Radio: Swaggering Or Staggering?

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(By Ronald Robinson) Radio’ great pal, supporter, mentor and student-of-the-medium, Beasley’s Bob McCurdy, recently penned a piece urging radio organizations to start demonstrating more swagger.

In his opening remarks, Bob quotes Pizza Hut’s Chief Brand Officer Marianne Radley. She stated, “We needed to be more confident, we needed to have a little bolder presence, not be so apologetic, take more chances, be a little bit riskier.”

I had a couple of knee-jerk reactions to that comment. A compelling argument can be made for Ms. Radley’s position for one primary reason: Pizza Hut was already producing a quality, competitive product! There is no need for the company to go back into their kitchens in order to reinvent the pizza. Her comments were more about brand and store presentations to the public.

Radio, however, enjoys no such distinction. Radio, desperately and absolutely, needs to get back into the kitchen. Even when radio delivers some fairly decent ROIs, it does so because, so often, the actual investment on the part of advertisers is so shamelessly low – just enough, in many cases, I am told, to keep the stations’ doors open.

I have to wonder: Where is the swagger opportunity in that? Radio has been burdened, generally, with a weak set of products and services for years – the weakest of all major, electronic media. Radio has boarded up the kitchen. Besides, those who do know about the galley also realize there are so few supplies available, that preparing a simple but unsatisfying and non-nutritious PB&J sandwich becomes a major undertaking.

Indeed, if radio’s much-vaunted 93% reach is taken as a given, and if one includes the dollar-a-holler reach plans, it’s a surprise that stations do not guarantee a predetermined ROI for the advertiser. The elements, however, that must also be considered are: 1. Is the advertiser making a legitimate and competitive offer? 2. Does the copy and production represent interesting and effective advertising? Actually, it’s no surprise at all that guarantees, never mind mild assurances are not provided, since stations would be terrified to supply such a guarantee. No “swagger” opportunity there, either.

Bob also goes on to make a huge distinction between “swagger” and “bluster.” I have heard it said on a regular basis that radio is still in a position where bluster is the main ingredient and that there are crates of that stacked up somewhere in a back room. In circumstances where such is not the case, and a station or cluster is delivering consistently, then I am more than willing to defer to the Walt Whitman adage: “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” In such a situation, swagger would definitely be posted in the orders of the day.

I am not advocating the practice of AEs making any grand guarantees for advertising success. Plus, if that were ever to get out, advertisers would be clamoring, en masse, for similar treatment. Things would get real ugly, real fast.

Still, I am uneasy with the admonition for AEs to “swagger like Jagger.” This is because the Stones have made their bones. Too many AEs have yet to wander back from their safe-houses. It’s only partially their fault in that they are also forced to be the Creative Departments. Useful, effective copy “that writes itself,” doesn’t. Ineffective, shabby, and annoying copy writes itself. For that kind of advertising trash, required supplies are a functional ballpoint pen and a dinner napkin.

Bob also brought in the comments of a very senior agency executive who said that many in the radio industry with whom she interacted were defensive about the medium and suffered from an inferiority complex, often spending more time knocking down other media channels rather than building up their own. Maybe that is because any defenses sound worn and tired and fall on deaf ears. When it comes to radio, inferiority issues are not complexes at all, but accurate representations of the situation. Radio remains “Number Five Inferior” for all the known, substantial reasons. Bob may be aware of some individuals or groups addressing these matters. I am not.

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. Email him at info@voicetalentguy.com

8 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t change, Kevin.
    I’m too busy checking my trap lines, feeding the sled dogs and overwhelming my universal health care system – one of the nice advantages of a slice of socialism.
    By the way, there is no advertising for prescribed medications anywhere.
    But, we do suffer from the same general lack of effective, creative participation on the part of local radio stations and/or slipshod agencies.

  2. There are the occasions when I am willing to compliment someone in the medium.
    Bob, for one, has credibility with me. And I said so in the (above) piece.
    My criticisms have always been about the extraordinarily flawed presentations that radio, as a generalization, have allowed to take hold… and, in the process, have become the status quo.
    Alternative approaches have been consistently provided.
    Meanwhile, if my pieces have been so completely without merit, and if my content has been so beyond reason, I wonder how it is that the editor and publishers of RadioInk have tolerated me for the last five years – a situation for which I am still grateful.

  3. Shelley, your comments are dead-on. I always feel like Ronnie has nothing good to say about our medium, so why say anything at all. This column is a waste of space in my opinion.

  4. Ronnie,

    McCurdy writes an interesting column because he has useful, positive things to say about his profession.
    You, on the other hand, snear, look down, admonish, criticise, make fun of, denigrate, diminish, attack, belittle, assail, lambaste, snipe, rebuke,scold,disparage, chide, berate, assault, knock and nitpick radio.
    Your writings are not to improve radio, as McCurdy’s excellent column is intended-it’s to state your superiority.
    You’re a pompous ass.

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