Media and Advertising: Myriad Media Musings Galore

However, if you’re an advertiser, there could be some key tips here that would interest you. There’s a lot of information in this particular issue, so scroll down all the way to make sure you don’t miss any of the articles.

Help Me Out Here—

From my experience in the media sales world, there are a few things that I am pretty sure that are true:

  1. Most national and regional advertising placed on TV and radio stations is negotiated through large national advertising agencies and/or buying services. Unless a media entity’s audience estimates are within the fairly strict parameters of the agency’s buying criteria (in term of demographics and ratings) then the person selling the time is fairly limited in how much he or she can influence procuring that business.

    Would you agree or disagree?

    If a station is "number one" within the agency’s buying parameters, the station has some leverage, but that leverage is limited. There are no such things as "must buy" stations or programming anymore (I would argue that there never has been a "must buy" scenario).

  2. Many of the larger local agencies that handle larger broadcast accounts are very similar to the national/regional scenario I described above. The parameters are fairly strict, and regardless of how good of a relationship a seller may have with a buyer, if a radio station or TV program’s audience estimates are WAY beyond the buying parameters, it’s very difficult to do business (with the exception of pricing). I have been on both sides of this fence (high rated stations and low rated stations)… and my experience finds this to be generally true. Relationships matter, but a good relationship with the buyer is somewhat restricted by the buying parameters.
  3. It seems that a good relationship between the buyer and seller matters most with smaller ad agencies, and direct advertisers (these are advertisers that do not employ an ad agency). In my opinion, these are the two situations where relationships can have a big influence in garnering and retaining the most profitable advertising revenue for a media company.

    The reasons are fairly simple: in smaller agencies, there is less bureaucracy, and the person from the agency (who the seller is negotiating with) typically deals directly with the client. This person is more accountable for results to the advertiser. Dealing with direct accounts means there is no "middle man" and the accountability rests on the salesperson’s ability to deliver results (and to provide good service). These two situations (small agency and direct advertiser) seem to give the salesperson more control over renewals, and the relationship seems to trump the station’s audience ratings as long as the client gets results.

Do you concur? If not, I would like to hear your opinion.

Now back to my point: Assuming the points I make above are true, and given the fact that radio and TV station management are constantly harping on their salespeople to "get new business"… or "sell more non-agency accounts"… why do these stations not give a damn about seller-client relationships?

A sales manager has no influence on a station’s ratings.

The sales manager has to play with the cards (ratings) that are dealt to him or her. For the reasons already given, there is little a sales manager can do nationally or regionally (or even with some large local agencies) to influence sales (with the exception of pricing). It doesn’t take a good relationship to lower a price in a commodity market. A computer can accomplish this menial task.

Following the premises stated above, advertisers that are least influenced by ratings are those which are handled by smaller ad agencies and those which do not have agencies, right? (Yes, I clearly realize that national, regional and larger local agencies do spend much more money collectively on most stations).

With this in mind, why is sales turnover never viewed as a problem? Why do media companies constantly import sales managers from other markets who do not have relationships with the smaller agencies and direct accounts?

Why are most out-of-market managers soon fired (or transferred to another market) within a short period of time?

Why are most managers rarely out in the field meeting clients— developing relationships with smaller agencies and direct accounts— instead of being strapped to their desks, analyzing reports and creating new and somewhat onerous policies—many which are antagonistic to smaller agencies and direct advertisers??????

There are some managers that come from other markets that do get out in the field and stick around long enough to leverage relationships, but those managers are anomalies. We know who the good ones are.

The good ones aren’t sequestered at a desk all day concocting some new scheme designed solely to put his or her footprint on the sales department. But most imports are here and gone before most clients ever get to meet them face-to-face. Many have no clue whatsoever, leaving clients mumbling to themselves "I’ll give that one a year at the most" after hearing the "At my station in (insert city here), we did blah blah blah" spiel.

Help me out here… do corporate broadcast execs not see that this constant management churn is very destructive to procuring the advertising clients they are most likely to influence?

Or, could it be that most broadcast execs making hiring decisions are so removed from listening to customers that the benefits they seek in a sales manager are: a. having a manager who can correctly fill out sales reports and b. having a manager tell them what they want to hear?

And for the record, this ridiculous behavior isn’t exclusive to Birmingham either.

Speaking of Selling to non-agency (direct) accounts

Did everyone catch the blurb on my site recently about the "Writing for the Ear" seminar sponsored by Alabama Media Professionals? If you didn’t, click the link below:

Writing for the Ear Seminar- March 13th

I don’t know how good this seminar will be, but it sure sounds like a good one since some pretty knowledgeable people will be on the panel. Today very few radio stations in any market employ a copywriter—so a radio salesperson must be the copywriter and must know how to write for the ear. And from what I’ve seen on TV lately, some station-produced TV spots need some help too.

Writing only for the ear isn’t easy, and unfortunately, very few spots produced by radio stations are worth a flip anymore. Several years ago, WMJJ had excellent production and creative staff and WZZK had one of the best copywriters in the country.

But that was then; this is now.

Copy content is particularly important if a salesperson is selling to direct accounts. Results are critical for renewals. When a broadcast salesperson sells to a direct account, the salesperson is taking on the role of the ad agency, and the accountability is increased dramatically. A seller can’t blame anyone but himself or herself for the results when they put a direct advertiser on the air.

Sadly, few sellers in radio or TV are trained in writing copy, producing commercials, and consequently, getting results for the client. Most stations just throw a new person out in the street, without any training on TV production or radio copy. The station spends time training new sellers on their product, but now how to help the client get a return on investment from the usage of the product.

Here are some examples of some bad stuff I have witnessed in the market over the past several months:

  • One radio station ran the same copy for over seven months (and the copy was horrible). Someone in management should have intervened and checked on the results of this campaign and at least made the salesperson rotate a new commercial (the message wouldn’t have to change) to prevent listener fatigue (I was sure as hell fatigued). Not only was this commercial bad, the spot was produced by this one poor soul on the station’s production staff that produces virtually all other non-agency spots on the station. No wonder the delivery of the copy in the spot was unemotional and tired. The poor dude reading the copy had his voice overexposed on the station (and its sister stations).

  • "Tell ’em that you heard this spot and get 20% off." What a joke. Only an amateur would let this type of copy on the air. (I would not allow this type of commercial on the air—ask anyone that worked for me). "Radio coupons" do not work. They never have worked. They will never work. The only possible exception is if it’s done via a live personality endorsement (and it better be one helluva personality to pull this off). This "coupon" ploy should be saved for tangible print advertisements. Plus, this ploy makes the radio station sound like it’s broadcasting from some small town in Dogpatch, Mississippi— most certainly not in a market the size of Birmingham.
  • Cliché’s abound. "Go to Acme Hardware for all of your everyday Hardware needs"… "Spring has sprung and so has the new merchandise from Acme Hardware." Methinks someone is merely cutting and pasting from some old radio copy book from the 50’s.
  • Of course the popular tried and true tactic of TV salespeople is to put the client in the spot. While the spot may not sell anything, at least people will tell the client "I saw you on TV." This makes the client feel good and assuages his or her ego. It could even result in one or two short-term renewals. But unless the cash register eventually starts to ring, renewals will be short-lived. The client could massage his or her ego (or something else) for a lesser cost and get the same feeling (maybe even better).
  • And shame, shame, shame on the ad agencies that merely give the radio stations the audio of their TV spots. There’s no excuse for this laziness. Plus most TV spots are :30’s, but you can get a :60 for the same price as a :30 in radio.

Some time ago, while working for a highly rated station (with a cume audience of over 400,000 listeners), we had a client that was advertising a good product, at a very compelling price at a good frequency (more than 25 commercials per week). But the salesperson handling the account reported that the client wasn’t getting satisfactory results. Well, after looking at the copy and reviewing it against our copy standards, we found one fatal mistake: there was no deadline in the copy. There was no call to action within a certain date. We made the adjustments to the copy, and the client eventually enjoyed good results.

Another example I can cite is the case where a direct advertiser (in this case, an apartment complex) was advertising on a contemporary music station with the goal to attract young adults. While the campaign was not yielding a return on the client’s advertising investment, we stopped and listened to the spot. Not only was there no deadline in the copy, the background music was repulsive to the target consumer. The music was geared to a 55+ target— what some would deem to be "elevator music". The commercial conveyed the image that the apartment complex was not a very happening place to live and evoked images of shuffleboard.

The point is simple— audience size and frequency are meaningless if the copy or message is not compelling to the target.

If you’re a salesperson, or a sales manager, and you’re serious about getting results (especially in the radio realm), you should at least invest the time to garner some knowledge about "writing for the ear"… go to the seminar. It surely can’t hurt.

Another article related to the copy issue (written for The Birmingham Business Journal a few years ago) appears below if you would like to read it:

Air time isn’t spare time in the world of radio and TV

On another note regarding print copy: I would like to offer KUDOS to B.J. Hamner for his scheduling good speakers to The Birmingham Ad Fed. The speaker at the last meeting was very informative in demonstrating the components of which make good print ads. Examples and Starch ad noting and ad read scores were presented (plus examples of bad ads with low scores). There are a lot of people that should have seen this information that weren’t present. What good is a "cool" ad if no one reads it?

Key and "Free" Information You Need to See

Looks like Nielsen and Arbitron are both moving ahead on their quest for each of their versions of the people meter…… technology that could eventually render the diary form of collecting listening and viewing behaviors obsolete. In case you didn’t catch the most recent Nielsen press release, you can read it below:

Click Here Read the Nielsen Press Release: "Nielsen People Meters to Serve Top Ten U.S. Markets"

Here’s an entire page of information on Arbitron’s PPM… most are downloadable (is that a word?) in pdf format:

Click Here To See the PPM Home Page

There are also TONS of free studies and articles for Ad Agencies and Advertisers on the page below:

Click Here To Get Ad Agency and Advertisers studies and newsletters

And here’s a lot of great "stuff" for people that are interested in radio and internet studies. Arbitron’s latest internet study (their tenth!) is of particular interest:

Click Here To See the Free Radio and Internet Studies

New Arbitron Study: 79% Say Local Radio Stations Provide More or the Same Variety of Programming vs. Five Years Ago

Many people currently working in the radio industry complain about "consolidation." Listeners, however, do not appear to be complaining.

A new study from Arbitron Inc. (conducted by Edison Media Research) finds that radio listeners are very pleased with today’s programming choices. The majority of listeners (79 percent) feel they get more or the same amount of programming choices from their local radio stations than they did five years ago and more than one-third of listeners said their choices are greater now versus five years ago. Over two-thirds (69%) said their local stations do a "very good" or "good" job of providing a wide variety of programming.

While some critics will claim that this new Arbitron study is "biased" ( that is– catering to the larger radio companies’ desires) it is my opinion that it is not biased at all. I have seen (and have been personally involved with) several studies that Arbitron has done which were critical of the radio industry and the effects of consolidation. It’s simply hard to refute the fact that listeners now have more choices today than before the 1996 Telecommunications Act was enacted. With fewer companies owning more stations, more format choices for listeners are a natural result of consolidation.

The Arbitron web site cites empirical data to back up the "why" behind the listeners’ satisfaction in terms of programming choices:

"A November 2002 Bear Stearns report (Format Diversity: More from Less?) that examined format diversity found ‘there [were] 7% more core formats available in Fall 2001 relative to Fall 1996.’ Bear Stearns said the data indicates there are 250+ formats available cumulatively across radio’s 200+ rated markets in the United States" says Arbitron.

While this may be true, it is obvious to me that there are issues other than programming variety lingering in the post-consolidation world. In the 01.01.03 benmac.com "Featured Article" I was critical of local radio’s news coverage, and specifically the tornado coverage in November 2002: "many of the radio stations were merely piping audio from TV stations or having the same ‘coverage’ on several of their sister stations" I opined.

Bill Thomas president of SharePoint Management Inc., is the former CEO of Ameron Broadcasting and one of the most savvy programming strategists to work in Birmingham. Thomas acknowledges the Arbitron study as valid, but still expresses concerns over programming:

"Radio’s localism does seem to be less of an issue to most listeners," says Thomas. "Arbitron’s study confirms that. Isn’t that ironic for one of the most effective tools for local advertisers ever?

I do think local ‘service’ has deteriorated too much. Response time for news or weather bulletins during emergencies is worse than it used to be (and sometimes nonexistent on some stations due to small staffs and automation) and as I’m sure you have seen, there is high advertiser frustration over station turnover, poor training, and other advertiser service issues that are not as high a priority for some (not all) broadcast companies as they used to be. New world, new rules (or maybe even a future opportunity for the broadcaster who ‘breaks the rules’?)"

While listeners are definitely more satisfied because they have more format choices, it would be difficult to prove that advertisers or employees felt the same way— for the reasons I point out in this article that ran in The Birmingham Business Journal a little over a year ago:

"Dialing up local radio’s future, finding static"

Comments are welcome.

Quick Hits

  • In the February 25th issue of Media Daily News it is was reported that newspaper advertising for the fourth quarter of 2002 totaled $12.8 billion, a 4.4% increase over the same period a year ago, according to preliminary estimates from the Newspaper Association of America. Retail advertising spending rose 3.8% to $6.1 billion, national ad spending increased 12.4% to $1.9 billion and classified rose 2.2% to $4.8 billion.
  • The Audit Bureau of Circulation has a list of it’s Top 100 newspapers by circulation. You can check it out by Clicking this link.
  • The Center for Media Research also synopsizes a recent article by James T. Madore staff writer for Newsday, who recently reported on recent response to an online requests for newsreading habits. Madore concluded that young adults are turning away from the news their parents and grandparents relied on for information. This trend started 30 years ago but has sped up since the 1990s. Some celebrated news organizations feel that newspapers are skipping a generation of readers.
  • The Center for Media Research reports that magazine ad revenue and pages are up in 2003 with total magazine advertising revenue for the month of January 2003 increased 9.5%, compared to January of last year. This means that January closed at $883,466,028, according to Publishers Information Bureau (PIB). Ad pages for January totaled 12,482.6, up 4.8% from 2002.
  • The Cable Television Advertising Bureau says "For the first time in TV history, ad-supported cable has surpassed the seven national broadcast networks combined in primetime viewership for a complete season." Click Here To Read The Press Release
  • Here’s an interesting article by Amy Whitfield that recently appeared in UAB’s Kaleidoscope student newspaper. The write apparently just got cable TV for the first time. Interesting perspective in the article titled Cable TV, the good and evil .
  • The theme of "evil" continues with another UAB columnist, Shantha Morse in this media article: Clear Channel Communications is clearly evil
  • Need a job in broadcasting? Or are you a broadcaster that has a job opening? The Alabama Broadcasting Association can help you with their job center. You can e-mail the ABA your available job openings or e-mail you position wanted ad— Click Here To Go The Alabama Broadcaster’s Association Job Bank Page.
  • "It’s the broadcasting equivalent of dumping your girlfriend and forbidding her from dating anyone else" says Matt Pulle in The Nashsville Scene about non-competes.

  • The The 2003 Addy Awards are this Saturday night…. March 8th.

  • Dan Rather is catching hell from many in the media world for his interview with Saddam. Media Post’s Dan Gaffney reports that The New York Post says that CNBC’s James Cramer told a lunch crowd: "It was a travesty. The interview was like an infomercial. I call Dan Rather ‘The Ding King.’ Some of us would have wished Dan could have taken one for the team and [assassinated] the guy. There was something so deferential about it. Dan was an unfortunate prop." And Don Imus also chimed in "Here’s all you need to know about Dan Rather: When he interviewed the first President Bush, he picked a fight with him. When he interviewed Saddam Hussein, he spent an hour kissing his ass."

This past fall, I had to pass on most requests for speaking engagements and consulting assignments. However, now I have a more manageable course load and I more active outside of my educational obligations. Feel free to e-mail me if I can be of service.

As always, comments and contributions are welcomed!