldiers plus family members, which means more listeners and advertiser customers. The bad news is military bases are not included in ratings. The challenge will be to convince major agencies they get a bonus of listeners that don’t show on the ratings. The best would be if we could convince them that these uncounted listeners are their added value.
Dawn Hauser: If you focus your skills on what each individual client needs to achieve, you don’t need to adapt your selling skills. The clients’ needs dictate solutions.
Carla Forsyth: Clients (both agency and directs) continue to be time-poor, so when I want an appointment to bring a unique marketing opportunity based on their needs, I better be spot-on with that idea. My intuition and listening skills have served me well, because I typically can get in to see the client directly and/or get an audience that includes at least two titles.
RI: What best practices have you adopted that contribute to your success?
Chris Corson: Keep asking questions.
Tammy Tibbens: An easy way to develop relationships with business owners or decision makers is through networking and referral groups. In one hour, I can make 10 appointments at a networking event versus 10 hours of cold calling. This year alone, I have written over $82,000 in business from referrals.
I spend a considerable amount of time educating and helping my clients with their message. If your message doesn’t ask the listener to do something, they will not respond to it.
Every advertiser must have four components in their commercial: a) Focus on only one piece of information; b) have a tag line (“I'm lovin’ it”; “Have it your way”; “Just do it” ; c) transfer of energy — leave a lasting impression on your target audience. What energy do you want to leave with the listener? d) call to action — if you are not asking the listener to do something in your commercial, don’t expect them to respond to it. A lot of ads say: "We've been in business for 30 years, we're family owned and operated, we have excellent customer service." Will these drive traffic to your store?
In addition, Arbitron and Scarborough are two tools that position me as a greater resource to the client. I use these resources to determine who my client’s target audience is, where their consumers live, and how much these consumers spend in their industry. This valuable tool has helped me when it comes to cold calling, promotional ideas, scheduling, and closing.
Adam Akins: Whether it is learning from some of the most experienced sellers in your own office or joining a local chapter of AWRT, networking has taught me more than anything.
Carla Forsyth: I talk their language, not radio jargon. I continue to send each client a hand-written, heart-felt thank you note for every piece of business I write.
Chad Harris: I try to put myself in the advertiser’s position, and imagine what I would want out of advertising. Adapt to advertiser personalities; knowing when to ask questions and when to shut up and listen.
Robert Topping: Be consistent. Do what you say you are going to do. Make friends, serve them well and treasure them forever.
RI: Can you identify emerging trends that may affect radio within the next five years?
Carla Forsyth: To evolve and keep our product relevant to advertisers, our strategic approach will transcend traditional media offerings by leveraging our multiple assets that include on-air, online, and onsite competencies. Included in our arsenal are six radio stations, five HD channels, six websites, six listener databases, and numerous street/experiential teams.
Chris Corson: The collapse of the terrestrial TV/cable commercial (due to DVR/satellite/web TV) will be a phenomenon. This will leave radio as the prime reach medium in North America, at least for commercial exposure. PPM will accelerate this realty and perception with the doubling of station cumes.
Adam Akins: Satellite radio would have to be the biggest, but I don’t see it has a huge player.
Bob Saunders: Our industry reaches millions of listeners each week and we are doing a pretty good job of pulling a large portion of these listeners to our websites. Then what? Are our sites giving these visitors what they really want and need? I would like to see a bigger commitment made in terms of acquiring the right people who understand what these wants and needs are.
Chad Harris: I wonder how long HD Radio will be around. Will radio towers eventually be replaced by servers?
Kathy Smith: An emerging trend is for radio to dichotomize its sales efforts into two types: transactional, commodity-based sales and consultative, enterprise-level sales. With the emergence of automated spot placement, and an extremely competitive advertising environment, there will be more focus and energy in developing the consultative and partnership selling paradigm. So make friends with your director of new business development!
Wayne Winners Tell All
Radio Ink: What has been your toughest challenge in radio sales, and how did you overcome it?
Kim Harrison: The toughest challenge of the last decade has been learning to sell a broad mix of stations and products. I have a ratings goliath Rock station, a niche Sports Talk station, and a niche Spanish station. We can’t just go in talking ratings; we have to break down how each of these stations will max results for the client. It comes down to who their consumer is, and what stations best deliver and move that target audience.
Mike Rockwell: Starting out, the toughest part was asking strangers for money. I overcame it by building rapport and trust with my clients, and realizing I wasn’t there just to sell them; I was there to help them.
Don Tomasulo: The toughest external challenge is to get some clients to realize that radio is still a vibrant medium, and that the reports of its death are exaggerated. I overcome this by showing how many people are still listening, and how small our erosion is compared to other media. More importantly, I show the results we deliver when they use radio right.
RI: What issues or trends are top of mind with your clients? What questions are you hearing most from your clients?
Mike Rockwell: Clients, agencies, and radio stations are all being held more accountable for results. That doesn’t mean more value-added in the form of free junk. It means genuine value in the form of targeted, customized marketing plans that address specific needs and opportunities with mutually agreed upon goals and outcomes.
We’re being asked more about our digital capabilities, and how they can effectively and quantifiably provide multiple impressions with our core listeners.
Don Tomasulo: Most clients are confused about where to put their advertising dollars. Everyone talks about how they have to be on the Internet, buy they don’t really know what that means. Many advertisers are paralyzed about what to do. They need someone to help guide them to solutions that work.
Kim Harrison: One issue on the minds of our advertisers is how to get their messages heard. This is best achieved through great creative, and creative schedules!
RI: How have market conditions changed recently, and how have you adapted your selling skills to meet these new challenges?
Don Tomasulo: Things were slow last year, and they continue to be slow this year. The competitive environment is tougher than ever. Television has added more morning new/entertainment products, the newspaper has retooled its online product and changed to morning delivery, and cable has expanded its sales force. If you do the right things to help your clients, maintain good on-air products and a strong sales team, you naturally meet these challenges head on.
Wilbur Vitols: There is continued fragmentation of the overall advertising dollar. We have always concentrated on conveying the basics of a simple, yet effective marketing plan that keeps the overall goal in focus: State the product or service benefits to the prospective customer, tell it straight, tell it often, and deliver on what you promise. We relentlessly drill this advertising philosophy into our account executives, and it gets results for our clients.
Mike Rockwell: The national market has had wide swings as clients have moved in and out of the arena. If you’re going to insulate your billing from these fluctuations, you have to make a real and measurable difference in your clients’ businesses beyond the avails with proactive ideas and programs that address their individual goals and opportunities.
Kim Harrison: Most advertisers’ websites are playing an ever-increasing role in how they do business with their customers. We all have to learn to incorporate this tool into our marketing solutions for our advertisers, and help them get consumers to their websites without taking our focus off of their base business.
RI: What best practices have you adopted to contribute to your success?
Don Tomasulo: I think one of the problems with radio is we keep looking for the new best practice when we never got good at the first best practice: Creating great commercials. When we lead with creative, there is no better practice.
Kim Harrison: The best practice I’ve had over the years is to constantly be on the lookout for new business categories and trends. Watch what’s going on in the world. I’m old, but I was on the “category” of cell phones before it was a category!
Mike Rockwell: The same best practices that work locally work nationally. Be your clients’ advocate. Stay in dialogue with them so you understand their unique needs, opportunities, and challenges. Get to know people on the client side, from DMs to GMs to MMs. Know the planners and account executives at the agencies. Focus on process, not just output. Then pave the way for your next success by recapping results so your partners can show their bosses what was accomplished.
Wilbur Vitols: Two things: First, keep the client’s best interest as goal number one. Second: Never, ever give up. Tenacity overwhelms momentary inspiration every time.
RI: Can you identify any emerging trends that may affect radio within the next five years?
Don Tomasulo: Young kids find us irrelevant, and college kids don’t want anything to do with radio. Hannah Montana is the hottest concert ticket in America, but you are hard-pressed to find any stations playing the record. Who wants to be the teen station? No one. We are training kids to use other forms of media.
As far as sales go, we need to rethink the way we pay rookie sales talent. We need to reach out to the talent leaving college and show them what an exciting and rewarding career this can be.
Mike Rockwell: I think there’ll be a further divide between the stations and groups that have a clear understanding of their local market, their advertisers’ needs, and their own capabilities versus those that use cookie-cutter approaches to on-air programming and sales. It’s the difference between building genuine listener, customer, and shareholder value as opposed to trying to cost-cut the way to “paper value.” Our industry’s growth will be directly tied to how well we do what radio does best — localize.
Wilbur Vitols: Interactive, which can be a strong partner with radio and HD, can help increase radio’s shares of advertising revenues, but both can also divert monies from traditional broadcast campaigns. Those with the strength to win and the passion to learn will thrive.
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