by Timothy Miles

“Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.” -- Jack Kerouac
(a quote also found in Dick Orkin’s Adcrafting with Soul)

The beauty and freshness lay in its simplicity. Yet, it was radical. Most evolutions, I imagine, begin that way.

“We don’t sell radio. We sell…” he said matter-of-factly, though with an underlying fire in his eye and tone, “…ideas.”

He was Dave Wisniewski (Wiz-neh-ski, so you won’t spend the rest of the column wondering how the hell you say it). He had come to the Carbondale-Marion market to serve as Director of Sales for the Southern Illinois division of the family-owned Zimmer Radio Group.

This was nearly one year ago, though I must admit it seems like yesterday. It was a whirlwind 1998, what with us moving our four FMs and two AMs into our new fully-digital headquarters, and the associated growing pains of learning to live and work together as a group of 75 jocks, sales folk, promotions, traffic, and creative.

I was 26 at the time, and like you perhaps, was caught full-up with passion...knew everything. I knew that sales folk didn’t care about the work. I knew that I could do the finest work-all-weekend-sleep-at-the-station-caffiene-nicotene-diet-six-spot-campaign, and all the client had to say was, “it doesn’t mention our phone number,” to which the AE would bow down before the almighty dollar and respond, “we’ll have him make it sound more like an ad.” Chaos would ensue, and before long, I’d hear the voice of my PD and hero, Scott Cox, plead, “Tiiiiiimmmmmyyy? Don’t hit…sh*t!!!” Sales and Production were oil and vinegar, and by God, I couldn’t wait to move on.

“We don’t sell radio. We sell (patch-in echo) …ideas.

Dave Wisniewski, Director of Sales, Creative Problem Solver.

Every few years, according to my research, radio production undergoes a revolution (back) to the golden age of radio creative. But, as writers, producers, and actors–those of us who’ve taken it upon ourselves to use our passion–we’ve always done good work. The monthly RAP tapes are evidence-apparent. No, in the past year I’ve witnessed first-hand the genesis of a far greater evolution of radio sales to its inevitable course of the creative-led sell.

Yes, sales folk presenting not rate-cards, but demo tapes. Following their "needs analysis," the AE returns to the client with a solution to their problem on tape, which is far more desirable and emotionally appealing to the client than the intellectual rates and numbers. We’re taking the same psychology behind our advertising that we use to appeal to listeners and using it on our clients.

The idea itself, of course, isn’t new. Agencies base their livelihoods on the pitch, the artwork, the tag line. In radio, England’s Metro Radio Group is famous for their staffing of two creatives to every salesperson, but as we break the seal on the 21st century, we will see management and sales come to realize that we are the seven-percent solution.

I’m living proof. Right here, Southern Illinois, market two-hundred-whatever.

My official title is Creative Services Director–a title which, I’m sure, I share with many of you. What may differ is the fact that there is actually weight and respect behind the title. I am a member of the management team. I have a full-time creative staff, a great salary, plus sales-based incentives in my contract. Not only do I enjoy the company of our Director of Sales as well as our General Manager, Bruce Welker, but I seek out their advice on practically any and all advertising questions. As we enter 1999, we are at a capacity to produce 40 demo tapes a week, complete with feedback standards and an idea-recycling program. These ads are not your basic rip-and-read-with-a-music-bed, either. Last year, we swept the state of Illinois’ Silver Dome Awards for small market commercials and promos. Our producers are all studying the fundamentals of copywriting and production from materials from Radio And Production, Dick Orkin, Dan O’ Day, and Roy Williams. We have daily play/brainstorming meetings. Our new headquarters has evolved from just a bunch of radio stations into a giant (to steal the phrase from Chiat/Day) Idea Factory.

Right here…Southern Illinois… market two-hundred-whatever.

No, it didn’t happen overnight, and we’re still adjusting and learning and growing and making mistakes (lots of ‘em), but we’re taking notes the whole way, and even more importantly, doing it together. Yes, sales, programming, and creative, working together toward the simple goal of getting better results for our clients, and in turn, getting better results for ourselves, and having a lot of fun together.

In the age of consolidation, everyone actually benefits from these ideals. The sales team has a new arsenal and a new way to sell radio when, more than ever, people are trying to get at their ad budget. In our media-saturated market, clients have to believe that we can do it differently and better, and we have to gain their trust, not by telling them, but by showing them. On the flip side, you collect the wildly creative jocks who used to compete against one another and guide their creativity through effective advertising messages. Not only does it give them another outlet, but is an extra bargaining tool for salary increases and, well, job security. When the sales manager’s willing to fight for a jock because of their advertising savvy, it makes a pretty strong argument in favor of DJ as producer. Consolidation, if we choose to use it to our advantage, can make each of our stations’ groups into our own creative agencies.

Two recent articles prompted me to speak up. The first, by John Pellegrini in October’s RAP, raised a call-to-arms for production folk not to hold back from the actions to propel you into management. Though I’ve never met him, I’ve admired his writing for a long time, and he’s right! You can and will make management understand and appreciate that your radio stations don’t sell radio. They sell ideas—your ideas, your department’s ideas, and that those ideas translate to success where it matters most: the bottom line.

The second comes from the “Publisher’s Notes” section of the November 23rd, 1998, issue of Radio Ink. B. Eric Rhoads titles his column, “Is 7 Percent All We Deserve?” Within the column he clamors for management to realize the abilities of their stations to create effective, interesting advertising that gets results for their clients. There, in black and white on the front page of the radio sales bible Rhoads says, “The day when copywriters become important people in Radio will be the day that radio begins to climb out of 7 percent hell.”

Find this magazine in your GM or SM’s office, and rather than make a million copies with a big, black “YES!!!!!!” scrawled across the top, schedule an appointment with your SM or Director of Sales, and talk to them about the future. Be open, honest, excited, and focused. Make a specific plan on how to train your jocks to do better work. Have your SM learn how to teach his staff to sell with ideas. Put systems in place to insure feedback. You’ll quickly realize that you have the potential to become the station crack dealer. Everyone will be hooked on ideas.

A couple of months ago a group of stations from a larger market (one-hundred-something) called and asked me to interview for the same position with their company. They were great people, but I realized that it wasn’t the same position. They had only just started down the road we had been traveling for a year. They were, however, about to embark on a great journey. To whomever filled that position, I wish to tell you that you’ve got some tough, frustrating, long days and nights ahead, but you will see your future shine brightly as long as you can let your ideas grow. I made the choice to stay, not in a small market, but in this market. With the infinite amount of direct-local business to be had, I’ve chosen to love and learn and work and play in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest of Southern Illinois. I seem to recall Jerry Vigil once noting that the lines are blurring between small and medium market production. If you read this magazine, you’re already ahead of the game and are capable of outstanding work. This isn’t about the work, but rather the value of that work. All I know is that consolidation and a strong management team who fosters creativity do make it possible to blur those lines. Add in the fact that the Internet provides you with a wealth of resources at your disposal, and you have no excuses to make wherever you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Right here...(insert your town here) (insert your number-whatever here).

A revolution? No, it won’t happen overnight, but, as my Director of Sales, Dave Wiz, puts it, “evolutions are a lot less bloody.”