Radio’s Apple Store Solution

Every time I go to an Apple store, I spend money.

Don’t even ask.

I always find things to buy there and I am so willing. I'm spending down my Apple stock profits.

But I also observe a culture and an approach that is so fascinating that I got to wondering what would happen if the troubled radio industry would look up and learn.

Okay, I was actually not in the Apple store Saturday, but Sunday as well and I don’t know why I am amazed but the place was crowded both days. I mean these are the dog days of summer in Arizona and it is over 100 and, yes, very humid. Monsoon season when smart locals try to take a vacation if they can.

Still the place was packed both days with demographics we in the media business can really appreciate. Young, very young, middle age and old. All there getting involved with Apple products.

On this trip something registered that I would like to share with you. Not just the Apple store as a great and prosperous retail operation – it surely is that – but also as an approach to people, customers and the company.

While I was at the Genius Bar, a young man walked out from the back of the store in North Scottsdale. It looked like he was going home, but no, he was in fact leaving for good to go back to school.

Spontaneously, his fellow associates broke into an enthusiastic and loud round of applause led by store managers as well. The applause was so sustained, I don’t think you or I have experienced such clapping even after making a freebie personal appearance for our radio station employers.

Then, the customers joined in and clapped. It was too noisy to even talk to my Genius, but the real genius was the Apple leader who understood how feeling appreciated is the best motivator for employees.

Not money which costs companies money, but appreciation which is free.

I thought of radio employees who have lost their jobs during consolidation over the trumped up excuse that their employers could no longer afford them. And of those poor Cumulus employees who write to me privately even under threat of execution by the Dickey family that they hate their company and can’t wait to leave.

Not so at Apple.

Employees love to work there perhaps in part because they get a heavy dose of appreciation as an on-the-job benefit. I am not naïve about all of this. I am sure there are unhappy Apple employees out there, but they are harder to find than unhappy radio people.

The young man who helped me Sunday was interested to learn of my relationship to the radio industry and proudly whipped out his iPhone to show me an iHeartRadio app. I was very impressed.

He loves JohnJay and Rich at 104.7. Couldn’t identify the call letters but then again no foul, he didn’t have a People Meter on either. I learned that he only listened in the car and didn’t care for the station the rest of the day. What this young man wanted was what radio can’t seem to get rid of fast enough – personalities.

He tuned in for the personalities that radio is firing.

Would he be surprised to learn that his favorite Phoenix-based morning show was syndicated elsewhere putting other local personalities on the unemployment line? I didn't have the heart to tell him.

When he flipped through iHeartRadio for me this nice young man said he likes to listen on-demand which he reminded me he can do. But without JohnJay and Rich, he’s pretty much out of listening to radio unless he had to.

An Apple employee knows better than anyone that as long as WiFi is not consistently available while he is in the car and while mobile carriers charge or threaten to charge more for using the inferior 3G, he can still be a radio listener.

Unfortunately, if and when he can get an Internet signal consistently without additional cost, he’d probably leave his favorite radio personalities unless they follow him. And he is through with 24/7 broadcasting – like his generation, he wants on-demand.

It reinforced my belief that morning drive is whenever consumers want it to be and radio companies are killing themselves by letting personalities go. In fact, they should be hiring more for that day when seamless Internet follows this on-demand generation around.

This Apple employee told me that he can spend an hour and a half with me because his job is to show customers what Apple has to offer – not to close sales. It is a different mindset. In fact, I wondered why we don’t go back to that in radio – showing solutions (online, on-air, on the phone, in social networks) and become experts at showing, well – solutions.

Too many radio sales groups are beating the phones to sell spots and not solutions and believing the economy will return and so will radio budgets. That may be partially true, but when those budgets increase the new media components will increase with them.

One last thing.

He loves Steve Jobs – that flawed, quirky icon who runs Apple like a personal fiefdom. Respect for the company – for the management and its policies – that’s what he and others at the Apple Store have.

They don’t begrudge Jobs for being worth billions – and growing – every day but in radio we get sick to our stomachs when radio CEO's make huge paychecks.

Perhaps its an issue of competence or lack of it.

Or maybe that Steve Jobs has inculcated in Apple the belief that he cares to take a lead in designing new products, having them well represented to customers and institutionalizes the value of respect and appreciation to those employees who do not earn billions.

Could radio learn from this?

Visit the Apple Store and you’ll lament the missing element in today’s consolidated radio – that is exactly how great radio companies operated before the “enlightened” era of consolidation.

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