Getting Real About Digital Transformation

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(By Loyd Ford) We live in a broadcast world where a very large percentage of the business people controlling our industry believe they have commoditized programming, effectively reduced (by philosophy) their perceived need for marketing, and simplified the path between the cash register and the easier money from clients. That’s what consolidation has brought into the reach of the accountant types that have also reduced what once were highly competitive radio markets to essentially silos of formats and less competition in market after market in the U.S. The dangers associated with this include homogenizing radio, reducing listener expectations, and eliminating the available fresh talent pool (along with development). Meanwhile, the world of technology is rapidly pushing new groups of competitors toward us and we have entire new systems for delivering consumer connection and buying. I’m talking about digital.

I know, everyone talks about digital, but this article may be a little different for you.

Of course, we have to be highly creative and engaging in our primary lane of over-the-air broadcasting. Without that, we will see the negative slide of broadcast radio behind other choices for listeners and advertisers in the future. In addition to this, we must move forward with both research and proper execution to offer a variety of digital tools and creativity designed opportunities to put us at the front of the conversation about digital in our local markets. Your local radio cluster already faces a variety of local start-ups in the digital space today. This will become more intense over time, so now is the time to place serious priority on this work and how to expand our lead in local advertising solutions.

With all the change that technology and changes in society are bringing to the 21st century, people are still just people. How can we add effective and profitable digital to our local broadcast media clusters and sharpen our legacy business to keep that relevant? Because, remember, I don’t care what you’ve heard: radio gets its power from being local. Here are five things to start a real conversation on this subject.

1. Perhaps we shouldn’t have any conversation about making an effective transition to effective and profitable digital without first taking an honest look at our own individual branded websites. If you look at the individual websites for your own local radio stations, can you honestly say to clients that you are an expert in digital? If your clients would look at those sites and find them a confirmation of your expertise, great. However, if those sites are like most, we probably have some work to do. After all, part of being that digital expert is to show what you do for your own products in the digital space.

2. Everyone knows we must reinvent ourselves as broadcasters. I’m not an apologist about radio. We have a powerful opportunity today, but we are crazy if we don’t concern ourselves with expanding our local opportunities. We must do an excellent job of being the local connection to digital options for clients as well as our over-the-air expertise. Radio is well positioned to offer real digital tools and creativity to local clients and combine them with over-the-air advertising to drive consumers directly to those digital opportunities for clients. If our digital options are sharp and complementary to our core over-the-air products for local advertisers, we will both grow and deepen client relationships. That also benefits the long-term future for radio as the local connectors we have always been.

3. To truly be successful, the people at the top of your company, and those in charge locally for sure, must set the priority for digital growth and the strategy for what services we offer to local clients. This must be effectively communicated to the overall team clearly and without reservation. No one in your radio cluster should under the misapprehension that digital is unimportant. Everyone must see how critical developing digital opportunities and direct revenue is, and that must be consistently communicated by leadership. Without this, radio is sunk when it comes to digital. Again, this should involve researching what local clients want and will pay for and offering the best products for the value they bring local clients.

4. Like when radio has programming brands with diverse differences, digital is different. We may have to invest and develop a separate sales team and drivers for revenue growth on the digital-specific side of the business. A strong argument could actually be developed for considering investing in digital as a separate business with the same leadership of your radio cluster (at the top). After all, the entrepreneurs in your market doing pure digital don’t have the broadcast cluster to drag along (this is both a positive and a negative).

5. We can’t think only about the revenue when adding digital. Deepening relationships with our existing clients and the value of bringing more new clients to broadcast radio is critical for our future. We have a real opportunity to expand being seen locally as consultative experts who can help local businesses become more successful with a wide variety of advice, and advertising and marketing solutions. Investing in a significant local digital business can add revenue and have a positive impact on both of these for us.

Now is the time. Pick your future and develop your strategy to be included in the digital conversations that are happening every day in your market with or without you.

Radio does its best when the focus is on local connection because radio gets its power from being local. Having a local business that focuses on the mix of over-the-air and digital solutions that complement each other while being powerful solutions for local clients is a perfect strategy for elevating radio’s game for the 21st century.

Loyd Ford has worked as a programmer in markets across the U.S. and spent over a decade working as a ratings strategist for Americalist Direct Marketing. He runs his own pure play digital platform and has a podcast. Reach him at Rainmaker Pathway; 864.448.4169 or [email protected]

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