An Ad Agency’s Perception Of Radio


Robert Christy, who worked in radio for 44 years, took notice of our Nielsen/CMO story Thursday and gave us some interesting feedback. His wife Jan (pictured here with Robert) owns a 38-client agency in California. Unfortunately her perception of our industry is not the best, and hopefully this is an isolated incident. Every once in awhile we find out our baby is ugly and it’s not always daffodils and roses.

We asked Robert to speak to Jan and give us an inside look at how radio reps call on her, her perception of radio salespeople and managers, and what she’d like to see from the radio industry.

(By Robert Christy) Two weeks ago my wife handed me a presentation from the GSM and AE from one of the largest radio groups. They were asking for $31K over two months for a promotional campaign on four of their stations. There was no breakdown of where and when the commercials and promos would run or which of their stations would be carrying them. The presentation made no sense.

Not only that, the in-person portion of the presentation they made was weak and confusing. She said the GSM had difficulty answering any of her questions in any detail. The AE, her rep, said nothing except hello and goodbye.

My wife has spent a lot of money on radio over the years, especially when she was the VP of Marketing for one of the largest furniture retailers in Southern California. She knows radio (she began her career as a radio sales rep). She’s watched and experienced the decline in the quality of radio salespeople, the massive turnover in sales at stations (one major LA station had four different reps call on her in a nine-month period). She says that whenever radio sends out a manager with the reps, the manager is one of two things: arrogant or soaked in flop sweat.

What she says about radio reps in general:

  1. They don’t listen. They ask questions that aren’t relevant to the discussion or to her client’s wants, needs, and desires.
  2. She says this is especially true when the rep is accompanied by one of the big guns. The manager types she encounters listen even less and blow off legitimate questions. She feels they are trying to push a one-siz-fits-all program, no matter what the client is trying to accomplish.
  3. If she makes a radio buy, she gets inundated by radio reps from the competition and some (especially managers) go as far as denigrating her judgment and expect her to justify to them why she made the decision she made. Or they whine that if she doesn’t spend a few bucks with them they’ll lose the account or worse yet get fired. Radio is the only medium she works with that does this.
  4. She is never swayed by an offer of concert tickets, etc. Her interest is only in what will work for her client.
  5. Radio is virtually the only medium that always denigrates other radio stations and other media platforms. One of her clients, a family practice law firm, owned by a woman, uses the slick local magazines on a regular basis. It works for her firm. My wife can predict almost to the minute when the calls from radio reps will start after each new issue comes out.

She knows how radio works, she knows how it fits into her client’s marketing strategy and that’s how she operates.

What she would like to see from radio:

1) More community involvement. One of her restaurant clients hosted a community forum a few days after the huge Thomas Fire (the largest in California history). Residents could ask questions of fire, police, relief, and emergency leaders. Half the food and bar receipts went to help people most affected by the fire, the wait staff even donated their tips. The restaurant was a drop-off point for clothing, food, and cash donations. TV and print were there, NPR was there, commercial radio didn’t bother.
2) She’d like to see sales reps take the time to learn about her clients or, at minimum, seem curious beyond size of the budget.
3) She’d like to see managers who make calls with sales reps either support the rep or make the call themselves.
4) Radio managers believe they are good negotiators; they’re not.

The last radio campaign she ran for one of her clients, she did the research, planned the buy, wrote the copy, called the stations, and bought the schedule. She ran 35 units on each station per week for three weeks. She paid full rate card for 6a-6p, one unit per daypart, Monday through Friday. She asked for and got 20 units a week as a bonus. She ran 10 of them like this one unit, 7-12 and one overnight M-F; the other 10 bonus units ran midday on Saturday and Sunday. Did the campaign work? It did, and worked well, because she understands radio better than the people who sell it.

Robery Christy can be reached at [email protected]


  1. An industry characterized by inflation-adjusted, flat-lining revenue is proven as riddled with limited, stultifying thinking from too many CEOs’/GMs’ corner offices through the GSMs/DOSs, to the sales floor.

    Those offended are those most guilty. Flat numbers year after year after year, don’t lie.

    No wonder radio is ridiculed by buyers – look at the same old, same old schedule/promotion/three spec spots with a bonus mentality, supplemented with a smattering of “me too” digital solutions (also provided by 100 other digital wizards within a stone’s throw of each client).

    The solution? Start monetizing our preemptive advantage in kick-starting and dominating the consumer journey.

    Hire people proven to innovate in giving clients what they want – jumping advertisers’ revenue with measurable, radio-attributable results – and command more dollars, at higher rates, for longer term contracts.

    Get and pay for those proven to make it happen. Invest in your people and stop your STUPID lowest-wage-possible pay mentality. No wonder we lose the brightest to higher paying professions.

    We have the answers. Let’s get the right people to monetize them.

  2. 1. selling is in your DNA, broadcasting continues to hire humans who don’t have that DNA.
    2. 8 out of 10 GSMs and GMs can not describe in detail the specific traits it takes to be a successful AE.
    3. this thread sounds like a conversation at the RAB in Dallas in 1982. radio company’s make the same mistake over and over and over again expecting a different result.
    4. radio broadcasting does a terrible job at recruiting. its always a crisis hire.
    5. (see #2) real life training is non-existent in radio sales. most successful AEs have incredible common sense and better problem solving skills. the common sense perspective is 180 degrees from management perspective.
    6. most radio broadcasting company’s create a ‘share holder first’ environment. its should be the ‘client first’ environment.
    7. radio broadcasting promotes successful AEs to a management position and then ‘beats the crap’ out of them to get results. An effective AE never wants the problems of management in spite of the revenue potential.

    its simply amazing what can happen with positive sales management that is engaged and who’s single focus is being “brilliant at the basics.”

  3. I like this guy. Wish he had clients in my market area. We have good agencies as well but most are spoiled by the rating and ranker sellers in Coastal GA emailed by the queen bees at all of our station groups. First time I have ever responded 3 times to the same story. I would be a good rep for him.

  4. While it is commendable that some operators do a “prairie dog” and stick their heads out to profess how their outfits are conducting themselves as professionals, and that they have their priorities straight, the protestations are too few are not enough to sway the overall opinions and general biases.
    Radio is being painted with a very large brush – unfortunately, but reasonably so.
    We are extremely lucky The Tar, Feather and Rail Brigades have not been summoned, as well.

    • I’m not the person that you are addressing the questions to, however, as someone who has encountered the same challenges, let me say this …

      1. I almost exclusively buy media that is not at all reliant on the ratings, most of our stations do not subscribe, which in my humble opinion makes these situations even more egregious because you MUST be results focused, creative and attentive to make them work.

      2. As someone who worked for decades at stations who did not subscribe, I do not accept the book as ‘fact’ in fact, I watched our numbers fluctuate from too low to report (with a supposed threshold of 100,000 at the time) to 250,000 – 300,000 cume from book to book… almost assuring me that in fact, the book should NEVER be assumed to be fact.

    • Hi-
      Yes I have and no I don’t.

      I get into the heart of the community and ask questions. Know your audience and target them directly – casting the net wide is a waste of money – there is too much data out there today – yes it takes time to research but worth it if you want to do your best work.
      I am a huge fan of intrinsic numbers – I run analytics reports for my clients – if you pay attention you can learn a lot. As George Johns once told me, find the Parade and get in front of it. It takes work to find the parade, most people are lazy. I work 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week for my clients and deliver results. No one can fool me with proposals and promises – I like action, AMAZING CREATIVITY, execution and moving the needle.

  5. Makes me appreciate the great managers and ae’s we work with in 200+ markets across North America, guys and gals who listen, get it, care, and know their stuff. As a career radio guy who was on-air 30 years, managed for 10 and now on the agency side for 5, I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly from both the sell and buy sides. Every ae and gsm has a boss, or that boss has a boss somewhere up the chain who DOES care. Make sure they know about your experiences at the station level, both good and bad.

  6. As a Radio Manager i can honestly say I am neither arrogant nor am i “sweaty” . i have seen reps like she describes, but would never tolerate that behavior from my team. we endlessly discuss “do the right thing for the customer and the money will come”. I agree with Bob Scott, the lack of any discussion and only price on either side is never desirable to the end result. Unfortunately i see that a ton of this in every arm of media -digital too. Let me sell you a kazillion impressions with no mention of the expected result. Look-their are good and bads everywhere- if we take ownership of our team and people judge us as individuals that’s the best we can hope for.

  7. We have met the enemy and they is us. When it comes to dollar a holler whores like GEICO just say no. Worst of all are the stations that are GIVING AWAY LIVE REMOTES! The one and only product we have that no one can duplicate. Just plain stupid!

    • I like your dollar a holler comment. I say no when there is no respect for myself or my medium. I give nothing away. I may make a reduction with a value add but I am proud of what we do and so are hundreds of our advertisers who are on with us every month. I love going out with our sellers, I tell them if you want to make a sale bring me along. Clients like that as well. Shows them that we care and their business is valuable to our business.

  8. I have been in radio for 17 years, first on-air now sales. As a radio rep, this story is very disheartening, yet extremely enlightening. It explains so much the response I sometimes receive from agencies. When I first reach out to an agency, I haven’t previously worked with, they tend to be a little stand-offish-this explains so much. On the flip side, now I know why the agencies I do work with, seem genuinely surprised and pleased with the level of service they receive from me and my stations. We are just two stations in small markets, but with a large market impact. Myself and my fellow reps are highly involved in the communities we serve. We pride ourselves on building relationships with our listeners, our clients, our potential clients and the community as a whole. Our motto is to under promise and over deliver, and we do it well. We set ourselves apart from our area competition by simply living that motto and providing the kind of service that unfortunately no longer exists at other stations. I see it first hand from our competition, the drop off of the package, the follow up only comes when the contract is about to expire, and the caring of the client is non-existent. It’s sad, and it gives radio a bad name…but there are still stations and reps out there that still care and go above and beyond to truly do what’s best for the client. A recent example…a new money management firm opened in our area. The firm reached out to my competition because someone had told him how inexpensive they were to get his name out there. I scheduled an appointment to meet with him. I went, I sat with him, I listened to him, I asked his goals and what he wanted to accomplish with his advertising. I listened. He spoke of ideas he had. And he asked why I was so much more expensive than my competition. I simply said…service. You get what you pay for. I took his information back with me. together with my GM, we created a new feature on our station just for him and his firm. Because that’s what we do…we listen, we create things we know will work for our clients , their needs and their goals. His feature began airing on June 1st, at 3:10 pm. At 3:56, I received a text from my client letting me know he already received response from his feature. He proceeded to tell me “now I know why I pay a little more on your station, you’ve done everything you’ve promised and more”. There are still good reps and managers out there. Radio does work, and when done right with care, compassion and good service…it works well.

  9. I’ve seen a lot of what this writer has experienced and it’s embarrassing. On the flip side, many media buyers have contributed to this situation. As a former GSM in LA (now retired), I can’t tell you how many times I was told, “don’t bother me with your questions, just hit my CPP or you’re not getting on the buy.” Another line I heard many times was, “you don’t need to know about my client’s needs, that’s my job.” While radio reps don’t always represent the industry well, many people on the agency side look down on radio and treat the reps with disdain. There’s a lot to learn on BOTH sides.

    • Bob …. I agree with you! I remember when I was at both a local market station, and a network, there were plenty of agencies who only wanted to get a CPP and if you met it great, if not … oh well. There are some real jerks on this side as well. I had worked for a company that could almost NEVER make the CPP model work. I had to sell ideas and results and exemplary service, or I’d never get the renewal or the business in the first place. I never wanted to be any of those people. Some times I look at numbers, just to determine that I can get the right frequency to “enough ears” but know that there is MUCH more to all of it than that. I am with you! Let’s all not be either of these examples!

      • Use the old TV method. Buy my frequency and you will come in better than your tab. Then go and ask for a raise for the good job you did. Works every time.

  10. As a radio GM, this is really bad. I do see it in certain markets from time to time, but there are those of us out there who would never tolerate that kind of sloppy business. We, as radio leaders, have to step up and train, demand more, LISTEN, dialogue (not pitch), and hold ourselves accountable. We must extract value from our day-parts and leverage that value for our clients. We should know our hosts and leverage their hobbies, needs, wants, to benefit our clients. This sort of sloppy, “set it and forget it,” radio has to stop. We have tremendous assets and we squander them. Shameful.

  11. I hate to read stories like this as a radio professional of nearly 30 years, but I experience the same! I had spent approx. 23 years as a radio seller and now am representing clients as a small agency, and have a tremendous amount of empathy for reps, I had been there for so long, I want to help them and shoot straight so that there is no runaround or game playing. This article hits way too close to home though, I am amazed at how often the same or similar situations happen in my week.

    Some of my personal situations include:

    1. Receiving proposals that have our competitor’s title page still on it because the rep was pitching to both of us and didn’t take time to notice.
    2. Receiving proposals for radio stations in states where my client isn’t licensed to do business (which is listed on their website by the way) from a rep who has been working with us for over 5 years and doesn’t check, but rather responds in desperation after a weekly staff call and is pressured to present certain stations (even if the client is unable to do business in that state)
    3. Receiving threatening notes from a rep to get a piece of paperwork in “or we’ll never be able to work with this client again,” not because they are telling the truth, but because it’s the end of their fiscal quarter and it matters to them personally.
    4. Like mentioned in the article, the visit with the manager. I had one with a client recently, and the manager came with their rep and talked over the client for a good hour or more. Never asked a probing question, never asked how the relationship was, and just repeated many of the same one word responses over and over and over again in rapid succession before the client ever finished their sentences. When they left, the client’s reply was “I guess that wasn’t too, too painful … was it?” A response I am fairly certain was not the ultimate outcome desired by the rep or the manager.
    5. One of my favorites was an unsolicited proposal from one radio network for $250,000 for one of my clients, who we had never had a conversation with, or about. The rep made all sorts of unreasonable assumptions, and then actually took the time to put together a proposal asking for what would have been the single largest commitment the client had ever made. No customer needs analysis, or so much as asking a single question. Needless to say … after opening and taking a quick look, I passed it along to the client, we had a good laugh and there was never another discussion about that media outlet.
    The only thing that matters is that the stations or networks are what is RIGHT for the client and that it WORKS and CONTINUES to work. If it’s not, the relationship will be extremely short and turnover high. I do have some excellent reps as well! Reps who are attentive, know the client well, are responsive and it’s a true partnership. In situations like that, we’ve kept business on the air even when we’ve taken a hiatus, or cut budget on other stations out of loyalty and a sense of mutual well being. I don’t think that stations or reps realize how important truly valuing relationship and success is. In the cases that I’ve seen what the article is describing, I can almost always trace it to a desperate salesperson, or a regional call that just ended, or a month or quarter end scramble. These situations SCREAM desperation, whether it’s real or perceived, and so often even when legitimate business is done, there’s not so much as a phone call to follow up, until the rep realizes at the 11th hour that it’s time for a renewal. One rep I have lost over 1/2 million dollars in billing in the last 12 months alone, and has nothing to blame it on besides their own inattentiveness. If they had genuinely brought value to the table and participated in the relationship, there’s a good chance that they would still have that business today, but we spent the money elsewhere and the business was lost (for them and their company). I think what Jan is looking for, is what we’re all looking for: People who will put aside their personal need to meet budget this month for just one minute and listen to what the client needs, and what will keep them coming back for more. I BELIEVE in radio tremendously. I’ve made it work for clients for my entire career. The old cliche is that it’s harder to fire a relationship than it is a client is so true! My clients and I truly value the RELATIONSHIPS we have with people who are sincere and with whom we can share the good and bad times. We stick it out together and weather the storms. And we keep those relationships in tact. Those that aren’t comprised of those characteristics are easily dispensed with.
    In closing I was with a client one time, and a radio vendor, and things weren’t working as well as they should be after 10 years together, and we were looking for solutions. We brought 5 years of financials, and laid them out transparently on the conference table, just so that the manager we were meeting with knew, and could see the actual impact that the response levels were having on the business. After explaining the dynamics to them and laying it all bare sharing confidential information and figures in an attempt to address the actual situation head on… the manager said “This is all wrong… your figures are all wrong… your books must be incorrect.” Needless to say … we look for any opportunity outside of that company that we can find now. There was no interest in anything other than being defensive or maintaining a certain ‘posture’ in the meeting. The client and I remember that meeting … it was 7 years ago now, but it made a lasting impression, and that manager will never fully appreciate the amount of business that has been lost for both they and their company. And more importantly the incredible opportunities lost because the business that could have been grown together had there been some sincere attempt to find solutions. Others have benefited from it though. In the end we just want to work with people who are desirous of a mutual win! People who might just for a minute (at least while they’re with us, or talking to us or presenting to us) at the very least pretend… no … ACTUALLY … care about the success of our clients and the potential for successful outcomes as a result of our work together. I’m a firm believer that if this is the goal, the business and referrals will come.

  12. It make me both sad and Mad to read this account of sales performance. After 46 years in Radio sales none of my clients would give a report like this. To those reps that do the job correctly, “Keep up the good work”! We are the few and the proud!


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