Friday, June 22, 2007

Photo: Mendota sunset 2 by pharder1 Fine shooting. Thank you.

"What is defeat? Nothing but education; nothing but the first steps to something better." Wendell Phillips

"Concentration is my motto - first honesty, then industry, then concentration." Andrew Carnegie

"Genius is initiative on fire." Holbrook Jackson

Peter Smyth
, Greater Media's president and CEO is one of radio's best. I've been a fan since my days at WBZ when Peter was across the street at WROR. Peter recently shared his thoughts on Google's AdSense for Audio initiative. Let me encourage you to read Peter's piece Can Google Sell Radio? Much of what Peter says in his writing is pitch perfect, however, I must respectfully disagree with his conclusion (i.e., "it's not time to surrender"). Peter is right on the state of affairs in radio sales and simply wrong on Google.

Perhaps his most intellectually honest and valuable observation is "it's time for us to take a close look at the leadership, operating philosophy, and organization of our sales departments."

Little has changed in the way radio sells radio. Radio still gets up each day and goes to work to kill other radio. This zero sum game is the real reason radio fails to gain share of ad spend. It's silo warfare to gain share of a single digit ad spend while ignoring the double digit dead tree guys. This is the same kind of thinking that drives stations with a one share in Arbitron to target and attack other one share rated stations rather than targeting and attacking the market leaders. It was ever thus. We've been talking about gaining share from newspaper, yellow pages, television, cable and other media for decades. The biggest challenge today is unlearning. As Dee Hock once said "The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind but how to get the old ones out." We are using the wrong metrics. It's time to change the denominator. Time to reboot Miller-Kaplan. Clearly, we have a leadership problem. Chances are Peter would agree.

Back in the day I spent a good number of Saturdays and Sundays sitting in a conference room listening to the brilliant Kevin Sweeney as he taught us how to steal money from the dead tree guys. Kevin was the gifted sales development expert who famously said "Would you be interested in learning a technique that will produce a 100% improvement in your ability to close a sale?" He would then go on to preach the importance of the spec spot. Spec production is a lost art today. Sidebar: Later when I was a group guy we would use our unsold inventory on Mondays to play specs on the air when our sellers would call in from a retailer and tell us they were "ready." This only worked 75% of the time.

Peter writes about calling on retailers. Married to an owner of a retail business I am able to offer a somewhat unique pov here. Open for almost three years now my wife has been called on by just about every organization selling advertising. The most creative are those selling space in church bulletins. We advertise on television and in print, have done so for years. Accordingly, we are switch pitched weekly by every video and print seller. The most aggressive sellers are dead tree folks, they make face calls. The radio sellers tend to cold call via telephone. When told she is not interested in meeting with them their response is almost always the same..."You're making a mistake." You can imagine how powerfully that line works in positioning the radio seller as someone who understands what's on the mind of a small business owner. True story: one radio cluster operator (a major publicly held concern) took 16 months before making their first call.

My sense is this is not a singular experience. Radio simply does a poor job of selling radio's value proposition. In answer to Peter's well put question "Are we selling spots or are we selling value?" my thought is we are continuing to fail in articulating value; mostly, we are selling spots, doing whatever it takes to get the order. Further, we are asking too much of our sellers. The demands of today have eclipsed the skills and working knowledge of the majority of our sellers. They deserve better.

What Google represents is a new sales channel. It seems to me this is a potentially additive opportunity, given the right rules of engagement. What stands in the way would appear to be a dated mindset about inventory. We talk about calling on new customers, talk about developing the kind of clientèle that Google proposes to bring to us, we talk about a great many things when, perhaps, we should be decisive and take action. To succeed sooner we must learn how to fail faster. We need to understand that doing the same things and expecting a different result is flawed beyond any and all reason. We must stop focusing on getting better at a game that is no longer being played. We need to embrace that four letter word we most often avoid: risk. We have an urgent need to get different.

" doesn't talk, it swears" Bob Dylan

Leadership must be responsible for producing results.

The electronic ad exchange concept is not going to go away. Working with Google or any other ad exchange should not be viewed as an all or nothing proposition. Peter suggests, wrongly in my opinion, working with Google to be surrender. My thought is to work with Google is not to abandon our sellers but rather to abandon our bias against establishing new sales channels. It is the challenge of leadership to find new and effective ways to do business. To find fresh approaches that benefit both customer and seller. To boldly commit to doing what has not been done before. To adapt our basics, update our fundamentals, refresh and renew our best practices. The best used by date on the radio business model has expired. Radio is not alone, it's a sea change out there for all of ad supported measured media.

We need to stop kidding ourselves, stop making excuses, stop rationalizing failure and get on with the serious work of reinvention.

Surrender is a word I chose not to use especially when we have a robust vocabulary of proactive verbs available including imagine and collaborate.
The sun is setting on business as usual. A bright new day of opportunity beckons. Surrender? Never. Truth be told we have yet begun to fight. Game on!

LATER: Lindsay Wood Davis weighs in and makes reference to Christina Maslach, a professor at the University of California - Berkeley. Pluralistic ignorance is the term coined by Dr Maslach to suggest we tend to think we are different when, in fact, we are not. This is in play when we say "our market, our stations, our situation is different." Thanks for sharing Lindsay.

Bravos to Peter Smyth and the Greater Media gang for doing the right thing on June 26th.

Please standby: When the legendary genius Ron Jacobs tells us he's got a "big idea" we best listen. Ron launches July 7, 2007 (07/07/07). Bookmark it now. Fair warning. All the best Ron!

Your comments are always welcome. Have a wonderful weekend.


Anonymous said...


Inspiring and very well written. The problem is at the top. The Peter Smyth's of the business really do not get it.

Want to lead our next sales meeting?

Ron Harper said...

Wow! Selling spots or selling value, what a concept. I helped to bring in over $100,000 in new business with spec campaigns I produced. Still, they cut me loose. The short-sightedness of some radio execs still amazes me.
Ron Harper

Anonymous said...

There is a tremendous resistance to the cheese being moved. There is a lot of positive head nodding to new concepts, however, the leadership only understands old cheese and they are unwilling or unable to seek out new cheese. Until the leadership changes Radio falters...look at what is happening to the music industry...someone moved "their" cheese off the planet--now they have to build space ships...we may be next.

Anonymous said...

David, Excellent writing. IMHO we do have a major leadership problem. We do need to do some serious unlearning (great quote by Dee Hock btw). As GM of an affiliated TV station I see this culture of "risk averse" thinking daily. Keep doing what we been doing only try harder is the creed and it DOES NOT WORK. Our local daily continues to lead the market in billing and they are way ahead of us online. Keep up the good work - totally enjoy your take on things even when I disagree.

Anonymous said...


OK, so I am one of those former CBS colleagues that has been reading this blog for years and never dared to post a comment. Yeah, an email to you here and there but nope, never a comment. Well tonight I have to say something. You are right and Peter whatshisname is dead wrong. Cheers on standing up to say some unpopular stuff. You might be interested in knowing that many of us STILL working at stations agree with you and don't get what whathisname's alternative is...same old same old? Whatever. Not going to get the job done or so the feeling goes today. Change. Yep, that's the ticket. Insider dope - your praise of Dan Mason, is equally as correct as you were wrong about Joel. You blew that one big time, Joel was the WRONG guy following the WRONG guy. Still love it that you put your name on it and tell it like it is (90% of the time being correct) Have a great summer. Blog on!

dave said...

First - Ron, keep the faith. You are part of the solution, never, never give up. Thank you for your good work! Creative is all that matters.

Second - yes, I will admit that I went down with Joel's ship. My notion is he was and is still a good man; he was, in fact, surrounded by idiots. Dan Mason's first day on the job he released two of the clowns (in my opinion) that needed to be exited.

At a disadvantage - I am on the road and have a hundred or so emails in response to this post. Please standby. Thank you.