Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"You have a right to your own opinion. You do not have a right to your own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"Everyone has the right to program." Buzz Bennett

"Life is a place of service, and in that service one has to suffer a great deal that is hard to bear, but more often to experience a great deal of joy. But that joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness." Leo Tolstoy

Tim Manners
has written a Fast Company column headed Is Google Killing Radio Advertising? "Bigger isn't always better, and this is particularly true with regard to the power of radio as an advertising medium. But advertises (sic) like Google just don't seem to understand radio's true potential" writes Manners in his opening paragraph. Three paras later he quotes a USA Today item wherein Eric Schmit (sic) is quoted as saying "Look at the time people spend listening to radio, versus the money currently being spent to advertise on radio -- it's out of whack. Radio can be much bigger." Manners responds "Well, what's out of whack is the idea that bigger is better in radio. In radio, bigger is never better because the beauty of the medium is in its intimacy. In radio, smaller is better." He goes on to tell us he is a "former local-radio announcer...During a break, I'd pick up the phone. On the line is a listener -- a total stranger -- who would speak to me as if I were the closest of friends...Radio's true power is in that kind of one-to-one communication." Then Tim delivers the goods with this insight "The commercials sandwiched between the music and my patter did not capitalize on that connection. More often than not, the ads undermined it." He ends his writing "...if Google succeeds in using the power of the internet to jam radio's airwaves with more and more irrelevant ads, it will make the medium weaker, not stronger. It will disrupt the very thing that makes radio great. It will drive yet another wedge between radio and its listeners, and make radio even less relevant as a medium for marketing tomorrow than it is today."

Disappointing and almost too clever by half. Almost. Why this magna cum laude grad of Tufts failed to achieve the highest Latin honor we may never know, however, in this writing at least, he has failed to do his homework. Mr. Manners' "local-radio announcer" credential and previous bad experience with a sales department notwithstanding the guy clearly fails to grasp the fundamentals of the business.

As it happens size does matter.
The power of radio as an advertising medium is well documented. Manners obviously misses Eric's point. It's Eric, not Tim, who understands radio's true potential. Radio reaches 93% of US consumers every single week. Radio captures a single digit percentage of the US ad spend. That is out of whack but the ad game often fails to be logical, rational or even fair. Welcome to our dysfunctional family picnic and ring toss.

Manners would have us believe that "In radio, smaller is better." He's wrong. He states "bigger is never better because the beauty of the medium is in its intimacy." Again, wrong. The intimacy characteristic of radio, of audio for that matter, that unique power of one-to-one communication is not diminished as the audience gets bigger. There's a technical term for his argument - goofy.

He writes "The fact that the power of radio as an advertising medium is a function of the credibility of its on-air personalities" and then references the great Arthur Godfrey. Certainly true that personalities can be very persuasive and effective sellers but radio is more than that one trick derby winner. What Manners has done here is wrongly discount the exceptional creative work being done by shops, inde producers and station teams. Closed circuit to Tim: check out the Mercury Awards and the Radio Lions winners. Bonus hint: Radio works. Bud Light would shut down their Real Men of Genius campaign if it were not working. You can bet the Volvo on it, these are beer guys.

Manners is as loyal as Achates to the conventional hack wisdom that states when writing about radio thou shalt bash Clear Channel. He also casts Google as a co-conspirator "teaming clog the airwaves with more and more commercials." Writing about any possible Clear Channel - Google cabal is so de rigueur. And so off the mark. As Drucker once taught the market happens outside the enterprise. The ultimate success or failure of Clear Channel and Google will be decided in the marketplace, a very competitive marketplace. Further, relevance is Google's oxygen. To suggest that Google would be a part of broadcasting "more and more irrelevant ads" demonstrates Manners' acute naivete. And please, let's leave those Less is More guys alone already. Now at the tender mercies of their new PE pals my guess is LIM might be taking on a whole new meaning. Being private (no Reg FD) could mean that no one hears you scream. Or maybe not but it does make a good visual.

Back to the countdown. Google, along with the other media exchanges, seek to create a new sales channel. Manners fails to offer any reasonable support for his notion that such a new sales channel will make radio weaker. Any new source of revenue, properly managed by stations, will not become another "wedge between radio and its listeners" nor will it work to make radio any less relevant as a medium for marketing. It is possible one could make exactly the opposite case and actually be closer to the coming truth. The safe bet is radio and those FM with pictures guys will successfully jump the digital divide. Stay tuned.

What Manners fails to mention is Clear Channel is but one of the many broadcasters in "alliance" with Google. My understanding is Google is now working with almost two thousand radio stations. The AdSense for audio initiative isn't new, it's over a year old now and those dMarc guys were at it for some time before that. Giving advertisers "the ability to buy radio ads online with a simple click of the mouse" seems an honorable mission but somehow not to Manners. He appears to be saying give only the listeners what they want and damn those advertisers (and underwriters). The reality is broadcasters have to keep both constituencies happy to keep the lights on and the bills paid. Success in broadcast remains a high wire act. It is certainly true, you can be riding high in April and definitely shot down in May. And let's not forget the feds either as radio remains a federally regulated endeavor.

Manners praises online-only station UltraRadio as a champion of local music and tells us it's "not unlike what radio great 'Murray the K' did back in the 1950s and 1960s" (hanging out in clubs and listening to what his audience was listening to). Good to know, thank you. Tim, here's two clues. Riff2. iChannel. Look them up. A great many local stations support their local music scene. Always have. Unsigned acts have never before been the focus of more radio attention. Moreover, there are many modern day Murray the Ks working in the trade today.

Size matters when it comes to innovation. Manners praises the size of a billionaire benefactor's wallet when it makes possible the very cool work being done at KEXP. Size can also be a good thing when today's market portfolio, the cluster, serves innovation. Kelly Kibler and J.D. Freeman are able to take a flyer on one of their Dallas Fort Worth stations because they have five other chances to win. Offering sponsorships by the hour and putting single sponsor opportunities on the market is certainly creative and the stuff of radio's early commercial days. Sidebar: As late as the 1970s my father's program was sold by the hour to advertisers including American Airlines and Budweiser (and yes, he delivered every commercial live, ad libitum).

Manners is too quick and perhaps even a bit cavalier when he gives bad odds to the life expectancy of music-oriented social-network sites ("..such dreams will die a quick death"). Never doubt the power of a great sales team or the incredible ingenuity of entrepreneurship to beat the odds. The lads at, and others, will find a way don't you worry. It's that marketplace thing again.

So, is it fair to suggest Google is killing radio advertising? As Borat would say...not so much.

Tim Manners is to be commended for making mentions of KZPS, KEXP and UltraRadio. Each deserves recognition. We can all do a better job of catching folks doing things right. He's also spot-on about one other very important thing "When radio is approached with that kind of intensity, with such extraordinary personal dedication to the interests of its audience, its ability to sell to that audience is hard to match." Closed circuit #2 to Tim: Radio is approached in that very way. It's happening today all across America. There's a lot of great radio out there. Get dialed in.

Congrats & cheers: Michael Gutkowski
named COO of iVillage. David Lebow named CEO of IBS. Mary Jeanne Cavanagh promoted to Oxygen EVP Ad Sales.