R.A.P. Interview: John Silliman Dodge

JV: You have a good sense of trends and things on the horizon, especially considering how much you’re into the technology and your time at Microsoft and the dotcoms. What’s a little ways down the road that many people may not know is on the way?
John: Well, one of the things that I keep talking about in the Friday Morning Quarterback articles is what I’ll call the ‘democratization’ of music. Music is available from an increasingly wide array of sources. I mean, if you’re watching TV these days, you know that Verizon and all their associates, everybody’s making phones, and they’re going to make all the tunes available on their phones. So it’s one thing to see Apple’s iPod sell 20 million units or however many they sold, but believe you me, there are many more cell phones in the United States, and since we’re on the road toward becoming a one-person, one-cell phone nation, if the banking industry and the record industry and everybody can figure out how to make that one little gadget that everybody’s got in their pocket be the commercial gateway in and out of your life, they will.

And so, they’re going to. And if you have concerns about cell phone quality and cell phone minutes, believe me, all that’s going away. You’ll just plug your little headset into your cell phone, sounds like a million bucks, and they’ll do these macro-minute plans to enable it all to work. It’s the ‘razor and blades’ game — they’ll sell you the razor for nothing, and the blades in terms of music, or videos, or stock tips, or whatever. The blades will just keep on coming for the rest of your life. That’s one thing I see very, very clearly. FM terrestrial signals will become just one among dozens of ways that people have access to music.

I always say, now more than ever, the packaging and the presentation is important since your play list and Joe’s play list and Ralph’s play list is indefensible. I can copy that music and have it on my station in a couple of hours, but what I can’t copy is that unique sound that you have that is the composite of all of your production elements, all of the characteristics, the personalities that you have, your so-called ‘stationality,’ which is the personality of your radio station. That I can’t copy, and that, we now have to work on harder than we ever have before.

JV: You have several workshops that you offer and some are targeted to salespeople. What are some of the key things that you like to get across to the salespeople in your presentations with regards to getting the most from their production departments?
John: Salespeople need to get beyond order taking and into consulting. The majority of clients they deal with don’t know how radio operates. They literally don’t know how the medium works. We’re not great with the detail. That’s print stuff; that’s television stuff. What radio does best is create emotional impact. And so, rather than spend 60 seconds running down a data list — which I guarantee you, after the third point, your listener has gone blank on you — we need to use radio to create the feel of whatever the offer is. We need to do that rather than have a salesperson walk in and just take a selection of copy points out and hand those over to a Production Director who is expected to include the majority, if not all of those copy points, in some kind of list, and then run that list on a less-than-optimal frequency, only to have the salesperson go back to the client and hear him say, “I tried the station. It didn’t work.”

It takes a very smart and empathetic salesperson to be able to teach a client what that client needs, and then ask for his money. Some of our brash, 20-something kids don’t quite know how to manage that yet, and to their credit, maybe they’re not getting sales management teaching them how to be consultant salespeople in the streets today. I don’t know.

JV: Are you going out to radio stations in all market sizes with your workshops?
John: Yes. I work and have worked across all formats and all market sizes. I work in public radio and commercial radio, in community radio. The things I’m doing are kind of one step above those lines of differentiation. I work not only with salespeople, but I work with announcers. I do a half-day interactive announcer skills training program I call, “Inside the Announcer’s Studio.” I teach people how to be better communicators on the radio.

I work with Program Directors in a similar program that is a PD’s guide to getting the maximum performance from announcers. These workshop programs I peddle around the country and routinely get a really good response, although it’s one of those things that people acknowledge that they need but then can’t quite manage to put it into the budget. So if I needed to make a living on just workshops, I’d probably have a thin living but have a great time doing it.

JV: In your travels to markets of varying sizes, do you find differences in the sales departments in smaller markets versus those in larger markets with regards to how they approach advertising? Do smaller markets tend to have more salespeople bringing newspaper ads to their production people rather than acting as advertising consultants?
John: Believe it or not, it is not a matter of market size. It’s a matter of the experience and the perspective of the sales manager. If that person got to where he or she got and didn’t acquire these skills, then they’re just passing on what they know, and if all they know is to put pressure on their team and say, “Here’s your number. Go out there and get it. Don’t come back until you do,” then these people are just sort of hunter-gatherers in the field.

But if the sales manager knows how to maximize a relationship by using the consult and sell, and they teach those skills to their salespeople, then by and large, they’re going to be more effective, and I have noticed no difference in market size, station size, staff size. It all has to do with the expertise of the sales manager.

There’s a myth – the myth of the big time. When you’re starting off in your 20’s, and you’re at a small station in the boondocks, you have a tendency to think, “All of this bullshit, all of this stupid stuff, all of these people who don’t know what they’re doing... When I get to the top, I’m going to be done with all of this.” And then you get into the next size market, and you look around and unfortunately, you still have bullshit and some stupid people to deal with. And then you finally get to the top – you’re in New York City, L.A. – and you look around, and you go, “Uh-oh, there’s stupid people here, too.” So I’m afraid stupid people are going to follow you around for the rest of your career, and the best thing you can do is to sidestep them at every turn.

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