Is Radio Being Fabulous?


(By Deborah Parenti) I’ve always believed that you should cultivate relationships before you need them. That way, you’re prepared if a problem arises. You’re not dealing with an adversary. You’re dealing with a friend. All things being equal, people like to buy from their friends. All things being unequal, people like to buy from their friends. When you make your customers feel they are long-term friends, you not only enhance the relationship, but you also cement the business opportunity.” — Bill “Be Fabulous” Burton

Some reading this may not be familiar with Bill Burton. That’s a shame. For decades, he was one of radio’s biggest cheerleaders and a truly fabulous, passionate, and attention-getting presenter. He was once chair of Eastman Radio and later president of the Detroit Radio Advertising Group. We lost the larger-than-life Bill Burton in 2014.

Throughout his career, no one put the “show biz” in the radio business like Bill. And he was never shy about sharing his love for it. Whether addressing a room full of hundreds or standing in an elevator with a captive audience of one, Bill never missed the chance to explain “why radio works.” From magic tricks and doughnut deliveries to marching brass bands, there was nothing Bill wouldn’t do to leave a lasting, fabulous impression on agencies, clients, and reps in training.

Indeed, Bill was equally generous with his time, encouraging and mentoring those just starting in radio. He was never too busy to answer questions or offer guidance with a sales challenge. How many CEOs and senior executives do that today? How many take the time to reach into the ranks and spend an hour with an up-and-coming employee to answer questions and offer encouragement? Imagine the impact if that were done monthly — or, maybe more practically, once a quarter — with four young professionals. Four hours over a year. Who can’t afford that? Bill Burton, even as chair of Eastman Radio, could.

Radio could use another Bill Burton — or two. While times and toolbox tactics have changed, there’s something fundamental about the human aspect of the sales process. Behind every data point and automated message lives a breathing personality. Note, I did not say “person” — that’s a given. But it’s the personality in the decision-making driver’s seat who steers the rubber down the road. That’s where creating relationships, a seemingly somewhat lost art today, can and still does have an impact. Because people do buy more from people they like. And they like people they know, have established a relationship with, and built trust in.

If you’re like me, you hear it a lot. Clients don’t respond. They “ghost” the rep. And it’s certainly not an idle excuse. Not, that is, until it’s the only excuse, and the messaging consists of the same pitch. Old tricks die hard, but old tricks that don’t produce results are just as likely to be the wrong tricks. And changing tactics is something we all have to be open to doing because someone, somewhere is sealing the deal.

I would suggest — and don’t bite my head off — that we’ve become a bit lazy. That the pandemic years gave us an excuse that, while valid, is one we have continued to take advantage of ever since. True, remote working made some clients even harder to reach. Also true, some don’t return calls or answer emails or texts. So, do we throw our hands up and stop there?

With all the information available today, it’s easier than ever to get to know people, starting with social media connections. Send a birthday or congrats card (you’d be surprised — some really relish getting snail mail). Put a human stamp on what might otherwise too easily be a transactional relationship. There are other ways to build relationships — and business.

It might not always work, but nothing will work until we try. “Be fabulous” — be Bill Burton.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. Reach Deborah at [email protected]. Read her Radio Ink digital archives here or read her latest column with a digital or print subscription here.


  1. It was a pleasure to meet Bill when Eastman was our rep firm. He never missed an opportunity for a motivating slap on the back, whatever form that took from the day I met him, until the day he died. He was a great inspiring and motivating guy and an even greater friend. You always looked forward to your next meeting with Bill. I still have the crystal apple he presented to me all those years ago, always in front of me on my desk. Great memories. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love this column and tribute to Bill Burton. Every note was signed with that famous well penned “Be Fabulous.” An expression that I’ve heard used by many as a benchmark for something’s value or worth. “But … is it Fabulous?”

    Thank you Deborah and to Bill. He was always fabulous.

  3. Send handwritten thank you notes and chocolate birthday cakes.
    guarantees a repeat order. Every time
    All true about Burton. Worth noting he behaved like that while suffering through CHRONIC,
    crippling lower back pain.


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