Whether we like it or not our industry is changing. The changes weren’t caused by the ongoing pandemic, the pandemic simply made it more obvious by fueling the fire and speeding up changes that were already underway. This monumental shift effects all departments equally and will therefore require all departments to address it. For years many of us have been writing off the next generation of potential terrestrial radio listeners and ignoring the changing habits of our existing listeners and advertisers.
On the programming side we have to stop playing it safe. That starts by not defaulting to only running formats that we know appeal to the older demos that are already acclimated to listening to terrestrial radio. We have to find a way to make radio a new music discovery tool again. To do that we’ll need to adjust the model for how we add new music. Right now, most stations still wait to see what other stations add before committing to new adds or they wait until the labels pre-determined release date. Meanwhile die-hard fans of those artists have already had access to those songs online for weeks, months or years (in some cases.) With a little work there are now online tools that will help programmers definitively determine things we were guessing on in the past, how popular a song is right now. By following the old model, too often lately radio seems to be the last to know when a new artist pops and when an established artist’s popularity has faded.
From a promotions and marketing stand-point we need to be on every platform our listeners are on with custom content and tailored messages for each of those platforms. Furthermore, it would be wise to make more of a concerted effort to use our social sites to drive traffic to the platforms we control and monetize, our on-air signal, online stream, podcasts and websites.
The final step is getting our sales departments to embrace selling radio directly online. I know this is tricky because it will be viewed as cutting sales people out of deals, but its inevitable. I’m sure when hotels began selling their unsold rooms online the sales staffs responsible for selling block rooms were furious and pushed back on hotel management. But the hotels who backed down and stuck with the old models, soon found themselves under new ownership.
Fact is we live in a one click world. With every passing year we are less tolerant of jumping through multiple hoops to get something done. If we look at it from an outsider’s perspective, on most terrestrial radio stations, it is a multi-step, layered process to purchase an ad schedule. First you have to track down their info, which is often sparse or hard to find online, email or call a number, a sales manager assigns someone to contact you, they call and set up an appointment, come out to meet with you (Or zoom currently), go back to the office and assess your needs, then return with a radio advertising solution for you. This is an effective way to create and sell a large, potentially long-term, ad campaign to some advertisers, but it’s also a fairly involved process that will turn away a decent percentage of other ad buyers, especially younger ones.
I’m aware there will be pain points for selling radio online, but there are multiple ways to address them. For starters, we shouldn’t sell anything online that the local sales staff can’t also sell for the same price. Obviously, we would also start by setting aside a limited amount of inventory to dedicate to selling this way. Plus, it would be restricted to a few set, pre-built packages, but it’s important that we give the buyer enough options to make it work. Then if they want something more customizable the webpage will direct them to a sales rep to contact them and come up with a custom solution for them.
To make this all work, over time, we’ll need to change our structure in house to look more like an ad agency then a typical radio group. That’s essentially how we’re structuring the new, custom playlist FM formats we will launch in April. You can see the launch trailer here and get more info here. We’ll provide multi-platform programming content for our affiliates, offer the option of joining our revenue sharing program with a portion of their inventory and act as a creative agency to create tailored ads to attach to all of that content on each platform. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call to find out how it all works.
As always, comment below or email me with your thoughts.
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