marketing-101by John Pellegrini

I have often said that the least person qualified to make a decision on how a business should be marketed is the business owner himself or herself. There is an enormous difference between owning a business and knowing how to market a business. Sometimes owners are smart and hire good marketers. Sometimes the owner is even smarter and has a background in marketing. But the unfortunate majority of the time, the owner of a business is usually someone with no marketing background whatsoever.

Millions of dollars in books have been sold by so-called experts in business telling why business owners fail. I’m not an expert, but I’ve had a lot of personal experience with business owners, both the first-time owner and the seasoned veteran. I can always tell which ones are going to be successful and which ones will be gone within a few months of when they open. The ones who always fail, both in the first-time category and in the seasoned veteran category, are the ones who have no experience in marketing their business and won’t do anything about it.

Radio stations primarily have these types of businesses as clients—the ones with no experience. Probably because it’s cheaper to advertise on radio than virtually anywhere else. So we get a lot of people who are usually first-time advertisers (this includes those who have “advertised” by printing up flyers and putting them on parked cars). These folks range from highly motivated, excited to be on the air, and totally clueless as to how they should be advertising, to skeptical and mistrusting because their “brilliant idea” of putting flyers out didn’t work. In either case they expect radio to work miracles for them, but...THEY INSIST ON DOING THEIR COMMERCIAL WITH THE SAME MISTAKES AS BEFORE! BECAUSE THEY’VE GOT THE BEST IDEA YOU’VE EVER HEARD! And we end up wanting to beat these clowns over the head with the “Big Book of Stupid, Worthless, and Over-Used Clichés” (a tome that I intend to write some day).

We all know the type. More often than not, it’s someone who starts off by saying he or she wants something that’s “different from all the rest of the spots you run.” Then, they proceed to tell you how perfect the commercial was, that spot some shyster business that was run out of town by the Attorney General of your state a few years back used to do. Or, they liked the read that the ethnic immigrant restaurant owner, who can’t speak any English, did in his commercial (even though that restaurant closed because it had no customers due to no one being able to understand what the guy was saying). Or, even better, “I want you to do a parody of this TV show from forty years ago that only lasted on the air one week, had zero ratings, lost money for the network, ruined the careers of all the actors that were on it, and was a total failure. I LOVED THAT SHOW.”

What happens here is you have a business owner with no experience or training trying to do something they are not qualified to do. Then, in the interest of making money for the station, along with that ridiculous belief that “the customer is always right,” we swallow our pride and allow this unqualified person to do what they want. Then, they get no results. Then, they tell everyone they know that “radio doesn’t work.”

We just had a classic example of this. A company, who will remain nameless, came to us, a first-time advertiser. He wanted a commercial that (and I’m quoting him verbatim), “doesn’t sell anything.” He had decided that the trouble with advertising was that it was all too “pitchy”, and he didn’t want that in his commercial. He wrote the script. It not only didn’t sell anything, it made him sound dumber than his competition. I spoke to the guy over the phone and pleaded with him to let me re-write his commercial. No chance. I told him flat out that if it were up to me, we wouldn’t run this spot because it wasn’t going to work for him. “No way,” he responded, “I know this is perfect. Run it exactly as it is.” And, he insisted, make sure that I used as unprofessional sounding a read as possible! Originally, he wanted us to get someone who had no announcing experience and deliberately make them read poorly. We cited union rules and made him use me, but I had to do the worst read of my life. End result: nothing. The client got no response at all. His verdict? “Radio doesn’t work. I’m sticking with my mail-out flyers.” I wanted to kill the moron!

Other times you have business owners who buy nothing but print, or nothing but TV. The salesperson, rightly thinking, tries to get some of that money spent on radio. And why not? All the successful national companies advertise on all three media. It makes perfect sense from a business standpoint. The problem is, those big national companies have big national advertising agencies telling them how to advertise on all three media separately. Yes, you can cross-promote product on all three media, but you must make three separate kinds of commercials for those separate media.

The business owner with no marketing experience understands none of this. They just know that they should probably advertise his or her store or product in the newspaper, on the TV, and if any money is left, on the radio. But, “I can’t afford to have an agency do my spots, and I can’t afford to pay for three different commercials. So, here’s my print ad. Do a spot like this for the radio.” And you get the print ad, and it’s nothing but prices. Or, “Here’s my TV commercial audio. Run this.” And you get audio of him or her doing their own commercial from inside the store.

The problem is, what looks good, sounds horrible. Print is visual. TV is visual. Radio is aural. Radio can be visual, but you’ve got to have believable audio to make the visual happen in the imagination. On TV a business owner with no acting or announcing ability can still be credible. If you’ve got a business owner who can’t talk, you can at least see that they’re uncomfortable and inexperienced. That’s okay, then it’s believable, and the audience will have sympathy for them. But on the radio, all you hear is someone who can’t talk his or her way out of an outhouse pit, someone who makes us want to turn off our radios. (I remember a couple of times at previous stations, when a client did a commercial and we got complaint calls from listeners who thought that the guy in the commercial was making fun of retarded people. That’s how bad the client’s read was. Of course, the salesperson refused to tell the client this.) All you hear is someone who we definitely will never want to do business with. The same thing happens with print copy that’s nothing but price quotes. It’s the kind of stuff we don’t want to hear on the radio.

Far too few people even in the radio business truly understand how the communication takes place between the copy and the consumer. You can count the number of major advertising agencies who specialize exclusively in radio on two hands. You can count the number of radio industry advertising consultants who specialize in the creative side (as opposed to the sales side) on one hand. It’s safe to say that most advertising agencies don’t know how radio works, either. Industry Giant, David Oglivy, in his books on advertising admits that he doesn’t understand radio creative at all…then he proceeds to tell the reader how to do it! The radio commercial is the single largest cause of listener losses than any other programming element. It shouldn’t have to be. There are some standard marketing rules that need to be observed to make a radio commercial successful. We can either educate our clients about them, or we can watch the never-ending parade of first-time business owners start and fail and start and fail. The choice is, keep taking money from businesses that won’t be there in a few months, or helping these businesses grow so they’ll spend more money on your station. Here are the nine top points for them to remember, or learn. Feel free to make copies of this and give them to your clients.


1. Your Personal Preferences And Tastes Are Not The Same As Your Customers’: You may love Lawrence Welk. You may think he was the greatest musician that ever lived. If you had your way, every radio station in town would feature Lawrence Welk music. But, you’ve got to be realistic enough to know that virtually everyone in America under the age of sixty can’t stand Lawrence Welk…and won’t buy from you because you use his music in your spots.

The fact is, many times a business owner can be completely out of touch with the tastes of his or her customers. That’s okay, you can still be successful! We in radio do it all the time. Just don’t let your personal tastes prevent your business from making any money!

2. The Most Important Thing About Your Business To You May Have No Significance At All To Your Customers: You’ve been in business in the same location since 1908, since 1812, since 1492, since the Dawn of Civilization. Great. But to today’s consumers, it doesn’t mean anything, except that you’ve been around a long time and you’re probably out of touch with today’s needs. This may sound harsh, but you can’t afford to appear to your customers as being out of touch, unless you’re a specialty shop that caters to out-of-touch people.

The same holds true for services that are meaningless. You may think it’s the greatest thing in the world that you can give your customers an on-the-spot computer printout of their project estimate, but if the estimate isn’t competitive, that computer printout is a waste of time and will not make your sale. Don’t make meaningless services the focal point of your commercial! Consumers will think that all you have to offer is meaningless services.

3. If You Can’t Make a Fair and Honest Comparison Between Your Business and Your Competition, Don’t Make Any: We’ve all heard those commercials that try to be funny about the competition. “At brand X store, you’re lucky if they even notice you when you walk in the door. And their prices are way too high. But not at MY BEAUTIFUL STORE!” Here’s the truth: Your customers shop both you and your competition and they know that you’re lying to them about how they get treated at brand X. That makes you look bad, not your competition.

Here’s a classic example: For the last decade AT&T, MCI, and Sprint have all run advertising that slams each other, negative advertising, each talking about how horrible the other two are. The result? A study by the advertising industry found out that the majority of American consumers had lost all respect for each of the top three long-distance carriers. That’s why you’ve probably noticed that, for the past year, the top three long-distance carriers have stopped the negative attacks and started running commercials appealing to emotional bonds with the customers. They discovered that they were losing customers with the negative ads.

4. People Purchase On Emotion Rather Than Price: This was the conclusion of a major study done by some giant advertising agencies a couple of years ago. The figure was something like seventy percent of all purchases are made based on a consumer’s emotional interest in a product or service, rather than the price. So why are you making prices the focus of your commercials when less than twenty percent of your customers are even concerned with it? If you appeal to someone’s emotional needs for the product or service you have to offer, they can always find a way to justify paying your price. This would also mean that the need for “special savings sales” is almost non-existent. That’s why high-priced restaurants continue to do well, despite the abundance of fast-food joints. In fact, according to many restaurant trade publications, high-priced restaurants are getting even more successful. It’s the same with cars. The sales of cars priced over 25,000 are increasing in much larger numbers compared to the sales of cars under 20,000. Price has nothing to do with a successful sale. People buy on emotion, not price.

5. You Are Not Necessarily Your Company’s Best Spokesperson: On TV or in print, you, the business owner, can do your own advertising fairly successfully, even if you’re not too good at reading your own copy. You can still look sincere. Or, you can wind up looking like a fool, too. The point is, everyone can see you’re not a professional, and they won’t judge you on it. In fact, you can even gain respect (or at least sympathy) from the audience, who’ll remember you as the person who tries to do their own commercials, and they’ll be interested in doing business with you.

But, on the radio, there is no picture of you. There is no camera to show us that you’re not a professional. Instead, all we hear is this person who can’t talk very well and doesn’t sound sincere. Sincerity does not come naturally, just because you believe in the product. Sincerity is an emotion that actors must learn, and so must you as the company spokesperson. Otherwise, you sound like you’re a robot with breathing problems. That’s unpleasant to listen to, and most of our listeners would rather tune to a different station than listen to something unpleasant. That means your commercial isn’t being heard, and we’re losing listeners—not good for either of us.

The reason why big companies hire actors to do their radio commercials is so their messages will be heard. Actors are trained to make you believe in what they’re saying. We have announcers that while they may not have won any Academy Awards, they can at least make your message believable to our listeners.

6. Never Start a Commercial by Asking Specific Questions: Joe’s Real Estate Agency always advertises on radio, and his commercial always starts with, “Are you looking to buy a new home this year?” Joe is thinking of advertising somewhere else because he’s not getting any results. The fact is, Joe is chasing away possible customers with his opening line.

The truth is, virtually no one is “Looking to buy a home this year,” new or otherwise. The decision to buy a house is a long and complicated one that is never cut and dried enough that anyone could give a firm yes or no to that question. Therefore, Joe’s opening statement doesn’t relate with the majority of the listeners. And when confronted with an opening statement that doesn’t relate, most people will turn it off. Instead of turning off most people who are not “Looking to buy a home this year,” Joe’s commercial should concentrate on the idea of owning a home, the emotional sale.

The same holds true of other specific opening questions. “Do you suffer from colds?” “Do you need new brakes?” “Are you interested in investing in Mutual Funds?” “Do you get constipated?” “Do you need roofing repairs NOW?” No matter what you ask, ninety-five percent of your listeners will answer, “NO!” and turn off  your commercial, just like when they come in to your store and you ask them if you can help them and they say, “No, just looking.” Why do people do this? Because they know a sales pitch is coming, and they don’t want to hear it. It’s the same thing when one of your vendors asks you if you want to hear about a new product, and you say “No.” The radio audience will listen to an entertaining sales pitch, but not one that’s signaled before the commercial even starts.

The best way to prevent your customer from saying “NO” to your business product or service is to never give them the opportunity to do so. Don’t ask them if they want your service. Tell them what you’ve got. They may not realize that they wanted what you have to offer until you told them what it is. Just don’t let them say “NO” before they hear your pitch.

7. Techno-Speak Doesn’t Appeal to Potential Customers: The single biggest reason why someone won’t buy a product or a service from your business is fear. They are afraid, afraid of looking stupid. Why would they look stupid? Because they don’t understand what your product or service will do for them, and rather than admit they don’t understand it, they just say “NO.” After all, if they say yes, then they’ll eventually have to admit they don’t know anything about the product or concept.

If your commercial is loaded with information that is very technical or full of your industry’s terminology, you must realize that the vast majority of the people who are listening to it don’t work in your industry and, very likely, don’t understand anything you’re saying. This is especially true of the computer industry because the vast majority of American citizens still don’t own a computer. Therefore, they’re not going to even bother trying to find out what you have to offer. Whether it’s investments, medical services, auto financing or electronics stores, even hardware stores, if your copy is full of info that only makes sense to people who work in your industry, you’ve got a problem.

The best thing you can do is to forget the techno-speak and instead tell your potential customers that your business is educating newcomers in how to use your products and services. You’ll gain more of their trust, and in turn, you’ll get more sales.

8. Radio Doesn’t Sell Your Products or Services: Somewhere along the line, a mistaken belief has occurred in which people think that it’s up to the radio commercial to sell the products and services in your store. This is incorrect. YOU, the store owner and your staff are supposed to sell the products and services. Radio advertising is only supposed to generate an emotional interest to encourage people to walk in your door. But it’s up to you to get the sale. Radio cannot show the differences in quality or price. Radio cannot catalog your items. TV and Print can, because they’re visual and can show pictures. Radio is an emotional medium that generates an emotional response. You’ll get better results using emotion in your radio commercials.

9. Print And Television Copy are Not The Same as Radio Copy: Many advertising agencies have copy writers who specialize in print or television. But almost none of them have a copy writer for radio. They just run the print or TV copy on the radio. This is a big mistake. Print and TV are visual. Even if the copy doesn’t make any sense, you can still use pictures to explain the message. But you can’t do that on radio. People don’t see things the way they hear things. Headlines may work wonderfully as an attention-getting device in print, but they sound illiterate when spoken. You need someone who can write copy the way people speak.


The majority of people who listen to radio are doing it while driving to and from work. Or, driving for work. Or just driving for fun. Whatever the reason, the majority of radio listeners are in their cars.

What’s a typical car ride like for you? Do you have time to write things down? Do you have time to concentrate on complicated directions to locations for events that are days away? Do you have time to consider a price comparison on a particular item? Of course not! You’d have an accident if you did. But why do you think other people can or will?

If your commercials are loaded with prices, phone numbers, addresses, sales dates, etc., anything that requires writing down information, or at least concentrating on your spot for too long, they’re useless for radio listeners. Phone numbers especially don’t work unless it’s an instantly memorable number like 555-BITE.

And keep your location as simple as possible. Remember that street address numbers are just as useless as phone numbers to car drivers. Tell them the names of the cross streets: “On Avenue B, just north of Z Street” instead of “275670 North 175th Street, just fifteen minutes west of the south side in the heart of East Town next to the former Chicken Delight location across the street with easy access parking three days a week except Sundays and holidays.” Is this business owner trying to get customers or keep customers away?

In conclusion, remember that while you’d never wish to make it difficult for a customer in your business to buy or purchase your product or service, you may be making it difficult for them to want to do business with you by the nature of  your advertising. Your radio commercial should be an invitation for a consumer to consider your business. Nothing else. It’s not an opportunity to slam your competition, belittle your customer’s tastes, or even present your personal beliefs. It’s just a means to get someone to check out what your business has to offer. When they get there is the time to hit them with the other stuff.

Some day, my friends, there will be a video or a short pamphlet, or maybe even an infomercial on the above information. Maybe someone who really suffers from brain disease will suggest that I do it. Maybe they’ll even offer to absorb all the production costs, because there’s no way in hell that I could afford to do it. More than likely, someone else will take the above information and do their own video, make millions of dollars on it by marketing it to first-time business owners, and get all the praise. And I, who cannot afford to even spell the word, “Lawer” (see, I told you I couldn’t), will be left with nothing but the delightful knowledge that you read it all here first. This will then allow me to blame others for my failures, and  personally become a living example that “Radio Doesn’t Work,” especially for employees of radio. God bless us, everyone.

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