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First Mediaworks


10/15/08: How Radio Can Rescue Local Retail


I'm going to ask you to do something that may make you uncomfortable.

In fact, most of you will get the hair up on your back, or send e-mails telling me why I'm an idiot for what I'm about to suggest. Sadly, only 2 percent of you will take my suggestion, and the other 98 percent will find fault with it. The good news is that the 2 percent will gain favor with advertisers.

Is there a way to get advertisers to spend money in radio during these lean times? Maybe. The indirect nature of this strategy may make you uncomfortable, but I ask you to keep an open mind, because it is a huge opportunity for radio.

My Biggest Fear
What I am about to share must be carried out very delicately and with perfect finesse. My fear is that your natural competitive instincts will kick in, like a tiger being asked not to bite. Iím afraid you'll default to what you know, and, as a result, you'll not only hurt your own reputation, you'll tarnish the reputation of radio. This plan carries some risk, but it also carries some reward.

THE PLAN:

1. Phone the market manager of every radio station in your town and invite them to a meeting ASAP.

2. All radio stations in town will be given an opportunity to participate in a local advertiser event, which you will create together. All stations must agree to participate equally, even though some may have more stations and some will want more credit.

3. Stations must put aside all competition and not try to gain special advantage in this event.

4. Invite every retailer in town to a four-hour conference packed with sessions, experts, and advice on boosting business in lean times. Advertise it on the air. Mail out invitations. Hold the event at a local hotel ballroom with an impressive array of food and drink following the sessions. It will NOT be about radio advertising or individual stations. Do not send the signal that this is designed to get them to advertise. Radio in your town will get credit for putting this event on, and you will reap the rewards for your goodwill.

5. Develop an agenda of experts: The sessions should be a combination of recession strategies, business cutting strategies, marketing strategies. Get the mayor and the head of the local chamber of commerce to speak briefly about growing the local economy.

6. Do not pitch radio. Do not allow your salespeople to pitch radio, or to even push for appointments. The ONLY exposure should be brief introductions to the local managers and a pamphlet that you will create called Strategies for Small Business in a Tough Economy. Highlighting radio's strengths, it can have ads for stations and listings for all participating stations in the back.

7. Give away some impressive door prizes just to keep things exciting. You want about 10 percent of the attendees to win something nice -- thanks to radio.

8. Open the event with something like this: "During times like these, we need to work together. All of the local radio stations organized this conference to see what we could do to help local businesses. You have our guarantee that today we will not try to sell you on radio. We will make no pitches, and our people have been instructed not to talk about radio unless you have a specific question. Today itís about you, not about us. Please consider this our gift to you, because we know if your business suffers, our business suffers, and our local economy suffers. "

9. Hire a court reporter to record the event (or videotape it) and send it to all advertisers as a follow-up. Include the names and contact information of all the local radio stations involved and a copy of your booklet on strategies.

10. Close the event by repeating the call to work together, and remind them to pick up a copy of the pamphlet. The more subtle, the more powerful the message will be. Let the gesture speak for itself.

THE INVITATION:

Urgent Meeting:
Local Business Summit to Strategize About Overcoming Current Economic Conditions
Specific Action Items Your Business Can Implement Today

Dear Local Business:

The state of the economy is hurting your business, which in turn hurts our community. In an effort to help local businesses, we have assembled several experts to alert you to tools and techniques your business can employ to improve business now.
By following these techniques, you can emerge stronger, more profitable, and with higher market share when things improve.

(List experts, with photos)

We will hold one four-hour session: Date, time, location.
RSVP

This conference is being created and organized by the UNIFIED local radio broadcasters. Our goal is to grow your business and keep our community strong.

No-Pitch Guarantee: We guarantee that we will not pitch you to advertise on radio, and no one will approach you about radio advertising at this session. There is no obligation.


Why You Should Do This
It's the right thing to do. If radio as an industry is known for helping local businesses without asking anything in return, we will improve our image in the eyes of retailers.

No one gives anything for free. People who attend will expect to be pitched and will be amazed that you actually hold to your word. Radio will look like it is actually trying to do something for the community, because it is. With no obligation and no pitch, radio will be elevated in the eyes of all in attendance. If they follow the advice and it works, radio will be the benefactor when things get better. You'll be remembered. Plus, as they employ some of the strategies they learn, they might buy radio now. It will also raise the question of why others have not done a similar seminar. Others will follow, but will be late. Radio needs to be first.

Why You Should Not Do This Alone
Lift the tide for all of radio. Every station will benefit, and you'll have 10 times more retailers present than if you held a single-station event. If all the stations in town promote this on the air, businesses will come out of the woodwork. This is about growing radio. If radio gets credit for helping local retailers, the laws of reciprocity will kick in and they will help radio.

The Importance of Unity
Our industry is unified for the first time I can remember. Groups are working together to grow radio, to build HD, and to reposition radio for a positive future. Why not do this locally? The brand of radio in the community will see increased respect and credibility.

Let Me Hear From You
I'd love to hear how it goes, and I'll publish photos in Radio Ink. I'm happy to offer ideas on sessions and to help in any way.

One Thing I Learned at the Google Conference
When I attended Google's recent invitation-only conference, I listened to people who had changed the world. These were regular people who saw a problem and wondered, "What can I do to address this problem? What skills, what leverage do I possess to make change?" In my little way, I want to help the economy. I know in my heart that radio can help businesses, in a good or bad economy. I know that businesses that promote in a bad economy often emerge as market leaders while their competitors sleep. And I know that my relationship with you might motivate some of you to put local businesses together using the power of radio to promote change. It's my way of helping. Please do something. Don't let it be someone else's responsibility. Forward this message to colleagues around the market, pick up the phone, and get something started.

Thanks for listening. Let's go help local retailers now.


Eric Rhoads
Publisher
RADIO INK

PS: With every recession comes a power shift. Those who invest in themselves and their businesses when others do not will find themselves in leadership positions when they emerge from a recession. Wouldn't it be nice to see radio emerge in a leadership position because we bothered to help our fellow local businesses in their time of need? We should help because it's the right thing to do, but there certainly could be a side benefit.

PPS: Again, in my own little way, I want to help radio. One of the ways I can help is to bring in focused, relevant speakers and sessions to deal with the issues of the day at our three conferences like the upcoming Forecast conference in New York on December 2nd. My co-chairs, Jeff Smulyan  and Drew Marcus, and I have made some last-minute left turns in the agenda (some not even reflected on the website) to make sure we're addressing this tough economy for the radio industry. I've also confirmed some killer speakers, including William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education (1985-1988) and Drug Czar under the Bush administration. I've also confirmed Mort Zuckerman, billionaire chairman of Boston Properties, publisher and editor of U.S. News and World Report, and publisher of the New York Daily News. He'll be interviewed on stage by Talk Radio Network host Monica Crowley, who will be the next cover of Radio Ink. I went after Zuckerman and Bennett because of their expertise on economic issues, and for a post-election overview. I hope you'll attend. It's important to continue personal growth, and Forecast  has become an important event for predicting the state of our industry for the coming year. To hold your seat, call 561-655-8778.



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