What Radio Advertisers Now Want

The radio industry is getting shellacked by the recession but worse than that, it is being compromised by its inability to hold rates.

These “dollar hollers” and cheap ad packages being thrown together by radio groups and stations desperate to make their numbers are prostituting the industry’s overall clout.

That’s why now you’re beginning to see radio as more of an add-on to other media buys. Being part of a total ad package including, say, television, print and/or new media isn’t new. What is disturbing is the cheap price radio is getting to round out advertisers media packages.

Radio has never been great at holding its rates. Always an issue of debate, it seemed there was someone out there dropping their drawers, as salespeople like to call it, to win an account. Now, it’s no longer funny.

Unfortunately there is not much that can be done about cutting radio rates. Stations have too much inventory. Are too willing to sell on the cheap. Their best inventory has been fired – air personalities.

And now, we hear from a recent Advertising Age article that advertisers want live reads – the thing I’ve been touting for years but you won't believe the rest of the story.

CBS and Clear Channel are more than willing to accommodate them.

That’s right, two radio groups that have fired or voice tracked their local talent into oblivion are now, if we are to believe what we read, pitching live reads to interested radio advertisers.

As the article points out, in the early days of radio the personalities or djs were paid to talk about toothpaste, cigarettes or local sponsor’s businesses and services. They had credibility because – and this is important – they had the two big “L”s.

Liked and Local.

When Ken Garland sold mink coats for Zinman Furs at WIP in Philadelphia, people listened because he was liked (on the number one station) and local. Not Ryan Seacrest, but Ken Garland. Ken could have sold mink to animal rights groups. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But you get the idea.

And, yes, you guessed it – Clear Channel is packaging their favorite local/national personality Ryan Seacrest as one of their premier live readers. Somehow you get the feeling these consolidators don’t understand live reads.

It’s different.

The new wave is about corporate live reads. And they are something else yet.

Steve Harvey and Ryan Seacrest help get Procter & Gamble's Scope and Crest brands to advertise on their radio shows. They still get their commissions, but when the commercials are heard in their local syndicated markets, you’ve got to wonder how connected listeners feel about the two.

And Steve Harvey, quoted in the Ad Age article says:

“’Steve Harvey Morning Show,’ applies a more grassroots approach to his live reads. When he talks about advertisers like Ford and State Farm, it's because the brands have been a part of his life for years, he told Ad Age. "I will not do any live reads unless I absolutely believe in the product," he said. "I always try and protect my integrity to the listening audience. I'm too straight of a shooter, and also a stand-up [comedian] -- so eventually if I'm doing something I don't believe in, I'll make fun of it."


That’s still not unlocking the power of the live read.

CBS previously announced that it would use local djs to do live reads on its streaming stations.

There you go again.

CBS streaming stations are not personality-driven so the spirit may be willing but they are not doing live reads, either.

But if the major radio groups are leading the charge in the wrong direction, advertisers (you know, the ones who allow the commercials to be stuffed into the no man’s land of eight unit stop sets) are even more clueless.

Need proof?

Read on.

“Fletcher Whitwell, corporate media director for R&R Partners, said he saw a recent mid-six-figure buy for Las Vegas Tourism across eight major markets over-deliver on impressions and ratings, thus prompting the advertiser to re-up its investment with those stations."

Okay, that’s good, but look what he adds,

"With a radio station, its most valuable asset is its DJ talent, so marrying our client's brand with Clear Channel in a lot of key theater markets made a lot of sense," he said.


A radio station’s most valuable asset is its DJ talent?

Have these advertisers turned on a radio lately?

The radio industry is firing morning show talent at a blinding speed. Where they are not fired, morning show budgets are cut and sometimes their partners are eliminated.

Morning shows (and other dayparts) are being imported from other markets to save money.

These consolidators better hope their buyers continue to not listen to radio or else they will be snagged. They are probably on their laptops, Blackberries or iPods.

Have advertisers heard about voice tracking?

It was Randy Michaels’ idea that went terribly awry to the point that it is hard to find a radio station that doesn’t do at least some voice tracking and others, like the Cumulus stations, practically exist on it.

So here’s what’s wrong.

Your neighborhood radio consolidator is out speaking in tongues again. You know, like when Clear Channel President John Slogan Hogan announced his local initiative at the same time he was firing people, ramping up Ryan Seacrest’s syndicated show and expanding the use of voice tracking and regional (not local) news centers.

This time they are bending the rules to make anything a dj, any dj, anywhere there is a spot without music or production under it. That's the consolidator's definition of the tried and true live read.

And some stupid advertisers are falling for it.

I blame radio advertisers as much as I do hapless CEOs for the game we’re now playing.

It made sense in the past. Build local popularity and the personalities' popularity transfers to local clients.

Then radio groups wanted to cut talent fees.

Then talent itself.

I’ve even heard of a market manager for a major consolidator who has gone rogue and skims a percentage of the voice tracking work he parcels out – in essence, even in voice tracking we have pay-to-play.

What’s wrong here is that radio fails to recognize that the thing it apparently hates is what advertisers apparently love – popular DJs.

Keep all radios away from advertisers or they'll find out.


They’ll find out anyway – when their local live reads don’t work.

So, if you’re going to get into live reads, online or on-air, remember these rules:

1. Liked and Local – the best talent combination to deliver a message.

2. Try not to record them – listeners know. Even Paul Harvey’s listeners knew when he pre-recorded a live read.

3. Marry the talent with the client. The best and longest relationships work when the talent knows the birthdays of his client’s kids. When they like each other. When they frequent their establishments.

4. Adequately compensate the talent.

5. Believability is the goal and no one can be more believable than a personality in a local market.

But, of course, I have put the horse before the carriage again.

Before you can do the five sure fire steps to keep loyal ad money flowing into your station, you’ve got to have live talent.


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