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The Way Radio Thinks About Digital Makes It Harder to Sell

Seth Resler

By: Seth Resler,
Jacobs Media Strategies

Every year, advertisers tell us the percentage of their marketing budget allocated to “digital” is increasing. On the other hand, the portion dedicated to “traditional media” is heading south. Ever since “digital” became attractive to advertisers, traditional broadcasters have struggled to find their foothold in this world.

In the early days, radio’s reaction was to sell digital inventory, such as display ads on station websites or inclusion in station email blasts, in much the same way they sold 60-second commercials. Over time, radio broadcasters recognized the digital solutions its clients desire go beyond just having more places in which to stick ads. As a result, the array of services broadcasters offer has gotten more complex. It’s not uncommon for radio stations offering to build websites, directing social media strategies or perform SEO services for their clients.

The added complexity involved in offering these services presents two problems for broadcasters. The first is the challenge of execution: Can radio stations actually deliver the goods they’re promising to clients? After all, the ability to produce a hit morning show does not guarantee the ability to produce a good website. Broadcasters have found different ways to address this challenge.

Some have hired digital experts, while others have acquired digital firms, and still others subcontract the work out to third parties. Some companies have abandoned specific digital offerings altogether. On the whole, however, broadcasters have gotten vastly better at execution, and some are now in a good position to deliver on their digital promises to clients.

Which leads to the second challenge that many broadcasters face: Selling these services. Selling digital is very different from selling radio, and the transition from one to the other is not an easy one to make. Some clients lack digital expertise, and look to radio salespeople for guidance they’re simply not equipped to give. Other clients know exactly what they need, and speak about digital marketing at a such an advanced level that radio salespeople struggle to keep up with the conversation.

Broadcasters have grappled with ways to address this issue: Some have installed a separate digital sales team, while others send a member of the digital team to accompany sales people on client calls. New training programs and shifting incentives are also used to motivate radio sales teams to sell more digital services.

Still, the problem persists. We frequently run into experienced salespeople who feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the changing digital landscape. Sometimes, they are forced to push digital initiatives without fully understanding how these programs deliver value for a client. They might sell services to clients that fall short on their promised value; then the salespeople lose faith in the digital programs, and are reluctant to sell more.

What’s a radio station to do?

Perhaps we’ve been thinking of this all wrong. We’ve been thinking about digital services as products to be sold, when they are in fact tools that can accomplish particular goals. Reframing the way we think about digital services may help our salespeople sell them.

Throughout its history, radio stations have always had two core competencies: creating compelling content and delivering relevant audiences. That’s what they’re really good at. New digital tools don’t change that; they just enable radio to do them better.

BD – Before Digital – the best stations could offer clients was a vague sense that if they advertised on an AC station, they might reach women between the ages of 25 and 54. Now, if that same station used social media and its website to build up its email database, it can do even better: delivering “mothers of children under 5,” for example. Yes, there are new tools involved, but at its core, radio’s service remains the same: it delivers relevant audiences.

In the past, when radio broadcasters thought about “creating compelling content,” that often translated to coming up with a killer morning show bit or a fantastic benchmark feature. While over-the-air content is still the main trust of what radio stations do, they now have a new set of tools, enabling them to create new types of content — especially for clients. This might include a series of branded videos for a local sporting goods store starring the trusted midday jock, or a branded podcast for the local brewery hosted by the quirky morning show producer.

Again, there are new tools available, but the core competency remains the same: radio stations know how to create compelling content.

If your station’s sales team feels like they’re drowning in a pile of new digital offerings for clients, try this: forget about the laundry list of widgets and whatnots that have been added to the menu. Instead, focus on the station’s core competencies: Delivering audiences and creating content. Your station is doing the same thing it’s always done, it’s just using new tools to do it more effectively.

By reframing the way we talk about digital, we can help our salespeople close more deals.

For more assistance on digital or social media, contact MAB Member Services at [email protected] or 1-800-968-7622.