By Mark Margulies

Detroit 1970.

Radio 1998.

What do these two entities have in common? Everything.

Those of you born in the Fifties will remember the early Seventies. Detroit, after years of being the big dog on the block, suddenly found itself in a very peculiar position: building cars people didn’t want. They had been warned that the public’s taste was shifting towards smaller, more economical cars, but they chose to arrogantly ignore the signs. Instead, they continued to build cars with one philosophy: the bottom line. The sale was the important thing. If the quality of the product suffered, if the fit and finish was terrible, if it hogged gas and fell apart after just a few thousand miles, the general thought was, “Hey, it’s not a problem. We’ll spiff the customers with rebates and new design ideas. They’ll come back to buy in another year or two. It’s the way we designed the system to work.” There was only one problem: the customers stopped coming.

It took Detroit years to recover from the arrogance of its own hubris. And radio, in 1998, is very similar to that Detroit mindset of the Seventies.

The old, worn-out methods of fulfilling a client’s order won’t hold up anymore. It becomes a sales merry-go-round. You prospect to bring in a new client just as another client refuses to renew because of lack of results. Round and round it goes, until salespeople burn out and have to be replaced. It’s an old, tired way of selling.

The fact is, this is 1998. Copy delivery has changed. Production values have changed. Listening audiences have changed. Yet, salespeople continually are trained in techniques that stress only one idea: “Did the check clear?” “How big was the buy?” “Did you spiff the client with some goodies to show them how wonderful we are?” Forgotten are more important, intangible questions like, “Did we get the right message out for the client?” or “Have we focused on what the client wants to accomplish?” What these practitioners of 1960s radio sales have failed to grasp is, customers that get results, who renew, add more to your bottom line than the revolving door technique does.

So too, they’ve failed to grasp the idea that creative results don’t come in a formula or an easy to memorize acronym. Those help to organize thoughts but still miss the point. And it’s because of a general misconception that response is almost totally tied to the size of the listening audience. The idea is, “Get the spot on the air. We have enough listeners that if we get the message out, they’ll respond. If they don’t, hey, the client just wasn’t advertising what the public wanted.” And if the client’s unhappy,” spiff them with tickets, promos, giveaways, or if they just don’t spend enough money, let them go. There’s more prospecting to be done.”

It’s shortsighted and it’s flat out WRONG. But how is this a creative problem for those in the production end of the chain? Simple. WE understand that fulfillment is essential to a happy client. And we understand you don’t create opportunities for success by following formulas or creating classified ads for radio. We understand that a radio ad must focus clearly on what a client expects their audience to do and what the client’s offer is. Period. No fancy formulas, no need for sophisticated systems. Once you understand a client’s expectations and have the information that will help fulfill that, you’ve got the tools to give that client the best chance they have for success on your radio station. And the results of that can be seen in the smile on the salesperson’s face a mile away as they approach your office to say, “Thanks. The client’s getting results and they’re so happy, they bought an annual.” This is the ideal marriage between creative and sales that every station should strive for. And it starts by recognizing that copy and creative aren’t just “by products” of getting the check. They are the essential tool that will eventually drive a self-perpetuating money machine.

It means breaking the bonds with the old-fashioned way of doing business and investing in a results-driven attitude. It means focusing on a client’s expectations, along with a specific offer or need. Destroy the process with brochures, clichés, pages of useless information or formulas, and you’re putting the old-fashioned merry-go-round back to work: one in, one out, one in, one out!

George Santayana once wrote that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Detroit wound up behind the eight ball because they had no foresight. Don’t let that happen to radio as well.

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