Over the weekend, I had a mini-epiphany.
It started on Thursday when my brother, Paul – “the sales guy” – wrote a guest post for this blog. It was called “What’s Your Sales Story?” and I’m linking it here in case you missed it.
Paul warned me when he emailed me the draft that sales posts rarely work especially well with you. And he’s right. Blog posts about personalities, for example, tend to generate many more page views than posts that deal with radio sales.
But his post ended up attracting more eyes – and “shares” – than any we published last week. It was forwarded onto many sales organizations. Paul received several emails, complimenting him on the post, and informing him that it was sent throughout organizations as an example of a creative approach to motivating the sales staff.
In the post, Paul talked about a little sales exercise he cooked up more than 30 years ago. The idea was to devote a day to having the sales reps actually work for their biggest clients – flipping burgers, delivering beer, etc. And as it turned out, Bacardi had recently instituted a similar exercise among its entire 5,500 employee base.
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Now, don’t get me wrong. This was a great idea when Paul thought of back in the ’80s, and it obviously still resonates today. But it also told me there’s a lack of creativity in the sale cubicles. And it doesn’t have to be that way. In a sales environment that’s lagging, there are certain “givens” that simply can’t be controlled by a local staff of sellers. But a great, attention-getting idea can ignite the reps – and their clients – as Paul’s blog post proved.
And it’s not just in sales. Radio is an industry bereft of new thinking. Oh sure, there are the innovations – the Alexa skills, podcast initiatives, and mobile apps. But so many of us have done the day-to-day stuff the same way for so long we’ve gotten caught up in the routine, the groove, the rut. Paul’s blog post was a reminder to me the same problem impacts the programming department, too – and it has for a long time.
Flash back to 2002, and impresario Irving Azoff came up with the creative idea of what became known as the “Sam & Dave Tour” – pairing the often volatile lead singers of Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, for a co-headlined concert tour that would be guaranteed to spark controversy.
The idea electrified rock radio, always in search of a novel concert attraction, not to mention a tour that would spew a lot of gossip and finger-pointing – reality TV, live on stage every night.
Our company was brought in to assist with helping select promotional concepts designed by rock stations all over the country, in markets major and small. PDs and promotion directors had submitted their ideas, and it was our job to vet them, search out the most creative ones, and help the tour ignite.
When we sat down with dozens and dozens of forms containing these ideas, we were excited to see what programmers and marketers from around the country came up with.
And that was rapidly followed up a sense of disappointment, and even a little despair. That’s because so many of the concepts were the “same old” rehashed ideas, many of which probably were derivative of things Lee Abrams and John Sebastian were suggesting to their “AOR” clients back in the ’70s.
First, there was the “5-4-3-2-1” concept – giving away a pair of tickets in the fifth row Monday, the fourth row on Tuesday…culminating in a pair of valued front row seats on the last day. Wow.
Then there was the old “Win ’em before you can buy ’em” idea, an early set of giveaways designed to rev up interest in the “Sam & Dave” tour. Woo hoo.
And finally, multiple ticket giveaways each day at memorable times like 9, 2, and 5 or 7:20, 10:20, 2:20, and 5:20. Really?
After spending an hour paging through these tired proposals, it was impossible not to be embarrassed by the lack of creative energy displayed by rock radio.
Let’s not forget that even 16 years ago, stations were under pressure to do more with fewer people. And undoubtedly, many also were pressed for time, having to fill out multiple promotional requests.
But it was also clear that few (if any) of the stations whose promotional ideas we reviewed took the time to convene a 15 minute brainstorm among key members of the programming staff to come up with something novel, riveting, or creative.
And that was the same takeaway I had with Paul’s blog post last week. His idea was a clever one, hence so many sales organizations responding positively to it. But it was a reminder that a basic ideation exercise among the reps and other employees might have yielded something just as good – or even better.
Radio is no longer in the position of being able to mail in a last century idea if it intends to successfully compete against the many new content and marketing options available to both consumers and businesses. When even some of the biggest companies are running essentially the same “collective contest” in hundreds of markets throughout the country, something is being lost in the process. Somehow, radio is going to need to dig a little deeper in order to stand out, and successfully provide proof of concept for a medium that’s been around for nearly a century.
And we’re not alone. Legacy businesses are under similar pressure to try different things in order to stand out. Of course, I default to the world of sports from some key analogies.
The first of which is the magnetic head coach of the amazing Golden State Warriors of the NBA. Steve Kerr is that guy in the enviable and unenviable position of trying to motivate his team of talented multi-millionaires to take home another ring. If you’ve been lucky enough to program a radio franchise like Z100, WDVE, or KMOX, you know the angst that winning coaches experience.
How do you continue to coax and cajole your team to play at a consistently high level when they’re convinced they’ve got the goods, and they can turn on the jets at the beginning of the fourth quarter to pull out the win?
In late January, the Warriors suffered through a mini-slump. And their notorious slow starts were making Kerr crazy. Noting to Yahoo! Sports the team was “mentally fried right now” and “tired of my voice,” he let the Warriors coach themselves against a low-risk performing Phoenix Suns team.
The creative exercise worked – the players were excited and energized (they won the game in a blowout), and equally notable, fans reacted, too. Finally, there was something to watch in a mundane, almost meaningless regular season matchup between two teams struggling to get to the All Star break.
But the malaise in sports goes well beyond a frustrated coach and his jaded players. The entire industry is experiencing falling attendance, as more of us choose to watch games in the comfort of our media rooms and bars.
What’s the elixir that will persuade fans to pony up hundreds of dollars to drive downtown or to the neighboring town to watch a game in person?
You can bet that pro sports teams are conducting a lot of brainstorms these days – something we in radio can learn from.
Tomorrow’s post will look at what legacy sports franchises are doing to instill excitement in the game experience. And how all that applies to another traditional form of entertainment – broadcast radio.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.