Radio Sales: What Industry Are We Really In?


(By Barry Cohen) The radio industry does a great job of teaching people how to sell, and how to sell our medium. We don’t always do as good a job teaching them how to make it work. Let’s start with the answer to the burning question posed above.

What business are we really in? Not the one you think. You are in the business of selling the client’s inventory, not yours. Salespeople are often told, “Just get the order; let the agency worry about the copy and the schedule.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Unless you want to churn and burn advertisers and have to prospect forever, we have to pull out the stops, give each and every campaign a full court press, and make it work. That’s the only way to build a base of satisfied repeat clients. Do whatever it takes — change the copy every day, improve the offer — your job is to drive their traffic. The other thing we often don’t do is train our salespeople in how business works. We need to understand what clients face every day if we expect to help them. So let’s take a peek in their windows.

What business is the client in? Answer: selling his or her stuff. (Hint: They don’t care about your stuff.) Clients care about maximizing face time with their customers, selling as much as they can, and spending as little time as they have to on all of the above. So why do they need us?

Clients need us because: They can’t know everything themselves, they can’t do everything themselves, and they need to free up their time. So what do they want from us? To help them sell their stuff, to handle the details of their campaigns, and to educate them. (Really, they do.) So how do we help them?

Learn a foreign language: theirs. Your language involves rating points, average quarter hours, antenna heights, playlists, and personalities. They don’t speak your language. You have to learn theirs: overhead, cost of goods sold, inventory turns, margins, shrinkage, etc. You need to understand their challenges.

Learn their business before you approach them. Use RAB research tools and read the client’s industry trade press. Understand that just because they bought merchandise and marked it up keystone (100 percent) doesn’t mean they profit 100 percent on each sale. They need to factor in the costs of financing, warehousing, rent, utilities, payroll, and commissions — before they apply an advertising cost to each unit sold.

Remember, ROI is king. Now, let’s wow them. Here’s how:

  • Offer viable, custom solutions, not “packages.” (You put thought into it.)
  • Bury the “One Day Sale.” (It shows no respect for their schedule.)
  • Demonstrate that you have listener engagement.
  • Prove that your audience = their customers.
  • Sell your audience’s buying power.

That last one is underutilized. If you have 100,000 listeners a week and each one’s household spends $20,000 a year in the marketplace, that’s a huge and meaningful number. (I just crashed my calculator.) Then the only question to the advertiser is, “How much of that do you want spent at your establishment?”

For clients, it’s always “WIFT”: What’s in It For Them?

The answer:

  • Develop proposals that play to their strengths.
  • Reposition their assets (for example, a swimming pool is a lifetime vacation).
  • Sell their high-margin (more profitable) merchandise.
  • Help them overcome their weaknesses (a small store means it’s easier to find things).

Final thoughts: Listen first, serve next, prove yourself, outdo yourself — and everyone else.

Barry Cohen is the managing member of AdLab Media Communications, LLC ( He’s sold both suburban and major-market radio, served as a station manager, and has presented RAB workshops and webinars. He is the author of the book 10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign, and co-author of Startup Smarts.


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