Jacobs Media clients are only too aware that a number of years ago, I "appropriated" the term, "retail politics," and turned it into "retail radio." The idea – inspired by Mr. Exit Poll, Larry Rosin – is that the same hand-shaking-and-baby-kissing techniques that work in political contests move the needle in Arbitron ratings, too. If you buy into the notion that the diary is akin to a ballot, the analogy holds up well. (Of course, PPM may change all that, but that's for another blog.)
That's why it was interesting to note the coverage of President Bush's visit to Vietnam last month. For the most part, Bush stayed in the limo, didn't mix it up with the Vietnamese populace, and generally didn't make memorable impressions.
In contrast, Bill Clinton also visited Vietnam when he was in the Oval Office, and it was a very different trip. He toured the ancient Temple of Literature, ate lunch at a regular-folks noodle joint, and spent a lot of time hanging out. Suffice it to say, tens of thousands of Vietnamese enthusiastically greeted President Clinton, and his visit remains a lasting memory today.
So, let's segue to radio. We all know the different DJ archetypes. There's the well-known jock who would rather sit in the van than mix it up with listeners. After all, you never know what they're going to do or say. The safe, simple way to "make the appearance" is to be aloof, and shake as few hands as possible. Of course, this does nothing to engage the audience, and in fact, can often lead to bad feelings that listeners never forget. Trust me, I've moderated focus groups where respondents vividly recall being snubbed or ignored by DJs at events that occurred two decades ago.
Then there's my favorite kind of jock – the ambassador DJ – the person who doesn't leave an event until all questions are answered, all autographs are signed, and all hands are shaken. These personalities are worth their weight in gold because not only do they perform beautifully for sales, but they are the warm, and build personal connections with listeners. They are indeed the "secret sauce" that can trump iPods and satellite radio.
Going retail is always great business, whether you're an icon in a market like Larry Norton, Pierre Robert or Iris Harrison are in Buffalo, Philly, or Portland – or you're the new guy in town, like Sludge in Richmond.
As Larry Rosin taught me, the big factor that drives the vote (aside from political affiliation, of course) in local elections is whether voters have met the candidate. That's what "going retail" is all about, whether you're the President or the midday guy.
(Full disclosure: I have voted for non-Republican Presidents since I was allowed to participate in the voting process.)