David Ogilvy’s Advice to Radio CEOs

Patricia Sellers, writing in Fortune Magazine last July, wrote a brilliant piece on the legendary advertising executive David Ogilvy of Ogilvy & Mather fame.

David Ogilvy was a very creative ad man.

He created memorable campaigns for Hathaway shirts and Rolls-Royce among other brands. As Seller’s reminds us, Ogilvy’s Rolls ad coined memorable line "At 60 mph, the loudest noise in this Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”.

David Ogilvy was a pioneer in consumer research and direct marketing so when he looked back on his achievement-filled career in 1991, he came up with seven rules that I think apply to the media business today.

Here is Ogilvy’s advice in bold and my comments follow.

1. Remember that Abraham Lincoln spoke of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He left out the pursuit of profit.

This really hits home in the media business.

EMI is on the financial ropes. The big four could be the big three soon and even at that not one of them big enough to make the record industry a growth business again.

To me David Ogilvy is saying be good at something – don’t necessarily try to seek wealth first. Wealth is a product of being excellence.

Teddy Forstmann laid an egg with his Citadel investment.

Lew Dickey is forced to turn over more and more of Cumulus debt to creditors in return for a larger ownership stake. Individuals who try to run roughshod over everyone else in the pursuit of wealth are often bankrupt in more ways than one.

2. Remember the old Scottish motto: “Be happy while you’re living, for you are a long time dead.”

When my son graduated from USC, I wrote him a card with a million dollars of advice (and no car, no check): I said “it is better to know how to make a life than a living”.

Think about it.

What is money without being happy?

3. If you have to reduce your company’s payroll, don’t fire your people until you have cut your compensation and the compensation of your big shots.

Are you listening Fagreed Suleman?

Someone knows more than you do about this.

Every time a radio group fails, the management that took it into the ground works out a deal with the creditors to renew their contracts. Ogilvy is saying start cutting costs with the top banana. You’ll win respect, inspire others and win cooperation at a difficult time.

4. Define your corporate culture and your principles of management in writing. Don’t delegate this to a committee. Search all the parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.

Would anyone like to send me the Clear Channel, Citadel or Cumulus management principles that were given to them in writing?

Did Lew Dickey, Farid Suleman or John Hogan write them?

I’m hearing a lot of “nos” here.

5. Stop cutting the quality of your products in search of bigger margins. The consumer always notices — and punishes you.

If you cut news, your listeners will get it elsewhere – perhaps online. Some 26% of Americans get their news by phone according to a recent Pew survey.

If you fire their favorite radio personalities, perhaps they will spend time with their own friends more on social networks, or find other diversions.

If you lack variety, they now have options to find it.

If you dilute local radio, they can punish you by relying on their own network of friends, sources and online websites.

6. Never spend money on advertising which does not sell.

It amazes me how the radio industry spends so little time training sales people and no time producing quality local advertising.

No wonder advertisers can live without radio when they need advertising the most – in a recession.

And advertising can’t sell when it is stuck in four to seven minute-stopsets with one commercial after the other.

7. Bear in mind that the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.

I love this.

The consumer does not have a heart, a mind in the view of many media people today. At my recent Media Solutions Lab I was leading a discussion on fan loyalty and one contributor said, “you mean P-1s” and I retorted, “no, I mean fans”.

In the radio industry we like to depersonalize our fans. They seem to have no faces, no characteristics – just metrics. 25-54 year old males. 18-24 year old women.

It wasn’t always like that.

Radio was an up close and personal medium. Remember, fans of radio showed up at events. Now I hear one of the major consolidators actually does remotes by sending a truck to the client’s location but the on-air part is – well, I hate to say it – voice tracked. That's right -- voice tracked remotes!

When your fans become numbers, your number is up.

Nothing of late has been more inspiring to me than to review David Ogilvy’s business advice.

He’s earned the right to compile them and media executives would be wise, in my opinion, to heed them.

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