Radio Promotions

Quality content so simple it's frightening

I experienced something so simple the other morning that brings value to advertisers, radio stations, audiences and communities and almost frightens me to even say it: great local over-the-air radio.

My normal “commute” to work was a little different that day: I found myself in the car for a good 45 minutes between driving my daughter to school and my dogs to daycare. In the spirit of breaking routine, I decided for a change to listen to Minneapolis’ 96.3 K-Twin“Quality Rock” of the Eighties and Nineties — think Jack-FM with personality.

Two of the three morning hosts are also personalities on the local KARE 11 TV news, so I thought I would check out their shtick.  I found myself staying tuned after a song leading into a commercial break because they teased a contest called “Wait a Minute, I Know That!” — an obvious rip-off of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” which CRN has always cited as the type of quality on-air contesting that is very effective.

After the break, Chris from White Bear Lake called in to compete against co-host Eric Perkins. There was some wonderful banter between him and the hosts. They each got three multiple-choice questions based on pop culture. They both got two out of three correct, so they had to go to a tiebreaker which wasn’t going to happen until after the next commercial break.

I would guess many people did what I did, I stayed tuned! Why? It was engaging, fun and entertaining. It wasn’t complicated, the listener didn’t have to go to a website, tweet or post a photo on Facebook. All he had to do was call in, engage with the personalities and answer a couple of simple questions. What a concept.

Unfortunately, Chris from White Bear Lake lost, but he did get a consolation prize: the newly released CD from Brian Setzer. Do you know what he would’ve received if he had won?  A mug!

We sometimes make the world too complicated. Learning a new marketing term every day. Hopping on the bandwagon to trends we don’t fully understand. Integrate with this. Integrate with that.

We have research (coming soon) that confirms people like to enter fun contests and also listen in as other participants sweat it out. It was a wonderful 15-minute bit.  It was refreshing, validating and inspiring – even if the last thing I would have needed was another mug. The only thing missing was an opportunistic title sponsor to anchor the segment and deliver a corresponding spot to run alone during the break. Sometimes marketers try to outthink themselves. In those cases, they often wind up scratching their heads.

Patrick Leeney, a 24-year veteran of the broadcast business, is Vice President at CRN International and based in Minneapolis.

On customer service

Blogger’s note: Jim’s recent post about customer service on the CRN blog was a result of observations, experiences and by-the-water-cooler conversations. One of the internal debates was whether Exemplary Customer Service (ECS) can be taught; I argued “no.”  At CRN we take pride in our service and philosophy.  I believed from the start ECS is an inherent characteristic.  The following was an internal memo I wrote a while ago, which inspired the debate and Jim’s blog post.  It was suggested that we run it in a public forum.  So here it is.  We welcome your comments.

Exemplary customer service is ingrained.  It is in the company’s genetic coding and intrinsic to the culture.  It permeates everything.  It is both conscious and unconscious.

It cannot be taught or acquired.  It can be enhanced, embellished, celebrated, championed and tweaked.

It cannot mysteriously occur just because it is written on a mission or values statement or published in an annual report.

It is the air an ECS organization breathes. It is instinctive and can be triggered in a nanosecond.  The people who populate these organizations are keenly aware of service even when they are not at work.  Their endorphins kick in when they experience it at restaurants, shops, and their day-to-day dealings.  They bristle in frustration when it is absent, or when they are put on hold for hours.

People who work in these companies get excited – almost in a nerdy way – by stories of great customer service.

If your company doesn’t have it, don’t sweat it.  There are a lot of awful customer service companies out there – one giant telecommunications company is about to become close to a monopoly and its service record is notoriously dreadful.

Some sketchy customer service companies do quite well because they are the lowest cost provider, and don’t make ECS a priority or value. You know who they are.

Exemplary customer service is not the measure of success, but it sure helps.  An ECS company can’t help being that; it is in its DNA.  It doesn’t mean it is perfect or never slips, even in service.  But like a rubber band wrapped around a pole, a great customer service organization always snaps back to its core.

Defining ECS can only be done by stories.  When you ask for a 30-cent brass wing nut in a hardware store and the associate walks you to the aisle until you’re happy as opposed to just saying, “Aisle 45,” you’ve just experienced ECS.

Conversely, the other day, we asked a media sales rep at a company we deal with for an MP3 file of a segment of a show that featured our company.  He sent us an email back with a name of a person we can call to get it.  And while he did reply, an ECS employee would have walked the halls, secured the audio and sent it to us.

ECS isn’t always obvious; in fact, most of it exists out of customer sight.  I recall a small business Microsoft project.  Something was troubling.  Even though we planned to deliver way beyond spec and Microsoft would have been overjoyed, we noticed that the plan was not gender balanced.  We did in-depth research into the product target — census track, small business data — and found their buyers and influencers were disproportionately male. We made the internal decision to adjust the media plan at our cost to insure its success, also adding more news stations. And unless someone from Microsoft is reading this, to this day, they never knew. The campaign exceeded everyone’s expectations and began a five-year relationship with the software giant.

There was never a moment when we hesitated. No need to brag to the client. This is not a business strategy, it is an unconscious practice. An ECS company does not look at short-term gain; it’s in business for the long haul.

A so-called “client facing” example of ECS, which earned CRN a 20-year relationship with Hormel, came early.  Hormel took over the Ski Watch radio syndication sponsorship from Campbell’s Soup.  CRN also printed an ad-supported Ski Watch Ski Atlas with comprehensive maps and information — 125,000 copies.  As part of Hormel’s sponsorship, it received a credit on the front page and full-page product ads on the back and inside covers.  There were other advertisers. Among them was an ad provided to Campbell’s as a freebee for an unrelated project we were doing for them.

The marketing director of Hormel called me up screaming mad.  “How dare you have an ad for a competitor in the Ski Watch Atlas.  We are the Ski Watch sponsor.”  I started to explain that the atlas was an independent publication, quite like Ski Magazine.  I stopped in mid sentence, “Rick, I’ll recall the copies and reprint it.”

He was flabbergasted. We, a small company, were willing to bite the bullet at what must have been a great expense to make him happy and feel whole.  Beyond expectations.

Every year for 15 years at an annual Hormel-CRN dinner, Rick would get up and retell that story.

Not a strategy. It’s as natural as walking. It’s how an ECS company thinks, feels, hires, acts, and chats around the water cooler. It’s in every high-five. And 40 years later, while we talk about the unique things we’ve done, our broadcast and marketing innovations, and the results we’ve garnered for the largest companies in the world, it’s the tales of how CRN went way beyond to help our clients that bring us the most joy.

When memories sell

What is the most famous street in America? Some may say it’s Fifth Avenue in New York, Newbury Street in Boston, or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. If you grew up when I did, though, you’d have to add Park Place to that list.

Not too long ago Hasbro approached CRN looking for a way to revive sales of its classic board games. Immediately, images of my childhood leapt to mind. I remembered playing iconic games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Life and Yahtzee regularly with my friends and my family, just as our parents had done before us and their parents before them. These games were as much a part of our everyday lives as they were a part of American culture. And they provided me with some of the best memories from my childhood.

Monopoly was my personal favorite. I always wanted the car for my token, and I liked to be the banker when I could. I distinctly remember sitting around the kitchen table playing with my parents and sisters. If we were lucky, extended family members played with us as well. I loved the really big games the most, the ones where everyone played. While it wasn’t that long ago, you have to remember it was before the high-tech world of smart phones and tablets and the Internet. There weren’t as many distractions then, and not as much competed for our time and attention. Life wasn’t as solitary or as multitasked. It was a time where basic social skills and interaction were central to children’s lives.

Given these games’ longevity, powerful brand recognition and ubiquity in our minds, Hasbro had simply planned on doing traditional radio brand spots. While it’s true that everyone knows what happens when you go “directly to jail,” most people today hold little more than nostalgia for the once-common staples of the everyday American household. You are more likely to find a computer, iPad or Wii in someone’s home, and the only place you’d encounter Monopoly is at the slots in a casino.

CRN is known as an innovator in the radio space—able to break through the ad clutter for our clients, get their messages to stand out instead of being buried in stop sets. We immediately began looking for non-traditional ways to get consumers to react to and purchase Hasbro’s games.

Inspired by that beautiful and simple time in each of our childhoods, we decided to pursue the personal connection we felt with the games and our memories. We sent the games to stations and encouraged on-air personalities to indulge in the nostalgia and connection to material culture, relate their own memories on the air and try out a game night with their own families. We then leveraged the positivity of that experience through the power of their recommendations to their listeners. These were unscripted, off the cuff, and organic—and immediately a hit. Personalities inspired their listeners to purchase the games and create family game nights of their own.  To further capitalize on the excitement and momentum, we also had stations give away the games daily to listeners. Who doesn’t like getting free stuff? After all, I always loved landing on “Free Parking.”

Then we took it up another notch and allowed a winner a chance to head home for the holidays. What better way to connect people to that feeling than by providing them with an opportunity to create those magic moments being conveyed on air—in their own lives? Throughout the day, we continuously reminded people to purchase the games and presented them as an alternative to the mind-numbing video game culture so prevalent today. It was a perfect solution to keep kids occupied on rainy days while engaging their minds and social skills.

Our greatest triumph was exceeding the client’s expectations by creating a campaign that surrounded Hasbro’s consumer from more than one angle. We generated content more engaging than what would have appeared in the traditional spots they initially figured they’d do. For the same amount of money, we gave them far more exposure and left them with a little something to reminisce about fondly. For them, the added value was just like passing go!

Jonathan Vartelas is a Director of Strategy and Development for CRN International. 

Customer Service and Marketing

Customer service in corporate America is exceptional. Just ask any executive about his or her company, and you’ll see what I mean. Then ask anyone you know to share a recent bad experience, and it’s instantly at the tip of his or her lips.

“Outstanding customer service” is the easiest claim you can make about your organization, whether it’s true or not. That doesn’t make it right, but it can provide a marketer’s dream. The claim works particularly well with people with whom you’ve never done business. The only way they can know for sure is to commission your company, deal with your people, purchase your product, and experience your service.

A recent post of 10 inspirational, creative and impactful examples of customer service rekindled our fascination with this subject. Not to mention CRN’s recent naming of a new director of client services who is bringing some refreshing ideas to the role. From a marketing perspective, outstanding customer service has to be more than just a process. It has to transcend mere conscious competency to the point where you don’t even think about it and just do it. It has to permeate the organization. It’s one thing to set up internal systems and then train the people on your front lines; it’s another to embed customer service into your culture. It’s a dangerous thing to hop on the service bandwagon and cross your fingers.

Exemplary customer service does not occur magically just because it appears on a list of core values. Some would suggest it can’t even be taught or acquired, although it certainly can be enhanced, embellished, celebrated, championed, and tweaked. Exemplary customer service is instinctive, so much so that people who “get it” can be triggered in a nanosecond. It kicks in for these people even when they are not at work because it’s part of their DNA. These are the same people who easily bristle in frustration when it is absent.

If you really do have “it,” what a great asset. It is not the ultimate measure of business success, but it sure helps. No company is perfect, but like a rubber band wrapped around a pole, a great customer service organization always snaps back to its core. Great customer service equates to people who are more inclined to work with you. If you don’t have it and say you do, eventually that will catch up with you and likely require a different set of marketing skills.

An example of visible quality service is the hardware store person who answers your query by literally walking you to the product, rather than pointing in the direction of Aisle 43 and saying “over there.” A little thing – but it makes and leaves an impression.

Then consider a visible form of questionable service that occurred recently when we asked one of our media reps for an MP3 file of a show segment that featured our company. While he did reply by emailing us the name of the person we could contact for the file, he could have delivered quality service and walked down the hall and just gotten it for us.

Perceptions about customer service can often be traced directly to marketing, so it is necessary to take it seriously. It’s funny how service and marketing both play off the emotions of the recipient. While everyone recalls classic commercials and marketing slogans, people also speak passionately about their best and worst customer service experiences.  And they are remembered and recalled years later, to the great fortune or detriment of their providers.

There’s no replacement for great customer service and no excuse for bad customer service. And never have there been more outlets for consumers to share their stories at both extremes. J.D. Power, which studies the topic extensively, compiled this list of brands that deliver outstanding customer service. Hats off to companies that strive to please the customer as second nature rather than as an orchestrated attempt to create a new marketing sound bite.

Is your RTM effective?

There are companies that tend to have fun with real-time marketing, as we saw recently with the infamous biting incident at the World Cup and the legions of corporate tweetersdisplaying their quick wit. But marketers curious to learn real-time marketing’s nuances will soon discover it is much more serious than that.

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.

Focusing creative in the right place?

Years ago I applied for a job as an ad copywriter. As I started to dig out my portfolio during the interview, I was told not to bother but rather to open a blank Word document and listen up. “If you claim to be creative, well then, be creative—now. Here’s your assignment. Take a look and get started.” I loved it, although I didn’t get the gig.

I admire creative people and have the utmost respect for the creative process. That’s why I was so intrigued by this recent item in Inside Radio: “Agencies and broadcasters work to raise the bar on radio spot creative.” It declares, “Some broadcasters have made improving spot creative a priority, from Clear Channel and CBS Radio to smaller owners like Jerry Lee and Zimmer Radio & Marketing Group.” When it comes to spot creative, the newsletter quotes respected agency executive Matt Eastwood in observing “there’s good, bad and ugly.” Others in the industry pointed to limited resources and a lack of training as issues compromising today’s creative quality in general.

Two thoughts:

  1. What exactly do we mean by quality creative? Ad copy doesn’t have to be witty, clever, or informative. It simply has to do what the client has set out to do.
  2. You could have the most creative creative in the world, but if it is placed, say, as number six in a commercial stop set, it’s unlikely many people will stick around to hear it. Ads can’t find their way through this black hole. So I have to ask: Why all the fuss about the quality of radio spot creative?

I posed this question on social media: “As more broadcasters place a priority on upgrading their radio spot creative, do you really think this is the secret to future radio marketing success?” We got some interesting replies:

“Today’s audience is ad-averse,” said Steve Moffitt of Oratory Consulting in Portland, OR. “They hate being marketed to. I hear dozens of ads daily trying to convey too much information in a short 30- or 60-second spot.”

David G. Stern of Iola Broadcasting in Iola, KS said, “Spot creative seems important, but even more so is giving listeners things they can’t get anywhere else. ‘Local’ sells, and people will flock to the frequency if they think they’re going to hear something that relates directly to themselves.”

“Research shows listeners tune out when commercials come on,” said Jeanene Delph-Thompson with WFAE 90.7 FM in Charlotte, NC. “Listeners cannot recall the full content in a 30-  or 60-second spot with four or five clients per break.”

So if you buy into the last point, how can improving spot creative have a major impact if most people don’t listen to most spots?

The focus from our perspective should be in getting away from the stop sets altogether and using your creative assets to develop non-traditional strategies that separate clients from the commercial clutter, meet stated objectives, and maximize ROI. It’s a simple answer to what might sound like a complex issue, but we’ve been practicing it for years.

“Results for clients will build bottom lines faster than a new jingle package,” said Mark Margulies of BENMARadio Inc., Greenwood Village, CO.

Well said, Mark. To that end, bring on the blank Word document, and let’s get creative.

How ideas happen

I recently came up with a good idea. What I did to make it better than my others, I couldn’t tell you. Transport myself to a state where thoughts readily manifest themselves? Wait for the stars to align? Be a good person?

I didn’t know it then, but I likely navigated a course described more than 70 years ago in a little advertising book called “A Technique for Producing Ideas”  by James Webb Young. Once I stumbled upon this classic, I was thirsty to understand the process I followed subconsciously and what marketers do all the time in the pursuit of ideas.

Just for the record, my good idea was to create our own theoretical Mount Rushmore for the radio industry, which quickly went viral on social media and eventually landed us on The Howard Stern Show live to present Howard with a plaque and tell millions about our company, CRN.

Step One. Young theorizes that ideas are nothing more than new combinations of old, existing elements, or pieces of knowledge. The first of his five basic steps is gathering raw materials—not only specific information about the project and product, but also general information about the world around you and the people who make up that world (and presumably might be a target for whatever you’re selling).

Step Two. Then Young recommends going through a mental digestive process, in which you take bits of material and examine them from every perspective. “Take one fact and turn it this way and that; look at it from different lights and feel for the meaning,” Young says. “Bring two facts together and see how they fit.” He suggests to “listen” for the meaning—don’t “look” for it. This places the mind in a very different vantage point.

Step Three. This is a step for which I typically feel great discomfort, so I was pleased to see Young list it as an essential part of the process. “Drop the whole subject and put it completely out of your mind,” Young says at this stage. “Turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work while you sleep.” In his book, Young cites the example of Sherlock Holmes stopping right in the middle of a case and dragging Watson off to a concert. While it irritated Watson, author Arthur Conan Doyle, as a creator himself, “knew the creative processes,” he writes.

Step Four. Young believes ideas will appear and come to you when you stop straining to find them. The “Eureka” instant when the idea appears is his Step Four.

Step Five. This is a hard step to tackle, especially for those with inflated egos. The idea must be tested internally, and as Young observes, “It is not quite the marvelous child it seemed when you first gave birth.” Yet Young argues the process “requires a deal of patient working over to make most ideas fit for the exact conditions or the practical exigencies under which they might work.” Typically, a good idea has a “self-expanding quality; it stimulates those who see it to add to it.”

You’d think a book written before technology, before the Internet, and even before us would lose relevance by 2014. As professionals charged with developing new ideas and obsessed with the art and science of how they happen, Young’s book gives us much to think about as we stare at the bedroom ceiling insistent that the marketing Holy Grail is right in front of us, if only the lights were on.

Jim Alkon is Marketing Director of CRN International (, which uses radio differently to solve marketing challenges for major brands. It is based in New Haven, CT, and has offices in New York; Minneapolis; Detroit; Houston; and Hershey, PA.

"Rushmore" to judgment?

Our recent naming of a radio industry Mount Rushmore has continued to spur great debate over whom we selected and whom we didn’t. We anticipated the dialogue and the passion. We did not anticipate a live appearance on The Howard Stern Show to talk about it.

As we said in our original post, we could have made the case for about 20 people to perch on our virtual mountaintop. So just for fun, we thought we’d show you every name nominated by industry professionals (in no particular order) we felt obligated to consider along with Marconi, Paley, Harvey and Stern. Did we make the right choice? Let us know!

Earl Nightingale

Orson Wells

Jonathon Brandmeier

Jack Buck

Chuck Blore

Bob & Ray

Harry Caray

Norman Corwin

Dr. Demento

Bill Drake

Sonny Fox

Steve Inskeep

“The Local Broadcaster”

Gordon McLendon

Randy Michaels

Arch Oboler

Dick Orkin

Ryan Seacrest

Charles Osgood

Janet Parshall

Elvis Presley

Rick Sklar

Jeff Smulyan

Todd Storz

Nina Totenberg

Bob Uecker

Art Vuolo

Paul Galvin

Jim Rome

Jim Williams

Roy Williams

Wolfman Jack