Why is radio advertising so bad, and why is selling it so hard?


I need to admit up-front that I’m a “new guy.” I’ve only been in radio (as CEO of a start-up radio network) for about three years. So a lot of my experience evaluating radio ads is from a listener point of view. And most of the rest comes from my years managing technology companies, where I learned that effective ads do at least one of the following:

  • Generate curiosity—Leave the listener wanting to know more about the company, the product, the service
  • Identify a need (pain, desire), what the listener needs to satisfy that need, and the fact that the advertiser has whatever that is
  • Make an offer. “If you do X, we will do (give you) Y.”

Why do so few radio ads do ANY of these? When I first started in radio, I eagerly sought out expert guidance about advertising because I was sure that I needed to learn an entirely new theory of advertising that would explain how radio advertising works so differently. Interestingly, most of the material I found was kind of old. (Actually, most books about advertising in general are old).

And guess what? Books like The Unfair Advantage Small Business Advertising Manual, by Claude Whitacre, and all others I read recommend the same things I learned a long time ago! So why don’t the ads reflect such time-tested wisdom? Before I give you my opinion regarding the answer, let’s take a look at the other question from above, “Why is advertising so hard to sell?”

Almost every week here in SMRN there is a fabulous article about how to sell better. I do have years of experience selling, and know that B2B selling methods and skills are quite similar across industries. And after attending the past two NAB shows in Las Vegas and reading SMRN regularly, it’s obvious that a significant number of radio stations are “selling-challenged.” Why—especially since there are so many articles and sales trainers and recruiters out there offering solutions?

OK. You’ve been kind enough to stay with me for 350 words; I’ll start giving you my take on the answers. These are not the answers you get from the trainers, the recruiters, the authors, or the sales manager candidates—and in a minute you will understand why.

Ads are bad because it’s HARDER to write good ads. It takes longer. One cannot just copy others’ ads to write good ones. Somebody has actually to think, and to understand the customer and the product.

Consistent, successful selling is HARD, too. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about it being HARD for salespeople. I’m talking about it being HARD for YOU—as the owner, as the GM, or other senior executive in charge. The authors and the for-hire trainers and the recruiters don’t generally want to tell you that because then maybe you won’t want to buy what they sell.

Good News! If you were scared of HARD, you would have left radio a long time ago! You can do it!

Do what?

  1. You have to OWN it. That means when you read one of the great articles, or hear about a selling method, you need to implement it—starting with you.
  2. Use the terminology
  3. Ask questions of the sales force about their process, their accounts, the needs of the accounts
  4. Attend sales meetings regularly
  5. Go on sales calls regularly
  6. Show you are interested and care about the process DAILY
  7. Celebrate the people who do it right—and fire the ones who don’t. (A guy once told me the hardest thing to do is to fire a sales guy who’s ahead of quota but disregards the process—he/she is a cancer that will destroy the rest of the sales team.)

You simply cannot delegate this! It doesn’t mean you have to become the full-time sales manager, but you will need to spend a fair amount of time on it. I learned these things the hard way when I became a general manager. I hired a well thought-of (and expensive!) VP of Sales and told him to take care of it. When I found myself answering to the board for missing our numbers, I vowed that I would never again be “hands-off” with sales.

In fact, my company’s most important selling right now is recruiting new affiliate stations. Want to guess who heads up this effort? Yep, yours truly. I find it hard to think of much that’s more important than my top line—how about you?

Finally, let’s circle back to the very top. I think if we create better ads for our customers they will become easier to sell. . .and if we sell better we will create better ads.

It starts with you.

Rick Hahn is CEO of GLN Radio, Inc.,

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