The word "digital" remains on everyone's lips, and radio's struggle to get more of it is increasing as we see more and more advertisers jumping ship for digital strategies elsewhere. It's a fact few stations want to admit -- and one that is perplexing to most, because their radio stations have digital offerings. So why are advertisers chasing digital solutions elsewhere?
I've immersed myself in the digital space. I attend multiple conferences annually outside of our own industry in the digital and digital marketing spaces, just so I can offer solutions to radio.
Though a few smart broadcasters are working on some very exciting and robust digital products, I daresay that most of us are living somewhere in the 1990s when it comes to our "exciting" digital offers to advertisers.
At a conference I recently attended, I met three people in their late 20s or early 30s who are making millions of dollars online. These young millionaires are taking common products, developing marketing strategies, and employing very exciting digital technology. And what I find particularly interesting is that it's all invisible. In other words, no one who hasn't opted into one of their campaigns ever sees what they're doing.
You won't find their offerings on any website, yet their automated campaigns find customers in the middle of the night and through the day, and walk those customers through a process until they buy. If they don't buy, it walks them through a different process until they will buy something the campaign has to offer.
I watched a young entrepreneur create a complete campaign onstage in less than an hour, and by the end of that hour it had generated orders.
If I had to suggest reasons some of us in radio are lagging, I believe it boils down to a lack of digital leadership (translation: a lack of understanding by those who lead), a belief that we are still in the radio business, and a lack of digital natives on our sales staffs.
Though a few exceptions can be found, most people managing radio stations are not digital natives, and they don't think of or relate to digital in the same way as those who were raised with it. We're still using e-mail and Facebook, thinking we're cutting-edge. My kids won't use either because they are so dated. We may know the principles of great radio and selling, but we don't have a real grasp of the digital world. The reality is that most of us don't know what we don't know. I still see dropped jaws when we expose people to new things at our Convergence conference.
The problem is exacerbated because we don't have digital natives selling our digital products. Most of the people I know selling digital also don't know what they don't know, and most of us, no matter how hard we try to be current, can't really get there -- simply because we grew up differently and have one foot in the old world and one in the new. Digital natives look at me like I have three eyes when I tell them I still sell ads in a print publication (even though revenues and readership there remain strong).
Our focus on selling radio, or on selling the "digital alternatives" we offer on our websites, is admirable, but compared to the metrics and deliverables others are offering the same clients, we look pretty, well, antiquated. Today all media are in the business of delivering customers or sales, and most have figured out that the media we started with is simply one of the tools we offer. Most media companies have tremendous digital depth today -- why doesn't radio?
Is there a solution?
The first answer lies in our leadership. You as a leader need to do everything possible to understand what you don't understand -- and that means you need to find out exactly what you don't understand.
Yes, you're busy meeting goals and managing. But that's the pickle you're in. Media has changed, and you must re-educate yourself.
Second, having non-digital natives selling or developing our digital offerings isn't the optimal solution in most cases. Find and hire some very young people who've never used a CD player and maybe don't even listen to radio (a sacrilege, I know) and have them be your digital eyes and ears. They will challenge your digital products, know how to communicate them to potential buyers, and make you stronger overall. You may have to give them sales training, but if your products are solid, these sellers will resonate more with potential clients.
Third, you need to get pitched by every digital product your advertisers are buying. You can find out who's out there by asking a client close to you who they are using. You'll never discover it on your own because most of those "campaigns" are invisible unless you're being targeted.There is probably much out there you're not aware of.
Last, remember that your job should not be to sell radio, or sell banner ads on your website. Your job is to make your clients rich. Though radio, banner ads, and whatever else you have to offer will help, your goal should be understanding what those young millionaires know, and how they are engaging audiences under the radar. There is no reason you can't develop a program under the radar that generates huge digital revenue. I've done it in my company. No one sees it, but it's there, and it's making money.
Most of us who are at this game need to sharpen our tools and discover what we need to understand -- to learn something different from what we're doing. We came in only needing to know radio. That has changed, and it's not changing back.