546: Strategies to Boost Radio Ad Sales | Corey Elliott – Part 1
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This week’s episode is different than your usual Conquer Local Podcast. Tune in for the first part of a 2-part webinar series with Corey Elliot to explore strategies to boost radio ad sales in 2023.
Corey Elliott is the Executive Vice President of Local Market Intelligence and is America’s foremost authority on local advertising. Corey leads Borrell’s ongoing surveys of local marketers — the largest survey of SMBs in the U.S. — and the company’s expansive database of local advertising and marketing expenditures.
He’s the co-host of the Local Marketing Trends podcast and host of his bi-weekly video program, Corey’s Local Market Minute, seen on YouTube. Before joining Borrell in 2014, he was director of Market Intelligence at Gannett and holds a degree from Ohio University.
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Strategies to Boost Radio Ad Sales
George: This is the Conquer Local podcast. A show about billion-dollar sales leaders, marketers leading local economic growth, and entrepreneurs that have created their dream organizations. They wanna share their secrets, giving you the distilled version of their extraordinary feats. Our hope is with the tangible takeaways from each episode, you can rewire, rework and reimagine your business. Today’s episode might feel a little bit different from your usual Conquer Local episode. We had a live webinar recently and we just felt we had to share all of the lessons in that webinar with you, our conquerors. I’m George Leith and I’m proud to welcome to today’s episode, Corey Elliott from Borrell and Associates to discuss strategies to boost radio ad sales in 2023. Based in Williamsburg, Virginia, Corey is the executive vice president of local market intelligence for Borrell Associates. He is America’s foremost authority on local advertising, and he leads Borrell’s ongoing surveys of local marketers, the largest survey of small and medium businesses in the United States, as well as the company’s expansive database of local advertising and marketing expenditures. He’s the cohost of the Local Marketing Trends podcast and host of his biweekly video program, Corey’s Local Marketing Minute seen on YouTube. Prior to joining Borrell in 2014, he was the director of market intelligence at Gannett and he holds a degree from Ohio University. Get ready conquerors for this two-part webinar series of Corey Elliott, coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local podcast.
George: Welcome everyone. Super excited to have my friend Corey Elliott joining us for this webinar. Corey, welcome. Just for everyone watching, where are you right now in this beautiful world of ours?
Corey: I am in this room, which is a bedroom on our house in the mighty metropolis of Williamsburg, Virginia, which is south of Richmond on your way to Virginia Beach.
George: And I’ve actually driven through your city at one point.
Corey: Most people do drive right through the city.
George: You’re on your way to the beach. Corey, executive vice president, of local market intelligence at Borrell. And I was trying to figure out when we were prepping for this webinar exactly when I first saw you on stage presenting that local market intelligence, but I’m pretty sure it was seven or eight years ago.
Corey: Wow! Yeah, shows both of our ages, doesn’t it?
George: Well, I was always fascinated, and still to this day I’m fascinated because I just saw you do it again in Miami a few months back where we really started to learn about what that cohort of local businesses that you talk to every year, what they really want, like what are they really saying? Now, I have the privilege of sometimes when we’re working with our channel partners actually talking to a plumber or talking to an auto dealer. So I get some of that firsthand, but I’ve always been fascinated at the breadth of the data and then at the trends. And what we’re hoping to do today on this webinar was have you educate us around some of those trends. But just for folks that maybe joining and aren’t aware of the survey and how massive it is, could you kind of give us, kind of set the stage to how you collect that data every year and how it’s evolved over time?
Corey: Sure. So, Borrell Associates, if you don’t know, we are in the local advertising analysis game. What we look at, we only consider ourselves with local advertising and what’s going on, on a local market. And we forecast that, and not all of it, but a lot of it is based on local survey data that we do through partners in media. And we do it every year. We get thousands of local businesses to answer a pretty in-depth survey in marketing. So that’s where we get a lot of our information. Then we also recruit people from that survey over to an… We call it an SMB panel, which has few hundred local businesses that are really engaged in advertising, or say they understand marketing, and wanna know more about it, and will answer surveys we do every month about particular topics. And so when we piece all of this together, we get a good sense of what local advertisers are thinking and how they’re thinking about local marketing. And we find out a lot of the times, this is gonna sound weird, but they tell us things, especially in open-ended answers that they might not tell a media partner or an agency that comes in through the front door. So we probe a lot into what do you want from media partners. What are the key things you need from them? What do you like to see? So we get that kind of information, but we use that information to also project local ad spending and local promotion spending too.
George: And the audience that gathers for those presentations, they’ve got their phones out and they’re taking pictures of the screens, even though we can download it later. And they’re nudging their colleagues on the other side, look at this trend that’s happening. So I just wanted to kind of set the stage for this webinar as to we’re going to get some real-world data points from the street, and then we’re going to articulate it back to our audience today, which the invited audience is folks in the radio business. And for those of you that don’t know, I started in the radio business when I was 16 years old at the local radio station doing play-by-play hockey. And there’s a lot of money in that, no, there isn’t. So I then was told, if you wanna make more money, go out and sell ads on the broadcast. And then I got into sales and was still doing a little bit on-air. When I arrived at Vendasta 10 years ago, one of the reasons was I’ve known Brendan King our CEO for a long time, and he is like, George knows how to talk media. We’re working with media companies and I got to get back into it again, working with media companies now all over the world. But I have this special affinity for the radio business and I remember pre-COVID, New York Borrell conventions that there was a statement, whether you made it or Gordon made it at the conference. He said, “Look out, “radio’s gonna start selling digital now.” And I was like, boy, we’ve been preaching that people should be selling digital for a long time. Why is radio jumping in now? Now I have my own feelings on this, but I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe we’re now in a space where everybody in radio is selling digital or is trying to sell digital and they’re actually being very successful with it in some cases. Is that a fair statement?
Corey: Yeah, that’s a really fair statement. I think where that was born out of is, if you come with me on a journey as you go back in time and you look at how the digital landscape affected major media, especially local media, right? The first to be hit were the yellow pages, right? Way back in the day, they’re the first ones to get smacked. And here came Craigslist and other things that we had all used the yellow pages for. They were the first to really get hit, then came newspaper, newspapers the second to get hit. Newspapers’ answer to everything was, eh, just throw it on that crazy thing called the web. Who cares. Now I’m talking about in the ’90s, right? So you see how that worked out. Then the next to be affected was TV. TV was the next to be affected with different OTT platforms and things like that. Radio is affected but was the last and had the opportunity of seeing these other major kind of media get hit by digital and what they did with it, good or bad, what they did with it. And a lot of them had an opportunity to adjust their sales and go, oh, I see where this is going. Just by virtue of being the last to get majorly hit. And that showed in some of the data, I’m sorry, I have my notes right here. I wanna be clear. We asked a question five years ago and then just recently about sales reps from different media. We asked the local advertisers and we asked, do you think your sales rep from your local media company are savvy when it comes to marketing? And back then 31% said radio is savvy. They were savvy in marketing, that jumped up the highest jump of any media to 41% of local businesses saying no radio is savvy. The biggest one was when we asked about digital savviness. Well, I’m sorry, there’s no such word as savviness, I’ve been told this. Digital savvy. When we’ve asked about that, it went from 15% of local businesses back in, well five years ago, saying, yeah, my radio rep is digitally savvy to 28%. And that was the biggest jump we’ve seen in any media. So all to say, and by the way, the marketing savvy, radio’s number one in the eyes of local marketers or local businesses I should say. They’re the ones who have been viewed as knowing something about marketing. And hopefully, we’ll get into it. That is so exceedingly important right now. And that’s another leg up that radio has.
George: Well, so let me throw a couple of things in the table. And I don’t like acronyms, trying to kill acronyms, but I’m gonna throw one out right now called the NTR. And I remember, what NTR stands for in the radio business is non-traditional revenue. And I remember back in the ’90s, mid-’90s, radio stations were hiring NTR directors, non-traditional radio directors and they were out selling events and they were selling, we’re gonna do a concert and they were out, we’re gonna capture all the co-op dollars in the market and we’re gonna come up with a process to make sure that we’re getting those co-op dollars. Also the other thing, so I think that’s one reason why clients feel that radio reps are a little more savvy and think outside the box, by the way, they have to ’cause it’s selling an intangible from day one. You probably learned that in the first six months. Took me a couple of years ’cause I’m not that smart to realize that you have to think outside the box. But there’s another component and I wanna get… Now you’re nodding, so I’m sure we agree on that, that they have been selling other lines of business and had to learn how to sell them. That’s why non-traditional revenue, it was living in the radio business and that’s why they jumped onto digital because they’re like, oh, it’s another thing that I have to learn how to sell but it was kind of in the DNA. But this whole thing of when a local advertiser says, when I think about being a better marketer for my business, I’m gonna turn to my radio rep. Again, comes back to that thing where radio had to think outside the box. And I remember back when I started exceeding budgets and much to the grand of my sales managers, it wasn’t in the first five years. It took me a while to figure this stuff out. But when I realized that I gotta think about their entire marketing budget, I’ve gotta give them advice around their newspaper creative. I gotta give them advice. And if I could control the creative narrative and come up with that concept, that plan, that emotional connection that now we’re gonna market this thing and we’re gonna shout it from the rooftops. I was actually able to suggest that the budget could move around a little bit. You don’t need that full page. You can actually do a junior full page and give me some of the budget. That is what radio reps got good at and then now digital arrives on the scene and they’ve gotta sell 30 things and solve more problems. It’s not about selling the 30 things, by the way, they’re solving more problems. They’re actually better at it because they’ve had to be better at it throughout their entire career. Do you agree or do you disagree?
Corey: No, that’s absolutely incorrect. No, I’m kidding. Of course, you’re correct. The interesting thing is that’s what we hear from the mouths of local advertisers, and local businesses, especially when we ask them about what do you want from any media rep. And it isn’t, hey, you know what I really need. I really need just a big old list of products. That’s what I need. I just need that you have a whole vending machine of products. They aren’t saying that, that’s way down on the list. What’s up at the top of the list are transparent marketing plans and some marketing intelligence that you know how to bring somebody through an entire funnel. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m so glad to hear you say some of the things you did. It isn’t about selling products, it’s about selling solutions but remember, solutions is just not an acronym for products. I’m not switching out solutions for products. My solution is the overall campaign, which might include things that a radio station doesn’t own because it does. And I know there are… I’m not picking on radio stations. There are other media out there that just can’t fathom the idea of doing what you did in advising clients on media they don’t own but are needed because I want to move your customer through this funnel and this is how we’re going to do it and this is the messaging at every stage of the funnel and this is how we’re going to get them there. That’s what they are open-endedly asking or telling us they want from local media companies. They’re not finding it for the most part. So they are treating local media companies like vending machines. Well fine, nobody’s gonna do this for me, then I want the number four, the number eight, and the number 12, bye. And you get into that cycle. So yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with what you said.
George: And Corey, it’s interesting you use the vending machine analogy because I don’t bring any value. I can go to any vending machine to get that information or get what I need there so there’s not a lot of chance to expand that customer and solve more of their problems and deepen your relationship if you’re just a commodity. I’ve been listening to your podcast and you and Gordon, you’ve had Mike Reed, you’ve had Bob Pitman, you’ve had David Santrella, you’ve had Perry Sook, basically it’s the CEO of CEOs in media companies that have been going through this podcast. And some of these folks are in industries that have really struggled and have been consolidated. Some of these folks are in industries that are adapting and trying to figure it out. Is there a common theme that you’ve noticed from that CEO podcast series that you guys have been running over the last little while?
Corey: You should pose that question to both me and Gordon ’cause I think we pull two different things out of it. You gotta remember I’m Gen X, so I’m mostly pessimistic than I am optimistic or at least satirical. What I pulled out of it is the incredible faith and optimism these CEOs have in the public. I know that sounds really cynical and crass, but it seemed a little simplistic ’cause the theme, I should have said this, the theme of the podcast was, hey, do you have a plan for 2032? Everybody has a plan for next year and the year after, but literally 10 years from now, what is your media gonna look like? And is it gonna be around? And for the large part, all these CEOs said, oh yeah, there’s a couple of exceptions, but my media’s gonna be around. And it’s because people are gonna realize they need it. And I hope that’s right. It’s a hell of a leap of faith rather than saying, no, we’re going to move, we’re gonna skate to where the puck is. As Gretzky used to say, you being a hockey fan, you would know that. So that’s what I saw. The other theme too was, everybody was… But then saying, I say that now I’m talking on the other side of my mouth, is that they all seem to say, yeah, we need to do more than what our core is. Whatever our core media is, we need to get out there and provide much more than we have. We need to incorporate content creation, we need to incorporate digital services. We need all of this stuff to provide the best thing we can for our advertisers.
George: So the reason why I wanted to bring up those comments from those CEOs and I recommend that people have a chance to listen to that. And keep in mind, CEOs have to… Some of those are publicly traded companies, they’ve gotta communicate through greed as well. But the interesting thing is now let’s look back at where people have failed. Let’s look back at what we’ve learned. And I remember entering into this space being a career media salesperson, and I own my own businesses for a number of years. By the way, I don’t necessarily love the fact that I own my own businesses for a number of years because I don’t have a big pile of money at the end of that 10-year journey like I probably should have. But what I do know is I know what I hate on the other side of the desk from a sales rep. Because I was now the buyer and I had media reps coming to me trying to sell me stuff and I know what I hate. But if we look back over the last 10 years, I remember going into media companies, and I’m not gonna use the genre of media early in 2012 and 2013. And I’m like, where the hell did all the talent go that I was selling against when I was on the street? Some of those industries, the talent left because they were high commission sales positions. And when the $20,000 offer that they had or the $5,000 offer that they have was gone and they couldn’t make that commission, the talent was gone. But when I looked inside other media companies, I’m like, whoa, there’s some talented folks here. And they’re starting to understand they need to be doing other things but the training was horrible. The training was horrible. Do you see that those two things are shifting? When we look inside radio, I feel like there’s still talent there. Have they got their heads around that you’ve gotta constantly train, you’ve gotta be out in front of it? The world is moving underneath our feet. Do you see that maybe those two blemishes on the early transition folks that realized they had the transition, but some of these components from… Are you seeing that that might be a little different in radio?
Corey: Yeah, I think it is. And again, because of the delay… Not the delayed response, the delayed impact they got to see because those people who do their trainings in media companies move around too, right? So they improve their game too if you’re doing external training, I mean. But radio certainly has that ability. And I don’t see, I haven’t been privy to any training programs that are just so product-focused like they were back in the day when I was sitting at a newspaper. I grew up in newspapers. So we’d have all-day trainings about, okay, this is this product, this is this product, this is this product. And not about how they fit into any kind of marketing plan whatsoever. It seems that that has shifted, which is good. You still have to train about products, but it’s also where it fits into the whole scheme of things. And I think radio, you can find exceptions to every rule, but radio seems to have a little bit of a gain on that because they’ve gotten to see everybody else go through it.
George: I found something here recently working with a media company actually in the radio space and the reps are running up against a bit of a challenge now that they are transitioning to digital. And you may have saw this and I’m hoping that you have, and you can give us all some advice on this broadcast ’cause I’ve been thinking a lot about it.
Corey: Uh, oh.
George: The CEO had told the sales team about five years ago to sell against digital and now they’ve arrived at a place where they have to sell digital. And they’ve got customers that have good memories saying, “Hey, wait a minute, you were in here five years ago, “four years ago, three years ago, telling me that I… “you’re basically giving all the reasons “why I shouldn’t do this stuff. “And now you’re sitting across the desk “saying that you’ve got the next best thing. “Why should I believe you?” Have you saw that happen? And how have folks overcome that?
Corey: It’s not a direct example, and I know I keep harping on this, it sounds like a broken record. It was a shift, I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t a radio company. It was a newspaper company out there that was doing the very same thing that they shifted, they don’t sell digital and then all of a sudden sell digital and had very similar experience. And the idea was, okay, again, shift off of the products and shift onto… Back then it was all about audience-based selling. We’re going to move this audience, we’re gonna take this audience. Do you want this group of people in your store? Well, this is how we get them in your store and concentrate more on the campaign than the individual products was their tact. And I think that’s the only tact to take really, is look, it’s not, in fact in this day and age, it’s even kicked up a notch. And it’s one of the things I wanna talk about if we get time about some of the success stories out there is getting into the databasing world and getting into, not manipulating, not manipulating, but working with a customer’s database and being able to literally tie those things together. We concentrated on, I’m being way simplistic. We concentrated on this area of the market and you saw this kind of lift from that area after three months after the campaign, we’re gonna take credit for that. We’re that sophisticated now, we’ve been that sophisticated, but it’s becoming that… I dare to use the word easy, but it’s becoming a lot easier to work with those data sets. And I think that’s a huge opportunity as well.
George: And you can see the epiphany happen in a room full of radio sellers, they had to justify budget that was spent and weren’t able to articulate any sort of attribution. And to your point, now we have attribution points that we can show a lift. Something as simple as going to Google business profile after you run a traditional radio campaign over 13 weeks and coming back and saying, your Google business profile metrics went up. They’ve been constant at this level and then we ran the campaign and they went like this. That is not a very good coincidence. Like that’s an epiphany for a sales rep and for a client to be able to show that value. In fact, one of the things that I harp on all the time, and my colleagues on the call are going, oh, here goes George on a rant. But when you’re making the presentation to a customer and you call out the fact that you’re gonna show up in 30 days or 14 days with a report and show them if it’s working, you just out-position 20 other people that are calling on that client because you’re prepared to put your money where the mouth is and say, here’s how it’s working or here’s things that we need to address.
Corey: It’s funny you say that because we just close an SMB panel all about ROI. If you listen to our podcast or the videos or anything, we talk about ROI, you gotta present ROI, ROI that’s all local advertisers want. So we turned around to the local advertisers and said, okay, let’s talk about ROI. No, no, seriously, how are you doing it? How are you measuring it? I know you want it. Are you doing it? And what we found out was from our panel, only 43% said they had any kind of ROI process for marketing. The rest don’t. They want it, but they don’t have it. But then when you delve inside that 43%, we said, whatever method you are using, whatever you’re doing, how much of your marketing spend can you attribute? Can you justify? And I think it was, 26% said half, 33% said less than half. So there’s over 50… Well, I can do math, 59% who said, yeah, I have an ROI process. I can only look at less than half of my media spend. So the desire is out there and I think you’re right, there’s a golden opportunity for anybody who can come in and sit down and say, look, I want to prove out ROI. Let’s discuss what it means. Because that was the other thing we asked is, okay, what does ROI mean? What are you looking at? And what we found out was, this is interesting. This is hot, you guys are getting this information first. ‘Cause I just looked at the results yesterday. It was the people who didn’t have an ROI. We still forced them. We said, okay, if you are going to look for an ROI, what would you use? What metric would you use? And they leaned toward cost per lead, cost per new business, said, okay, then we asked that same question to people who do have an ROI, regardless of what the ROI is, whether it’s a good engine or a bad, we said, what about you guys? And it was cost against acquisition. I want it directly tied to my transactional data. That’s what I want. I wanna see the money in the till tick up. I don’t care about, I’m exaggerating, of course, I don’t care about leads coming in or new people coming in. I wanna see more money. So I thought that was–
George: We don’t really care where it’s coming from. I just want more money.
Corey: No, and that’s the thing is, I think people get hung up on and it’s a great thing. Let’s peruse the ROI of every single portion of this campaign. I get it. I get why you’d wanna do that. But I think there’s an opportunity to say, okay, tell you what, give me your transactional database, give it to me. All right, we are going to run the campaign I want for three months, then you’re gonna give me that transactional database again and we’re gonna sit down and look at the results together and we’re gonna see exactly to the dollar what has changed. That can be done. I gotta think whoever can go in and provide that is gonna have, as you say, a huge leg up.
George: No, and that’s the holy grail that everybody’s looking for is to be able to sit down and have that conversation with a customer. It’s funny that you bring that up though, that your data is supporting something we’ve noticed, every local business you call on, they want more impressions, they want more people seeing their ads, then they want more engagement and then they want more leads. No, they don’t. They want more deals. They want more money in the till is what they really want. And we have to use those other metrics to show them… We could have too much data. That one graphic where it’s got the LEGO blocks and there’s the pile of LEGO blocks and then you kind of color code them and then you stack them up.
Corey: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and it gets all organized.
George: But the real winner is the one that tells the story with the data.
George: Well, that episode was amazing with Corey, but also long. So we’ve decided to cut it into two episodes and continue the conversation next week. If you like Corey’s episode, discussing strategies to boost radio ad sales, join us right here next week for the Conquer Local podcast.