The following is a column by the Wizard of Ads that will soon appear
in Radio INK magazine, the principal publication of America’s 10,000
commercial radio stations and the many hundreds that exist across Canada. Think of this as a sneak peek…
“I Tried Radio and It Didn’t Work.”
Radio desperately needs a new reputation. The more gracious and elegant leaders in our industry may use different words than mine, but if you listen closely, they’re all saying what I just said.
I believe I have a solution to that problem of reputation. But like most solutions that are real and true, my solution isn’t a quick one. It isn’t a slogan or a series of ads or a goofy publicity stunt.
And it certainly isn’t painless.
Today I’m going to suggest a new commission structure for Account Executives. I pray only that someone, somewhere, has the courage to test this commission plan because I honestly believe it will work.
Let’s begin with a questionable metaphor and a not-so-questionable look at history: A farmer with integrity harvests a crop that he, himself, planted. He doesn’t raid the farm of his neighbor in the middle of the night.
Radio sales reps often limit their careers to calling on people who are known to be radio advertisers; people who were introduced to radio by an Account Executive other than themselves. These “steal-the-account” AEs remind me of Hernando Cortez, the Spanish conquistador who came to North America and immediately began raiding the cities of the Aztecs hoping to steal the gold of Montezuma.
Advertisers who believe in radio were fortunate to have had a positive first experience. But very few have this good fortune. Most business owners were introduced to radio by a sales rep whose manager was Hernando Cortez. “Come back with Aztec gold by the end of the week or you’re fired.”
If you call on 30 business owners who are known NOT to be radio advertisers, the song you’ll hear sung most often is, “I tried radio and it didn’t work.” Can you imagine how much higher Radio’s billing would be if these advertisers sang a different song?
Radio didn’t work for these advertisers because most new advertisers are introduced to our medium by Radio’s greenest and least experienced reps.
A business owner has a problem, an opportunity, a hunger or a dream; in comes dancing the new sales rep with a package and a promise, “Our audience is perfect for your business. Your only problem is that you haven’t been reaching the right people, but my station’s got exactly the right people for you. Here, let me show you…”
This AE, of course, has been trained not to sell radio but to sell only the special qualities of his or her audience. This is the danger of using qualitative selling to sell mass media; it’s a pitch that allows the advertiser to run flaccid and pointless ads in the misbegotten belief that his only problem is that he’s been reaching the wrong people.
I’ve never seen a business fail because it was reaching the wrong people. But if you listen to AEs, this is the only problem a business needs to overcome.
The second problem with the inexperienced sales pitch is that it almost always revolves around a short-term package. To become a successful investment, a short-term package requires the advertiser to deliver an urgent and convincing message for a product, a service or an event with a very short purchase cycle. And this almost never happens. Thus, at the end of that initial run and forever after, “I tried radio and it didn’t work.”
Now let’s talk about that new commission plan. I’ll pose it as a question:
What would happen if you paid a significantly higher commission PLUS a meaningful bonus to any AE who brought a first-time radio advertiser into your station with a 52-week schedule? My suspicion is that Radio’s saltiest and most experienced AEs would begin spending more time looking under rocks and behind bushes for virgin accounts.
Few things energize a station like a small advertiser that’s seeing great results from his or her schedule and is growing by leaps and bounds because of it. The amount of new business that comes to a radio station as the result of such a client is amazing. I’ve seen this many times. I’ll bet you have, too.
To create a success story that will ring the bell of your city,
you’ll need an advertising partner that:
1. is not already well-known,
2. does not use a media mix, but
3. is giving the vast bulk of their total ad budget to radio.
These success stories aren’t hard to create. You already have AEs that can sell these business owners on a 52-week schedule if they’re utterly determined to do it.
The problem is that no one is calling on them.
Put together a compensation plan that rewards AEs for the extra energy and patience it takes to land a virgin 52-week account. And make sure the plan rewards AEs for putting A+ efforts into the strategies and ad copy that will be required to make this new account a big success.
If every station in North America began 2014 with just 2 or 3 such new accounts, the U.S. and Canada would regain their respect and admiration for Radio by mid-2015.
Grass roots. That’s where we’ve got to begin.
There’s a chance I’m wrong.
But I doubt it.
Roy H. Williams