Joseph Abboud has been designing and creating styles and trends in fashion for men for three decades. This renowned fashion designer has had a brick-and-mortar Madison Avenue business address for only about four years, but he is no stranger to the airwaves in the nation’s top radio market. Abboud, who was a frequent guest on Imus in the Morning, is now a regular on Imus successor Bernie and Sid in the Morning on Cumulus’s WABC/New York. Our weekly advertiser success stories are sponsored by SPECbyte.com.
Radio Ink: Tell us how you got involved with radio, and why.
Abboud: I’m a commuter. I live in Westchester County — my commutes are now two hours. There is something about radio that I think is really engaging; you use your imagination and you relate to the talent.
So it goes back to my early commuting days, listening to Imus. I kind of got to know him because he discovered my clothes and thought I was some frou-frou European designer. I remember calling him up and telling him, “You’ve got it all wrong, I’m an American designer. I’m glad you love my clothes. And how much more American can I be? I’m a Red Sox fan.”
We started that relationship in the very early ’90s. Even before he was syndicated, Imus had a very big audience and a very influential audience. So I found that being engaged, instead of just advertising, made it all that much more real.
Radio Ink: With Imus, you went in and pitched your designs and pitched your business, but it was always a conversation. That must have been pretty special for you.
Abboud: He was such a character, and the circle of guests he had, from politicians to musicians to comedians — he really had a broad range. I think back then he was voted one of the 25 Most Influential People in America. That was at the high point, and he also did a lot of charitable work that I felt I wanted to be involved with. It became more of a relationship than advertising.
Radio Ink: How is working with Bernie and Sid on WABC different from working with Imus?
Abboud: Bernie and Sid are amazing. I called them the first week they went on the air and I told them it was the first time I could actually remember the energy and excitement of looking forward to getting in the car and listening to them. They are great together. We go back a long way from the Imus days.
They have a positive message, and there is no meanness or mean-spirited dialogue
with them. Even if they don’t agree with each other or if they goof around with their guests occasionally, they are very deferential and respectful. It’s a breath of fresh air because we lived through those days of being brutalized with Imus. They have the same wit, and Sid’s range of sports is pretty incredible, and Bernie’s experience with politics and all of the things he experienced through his Imus years. They are both very likable guys, and their voices come across as likable on the radio.
Radio Ink: Tell us about your weekly appearance on Bernie and Sid in the Morning.
Abboud: Every Wednesday we do a fashion tip, but generally it’s more about sports. They know I’m a diehard Boston fan, even though we are in the New York market. We talk about all the history between the Yankees and the Red Sox. It’s always fun with them. Sid is very fast and very witty, and Bernie is bright and very intuitive. They are a very good combination. There is magic they create on the radio, something that we haven’t had for a while.
Radio Ink: There is a chemistry there between you and Bernie and Sid, so I guess that makes it pretty easy to talk and just be you.
Abboud: It does, and you know at this point in my career, I don’t force anything. I love the relationship; I’m a listener as well as an advertiser. I see who they reach, and the people who speak to me about it. It’s WABC, and for the Tri-State Area, they have a pretty broad reach and have the history of being a pretty important channel here in NYC.
Radio Ink: What’s it like working with WABC and the Cumulus people?
Abboud: They are a great partner. They have brought more value-added than any other experience I have ever had. It’s more of a partnership than an advertiser relationship. If there are things they are doing outside the show, they will have me on, or make a mention. They really give you three times more than what you pay for.
Part of it, I think, is that it is an authentic relationship. I go way back with the guys, but I always feel welcome. I feel they treat my brand extremely well in a very conversational, editorial way. Even when they read the commercial, they put a lot of energy into it. It’s not just a dead read, which I hate. It’s not just lip-syncing it. They make it feel so much more authentic and more credible. I’m always welcome over there. They are gracious. Their whole team makes me feel very welcome, and that to me is a really nice thing.
Radio Ink: How do you translate the visual medium of fashion into the audio medium of radio?
Abboud: I’m not advertising a blue plaid shirt. I’m talking about brand awareness, about great tailoring — things you can talk about. We don’t talk about price, ever, in our ads. We’re not promotional in that way for our flagship Joseph Abboud store here in NYC. We really talk about the quality, the style, the timelessness of our clothing.
You know men are very hungry for relevant fashion information. It’s amazing how Bernie and Sid can ask the right questions, so if I were listening on the radio I would say, “Oh, yeah, suits are getting softer,” or, “You know what? Linen is a great fabric.” We don’t have to be visual. Storytelling, for me, has always been the magic of radio.
Radio Ink: What sets radio apart from other advertising mediums?
Abboud: It’s the storytelling. You know, you’re driving in the morning, they set the stage, they talk about my factory in a way that might not be possible to do visually. We employ 800 people in our factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts. We have been making in America for 30 years, even before it was cool to be “Made in America.” To just tell that story and the way they do it — they lend authenticity and credibility to a brand I started 31 years ago. I love that part of it.
Radio Ink: How do you know radio is working for you?
Abboud: The most elemental and primitive way is that people come into the store and say they heard me or the guys on the radio talking about it. I’m not an analytics guy that needs to see those numbers. It’s awareness. You know, people will walk by our store at 49th and Madison and they take the time to stop in and say they heard about us on Bernie and Sid: “How long have you been here? You know I’ve walked by many times, but never noticed.” It’s the awareness — you know, people pick their heads out of their phones and look at our award-winning windows. People in NYC are destination-driven, they’re moving fast. So having them aware they are near 49th and Madison and thinking, “Hey, let me go in and take a look,” is great.
Radio Ink: What would you tell folks who are considering using radio but haven’t taken the leap yet?
Abboud: You know you used the right word. It’s a leap of faith, but it’s a very, very positive leap. It’s really more of a question of where you advertise on radio and what it is you are looking for. You really have to think about the quality of your ads and the message you want to deliver. To me, I wanted to deliver an authentic, credible message about being a brand that specializes in beautiful men’s tailoring. To talk about that, and talk about the heritage of it, is important.
That’s the story we crafted for the commercial I recorded, and the live read that Bernie and Sid do. I told them, “Guys, you just talk about it the way you feel about it.” They do an amazing job. You know, they do it a little bit differently every day. They may throw something different in, or make a seamless transition from a conversation they just had. So it feels like they own it, that they are a part of it, that they are a partner.