News Ticker

Radio’s Illness Is Its Public Perception

To borrow a line from Clark Griswold, “Where’s The Tylenol?” If you’ve invested time reading the headlines about the radio business lately, chances are you need it. Week after week, publications flood the marketplace with stories about flat to declining revenues, career instability, and mergers and sales, while industry officials strike back by touting radio’s position as the number one reach medium.

If you’re a young person thinking about entering the radio business, a veteran wrestling with the decision of whether or not to stay involved in it, or an advertiser wondering if placing your dollars in the industry remains a sound investment, you’re likely going to proceed with caution. The overwhelming feeling is that the industry is going to hell in a hand basket, and what’s sad, is that much of this sounds a lot worse than it is.

But do you know who’s fault it is that this has become the public’s perception of our business? It’s ours.

Step back for a minute and think about why you chose to pursue working in radio. For many, they heard a song on the radio, the voice of a talk show host or a comedic bit on the air and it struck a chord with them. The more time they spent consuming the station’s content and hearing how much fun everyone was having, the more they wanted to be part of it.

For others, they might have been drawn to radio after attending a station event, reading about it online, meeting someone in the field, hearing about a contest, watching someone speak, or simply by luck.

Regardless of where you first connected, once you got involved, you stayed involved, because it was fun and brought people together. You felt proud to call yourself an employee of the radio station and you took pride in the performance of the company.

This is the bond that radio produces that is different from other mediums. Television doesn’t provide the same level of intimacy. Neither does the print industry. Social media may create conversations on public platforms, but the human touch and personal connection is different.

But how often do we hear about the positive benefits our business provides? Where are the headlines on the amazing content being produced? Or the special connections and unique experiences being created by our radio stations? How often do we highlight the success stories of our gifted personalities who make our brands meaningful to local and national audiences?

For one reason or another, the daily conversation on our business has become centered around ratings, sales, quarterly earnings, and satisfying shareholders, and less on the reasons why radio is and will always be cool.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to beat the drum until we make this part of our business better – if you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and once they control the narrative you won’t like the results.

I hear industry people complain about the things that are said, written and presented about brands and companies, but I don’t see a ton of action being taken to highlight the many positives. Brand managers, marketing directors, personalities and producers share just as much of a responsibility to spread the message about the amazing work they’re doing as a CEO and Market Manager of a company has to sell their story to advertisers, investors and employees.

And I’m not just talking about promoting yourself on your own social media accounts. That just reinforces your positives with those who already know what you do. How about those who have no idea of your success? I can point out the way the industry is presented across multiple publications, and you may agree, but if you never provide a press release, success story or audio sample of something you created, then how is anyone else supposed to give you credit?

People don’t choose to work in this industry because they want to learn more about layoffs, mergers, stock prices, shareholders, consolidation, sales, bankruptcy, and corporate restructuring. Yet these are the words right now that are shaping the image of our business. Do any of them give off a positive vibe and make the industry sound cool to you? Do they give you hope for where the business is headed? Would you take your own money and invest it in an industry that presents its own story this way?

We are losing sight of what our business is, does and represents. And it’s a crying shame. There are way too many great things happening for us to be projecting this public image of a bunch of lost souls heading towards their own funeral.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the radio business has illnesses and limited remedies. I’m not suggesting we should sweep under the carpet the realities of what many of our broadcast companies are dealing with. But pardon my french, do you know who doesn’t give a shit about the majority of these issues? The audiences we cater to.

If we continue to carry dark clouds above our heads, and act as if we’re on the verge of the apocalypse, audiences will eventually trade in their time with us for others who provide a more uplifting experience. How exactly does that benefit us?

This is even more true with advertisers. Relationships may help a brand navigate thru treacherous terrain, but if a company is frequently connected to negative stories about layoffs, poor ratings, underachieving sales, and failing stock prices, clients and agencies are going to pause before parting ways with their money. They read the trades and news media even more than our audience. When gloom and doom surrounds a business, it becomes harder to place your faith in it.

Understand this, while we’re busy expressing our displeasure, disappointment, frustration and concern about the current state of our industry, do you know who isn’t doing that? Apple, Spotify, Pandora, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter. Coincidentally, the majority of those companies are trending upward.

Whether you see it or not, they are all competitors. As radio shares one depressing story after another, these media companies are pushing innovation, content, fun and connection. They are chasing the same ad dollars that we are, and they’re gaining a hell of a lot more of them than anyone else. Quarter after quarter they’re enjoying massive growth, while the radio business pushes the message of “flat is the new up.”

I don’t claim to have all of the answers on how to remedy the radio industry’s PR problem but I think a good starting point is to draw attention to the many great things being created on a daily basis.

We conduct powerful interviews. Creative promos are written, produced and presented. Entertaining bits and benchmarks are featured and elicit emotion and reactions out of our audiences. Memorable content has big promotional value and is share worthy.

We also use our airwaves to help listeners and companies during times of struggle. We rally our communities around local causes and events. We excite our listeners by developing contests that offer them once in a lifetime experiences. Even play-by-play broadcasts create a bond between the audience and the radio station because of the shared interest in supporting the home team.

All of the items I just mentioned, have the potential to be newsworthy. We do them daily and fail to recognize their promotional value. It’s easy to seek promotional support when your ratings increase, a high profile talent signs a new contract, or your station breaks news or generates a controversial on-air response from a guest. But showcasing your brand beyond your own social media accounts and email databases requires taking additional steps.

When you create a promotion or contest, do you alert anyone besides your audience and staff? As someone who has promoted them many times for brands on this website, I can tell you that I often have to dig for them, rather than be made aware of them. I may take the extra step to help a sports station highlight something cool they’re doing but guess who isn’t? The rest of the trades and news media.

How often do you pass along creative promos or on-air bits to showcase your station’s entertainment value? Have you alerted media outlets about some of the ways your talent have gone above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of the audience? Maybe even invited an outlet to tag along and cover the story?

When was the last time you shared an audio clip of a talent telling a personal story on the air? Case in point, Mike Valenti delivered a moving on-air commentary three weeks ago on 97.1 The Ticket after his partner Terry Foster announced his retirement. I included it in a piece I wrote, but had I not looked for it, it’d never have been promoted outside of Detroit.

And that’s not a knock on The Ticket. It simply shows how something we do daily, and take for granted as being newsworthy, can actually have larger promotional value if the trades and news outlets are notified. I’d much rather have seen stories the next day in Radio Ink, Inside Radio, All Access and Talkers highlighting Valenti’s heart felt monologue to his partner than being subjected to another industry piece on revenue declines and budget cuts.

And before you bring it up, I understand that we have no control over which stories get featured in the trades and no guarantee that ink would have been given to Valenti’s commentary. Maybe I’m being too optimistic but I have confidence in those outlets because at their core they care about the success of radio.

It’s also been my observation over the years that when outlets are notified of something positive or powerful happening on a local or national radio station, they’re more than willing to help share that story. They’re not going to take the bait on everything you throw in front of them, but they’re more than fair in providing coverage. When you combine excellence with persistence it often leads to increased visibility.

There are many skeptics questioning the viability of radio. I am not one of them. I love this business and all that it entails, and believe that many of the solutions are inside of our own walls. However, we can do a much better job of changing the message about our brands, content, people and industry.

If you made it to Las Vegas for the NAB Show, then you saw how high the enthusiasm was for the future of media. Radio wasn’t as present as I’d have liked it to be, but each room was filled with people wanting to learn more about podcasting, content strategy, the future of the dashboard, the industry’s projected growth, and other areas of our business.

Then there was Fred Jacob’s TechSurvey 13 which included responses from more than fifty thousand people. Many of these participants share a passion, love and interest in our brands and programs, and 90% said they’re listening to either the same or more AM/FM radio than they had in the past. That’s remarkable. Especially when you consider how media consumption has shifted in recent years.

These same people have begun purchasing the Amazon Alexa or Google Home. One in 10 now own one and 36 million are projected to use a smart speaker by the end of 2017. You can expect that number to grow even more if Apple invades the space as many expect.

Why is that important? Because voice technology is making it even easier for people to listen to radio/audio. Automakers want it present inside the vehicle, and because of its simplicity, the use of it is increasing radio’s ability to stay connected to its audience inside the home. That’s an area that radio has struggled to penetrate in recent years.

We’re also seeing people invest more time with stations and their personalities by listening to on-demand audio and original podcasts. According to Edison Research, 42 million are listening weekly to podcasts, and that’s double from where things stood just 4 years ago.

These are all signs that illustrate how healthy the radio/audio business is. But if you spent a week looking at the way the industry is presented in public spaces you’d lose sight of that.

The fight to monetize and measure our brands and companies better is never ending. This is a competitive industry and operators have every right to demand improvement and profitability. But let’s not forget why audiences come to us in the first place, and take more control of the image we’re projecting about our business. If we don’t, we may be measuring and monetizing a lot less in the future.

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