It's a Sunday night at 11:23pm and the past three weeks have some of the busiest in the 11 years that I've been living the life of local radio. In the past three weeks:
- we raised 18 grand in 90 minutes for charity
- we helped get 300 people to a charity event... and attended and took pictures and picked up afterwards
- we held our open house for 300 people at the new studios
- my college roommate came in for a conference and we partied like rock stars
- I installed an E over HFC Comcast "metro ethernet" system that doesn't work right yet
- we started shooting video from a four-camera shoot in the new studio
- we covered in-depth the state football playoffs
That's on top of doing about 60 hours of live radio in that time and taking my wife to see the Bodeans and stay overnight in Chicago. It's the pace of things that you don't notice until you go to your blog and realize that you haven't stroked it nearly a week.
Even though I haven't been writing for the three or four of you much... I'm still working on something in my head. And I want to share it with you. It's about advertising... or the lack thereof. At some point, we, I, whoever... we have to accept who we are in terms of radio advertising sellers. Lay down on the bed and look at the ceiling fan and ask yourself - do I sell radio?
My answer is "no." I don't sell radio. And neither does anyone on my staff, really. You'll probably find this as a bit of a shock, but we basically wait for businesses and organizations to come to us with their checkbooks and then we figure something out. I call it the P.M.S. system - the passive marketing system.
It's not that we don't want more advertising. It's just that we have reached an equilibrium. Enough people call us or email us to advertise to generate just about enough revenue to cover our costs and let us do creative, innovative things with radio. Money comes in, money goes out... and the whole time we just keep doing radio.
And since we're all addicted to radio - it's a "healthy addiction," right? - then it really doesn't matter if we make a ton of money or not. At least that's how it is for me and I project that on everyone else.
In the end, we get to do radio every day, and it's so freaking satisfying that we don't really go out and ask people to buy advertising. At least not very often.
We have tried to address this situation. I hired a consultant once to come in for a thousand dollars for one day. He just shook his head - you mean that you don't have any sales people? that everything you do is paid for by PEOPLE CALLING YOU?
I remember the moment. Station manager Debbie Wargo, business manager and my sister, Jen Foreit, and operations manager Ryan Walsh... we all just nodded. Yep.
"JED calls it PMS - the Passive Marketing System," Debbie informed the thousand dollar a day consultant.
"Well that's just about the craziest thing I've heard in my 40 years in radio. Bye golly," said the consultant.
Said consultant left. And a few days later a really slick, multicolor report came to our emails. It was filled with pie charts and line graphs, spread sheets full of projections and lists of recommendations. At the top of the list was to hire a general manager for the station who could also head a newly-formed sales department of at least four full-time people.
There were lots of other recommendations, all of which seemed to point to that we should run the station like a real radio station...
Out of the 1970s. Said consultant wanted a station manager, program manager, traffic manager and a bunch of sales people. Yikes. There's really only about five of us who really manage the station in one way or another. There's a bunch of people who either donate their time - like Baker, Verlie, Minnow - or work for way less than they could get in a bigger market - like Harlow, Kubic and more.
And in a weird way it works. We putz along doing radio every day, and that makes all the difference. So I read the report from said consultant, called him up and thanked him for his very competent report and suggestions, and went for a run around Wicker Park.
Needless to say, we did not implement one recommendation, including not hiring a general manager, a sales manager, or a traffic manager. What we did was what we have done for most of the time since 2004 (we did actually have some sales people for a few years, but they all worked for the newspaper that we owned, selling radio only on the side when the paper got slow), which is wait for people to call us to advertise.
Now I've thought about this for a long time. And what I want is this. It might take a little time to unfold, but the three or four of you should have a little patience.
As you know, I traded in the pits for around 18 years. This is not entirely accurate in that the last couple of years I traded more on the computer than in the pits, but oh well. Either way, trading on the computer or trading in the pits, I really liked it when the following happened.
I would put on a trade late in the day... or even in to the early hours of the morning... and then I would go to sleep. I would put what's called a "stop" in just in case the market moved against me. In a "stop order," if you lose so much money on a trade, the broker or the computer will just throw its or his or her hands up and just get you out of the trade "at the market," which means you could be even more screwed.
It boils down to this - if the trade moved against me, and my "stop order" would get filled overnight, then one of the guys I had trading for me overnight would call me and wake me up to tell me I just lost some money. Oh well.
But if I didn't get a call overnight, then I would know that I more than likely would have a winning trade on as I woke up. I would either call my traders up in Chicago - or after a while walk downstairs to the traders I had brought to the house - and find out how much I was up on the trade. Sometimes I would even check the markets on a computer.
And I just want to tell you what an exhilarating feeling it was to drive to the train, and then write in my journal, and then walk in a wind tunnel across the south Loop - the whole time knowing that you were gonna start the day with a winning trade in your back pocket. I loved that feeling of waking up to an email or a phone call that I had just made some money.
And that's what I'm looking for with radio advertising. I want to go to bed and wake up the next morning with some advertising in my email inbox. It's that simple.
Now how could that possibly happen? I say we simply expand the Passive Marketing System. We obviously have enough loyal listeners that advertisers want to make a connection with them. And they want to pay us to do that. And these advertisers will go out of their way to call us rather than wait for Herb Tarlick to come prancing through the door.
(By the way, If you don't know who Herb Tarlick is, you're probably not reading this blog anyhows)
So how about we just make it easier for the people who express an interest in advertising to actually get that done? And why don't we add to the services that these advertisers will get to make even more come to us? And further, why don't, instead of going out and selling directly - like Herb Tarlick - why don't we simply push people to a web portal where they can buy directly... self-service... like at a gas station.
So of the three or four of you who read my blog - how many of you are younger than 40? None of you? Then you all remember back to the day when you pulled up into a gas station and sat there in the car while some guy in a blue short sleeved button shirt with "Hank" on the left pocket washed your windows and filled up your car with gas. That was what we know now as "full-service" but back then it was the only way you could get gas for your car.
And then came self-service, which means you get your fat ass out of the car and pump the gas yourself. If you pay at the pump with a credit card, then you basically give the gas station people money without ever having to deal with a person... or at least have minimal interaction with them.
And that's again what I want. I want to wake up in the morning and have radio sales in my email inbox...and I want it to happen with the least amount of personal interaction possible.
Why not several people involved?
You know the answer to this - because that would cost more money. At a busy gas station, if you had three or four people sitting there filling up the gas tanks and then taking the cash and writing out receipts... that would take a hell of a lot of time. That's how it used to be done but if you did it that way now, you'd lose your shirt in a few weeks.
So here's where I'm leading - as I move my little media molehill toward connected TV and other digital products... why not just give in to the fact that I am just a little lazy, especially when it comes to selling advertising. I'm not necessarily lazy when it comes to doing radio. No, not at all. I'll work ten or 12 hours straight doing radio and think nothing of it. But ask me to sit down for a 20-minute marketing meeting then you might as well poke me with a sharp stick right in the eye.
To me, the marketing end is that painful. Maybe this will change, but for now that's how it is. So accept it.
Here's the challenge then: to get to the point where I wake up with money in my inbox, I gotta figure out a way to get the people who want to advertise to sign up on the internet somehow. And I gotta let a lot more people around here know that you can get a ridiculous amount of impactful advertising for a ghastly low price.... and that they can go on the internet and sign up overnight to do it.
It's that simple. Since people are coming to us anyways to advertise... why not curve them to somehow sign up for the advertising themselves?
The problem is that in radio this is really not done. Radio is like the full-service gas stations of the past. Except its even worse. The gas station comes to you with a bunch of people in suits carrying slick marketing material. You know, as they're filling up your car and washing your windows, that you're getting fleeced on price but, hey, it's the only way.
Is it? Is it really the only way? We may already be one of the few radio stations in America that takes in a decent amount of money with no sales people... so let's expand on this idea. A full expansion of the Passive Marketing System. Let's get all of the Region to advertise with WJOB and, soon, JED.tv... and let's get them to do it themselves. That is the challenge should you wish to accept it.