Jinny Laderer, President, vCreative Inc., Babson Park, FL
Seven years ago, when we first interviewed Jinny Laderer, her new workflow system for radio production departments was still growing its first roots in the industry. At that time, vCreative had convinced a little over 300 stations to get rid of their paper production orders – that in itself a huge accomplishment. Today that number has grown dramatically to over 4000 stations. Our return visit with Jinny takes a look at the highlights of the last seven years, we get more info on vCreative’s new vPromotions system for promotions departments, and we get a peek at what’s down the road for this fast-growing company and its customers.
JV: From 300 to over 4000 stations must look good on a growth chart. Has that been steady over the last seven years, or was it marked with peaks and valleys along the way?
Jinny: It’s been very steady with some pretty significant peaks, and that being from group deals. One of the largest was right after you interviewed me in 2010. That particular interview was also the first time I ran an ad in RAP magazine. That very ad was seen by a production director in Chicago, Scott Silz, who worked for Clear Channel. If I remember correctly, he was part of the team that was looking for a solution for the continuity of the production process. He forwarded that ad from RAP Magazine to corporate, and we got a call the same day your magazine hit the mailboxes. Four months later we signed a corporate contact with Clear Channel in September of 2010. So, that was pretty significant and really got things started. So thank you, Jerry, your magazine basically changed everything for vCreative. Isn’t it amazing that advertising really does work? Had we not run that ad, had you not done that interview, Clear Channel wouldn't have known about us. I've always believed that advertising works, but now I've also experienced it firsthand.
JV: Glad to be a small part of it! What have been some of the bigger challenges going from 300 to 4,000 stations?
Jinny: Well staffing, obviously -- learning how to staff, when to staff, and getting them up and running. After the story I just told you, the challenge then was going from close to 300 stations to adding 858 stations, and amazingly, we got all the stations up and running in six weeks. That was a major undertaking. We were able to pull some people in who had been using our software, people who are familiar with the production process, hire them very quickly, and train them with on-the-job training. It was like, "Jump. You guys have got to get in and figure this out." We were very fortunate to hire some real superstars who jumped in and did a fabulous job. They're still with us and they make vCreative thrive.
So when we got iHeart up and running – it was Clear Channel at the time – we learned so much through that process. They were a very well-oiled machine. They had a strategic initiatives office with a project manager assigned to us, who guided us every step of the way through that rollout. The way that it was all planned and implemented actually set us up to understand how to do corporate rollouts, and how to do them very well and very efficiently. So it was a great learning process, and over the years we've been able to implement many corporate rollouts like Cumulus, Univision and Saga -- a lot of the different larger groups that have multi-markets – and we were able to roll them out quickly.
JV: How has the system changed over the seven years, any significant changes to the frontend for the user?
Jinny: If you look at just the frontend, it still looks very similar, but the functionality has changed tremendously. We do releases continually based on feedback from our users. Early on, every time we would bring on a new cluster of stations or a group of stations, we would listen closely to the user feedback. When we trained them we said, "If you see something and think, 'I wish it would do this,' no matter how insignificant or how large, let us know. There’s a link on the menu to submit feature requests." We get hundreds of those in and then we prioritize them by importance and how many people have requested the same thing. Then we implement them. So basically, our system has been built by our users.
Often, different groups will want to do things a certain way, and so we do a lot of custom work behind the scenes. Also, in the early days, we didn't have much functionality with regards to digital ads. Digital just kind of went crazy after 2008 but really started to get big in 2010/2011. It started to become something that wasn't just banner ads on a website anymore. So we now have a very impressive tool that can help the stations to get all their digital assets processed and executed after the sale.
JV: Have you built a mobile app for accessing the system?
Jinny: We don't have a mobile app. We did have one, but phones are constantly changing; and we have discovered it's just better to use responsive technology. Our new product, vPromotions, is built on responsive technology, so it adapts to whatever device you're looking at. That's really the way to go for software like ours. It's easier, more efficient and a better solution.
JV: That's true. Responsive websites and have gotten much more streamlined and easier to create over the years, and probably not as expensive as a mobile app.
Jinny: Right. With the mobile apps, you have to make sure it's working on every single device. We did a mobile app and had it working, but as soon as there was an update or a new phone, suddenly things break. So you have to constantly change it, and that became very frustrating. It just was not cost effective for as few people who actually used it. So we decided to go a different direction and build using the responsive technology.
JV: vPPO is not on the same responsive platform and vPromotions, is that correct?
Jinny: That's correct. However, we are in a total rewrite of vPPO right now, and we will have a single platform with the best and newest technologies available. We've been working on it for a good year and a half, and we should be in alpha with that product probably by end of second quarter/mid third quarter.
I got to see it the other day. It's really going to rock. Getting people moved over will probably be a slow process. We'll have to work individually after we go through the alpha and the beta in transferring stations on to it, because stations don't like change and we understand that. But I believe that will change once they see what this is going to be. It's highly customizable. It's going to be everything that they have now but with superpowers. It will have the same intuitiveness and even more so.
In September, we'll celebrate our ten year anniversary. Over that time, we’ve been listening to our clients. We've learned so much from our users. That is also our number one core value, to listen to what you need -- what every single user needs -- to do their job more efficiently, more effectively. So taking all of what we've learned in these ten years and putting it into the newest technologies available is really exciting.
JV: Tell us more about vPromotions.
Jinny: It is a workflow solution for handling all of your promotions and events from start to finish. It has a prize closet. It handles all of the liners on a station, basically anything promotions-oriented. It handles the promotions workflow very much like vPPO.
Over 700 stations have switched over to vPromotions already, which is really exciting. Actually, for numerous years our users came to us asking us to build a promotions workflow system because they liked vPPO so much. For a long time we just didn't have the time. Then we had a large group come to us and say, "Listen, our stations love your vPPO system. If you do this for us, we'll give you a corporate deal." So when you have that opportunity before you, you take a step back and say, "Okay. This makes financial sense to put resources towards building this."
So from that point on we worked directly with this particular company, with some of their stations, and with their direct feedback. What did they want? What did they need? And we built it to their specifications. And as we brought on new groups, we did the same thing -- always evolving, always changing to their specifications. It’s very highly customizable, right down to what they want to name each field in the software. So it's not like some template or a single promotions platform that tries to work for all. It's custom designed to do exactly what you do in the field. It’s also very intuitive. You don't have to click around too many times. You can see things very quickly. Our users love it.
We're learning. We're growing. We're doing really cool things with this, because companies are coming to us asking, "Could it do this?" And we're like, "Absolutely." We just did a huge release the other day. We got another corporate deal that basically said, "This is the chain of command that we need, and if you can tailor this for us, we'll give you the corporate deal." "Absolutely we'll do that."
JV: vPPO is very sales-oriented, handling the workflow of commercial production. Is vPromotions geared more towards promotions that have clients involved, or does it also handle pure station programming promotions?
Jinny: It can handle both, but it's mostly to the sales side. Salespeople log in. It's the whole approval process, from start to finish. They can see the calendar very quickly and see what dates are available. If they're working with a client who wants to do a remote, the salespeople have access to see very quickly what dates are available. Then they submit what we call a PRF, a Promotions Request Form. We have designed it on the backend to go through the workflow of approval process at their station very quickly with notifications to all involved. Whether it's a contest or a live remote or some sort of event, the salespeople can get it submitted very quickly from the road or wherever they are and get the ball rolling.
JV: And once the promotion or event has been sold, let's say, does it go beyond that and allow contestant entry by the jock?
Jinny: Absolutely, right down to the prizes. There's a prize closet which tracks the entire inventory of your giveaways. It does the 1099s at the end of the year, the whole shebang from start to finish for your promotions. The jocks have their own login. Sales managers have their login. Promotions directors have their login. It’s just like vPPO -- everything is trackable. There's a history. There's an audit trail of every step along the way. And it's a very responsive technology, so no matter what device you're on, it's very mobile-friendly.
JV: Are you still finding stations that are using paper production orders?
Jinny: Yes, even in a very large market in California, Los Angeles to be exact. We just sent them a contract. It’s hard to believe that a large company that does an amazing amount of revenue is still using paper and passing things through e-mail. But they just didn’t know about us. They are so excited to start working together, and so are we. But I was really blown away because obviously not everyone knows that we have this amazing solution for them that gets rid of the paper and really streamlines the whole process -- no more bottlenecks, no more lost revenue due to the spot not getting on air on time or on the wrong station. But yes, it happens and there are a still a lot out there. We have over 4,000 stations and there's like 14,000 in the US alone. So there's still plenty, and if they're not using us, chances are they're using paper and email.
JV: That's hard to believe. It's like a no-brainer to lose the paper POs. There’s no cash outlay as your product is available on a barter basis, right?
Jinny: We accept cash or barter or a combination of cash and barter. We work with Westwood One, and they aggregate our inventory and sell it. It's a wonderful partnership. But as far as the stations go, we just want to make it affordable, so whatever combination works best for them. Some prefer cash because their inventory is very valuable to them, and for others, they have more flexibility with some avails, so they'll give us the air time. It really depends on each station. It doesn't matter how they pay. Either way we get paid, so for me, it's whatever is best for the station.
JV: When you first started, I think a lot of managers might have said, "Wait a second. You're dealing with my money now, my clients. If the Internet goes down, then all of a sudden we can't get spots on the air." Did you come across that concern?
Jinny: It's so funny that you say that. In 2008 and 2009, and even a little into 2010, our number one objection was that it was cloud-based. They were like, "Oh, it's online. It’s not reliable.” That was the biggest objection that we ran into because they felt the Internet was not reliable, "We can't take that risk." So we were told “no” more often for that reason than any other reason. Nowadays, if it's not cloud-based, they won't even look at you. Everything has to be cloud-based. It has completely changed.
I want to refer back to my brilliant husband, John, who in 2005 when he was building this for me, was intuitive enough to know that the future was online. He worked for the government, so he had some foresight with what was coming down the line. I remember him telling me, "Everything is going to be in our phones in just a few years." That was 2005. The iPhone came out in 2007. It was amazing. He was absolutely right, and look where we are now. Everyone is mobile and it's only going to get more and more so.
So it was very ingenious of him. He's a forward thinker, and he's always out there looking at the newest, coolest technologies. That's why our new platform -- which we're calling 2.0, where all of our products will reside -- will be the newest, coolest technology that probably most people aren't even building on right now. It's amazing what's out there, and we’re always moving forward, always innovating, always getting better.
Jinny: He's pretty amazing. He's extremely smart and he knows this industry really well, even though he didn’t come from this industry. He left the government right after iHeart/Clear Channel signed with us in 2010, and he started doing this full-time. He now knows radio inside and out. He works primarily on integrations. We integrate with many different companies. We integrate with automation systems so that once all the data is in vPPO, it can be auto-imported into the automation system, rather than be manually keyed in by a jock or a producer. Now, once it's quality checked, you can auto-import it. That saves about two minutes per spot that’s spent putting it into the automation system. It saves that time, but more importantly, it saves errors. You can’t fat-finger anything like an ISCI code or a cart number or a start date, and then the wrong ad runs or the ad doesn't run or there's a discrep and then possibly a write-off, or at least people scrambling around at the last minute trying to figure out what happened. That can all be bypassed with the auto-import.
So that is really a big plus, that we integrate with almost every automation system. We also integrate with Mister Master and their AIM product. AIM will auto-ingest all of the network spots into the automation system, all of the barter spots that are very time consuming to deal with. It's brilliant, and it's time saving. I'm all about saving time.
As a former creative services director, all I wanted to do was write and produce great campaigns for local clients that were effective, that were engaging and that would get results. When we did that and we did it right, advertisers would come back and spend more money. You didn't have to worry about them saying, "I tried radio and it didn't work." That was my passion. The problem was I was working for so many stations and had all these salespeople constantly needing something. I wanted to perform for everyone, but all I did was shuffle paper and search and research and deal with constant interruptions. When you're trying to be creative, every interruption just breaks that creative flow. You have to have uninterrupted creative flow time in order to produce really effective campaigns.
So our whole end goal is to save time, so that you can reallocate all of that wasted time into producing and creating really effective ad campaigns. If radio wants to continue to grow and thrive in this very competitive marketplace, especially with the Millennials coming up, we have to be engaging. We have to be creative. We have to want them to listen to the ads. For instance… Super Bowl... Westwood One had a contest with all these different kinds of national commercials. I went in and listened to them and voted for Motel 6. It was brilliant. Their campaign and their brand has been forever consistent, and their ad was so engaging. It was so right on. A great ad is when you don't want to stop listening, and you leave and know exactly who it was for and what it was about.
JV: You're so passionate about that, the creative aspect of what we do, you should use that name “vCreative” for a platform for people to go to get creative inspiration.
Jinny: We've actually been talking about that, kind of like creating a vCreative community, because creatives love to share ideas. We're idea people. We're always looking for cool ideas, and we inspire each other. We steal ideas. And by stealing ideas, I mean somebody has a thought and a little portion of that takes you down this whole other creative path. We feed off of each other.
In my job right now, I often miss that. I gravitate towards advertising and our marketing, and I work very closely with our brand director. For me, advertising is still my favorite part because it's creative. It's constantly being able to think of different ways that we can position ourselves or come up with new ads and new ad campaigns, and trying to do something a little different. I love that portion of it. If I have free time and there are five to ten things I'm supposed to do, but one of them is marketing, I'll go to the marketing thing first.
JV: Any inspiring thoughts for our readers before we wrap this up?
Jinny: Well, back to that creative community I mentioned… I think it was right around 2000/2001 that I met Andrew Frame. We both worked for Renda. I thanked him this morning because we were talking about things and I said, "Do you realize that had you not reached out and offered to assist with anyone in our company creatively….vCreative would not exist." I was a brand new creative director, I had no idea what I was doing. He and Nic Natarella who also worked for Renda, took me under their wings and introduced me to a few other people, and that core group of people really changed the course of my life. If I had a question about how to write great copy, a question about how to use Cool Edit, any thing I needed, they were right there to help. They came alongside and taught me, and they believed in me. They inspired me. I told Andrew today, "had that not happened, I wouldn't be here." I told him I am where I am because of the creative community of people who came alongside me, who gave of their time and knowledge to help me.
But it starts with reaching out and giving of yourself, and at that particular time, Andrew and Nic did that and so did so many people in that particular circle of friends – Trent and Lori Rentsch, Albert Berkshire, Ric Gonzalez, Michael Stewart, Peter Maus,. There were so many people I couldn't even name them all. I believe many are a part of the community at RapMag. They taught me so much and that forever changed my life. So I want to publically say Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
So I guess if I could say anything to anyone, it's believe in yourself, but get connected with other people and give. Give of yourself, give of your time. When you do, you never know where that's going to lead, and it always comes back full circle. I truly believe that when you do enough of the right things and you have the right intentions and you have the right goals, and then you back that up with really hard work and passion, good things start to happen.
In the creative world, so often and for whatever reason, creatives are not treated the same at a radio station as a salesperson. There's so much emphasis on making sure that the salespeople get what they need. The creative is just expected, and it's not always appreciated and not always celebrated. And yet they are the ones creating the product that the salespeople are selling every day. If I can do anything to help all of the creatives out there, whether it's a production director creating commercials, whether it's in imaging director that's creating the imaging for a station, a promotions director who is trying to put together some really amazing promotions for sales to sell, I'm all about helping the creatives to do their job better and more effectively. So if they don’t use vCreative and they want to know more about it, I hope that they'll call us. We want to help make their life more simplified and streamline their entire day.
Jinny welcomes your questions and comments at