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Radio's Digital Awakening

Last week at the Radio Show in Dallas, Larry Rosin of Edison Research presented research he gathered that focused on what turns out to be radio's digital report card. Edison interviewed about a dozen interactive advertising agencies to get their take on what radio brings to their table and that research is now available for the entire industry to see. The video interviews are painful to watch at times if you are fan of radio. And while Rosin admits this is more of a focus group than a detailed research study, the information can be extremely helpful to radio stations if they choose to listen, rather than ignore, what is being said. Here's our interview with Rosin about the findings. You can listen to the audio or read the transcription.

Here's the AUDIO
Here's a link to the Edison page so you can watch the VIDEO interviews.
Below is the transcription of our interview with Larry Rosin
Reach out to Larry Rosin at

RI: Talk about the specifics of the research. It looks like you did a lot of Skype interviews, video interviews. When were they? How many were there? Talk about the specifics of the interviews.
There were about 12 or 13 interviews with buyers, planners, and principals at digital agencies, sometimes in the digital department of more broad-ranging agencies. They were done through the middle of August -- frankly right up through the NAB/RAB Radio Show just a few days ago. Some were done in person and some were done via Skype as we scrambled to get the project done.

RI: I noticed in your piece you wrote that it is more of a focus group than it is research. However, 12 to 13 digital agencies is a pretty good number when it comes to that group.
Right. But, I make no claims that it is necessarily representative of what all people in the thousands of digital agencies, large and small, might feel. So, in that sense, it should be more like a focus group. In as much as the individuals need to be similar in a lot of their points, it wouldn't be a stunning surprise if they were representative. But again, I can't argue that they necessarily were. We just got who we could get.

RI: If you were to draw a conclusion or opinion on what you witnessed, what you saw in the video interviews, what would you say to radio stations about that?
Well, the number one thing that I would say, frankly, is that people should go to our site to watch the videos. Nothing I am going to say to describe them, or even to try to make conclusions from them, I think is anywhere near as powerful as sort of locking yourself in your office -- the tapes run at about 35 minutes altogether -- listening to these people themselves. That is vastly more powerful than anything that I am going to say. In many ways, they had criticisms, some of them constructive, and some of them just, I would say, negative. But, in most ways, they were positive about radio. They may or may not have been positive about a lot of the digital efforts and things that radio stations are trying to sell them. Generally, they like radio. They talked a lot about radio's assets, if they weren't overly positive about the digital assets.

RI: I agree that everybody should watch the videos and I will link to them when we post the story. Everybody should sit down and listen to what the agencies have to say. I think my conclusion was that radio has a long way to go when it comes to being serious about their digital product.
Yes, I think that's fair. Some of it is tough to watch. At times they are quite critical of various aspects of radio. But again, if you watch it with more of a glass-half-full point of view, I think they did point the way to what radio can do. I think the two most important things, I may be anticipating a question coming later, are: one, to integrate. I think they all have a problem with radio trying to market its digital efforts as a separate, worthy entity. They are vastly more interested in integrated campaigns where the digital part is part of a whole and takes advantage of what radio is so strong at, which is getting a mass audience to hear a message. They were much, much more interested in coordinated, integrated campaigns and they really didn't put much value at all on radio's digital assets, whether they be in-stream, websites, or anything else, by themselves. I thought that was the number one take-away, tied with the people who were saying, "Be creative. Stop just showing off and asking us to buy it just because there is whatever straight-up media value there. Come to us with ideas. Come to us with the clever stuff that radio has once been known for, and sometimes still is known for." Where the radio people are seen as creative people, who come up with clever solutions that can get the clients involved. I thought those were the two big points that they kept making from a more constructive standpoint. Be integrated and be creative.

RI: Maybe this is off the subject of exactly what you did with the research, but maybe if it's fresh in your mind from going through all that, maybe you could give us your opinion on it. It seems to me that radio still struggles with the measurement and whether or not they want to really be streaming or streaming with ad insertion. Did you get the sense that the agencies have picked up on that? That we don't really know where we want to be yet and how can we ask them to be with us?
I am not sure these people are reading the radio trades and are necessarily that up-to-date on our internal discussions. I think they showed the outcome of our lack of coordination, our lack of resolve, and our lack of even commitment to what we are doing. As an example, they did a lot, speak negatively about ad insertion and about the quality of stream, something I know you have written about and many others have written a lot about. It wasn't even just the issue of the injection of spots into the streams. One of the most startling moments is when a very savvy woman talked about when she had a $1 million buy and decided to put $100,000  into online radio and seemed like much of that was for the stream of over-the-air radio stations, not just about the pure-plays. She talked about how she quickly pulled the buy from the stream when somebody who was listening to the streams, I forget the exact details, said "I heard your spot eight times in three hours," or something like that. She realized there were no frequency caps on the streams, so they just let it rip. She felt like she was hurting her clients by pounding the crap out of people with the same spot over and over again. People don't take that out on the radio station or the stream, they take it out on the client. So, she yanked the spot. When I presented this in Dallas, you could hear the gasp in the room, that a $100,000 buy, which doesn't happen all the time on streaming radio, just went "poof" because of technical challenges with what they are doing. I doubt they are reading our trades very much and know the internals of what we are talking about, but I think they see the outcome of that.

RI: Not for you to comment on, if you don't want to, but just some of the quotes that I wrote down in the early parts of the videos that you have on your site in which the radio reps and the agency reps are commenting on them: "Not very knowledgeable." "They know enough just to be dangerous." "They need to learn the lingo better." "They are still using lingo like 'hyper-link' from five years ago." "It's a pretty frustrating experience because radio still speaks in terms of 'demo' and they sell against other radio stations, still." Those are just a few of the comments from the agencies that we heard on your research.
And that's a part I could've even amplified more in the presentation, which is, these people at digital agencies, we are used to competing in a sort of relatively limited world, where there is the local newspaper, the local television stations, maybe outdoor, and us-radio. But, these people are digital agencies. Their world is so, so, so, so, so much bigger than that. One of these people told us how they are taking meetings with start-ups all day long. We almost forget about that. There are so many people knocking on the door of these agencies, saying, "I am building something that had media value. Can you evaluate it? Can you let us know what you think about it? How would you get involved with this?" From that perspective, radio is just one of tens of thousands of options that these digital agencies can consider; not just the limited group that we are used to. So, how badly do we hurt ourselves when we ask people who are used to walking and talking, if you will, "old speak" of old-fashioned media values to these digital hipsters who are very savvy and are evaluating things in an entirely different way than we are used to having things evaluated by from old-line agencies.

RI: Did these people that you interviewed talk about their best experiences and how radio people can maybe steal some of those ideas to improve?
They talked at length about what we were just talking about. They just need salespeople that understand them and speak their language and are sort of "of that world." They don't have to be young, but they have to be well trained. They railed on the issue of training, and that people understand digital and can sell it knowledgeably. They did speak a lot about Pandora. They talked about the fact that their people are stronger. A lot of people selling for Pandora are former radio people. So, obviously Pandora is training their people in a certain manner that is putting them in a stronger position when they are knocking on these doors.

RI: What can people do with the research that you have up there? It is so powerful. It is so helpful. What do you suggest they do with it? Watch it? Use it in training sessions? Use it in sales meetings, perhaps?
Yes. Without a doubt. Everything you just said. But, beyond that, I think radio probably needs to look outside for the expertise and training. I don't mean that for a minute as a slight on the excellent people who do sales consulting and work with radio stations on their efforts. But, I think we have to consider whether there are people from beyond and outside the normal walls of the radio industry who could be engaged, frankly, to teach us how to talk to these people in a more compelling way. 

(5/5/2013 12:36:20 PM)
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- NY
(9/26/2012 2:12:16 PM)
The proof is in the pudding that Radio has not been able to adequately monetize our digital assets to this point. Buuuutttt....Are these some of the smarmiest people you've ever encountered? For decades advertising agencies have been cut and dried cost-per-point nazis and now they think they are a combination of Bob Dylan, PT Barnum and Steve Jobs. The notion that their clients don't want to be associated with 'risque' material on station websites reminds me of the advertisers in 1968 that didn't want to advertise on the #1 station in the market because it played 'devil music'. And the comments regarding 'sex' on station websites are laughable. Lord knows no one watching TV or surfing on line ever encounters scantily clad women. This really seems to be much more 'revenge of the buyers'. After decades of being forced through limited media choices to deal with radio now they want to belittle and buy around it, often at their clients peril. McDonalds, Geico, Home Depot etc have it right. Radio's primary and ubiquitous strength is our over the air, online and mobile content and engagement. Creatively applied to current and future digital applications it can't be beat.

- Brew Michaels
(9/26/2012 10:45:42 AM)
Let us make great haste to try to be that which we are not. Our online listeners represent real challenges:
A) Union rules forbid some of our client's ads from airing on the web.
B) Our traffic software folks won't put a "yes - no" gate in to traffic an online log at order entry
C) The local listenership that counts is too small to monetize. The End

- Charlie Ferguson
(9/26/2012 10:15:14 AM)
The warnings and alternatives have been issued for years to radio's leadership to break out of the model. Now that the Philistines are at the gate, radio can either put up a weak , but doomed defense or... hire them and incorporate them and their newer methodologies.
Poor programming, shabby commercial production, tawdry sales and marketing and juvenile promotion strategies all have limited shelf lives.
Audiences, advertisers and agencies are no longer amused about being abused.

- Ronald T. Robinson

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