Sunday, December 28, 2008

The 00 Decade

Happy New Year!!!  We're into 2009 this week and the last year of the first decade of the new century.  We've been defining the decades for a long time.  It probably started with the Roaring 20s and picked up steam in the 60s and 70s.  The revolution of the 60s and the wild days of the 70s, the conservative and yuppieness of the 80s and the digital 90s decade all had 'themes' that defined the trends in our culture.    

These themes all have had a lot of influence on our music and entertainment choices as well as evolving new media.   The 60s brought on the maturity of network TV, pop music super stars with music as a revolution messenger, and the top 40 format,  the 70s saw the beginning of Cable TV, the evolution of FM radio and a continued growth of the music industry into the Super Groups.   The 80s conservatism re-established Pop music trends, saw cable TV evolve to a new norm, and FM radio grew to the dominate music platform.  The 90s brought in the digital revolution which evolved over the decade finishing with a wealth of new WWW based media on a platform that was a government project at the start of the decade.   

The 00's or Ought decade or maybe the twenty-ohs is nearing an end and Jonah Goldberg from the National Review Online (and CNN) makes some interesting observations in this article.  

Goldberg's observation's on the 00 decade being one of self centered-ness maybe best illustrated on the factoid from the 90s that bottled water consumption passed beer in the decade.  Goldberg notes - Beer gets the party started.  Water is the thirst quencher of choice for the solitary fitness addict,.   Beer the outgoing social drink - passed by bottled water and it's inner driven world. 

He also notes that the Ipod follows a similar trend - the personalization of music and entertainment generally.   An inner driven world where music is personalized - not shared or experienced in a community like a live performance or a radio station where we all hear it at the same time.   He goes on to point out the IPod culture, is a mix of self-promotion and atomization: broadcast yourself, indeed.   

Yet at the end of this decade perhaps we are seeing a big clue that the tide is turning away from this me driven, self absorbed, over personalized and customized world of the 00s.   

A key clearly stood out in the election - Change was the KEY mantra and turning out in big crowds and joining in a huge community voter turnout were the clear signs.   From a world revolving around the solitary keyboard and monitor to communities filled with real people and personalities.  A movement from individualistic concerns to UNITY.   A movement away from 'greed is good' to a far more social and sharing society?   The signs are starting to show up on a very regular basis.   

This could be a great movement for radio to re-invent itself upon.   Don't you think???? 

Hope you had a great holiday and are ready for the evolution that starts in 2009.   

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Opportunities for Radio- The Wrap

Looking back on the 4 opportunities for radio that we've covered in the last few weeks I bet you can't believe they are SO SIMPLE.   Outside of building our brands into the web and embracing new distribution channels most of the opportunities here lie in getting back to the basics of our products.  

Focusing on our LOCAL presence, being special and creative, and refocusing our sales effort to be effective with the new competition are ingredients we've all used over and over.   Yet, the only plan we seem to see right now is cut costs in every direction, and many of the cuts are no doubt going to hinder efforts in these basic opportunities.  

Yes keeping or re-building local presence means keeping people in the building on the air and in the streets.  Being special and creative also means having the staff to create and execute.  Refocusing the sales effort will also take time, good sales folks and a well crafted plan.  While there are not many low or no cost solutions here I bet most of you could build a plan and find a way to make it work even in the present tight times.   

If there ever was a time to pull it off - it's NOW.  With the economy in a holding pattern and so many advertisers rethinking their whole approach Radio has a golden opportunity to come out of the down cycle with a big rush.  

No doubt advertisers will be looking for low cost opportunities to get their business' flowing again.  Radio to the rescue with huge reach, low costs and so many opportunities to get images and messages to the consumers.  

Our biggest problem is that our image is tattered with many advertisers.  We are not the new 'sexy' media.   But, we are the affordable, big reach, still local, and we can be as creative with the message as well as any other media.  That is the message we need to get out there right now.  But we need to start building a focused plan on both the local and national level.   

Yes we are the underdog in many ways, but just like so many success stories where the underdog pulls out a big win we need to set the table for our wild card team to bring home the winning run.  That takes a plan and the team to execute it.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Opportunity #4 - Sales Make Over

While there are a lot of opportunities for product rebirth in the past 3 pieces of this series I sense that seeking out new opportunities in sales may have the most potential. Having said that I'm not a sales department expert. Yes, I've worked with some talented sales people and managers and seen both success and disappointment. I've also been in on many a budget session as the sales leadership laid out their plans and reviewed that past year.

From my 'outside the box' perspective I see a lot of potential for the sales teams to really ramp it up and improve.
  1. Radio HAS reach: Just this past week Arbitron released their Radar report showing that Radio reaches 234 Million people 12+ and older in the average week. That's up from 232 last year. In the younger cells - teens radio reaches 90% and with 18-34s it's 92%. Can you find a web site (outside of Google - maybe) that reaches that many people? If you want to get your message or product in front of 92% of the population at a reasonable cost you just can't beat radio. More and more big products are figuring it out - Walmart has finally recognized it, Geico, a bunch more. Hershey recently admitted that it's strong 3rd quarter came from using radio more in their marketing. You see people jumping over web sites that have 100,000 people hitting them in a week - so what, when you compare that to radio its peashooter territory.
  2. Radio IS Local: For the retailers and services in your area Radio reaches them better than any other media.
  3. Radio is a bargain: When you look at the prices we have for the reach it can't be beat.
  4. Radio is proven: If we look at all the success radio has brought in the post WWII marketing period there's no doubt the media works.

These are just the top 4 reasons, but do the sales teams of today really understand these clear and simple advantages? Or are they caught up in endless data crunching for CPMs, rankings, and market shares? Are they watching other weaker and less reaching media walk in and steal away business with products and web gimmicks that are clearly not proven?

I often wonder if the sales teams of today know who the competition is? Do they understand Google Ad Words and how they are used? Do they see opportunities in spreading clients media to both the web site and the station? Do they know what the web metrics are and what are the most popular sites selling space in your area? I can remember the sales teams of the past having 3 day sessions on selling against the Yellow Pages or Newspapers in the 80s? Do we have anyone helping build the case for radio over the web today?

Radio could hold the KEY for many business' to getting out of this recession. Face it much of the problem we have with the economy is that the consumer is spooked. The crash of housing, credit/banking/investment, and the market damage from all that has everyone frozen. Discretionary income has just about dried up all over the country - if we don't need it we aren't going to buy it till we see some signs that the storm is over. It's going to take marketing for most of the business' to get the motor going again and we have great advantages with our huge reach, lower costs, quickness in creativity, and local market coverage.

Now is the time to train and build the sales troops for the opportunity ahead. The storm we are in will pass and it's a golden time for radio to come out roaring again. Hopefully we'll have enough creativity left on the product team, but we're also counting on having a sales team that's ready to play in the new world of media and marketing. If you're a manager or sales leader it can be your time to hit the weight room and train for the new season ahead - this could be your year. Great teams are made in the offseason and shine in the real season - this is clearly the off season.

It would help if our industry would ban together and really make the story for radio. Yes we have the Radio - It's On campaign. Forget the slogans - how about getting out the FACTS. Maybe a campaign in Advertising Age, maybe using the web ourselves to market ourselves. How about dropping all those HD radio spots (for the wasteland it is) and just spend the time and effort talking about radio and the power of it's audience? The RAB and the NAB need to step it up NOW. There's a lot more to do than hang around Washington and lobby.

Next week I'll conclude the Opportunities Ahead segment - looking forward to the holidays and hope your's are happy ones.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Opportunity #3 Web and Content Distribution

Of course there's tons of opportunity in getting our content into distribution channels beyond our towers and by building a strong presence for our brands in the new web driven culture. But, these opportunities have been growing for 10 or more years and really what have we accomplished?

Most of our web sites are just afterthoughts, a small billboard on the web of the station. There's some news feeds, content usually available on any 'home' page like Yahoo, AOL, Comcast, or now even IGoogle. In Rock there's usually a babe of the day - as if you couldn't just hit 'hot girls' on a search and get way more than we'd ever own up to. The local weather is often there - as if didn't work? Sometimes there is even a few pics of the Halloween promotion even though we're into December. A few have started podcasts and download of bits from shows. Most have some loyalty database program that mostly just sends emails or awards some prizes for visiting the site. But, for the most part hardly any of the radio sites are real destinations for the listener. Once in a while they are checked out.

A lot of you have streams up now, but have you really listened to them? With all the spot substitutions and really very little content those of us who do bother with the stream have lots of cheesy instrumentals to deal with while at least the tuned in audience gets commercials. The quality on many streams is also pretty bad. The processing is often taken before it hits the real processing gear for the transmitter and levels jump all over the place.

There are lots of services that do offer decent streaming and do help you substitute commercials with some content or promos. Some stations also do little features and some even sell the streams to a few clients and bother to run extra spots for them with special copy on the streams. But, for the most part we tend to just get the feed from the board to a computer and away we go. I did drop in on a few Liquid Compass streams and was surprised at the quality and the content around spots. There are services out there, but we don't seem to care on many sites.

We have to start investing TIME, MANPOWER, CREATIVITY, and ENERGY into the sites if we expect to have anything meaningful happen here. As noted in earlier posts in this series our biggest opportunity is LOCAL. We already have a big brand on the streets of our hometowns and if we can get the eyes and ears in our area code plugged in we have plenty of audience and a sales/creative team to help the local clients diversify on both the web and radio with our big brand.

Start by looking at what you can offer:
  • Local Entertainment Guides

  • Local Restaurant Reviews - from the audience

  • Complete local bar and club listings - with maps and places for the clubs to update their info.

  • Full coverage of local events with photos, and videos.

  • Let the audience in - send your pics of your Halloween party or costumes for all to see.

  • Links - Not just text links, but how about links to the local school site, local golf courses, attractions, museums, sports teams, etc.

  • Cover Your Format - If it's rock invite the audience to comment on Guns N' Roses new cd, let them post videos of them doing Rock and Roll Train on Rock Band.

  • Video - Tape everything. The cameras are easy to use and cheap - you can get a hard drive HD video one for $300 and edit the videos right on you computer. If a band stops by tape it all for the audience to see. If you do a bar night tape the highlights and also save the still pics.

I often wonder why we don't create a real Facebook and MySpace style page for our promotions with video, music, pics and also places where the audience can chime in. There's tons of ideas that are all local and all about your station that could be on the site. We don't need another RSS feed with news that we probably saw somewhere else. You need to either build you LOCAL ADVANTAGE or BUILD YOUR STATION on the site. The other stuff is probably a waste of effort or space.

There are also new opportunities to add streams. So Metallica is coming to town - how about an all Metallica Stream for a month before the show? When Gun/Roses released how about a stream with all G/R on it all day?

Promote your station and web site all over the web. When Obama was running he had banners on tons of sites to turn out the early vote. They read your IP address and directed you to the info for your area. You could do the same for your station - you pull up a site in your market and your station's message (maybe a morning show board, music flash, web link) hits the screen. It may cost something, but I bet it's not as much as you spend in outdoor in many markets. Also look at using some Google tricks with Adwords in your market. Again we haven't used this for our marketing but it could be very effective and may cost less than we think.

We do see the big radio groups signing on with some web radio systems, others linking with streaming systems, others producing content like Stripped and the Previews on Clear Channel, but instead of building national brands we could have a lot more impact by focusing on OUR LOCAL WORLD here. In many markets the door is pretty open and we have links to talk to the whole market over our air to build the sites. We also have a local focused sales team that can pull some revenue here. We really don't need more nationally controlled sites with the same content on 100 rock stations. Developing unique local content on 100 rock stations would give our audience reasons to make a home for us on their computer.

The other opportunity is getting to cell phones. A few have started invading the I Phone apps with 'tuners to get streams' on the phones. Soon we'll see this for many cell phones beyond I Phone and we need to be there. Also working on using texting and phone messaging to integrate them to news feeds, contests, podcasts and other features to try and get to their phones. Also consider ring tones - making up morning show bits, songs, and other possibilities for ring tones could be great.

While we don't need to jump on every web idea, we do need to pick out the ones that we can exploit on a platform of building a unique spot on the web that is LOCAL , BUILT ON OUR BRAND/PRODUCT and

Investing in all of this is another issue. Everyone is tightening, but the opportunity is ripe and urgent. We have to expand our distribution or watch our world shrink every day. Yes it takes time and hard work, but the opportunity will never be better - in fact we've wasted many years already.

The key is to get organized first and see what you can accomplish with a little effort now. Many of the content issues on the list above could be just assignments that only take 15 or 20 minutes a day to accomplish when spread out over the staff. Others will take more effort - getting the stream cleaned up could be a challenge with all the production needed.

Our other advantage here is the ability to build our web world from our big reach on air. Some stations do a good job of promoting their web site and others just take an occasional punch at it. You have to make it worth going to and also make sure everyone knows. Remember that you have the audience to make sure they know - but you have to promote it.

We have all the tools to make a lot more impact on the web. It's time to start using them.