Jeff Smulyan

Latest wake-up call

“I read the news today, oh boy.” It concerns spot radio revenue’s declining performance through the first half of 2014 and the increased revenue for digital darlings like Pandora and Spotify (but not yet making a profit).

Concerned broadcasters believe business is soft in general and look to the encouraging signs of digital growth and non-spot revenue. But as social media and digital audio sources proliferate, terrestrial radio will fall by the wayside unless broadcasters truly address the major issues staring them in the face. Long spot clusters and other negative on-air clutter continue to drive younger listeners on a search for something better. Further, as those in the money demo age and a younger generation not weaned on radio continue their march to “audio consumption dominance,” the radio industry is indeed facing the crossroads. Radio needs to wake up pronto.

The industry knows that playing in the digital space is not a defensive strategy but where people expect to find information, entertainment and social engagement.  Radio is still searching for the secret to being successful at it. Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan exclaimed at a recent digital radio industry meeting, ”I’m still trying to figure out how to make money with my digital assets.”

We want radio to succeed. To grow and flourish.  We’ve enjoyed great relationships with radio stations because we try to provide for clients the type of content that makes people want to listen and listen longer:  new ideas, better prizes, new opportunities for personality / listener engagement, content.  Our campaigns provide radio stations with compelling programming – good for both the station and the brand.

The bigger picture question is what listeners want. Millennials want more music and fewer interruptions. But they also want fun, interesting content and a connection.  Everyone knows what they don’t want: those 10- or 12-unit stop sets. Engaging the listener with out-of-stop-set programming, fun contesting and desirable prizes, content that makes people pay attention and personalities who connect with them is what makes radio stand out. It’s always enlightening to hear a new advertiser say, “I didn’t know you could do that.”

Today more than ever, doing things differently and breaking from some traditional marketing staples will make a big difference in listeners’ perception. The latest industry numbers don’t lie, and how many wake-up calls do we need? The virtues of out-of-stop-set tactics: We believe making the client / product / service stand out is what successful radio marketing is all about, thus creating greater time spent listening.

Ron Pell, a veteran of the radio business, is Director of Media Relations for CRN International.

Thinking about our world

Attending any industry conference inevitably forces one to consider the past, measure the present, and confront the future – from pundits who have either defined it or had fun trying.

Radio Ink’s recent Convergence conference was no exception, and offered a great opportunity to gauge some of today’s ideas and compare notes. Here are some random thoughts I came back with:

* Marketers are like a flock of sheep, herding instinctively from hot medium to hot medium to station themselves as close as possible to consumer fancy. Say the word digital and you draw a crowd. When it comes to audio, that’s exactly what’s happening.  Audio consumption is rapidly changing, and that’s not a bad thing – unless you slice up the different forms of audio and start to consider them one by one. Better to think of the medium as sound, then plan strategies accordingly to meet consumers where they most likely will be listening. Then you don’t get caught up in terms – just meet objectives and produce measurable results for clients, which is all they really care about, isn’t it?

* Will radio listening ever disappear? Not as long as it draws 43 million listeners each week and $17 billion annually in ad transactions. In fact, think of radio as a medium in reinvention, as it is, rather than one looking at extinction down the road, as it isn’t.

* “Right now there is no all-encompassing rating service to fully and comprehensively communicate how many total hours of audio are consumed and where,” says Larry Rosin of Edison Research. Consider that Nielsen surveys radio, Triton measures streams, Sirius provides only subscriber data, and Pandora releases its own surveys but shows up in Nielsen surveys.  Surprisingly, digital measurement onto itself was not mentioned as being hugely important. Horizon Media measures it all by the old standard, CPM. But we need to be able to compare apples to apples to get a truer sense of the value of all things audio.

Emmis Chairman and CEO Jeff Smulyan said his stations do not make money from their digital assets and said he believes that streaming is and has always been a money-losing proposition for radio. All of radio profitability is generated from terrestrial radio, not digital assets, he said. But that is rapidly changing as stations’ digital assets are growing revenue, albeit slowly, compared to other digital initiatives.

* Auto manufacturers continue to race each other to create a safe, easy-to-use digital dashboard platform.  See you at the finish line.

* Sales without salespeople? Could be, if companies continue to examine automating the selling process. Marketing automation is already touching prospects multiple times before they ever hear a live peep from a sales rep. The old adage of touching a prospect five times before attempting a close is now done with technology, so that no one picks up a phone or makes a call. This is digital selling.

* File this in your facts and figures:  terrestrial radio listening draws 243 million people every week, while online internet radio attracts 160 million. Who knew?

* A game of semantics? Perhaps. Nonetheless, many agencies are morphing their “radio” buying departments into “audio” buying departments.

* On the matter of reaching the consumer closest to the cash register, radio used to be the undisputed leader, but digital has suddenly intruded on that sacred claim thanks to mobile devices. Geo fencing uses GPS technology to reach consumers in various ways at an actual event or the actual point of purchase, like the grocery aisle. After opting in, consumers will receive a coupon or offer as they are in the aisle or near the local Quiznos or Wendy’s.

* How do younger generations feel now that Baby Boomers are engaging with Facebook? Facebook is losing its identity with the 35-and-under crowd. YouTube has taken over as their Number One social network. Surprising? Well, what 18-year-old wants to be engaged with the same site on which his or her parents just posted family photos? Don’t think so.

* Remember the expression, “brand loyalty”? Brings back fond memories, doesn’t it? You’d like to think it still exists, but more and more consumers are going with goods and services that can deliver value on the spot.  Welcome to the Buying Generation of Instant Gratification. As one presenter recalled, “My mother was a Tide user for 35 years. Then she got a coupon on her cell phone for a competing detergent brand.” So much for Tide.

Ron Pell, a veteran of the radio business, is Director of Media Relations for CRN International.