In today’s post, Paul Jacobs takes a hard look at a recent Radio Ink interview with the owner of a New Jersey car dealership – his views about advertising on radio and why he’s shifted his dollars to Pandora.
In 1990, United Airlines ran a memorable TV commercial that featured a CEO convening a meeting with his entire sales staff. He explained how the company had just been fired by one of its oldest customers, and pointed out that his sellers were relying too much on “a phone call and a fax” (OK, it was 1990) instead of more direct forms of communication and marketing. He then handed out plane tickets so his reps could pay a personal, face-to-face visit to all of their key clients.
It’s a classic ad regardless of the decade because the lesson is that there’s no substitute for direct, honest conversation and collaboration with the companies and clients you do business with. The “money line” in the ad asks a powerful question:
“If you’re the kind of business that believes that personal service deserves a lot more than lip service, welcome to United.”
That’s not really an airline positioning statement; instead, it is a corporate core value. Shouldn’t this be the marketing posture of your radio station, cluster, or company?
Last week, Radio Ink posted an audio interview with the owner of a New Jersey car dealership, William Feinstein of Planet Honda, who has shifted his dollars out of radio and over to Pandora. Now I know what you’re thinking – another pro-Pandora/radio sucks blog post. But no, that’s not what this is about. I urge you to spend a few minutes, listen to the interview (linked above), and then consider what he’s really saying about radio and Pandora – and selling cars.
Radio Ink will probably get some blowback for featuring this interview, but they have done the industry a favor. We don’t know Feinstein or how much he represents the mindset of local advertisers everywhere, but it’s obvious that he has spent a considerable amount of money on radio over the years. He is sending the radio industry a message – if we care enough to listen.
In the interview, Feinstein lauds Pandora because it has changed the way that he buys and thinks about media. With Pandora, he doesn’t need to buy dayparts, because he’s buying specific consumers. He talks about how Pandora is accountable and trackable, and how it allows him to control not only the number of times a listener hears his ads but how he can geo-locate the reach of his campaigns down to the county. Since his dealership is 15 miles outside of New York City, he points out that he’s been forced to pay New York City ad rates since his market is in a more compressed area in New Jersey. And as he explains, he’s tired of paying for wasted audience.
But if you really listen to what he’s saying, this interview goes beyond the technical differences between buying broadcast radio and Pandora. In fact, it is less about Pandora’s assets, and more about the way that radio has let him down. The essence of Feinstein’s complaints about radio focus on how he has been treated by reps over the years – in contrast to the service he’s receiving from Pandora.
For some time now, we have talked about CX – the customer experience. I would strongly suggest radio could help itself by redefining CX to mean the “client experience.” Radio no longer owns a segment of the advertising market. There is competition and it’s viable. Improving the “client experience” is something that radio station sales staffs need to embrace in the face of changing advertiser attitudes as hot new media options proliferate.
In the Radio Ink interview, Feinstein talks about the attentiveness, caring, and honesty he receives from Pandora – elements that he alludes to are in short supply from the radio stations he’s been accustomed to dealing with.
While it’s easy to take a single car dealer’s complaints and write it off as just one guy’s opinion, I would urge you to dig deeper into the larger lessons because many of his concerns are correctable:
- He needs metrics that matter. Feinstein takes radio to task for the lack of granularity and flexibility that exist in ratings “estimates,” especially compared to the specifics he’s getting from Pandora. While this is a challenge that could be difficult for radio to address, he points out that he’s worked closely with Pandora to figure out the best metrics model for him. They didn’t provide a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they spent the time to learn his needs and craft a solution. Conversely, with radio, he complains that he never gets a “straight answer,” and is often confused by station audience claims.
- He needs to know the truth about both radio’s and Pandora’s strengths and weaknesses. False assumptions about radio’s alleged weaknesses have been allowed to become fact. He perceives radio as a background medium, while he believes that Pandora holds the user’s attention. While he talks about the visual reinforcement that is part of his Pandora campaign, he somehow doesn’t account for the fact that many of its listeners minimize the player or when listening on mobile, the screen goes dark. This suggests that radio reps have focused on their priorities – ramping up share by dropping rates or bad-mouthing the competition rather than aggressively reinforcing the medium’s benefits to him as an advertiser.
- He needs to be reminded of radio’s primary strengths and assets in terms that benefit his business. Throughout the interview, Feinstein points out what radio doesn’t provide – geographic focus without the waste. And he complains about radio’s inflexible ad model based on ratings and dayparts. But what is truly unspoken but prevalent throughout is the sense that radio’s primary goal is to get his dollars while Pandora’s is to sell his cars.
- He needs to know that radio has a stake in his company’s success. Given the chance to compare experiences, Feinstein truly believes that Pandora cares, all the way to the corner office. It’s clear when listening to this interview that Pandora has won him over through a combination of his infatuation with their product (which never hurts), a collaborative sales approach (note: his Pandora rep used to work at Clear Channel), and a flexible technology and metrics that fit his needs. But the defining moment of this interview comes at the end when he talks about a meeting at a Pandora cocktail party where Tim Westergren took an active interest in how his Pandora campaign was working. Feinstein even offered up a suggestion about ways that Pandora could improve its service. His conclusion? Pandora is invested in creating a better marketing product, helping him succeed, and shooting straight with him, even when they don’t have all the answers. By implication, radio falls short in these areas. You get the sense he’s telling this story to a lot of his colleagues just as he enthusiastically told it to Radio Ink. It’s great word-of-mouth that reinforces Pandora’s value while positioning radio as dated and out of touch with his business.
Yet, despite the fact that Feinstein has shifted his ad dollars to Pandora, and just signed a 12-month contract, he has outlined the framework of a solution for radio. In this case, radio’s failure has less to do with technical issues that make Pandora different from broadcast stations. It has little to do with radio’s main assets – cume, personalities, promotions, and integration. And it has nothing to do with a lack of knowledge of his market.
It has everything to do with service, approach, and caring – the essence of the CX – or “client experience.”
To serve its customers, radio reps need to understand that it’s not about them. It’s not about whether they got on the buy. It’s not about how they’re ahead of the other guy’s cluster in Miller Kaplan. It’s about the client. When we help make them successful, we’re successful.
This isn’t about the ability to skip songs, play fewer commercials, or be available on laptops, tablets, and phones. It’s about caring about the client, taking an interest in her business, and helping her reach her goals by providing marketing plans that are tailored to individual needs.
Radio has to achieve client engagement from the top, middle, and bottom rungs of the organizational ladder. The most painful part of the interview with Feinstein is when he talks about meeting Tim Westergren. It’s not that he’s star-struck – it’s that Tim listened, engaged, collaborated, and showed an honest interest in helping his business succeed.
The United commercial ends with the CEO “getting on a plane to go visit our oldest client who fired us this morning.” There is no reason why radio should find itself in a similar position. Radio’s corporate heads are bright, articulate spokespeople. But now more than ever, they need to be engaged with the clients, sponsors, and key businesses that are now faced with myriad decisions about marketing their products. They need to do more than make rah-rah speeches about radio’s reach, longevity, and tradition, and actually work with clients to understand their needs in a challenging economy, and provide commitments to create integrated solutions that sell cars, put butts in seats, and people in stores.
Pandora is essentially a one-dimensional product. It’s an audio stream. Broadcast radio has multiple assets and tools, from the database (which can target geographically, right down to favorite car brands) to podcasts to live and local personalities to on-site promotions that can all be connected to reap results for a guy like Feinstein.
Do radio’s major local personalities truly know local clients, go out on sales calls, and have presence at the agencies? They are human resources that Pandora cannot match, but too many DJs continue to work within job descriptions that were devised in the ‘60s. The role of the personality needs to be redefined to derive marketing benefits that can bring value to key local and national clients.
And finally, are radio AEs relying on email, texts, rankers, and rates at the exclusion of creating client engagement and collaboration? Are “solutions” defined as bonus spots, tossing in the lame low-rated FM station in the cluster, or offering a live read or remote? Do these tactics solve client problems or are they Ginsu knife add-ons that only cheapen the brand? (“But wait – there’s more!””
Feinstein’s (pictured) comments about his experiences with radio reps should cause every LSM, GSM, DOS, and CEO reading this to re-think how local sales reps are interfacing with clients and providing service and solutions.
Radio cannot control Pandora and its mission. But radio can take a critical assessment of its own approach and take some lessons from Pandora, as well as the myriad other competitors like Groupon and Google that are focusing on the local sales environment. They are offering something that’s not only bright and shiny, but is in-sync with what local advertisers want.
Yet, too many radio stations are utilizing 1980’s sales techniques and tactics – too focused on ratings, cost-efficiency, market share, and yes, making the false assumptions that radio will always own a share of the ad budget, and that the competition is the cluster across the street.
Forget about the propaganda you hear at radio conventions and read in the trades. Pandora is a major competitor. So is Groupon, Living Social, Google, Facebook, local cable television, newspapers, and others.
But all of these digital innovations and media have their strengths and weaknesses. And radio does, too. It’s time to stop being defensive about Pandora (just like how the industry played it with satellite radio). It’s time to create a coherent, collaborative, and contemporary sales marketing approach that fits a client’s needs in 2012, not 1990. It’s time to stop arguing about whether Pandora is “radio.”
You can call Pandora whatever you want. I call them an opportunity to step up, take a critical look in the mirror, focus on our CX, and strap it on. Because if we don’t, we’re going to hear from a lot more William Feinsteins.