Pandora or dinner?

Is it me, or has anyone else noticed that new smart phone pricing policies could alter the listening landscape and force marketers to rethink how to reach their targets?

I recently contacted my cell phone provider to question an unusual charge on my bill. It seems I went over my data plan limit. Limit?  I thought it was unlimited. I quickly learned that when my contract renewed, unlimited was no longer part of the plan. Ah, the fine print.

Adding up the ramifications, I spent the next 24 hours monitoring exactly how much data I was using. I listened to Pandora during my daily 80-minute roundtrip commute, watched a couple of YouTube videos imbedded in e-mails, downloaded a few apps, and did some miscellaneous stuff I do every day while out of the office and home. I was spending money without realizing it. It was insidious, and the next thing I knew, another twenty bucks appeared on my cell phone bill. Cha-ching!

Knowing that my unlimited data plan was no longer limitless, I immediately started tightening my usage budget. That got me thinking how other users might change habits as well and gravitate to lower-cost (free) listening options instead of those that suck up megabytes and dollars. And that got me thinking how marketers might be the next in line to change their spending habits if audiences tune in elsewhere.

Lately, we’ve been hearing lots of talk about the connected dashboard coming to a car near you. Eventually, we’ll have a major fuel leak, but with data and dollars, because it will be so easy to check e-mail, send text messages, listen to streaming audio or video, and get hooked on anything that’s possible on a smart phone or tablet. But, we’ll be in the car, where we won’t have Wifi to cover us all the time.

It could be a rude awakening when that first bill arrives under the new limited data plans. Many consumers will have to question the importance of personal listening preferences when there is a hefty cost factor that didn’t previously exist. Imagine it: What will it be tonight, Pandora or dinner?

 Maybe that sounds extreme, but it’s highly likely that if listening patterns change, so might the advertising dollars associated with them. There’s always the chance that many will pay the premium to keep doing what they want, but not all.

Do I see dark clouds on the horizon? Not yet. But you can bet people will be a lot more judicious and the number and length of sessions will decrease for Pandora, Spotify, broadcast streaming, and other “data eaters.” As marketers, it might mean that you’re not getting the message exposure you think you are. It may result in people spending even more time with broadcast radio, particularly if more tuner chips are activated beyond just the phones we have today.

I took a personal poll of four Millennials, all working and paying their own way. On the issue, they all said they would watch their bills. Two said they would not change their data use unless it got a lot more expensive, and the other two said they wouldn’t pay more, even if it meant they had to change their habits. Hardly scientific, I know. Only time will reveal the true impact on media consumption. But I can tell you this—it really caught my attention. It affected my behavior, and you can bet it will affect others as well.

Radio's Mount Rushmore


It is our honor to present the Radio Industry Mount Rushmore, at least according to us.

Why did CRN International set out to create a Mount Rushmore for the radio business in the first place? In truth, we didn’t. Here’s how it happened:

It started as a series of innocent LinkedIn group discussions in which we raised the question: “If radio had a Mount Rushmore, who would you put on it?” We felt it would be fun and thought provoking but couldn’t have anticipated the number of nominations or comments, some of them heated. As the debate raged, we already saw the inevitable finish—we would have to close the loop by offering our own version of radio’s Final Four, using the groups’ inputs as guide points.

What criteria did we specify? We didn’t. We intentionally left it vague and let people determine whatever Mount Rushmore meant to them.  As we reviewed the nominations, we tossed around words like contribution, influence, impact, good standing and popularity. Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of the real Mount Rushmore, picked the U.S. Presidents himself and said his choices “commemorated the founding, growth, preservation, and development of the United States of America.” Sounds good to us.

We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble by naming the “popular vote” winners: Paul Harvey, Edward R. Murrow, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. That would have been an easy cop-out.

The biggest question was: Should Rush Limbaugh make the cut? Whether you “love him or hate him”—stop right there: Those very words tended to overshadow the merits of the arguments for or against him.

It hardly stopped there. But in the end, we settled on these four for the CRN Radio Industry Mount Rushmore:

Guglielmo Marconi: The Italian electrical engineer known as the inventor of radio. Without him, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics “in recognition of contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.” An entrepreneur and businessman, Marconi succeeded in making a commercial success of radio by innovating and building on the work of previous experimenters and physicists. Interesting fact: The two radio operators on the Titanic were employed by Marconi.

William S. Paley: Flat out, the driving force who recognized the business potential of radio and acted upon it. He changed broadcasting’s business model not only by developing successful and lucrative programming but also by viewing sponsors as the most significant element of the equation. As CEO of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), Paley and his ability to recognize and harness the potential reach of broadcasting was the key to growing a small chain of local stations into what would eventually become one of the world’s dominant communication empires.

Paul Harvey: The conservative American broadcaster who became a friendly and familiar voice to American listeners for generations. Best summed up by his New York Timesobituary: “He personalized radio news with his right-wing opinions, but laced them with his own trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average Americans and folksy observations that evoked the heartland, family values and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around the dinner table on Sunday.” He was more than a storyteller, as the Times noted. He rallied around major issues such as “the national debt, big government, bureaucrats lacking common sense, permissive parents, leftist radicals and America succumbing to moral decay. He championed rugged individualism, love of God and country, and the fundamental decency of ordinary people.”

Howard Stern: The controversial “shock jock” who helped steer our communications system to a greater open-mindedness by pushing the boundaries of freedom of speech. While his career and his aura have extended to other media, it is radio that can take the credit for putting Stern on the map, drawing in a new generation of listeners, and creating a style of programming that can only be described as off the charts. As for his greater contributions, Rich Mintzer says in Stern’s biography, “Stern has been the focus of debates between censors and those fighting for freedom of speech… He has used his stature to redefine the FCC guidelines repeatedly, support or denounce politicians, rile celebrities, build careers, infuriate or gratify sponsors… and change the face of radio… He has played a major role in making it permissible to talk about once-taboo topics on the air.”

That’s our opinion—CRN International’s Radio Industry Mount Rushmore. Do you agree? Disagree? Tell us what you think.

Sound Policy

Here’s the back story on Yahoo’s revelation that radio was the “secret weapon” in recent marketing efforts to create a positive perception of the Affordable Care Act:

CRN’s President, Barry Berman, was hearing endless complaints about the program last November on MSNBC. Reporters were pressing ACA congressional leaders, asking, “Where are all the success stories about how Obamacare is working? All we hear are the bashers.”

Within minutes, Barry sent an email to his friend Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Representative in Connecticut’s Third District, which includes New Haven—home base for CRN. The email included an idea to flood the nation’s airwaves with stories about local people, especially those within the ACA enrollment targets, who are reaping the benefits of the new healthcare program. These personal, real stories, Barry declared, would be “inescapable and drown out the sea of negativity.” He knew what radio could accomplish—if used correctly.

DeLauro was excited about the idea and wanted to take it to the “powers that be” in Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House. She quizzed Berman on the question of why radio, and why not TV—something she knew she would be asked inside the Beltway.

Readers here, of course, will know the answers. Berman knew that radio could reach just about everyone in America where they lived, and deliver the message with such frequency that the stories would be inescapable. Moreover, the local nature of the stories of friends and neighbors would help change the conversation in an authentic, meaningful way. There would be a continuous, lively parade of fresh stories cascading through the country through the powerful medium of sound, not to mention extraordinary cost efficiencies in both media and production.

The story took on many twists and turns. But the case for radio, thanks to CRN, was carried on and repeated through the halls of Congress, the President’s Cabinet, and, we’re told, to the President himself.

As Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.

While the case for radio is nothing new to those who have been following or using the medium for years, it was fun to hear it expressed in a Yahoo news story, written by Oliver Knox: “Political communications strategists say part of the appeal is the essentially captive audience, whether it’s drive-time radio, or something to listen to on the construction site or in the office. People have an attachment to their drive-time choice and tend to trust it more than the bewildering array of news sources online or on television.”

The Yahoo article quoted Ben LaBolt, national press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, as saying, “Radio is a necessary part of any robust, comprehensive outreach.”

CRN is proud to have put radio on the table for the D.C. insiders.

The same old song

For weeks Jerry Del Colliano had been promoting his Marketing Solutions Summit as an opportunity for broadcasters to learn new ways to address the challenges they face as radio listening patterns and engagement increasingly reflect our digital society.

Who knows what will result from this well-conceived conference and others like it. But much like listening to the same song over and over on the radio until it hurts, we have to wonder how many times broadcasters can hear the same threats to their future over and over until they feel equipped enough to do something about it or at least motivated enough to find out.

Broadcasters realize it’s a different media world out there. Consumption of sound, video and print today have forever changed the way people enjoy entertainment and receive information. Millennials have grown up without radio as a seminal influence, and the coming Plurals generation will be even less dependent on the medium. The attention span of people of all ages is shorter than ever as they fumble with and juggle so many instantaneous information outlets. Broadcasters recognize now more than ever that it is critical for them to make themselves relevant, authentic and valuable to listeners both on-air and online. The message is clear — and believe it or not, in this moving-at-the-speed-of-light pace, it’s already getting old.

Just to review a few talking points that you surely have heard somewhere if not here:

  • Broadcasters can’t keep syndicating, voice tracking and consolidating resources and hope to deliver a compelling product to this emerging generation of listeners. Remember, they were not raised with radio in their blood. So short of a transfusion, broadcasters have to find a way to their hearts. You’re working with a mindset of listeners who simply know what they want when they want it, wherever they can get it.
  • Broadcasters still are not efficient enough at using or monetizing digital media.  While websites and social media are the currency with which the new generations engage, broadcasters haven’t found the formula for turning their own digital assets into breadwinning extensions of their core product. Advertisers see it the same way.
  • Content for Millennials and Plurals is everywhere. Connect with it, understand it, create it, and deliver it in unique and compelling ways.
  • People have shorter attention spans and are constantly pulled in different directions by the tools of instantaneous communication. Where does radio fit in this maze of digital distraction? I’ll tell you: One of radio’s staples has been a listener dependence on local information and music discovery. Once listener apathy draws them to another medium for whatever reasons, you shortly thereafter can expect them to use their new medium for info and discovery as well.

Jerry maintained that digital must become a serious second revenue stream for radio and not just something broadcasters have to throw out there gratuitously to show listeners they “get it” when it comes to the changing media world.

It was a good discussion, and the fact that the room was full showed that these challenges are being recognized as real within the broadcast community.  There’s still time to win over the newer generation – let’s get going.

The power of story

Whatever success I’ve had at CRN is because I told a good story.

I tell stories to job candidates, CRNers, prospects, the public, clients.  I tell them when I teach, when I pitch, when I create.  Stories are not part of the fabric of CRN, they are CRN.  After all, CRN is a collection of thousands of stories.  Stories are our product, and how we talk about it.  Stories are in our memories and are added to every day.

Without stories, there is no CRN.

I tell stories about talking my way in to see the president of New England Mutual Life; interviewing Ralph Nader and forgetting to turn on the record button; flying across the country on a whim to see a potential client who failed to show up for the meeting; getting sick on a van (mostly others tell that story); meeting Hugh Jackman, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter; getting stuck on a ski trail that led to CRN’s development of Ski Watch; creating a candidate for UConn student president that never existed—it doesn’t matter.  I tell stories all the time.  Some funny, some unbelievable, some boring.  But there is always a story.  And they all count.

If you can’t tell a story, you can’t sell.

The good news is everyone can; everyone has and tells good stories.

We would not be able to create successful client solutions—the engine of our business—without telling and hearing stories about our clients’ consumers; how they spend their days, their lives; how they work and play driving to work, picking up the kids; their relationships, their habits; and how we, on behalf of our clients, interact with those consumers to make a client’s product part of their lives.

Credibility and trust are often gained through stories—sometimes through narrative, sometimes through analogies, sometimes by relating our own personal experiences.  It could be a story about how we came up with the idea or even what happened at breakfast. In the context of a story, it’s easier and more effective to weave in facts and statistics to build a case in a less jarring, more natural way. Prospects need to like us and believe us. Capabilities decks don’t do that; stories do.

As Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, explains, “A big idea is not enough. Your big idea needs a story.  Stories fuel innovation.  They hold the power to take listeners on a journey that changes how they think, feel or act.  Studies show we are wired to remember stories much more than data, facts, and figures.  However, when data and story are used together, audiences are moved both emotionally and intellectually.  Harnessing the power of stories will enable you to be more persuasive, move people to action.”

Imagine a room full of people, all eyes on you and nary a bullet point in sight.  No one is checking iPhones, Facebook or LinkedIn.  You’re controlling the room, heads are nodding, they’re leaning forward—no scowls, just intensity—and, like watching House of Cards, they can’t wait to find out what’s next.  Now imagine that translating into more business, more meetings and happier clients.