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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.
Corey is 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 Elliot 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 Elliot coming up next on this week’s episode of the “Conquer Local Podcast.”
George: One of the notes that we had here was we talked about training, we talked about, you know, organizations and their positioning in the market. What is the glue? I have it in the notes that Corey’s gonna talk about the glue. What from your research do you feel is the glue?
Corey: Well, here’s the thing, I think marketing, and this is stuff we already know, but it’s good to remind ourselves and go, oh, yeah, marketing now is not advertising, right? Marketing is much more now, nowadays especially. And I use this analogy ’cause we talked to all sizes of business, ones that just began. And that’s a whole another topic, is how many businesses have sprung up in the last three years. It’s amazing. But let’s put that to the side. Imagine you start a business, you got a few employees. Here you go, you gotta get your name out. What’s the first thing you do? Where do you spend that first dollar? Is it going, I’ll give you a choice. Is it going to be, and I’ll even use radio. Is it gonna be a radio ad, hmm? Or a website? Oh, well, yeah, you gotta have the website. Okay, great, great, great. So you get the website. Okay, next dollar. Is it gonna be a newspaper ad or social media? Oh, crap. And you start to figure out that the first dollars being spent to market, which back when I was a young buck, meant advertising, goes to all of these other digital services. All these things I need now in this modern world, I gotta have these things before I start to even think about spending a dollar on more traditional forms of advertising. Because guys, that’s the world we live in now. That’s it. It’s here. So what’s the phrase? The future we’ve always been talking about is here, right? So those, that’s the glue. We talk about digital services, it’s kind of the glue that puts all of these other things together. So when we talk about the continuum and the marketing funnel, SEO, and blog management, and opt-in list management, and all that stuff is as equally important, if not more sometimes than traditional advertising spots. So that’s what we’re talking about, the glue.
George: No, and thank you for validating. What we’ve been talking about for years is you have this customer journey. The customer goes through the journey. That’s what they do when they’re making a purchase. And you need to have awareness. I’m not saying that you don’t need advertising, but also in 30-some-odd bloody years of selling ads, I know that it’s episodic. We run ad campaigns as business owners for reasons.
George: We run ad campaigns for reasons. We’ve got excess inventory that we need to move. We’re not hitting our revenue targets. We need to generate more traffic. But that is episodic. It’s not something that I run on a regular basis or pay for on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of old ad salespeople like me. But I need a foundation now to make those ads work better.
Corey: Yeah, absolutely.
George: Right. Like I have to have that foundational component and there are things that I can own, but it’s hard. You know, it’s never-
George: Been easier to get a website out there. But if I’m a dentist, I’m not a web developer, I’m not a graphic designer, I’m not a content writer. I drill people’s teeth, like my friend Jeff.
George: And Jeff, really good at it. He’s the guy that does my dentistry work. But I advise him on his Marketing. And he didn’t have a clue about needing a website or needing his social media pro, like owning components. By the way, components of these, you can own, advertising you rent.
George: And then there’s also items that you earn. And I go back to that old story of paid, earned and owned media. It’s never been more important. Now, for the broadcast executives on the phone right now, how does it work out selling ad inventory that you send all the money to Silicon Valley, that’s one of the things we don’t like around some digital forms of advertising. The margins so low-
George: But over here with SEO and websites and social, it may be hard, but the margin is higher and your level of ownership is better with the customer. Like you get in there and you can actually help them control the narrative. And that create, so I go back to the early days of learning how to be a media rep. If you controlled the creative, and you just talked about the glue, the creative is the story, the creative is the inventory-
George: the creative is the brand, the products, your unique selling propositions, and all of that can live on things, that as media reps, and in this case our audience is radio, you can deliver to customers. And it’s never been easier to do that than it is today. And what I mean by that is your choices before where I gotta hire my own staff, I gotta have web developers. And no, you can partner with people who are best in the world at doing this. It’s a really cool time, almost, you know, like it’s a cool time to be a radio executive because you could sell a hell of a lot more than just ads. So I appreciate that you’re talking about the glue. I was ranting there. I was on my soapbox again, thanks for calling it out. I wanna talk about the R word. And I’ve been through enough economic downturns in all the time that I’ve been doing this that I don’t even like to talk about it, because I believe that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because in any economic downturn, there are still winners and losers. What advice would you have for our audience around how they can address this supposed downturn that we’re going to have?
Corey: How can they address it? Well, know that it’s kind of fluid in that, we do, every three months we ask the panel, we call it the business barometer, and just we ask the same questions over and over again about this, again, to local businesses. How do they see this the last six months? How do they see right now? And how do they see the next six months? Long story short, right now they’re seeing, they’re a little cautious about the next six months, but the past six months were equal, if not better for a lot of ’em, than 2021’s last six months. So they’re coming in a little bit better and a little bit cautious towards the holiday shopping season. However, we’ve gotten preliminary reports that it’s the attitudes starting to pick up. That, whether it’s the holiday spirit, that things, the pessimism is starting to go away. I think it has a lot to do with something very timely, the midterms. People wanted to understand, it’s as if people wanted to understand, look, I want my outcome of the midterms, but moreover, I want the midterms to be done. I just, whatever we got, let’s just go. And there’s that kind of sentiment on the business side of it too. So I think the holiday season is going to be on, it’s certainly gonna be on par with ’21 and I think it’s gonna probably beat ’21, despite the recession or the R word, as you say. The attitude, I guess long story short, the attitudes we’re seeing from local businesses aren’t overly cautious. They’re sort of cautious, but not like, oh, there’s a recession coming, I’m pulling everything. We don’t see that.
George: I had a business owner tell me the other day, and I’m not talking about a media company, I’m talking about an actual business owner, we were talking to some folks at a seminar, and they said, you know, I said, “What is your spend? How much are you spending to attract a new customer?” And they didn’t really wanna, like, they just met me. So they didn’t really wanna go down that road of what they were totally spending. But they said this, which I thought was a very interesting comment. “If I know that it’s putting money in the till, I will keep spending.”
George: And then I asked them a question and I said, “So of all the dollars that you’re spending, which you won’t tell me the amount, I bet you all of them are effective.” And they rolled their eyes because I think all of us know, if we were really to look at our budgets, there’s something in there that we’re questioning the effectiveness.
George: Now the reason that I bring up this analogy, which, you know, that is right from a business owner that I was speaking to, I find sometimes when a media rep goes into a client, it’s all about, we’re gonna spend money and you’re gonna get more in the till, and you know, we’re gonna grow revenue. Like it’s this whole idea, your marketing’s gonna get better and you’re gonna grow more revenue. But I find that a lot of business people are questioning where they’re spending money today. And that maybe an efficiency opener might be better than at let’s get you to spend more money. Like let’s look at where you’re spending your dollars, investing your dollars. And maybe there might be some ways that we can trim some areas back. Go back to my earlier analogy where I took the full page ad away from the newspaper sales guy, got ’em to run a junior full page and took some of that budget for the radio. I’m actually wondering if you’re seeing this as well, that they’re a little bit cautious, they’re concerned about the dollars that they’re spending. If you could show them a way to be more efficient, that might be a way to capture budget as well, rather than all about we’re gonna get you more revenue.
Corey:Yeah. It’s back to the wand maker thing, right. I know half my, you know, I know half my advertising doesn’t work. I just don’t know what half, that whole spiel. And yeah, when somebody’s spending a lot of money on marketing, they’re always gonna question at least one thing. But you’re exactly right. If one were to come in and say, well, first of all we want to prove return on investment, you want it, I want it, we all want, ’cause if I can prove it, we both win, right. So let’s establish what does that mean. What would you consider a great campaign? Oh, more money in the till. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that. Are we talking about 5% more? Are we talking about year over year? What are our parameters? Let’s set that up and then let’s work towards that. And it kind of takes the product by product, you know, I don’t like, I don’t think we should have a full page, I think we should have a half page. It takes, it open, not takes, it opens up that conversation to be able to move the chess pieces around a little bit and understand, because the whole ultimate goal of this entire thing is to get to that 5% increase that you want. Remember, it’s all focused on your ROI and that’s what we’re gonna prove out. Yeah, and shifting things around, absolutely. Again, I go back to the fact that these local advertisers want somebody who has a lot more marketing savvy than they do. And and I know a lot of people probably on the call would say, yeah, that’s what an agency does. Well, yeah, that’s what an agency should do. But not everybody’s gonna go with an agency. Not everybody can afford an agency. So that’s another opportunity for a local media rep.
George: Listen, I love agencies and I think they’re great. I also love media companies. And I find sometimes when I’m talking to a local client, they say to me, “I don’t know who to trust.” In fact, last week-
George: I had three customers at a seminar that said, “Thank you for not selling to me in the one hour that you pontificated on stage. Thank you for bringing me data and real world analogies. Thank you for teaching me. I don’t know who to trust.” And they actually pointed at their media rep and said, “I’ll include them.”
George: And it was kind of staggering to me that we’ve been talking about the way you win here is by being the trusted local expert. And yet local businesses are saying they’re going, I don’t know. And is it the proliferation of 50 different people phoning ’em, trying to sell ’em stuff, telling ’em different stories? Why do you think that is?
Corey: Oh, that’s part of it, absolutely. We didn’t ask it in the last survey, but a couple other surveys, you’d be amazed at how many, and you guys probably already know this, how many people a local business has to bat away for helping them advertise or helping them market in a day. It’s quite a bit. And so they do want that one source or a couple sources, but there’s something should be said about the trusted source. Don’t get trusted source confused with relationship selling. I think those are two, they can be the same thing. But just because I really like Johnny doesn’t mean I trust Johnny, you know, Because a lot of media companies rely on the relationship selling, and that’s certainly a part of it, only if I can get you to trust me. And the only way that I can see how you could trust me is if I give you the data behind it. If I said, we said do this, we said it was gonna do this, it did this. Otherwise it’s, we’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing for years, you know.
George: Well, and that second call is the hardest call ever. And radio rep’s been programmed on that second call. And I know that I was, when I, again, when I started exceeding budgets, I got good at dealing with the objections after we ran a $2,500 ad campaign. Well, it didn’t quite do it what I thought it was gonna do. Okay, well what did you think it was gonna do?
George: Well, you know, I thought it was gonna do this. That’s not what you told me when we booked the campaign.
George: When you booked the campaign, we talked about this. Why do you think it didn’t achieve that? And we got good at dealing with the objections. Now insert 30 problems to solve and we’re doing a whole bunch of other stuff. I find that most reps are uncomfortable dealing with those questions. You know, it’s not an objection by the way, it’s a frequently asked question.
George: That buyers have, that customers have. They’re wondering, did I get the return on what was invested? Did you lie to me? Did you actually deliver what you promised? Part of it is just show up.
Corey: Yeah .
George: Show up after you made the sale. Like there is no set it and forget it.
George: Well, maybe if you’re selling one thing, but we just talked where the the money is, is solving more problems for that customer.
Corey: Right. If you’re selling one thing, you’re the vending machine at that point.
George: Correct. That’s how we kind of kicked it off. Corey, I’m sure you and I could go on for a long time, but I do wanna touch on one other item.
George: I just had this happen. I was launching a media company in the radio space in seven different markets and we were ready to roll. CEO is like, we’re rolling. And I’m like, okay, we’re gonna do these seminars. And we got three weeks to prepare for the first market. And the first market freaked out. And they said, we don’t have enough time. We had to get the invites out and everything else. And I’m like, actually, you know what, most invites get responded to in the last week anyways. And you’re gonna have to phone all the people to remind them to come and you’re never gonna be ready, so let’s just do it. And what happened in all seven markets was record turnout, meaning I usually see about 50 to 60% of the RSVPs turn up, turnout was 80%. In fact, they had to put more chairs in in a couple of places. The other thing was, people stuck around afterwards, and I am an average speaker at best, but they stuck around afterwards to talk to their peers, other business people, asked them how they were experiencing things. They wanted to dig deeper into the data. Like they were captivated because they wanna learn and they wanna understand what’s going on. But I don’t think that those people show up, if you and I phone and say, “Hey, George and Corey are gonna do a webinar and a lunch and learn today.” They showed up because of the local media company invited them and the brand of that local media company. And that local has never been more important than it is today. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Corey: Again, you’re wrong, no. It is and we hear that in our panel too. And it’s interesting you bring that up. One of the reasons our SMB panel works in that it keeps going, we keep asking, we check in with them every year, Hey, do you wanna do this? Do you want? What about the gift cards? Or, you know, we ask them why they’re part of this panel. The number one reason wasn’t for a stinking gift card. It really wasn’t. When they get like 25, 50 bucks randomly drawn every now and then. It is, I wanna learn from my peers. I want to see what other people are doing and what their thoughts are. So any time, so that’s one. The second thing is local, local, local. And George, I know you know this, if we had a dollar for every time we went to a market and somebody in the market said, “Well, our market’s different,” we’d be retired, we’d be rich, rich people. Now that’s kind of snarky, but what it means is the perceived, eh, that’s a rough word, the importance of the local market and anything that can lean on that, look, we know wherever we are, we’re in Raleigh and we know Raleigh and we’re going to bring Raleigh business leaders together and we’re going to just teach Raleigh business and y’all will talk amongst yourselves. I can see where that’d be a success.
George: And you know, I gotta insert another story. I was working with this electrician and this plumber, media rep took me out on the call. They have to, by the way, that’s one of the sales manager things. Take the digital guy on the call.
Corey: The call.
George: And then the client said, “Okay, I’ll do the meeting with this George Guy. But you get 15 minutes.”
George: And basically, I was earning more time, 15 minutes at a time. We ended the conversation after 90 minutes.
George: The customer went through a rollercoaster of emotions. There were all sorts of colorful words that were used. And what the moral to the story was, he was spending about six figures with the local media company, but he was spending double that with a company that was faceless to him. It was just a toll-free number and a brand. And when I asked him who his customer service rep was, he said, “I don’t know, they change it all the time. It’s basically whoever I get on the support line. But they were spending double the money with a faceless brand online.” And the reason the conversation went on for 90 minutes, and it was a roller coaster of emotions, and most of it was not positive, was because they knew that it wasn’t working and they were being lied to and they were maybe locked in or whatever. I think the guy did say a couple times that, “I know I’ve gotta do something.” And then pointed to the local media rep and said, “Why can’t I just do it with you because at least you show up and I can have somebody answer my questions?”
Corey: Yeah, and that’s it. See, even there, they want somebody to lean on for the entire thing, for the media. I don’t think, yeah, they would be a lot happier, happier, they’d be a lot happier spending that money with that faceless corporation if the guy I trust said it was the right thing to do, and they were the local player, then that’s fine. As long as my ROI, whatever I determined that to be, has been fulfilled. So yeah, I could see that happening as well. And local, and nobody has kind of the local foothold. I mean, radio is sitting on being local, right, and having the celebrity status. Newspaper doesn’t have a celebrity status in a local market. TV, eh, maybe, the anchors, that’s about it. But radio certainly has a deep hook into a local market and that could be leveraged, certainly.
George: By the way, they know how to throw an event.
Corey: Well, that’s the other thing that we shouldn’t gloss over, is one of the things that these guys, I keep saying these guys, I’m talking about local advertisers, keep telling us they really like and they want part of their marketing mix is events. Not a TV spot, not a radio spot, not a, they want to be involved in events, which is something that, you know, Ricky, who’s been doing it for how many decades, right, to a point where they’re like, oh yeah, we do events. Yeah, that’s right, you know, they almost forget. But that’s something that they’re screaming for. And especially now coming out of a pandemic, when we were all locked in a house for a year, there’s been been a wave of, hey, how can I get back involved. Because local advertisers want to be able to one-on-one talk with people, because, and not to bring everybody down, the number one form of advertising according to local advertisers is still, say it with me, word of mouth.
George: Word of mouth.
Corey: It beats, to them to their perception, it beats everything else. And they see events as a way to get there.
George: I wanna appeal to the CEOs on the call today, and if you’re a head of sales, go get your CEO to listen to this broadcast. But here’s what I think. In the radio business, we’ve been so myopically focused on audience based upon our format, if we’re in a cluster, we have numerous audiences, we forgot that one of our power positions in the market was our street level sales force that we’re calling on local businesses. And those local businesses need us as badly as the audience does. But they need us a little bit differently. They need to know what’s best practices, and where’s the market going, and bring me together with my peers so that I can understand what community things are happening. But it’s more of an of a client focused role. And a lot of organizations just went down the road, no, no, audience, audience, audience, forgetting that one of their most important audiences was the local business community. And now you could solve more of their problems. So, you know, to be myopically focused on the program, and by the way, that programming side is so powerful because, you know, there’s great presenters.
George: There’s people that are writing content, there are people, and that could be repurposed. So now I’m gonna go back on my soapbox, podcast, and you know that-
George: I’ve doing a podcast for the last five years, 250 episodes. We do it for the brand of the organization.
George: First couple of years were a little rough because the executives were saying, “Why are we spending this money on this podcast? It’s a big investment of your time.” And then what started to happen, we would go into sales calls or conferences, and the buyers, our buyers, would say, oh, I listen to your podcast every week.
George: Then I didn’t have a problem in getting budget from the CEO to continue to expand the podcast.
George: But it wasn’t easy to build a podcast.
George: It wasn’t. Nothing easy about it. So media companies are sitting there going, well, we’re gonna do podcasts and we’re gonna sell ads on them because that’s how they’re programmed. I wanna appeal, and you and I talked about this in the preamble, so you know where I’m going, I wanna appeal to the broadcasters out there. Why aren’t you selling the development of podcasts for brands in your market? Because the podcast that we use for our organization is a door opener and a reason to believe and a major part of the content strategy. Didn’t start out that way, by the way. It took time and iteration.
George: But it is hard. And if I’m a dentist, or I’m an implement dealer business, or I’m a local manufacturer that’s building some, I need a podcast because it’s a great way to connect with your audience. But if I don’t have some of the skills, how am I even gonna make one? How am I even gonna do it? Radio broadcasters have studios for days. They’ve got announcers for days. They’ve got writers for days. Start selling podcast creation to your customers in your local market.
Corey: Right. But let’s discuss this a little bit. Here’s the challenge that a radio station has when it comes to it. ‘Cause it seems like a natural fit, right. Audio, audio, we got this. The whole nature of radio is time sensitive, right. I’m doing things up to date. I’m giving you the latest traffic information. I’m giving you the latest weather. I’m talking about things on, you know, that’s happening around us right now, which is an important role and they should keep doing that. However, podcasts are more storytelling, long form things that aren’t necessarily a time. So a lot of radio stations aren’t geared creatively for that. They would have to shift a little bit to that different kind of format and that different kind of storytelling. But it’s a natural fit still because you can do storytelling around profiling businesses. There’s no reason you can’t go to the local, whatever your local hardware store, and profile that business and turn that into a podcast. The other thing, you talked about talent, you know those are called influencers now. So radio stations are sitting on top of influencers. They have ’em already. They’re locked and loaded and ready to go. You take those and put ’em in a storytelling format, a lot of ’em will be successful, some of ’em might not be. But you’ll have a lot that can adapt to that. And that’s a great way to approach it too. And bringing the local back into it real quick, is being the local expert. There is, depending on your market, I think, an opportunity to be a local podcast or a podcast about a local area. And that would appeal to three groups. The people who live there, the people who moved away and are still interested in there, and the people that vacation there. That doesn’t necessarily, you know, that’s not every location in America, but take a good look, hard look at yourself, and say, man, do we have that, if we have that, that’s another thing that could be turned into a podcast kind of format.
George: Absolute pleasure speaking to you as always. And I love that we were able to get into some of these big challenges. It’s very top of mind, because recently, as the last six months or so, I’ve probably been spending 90% of my time working with radio organizations. I will say something, and this might be a little bit crazy, or maybe you’re hearing this as well, I’m spending more time with the CFOs of these organizations than I am with the head of sales because we are diving deep into the unit economics, trying to figure out why there isn’t more margin. Trying to figure out where there’s efficiencies in the organization. And the CFOs are taking a hard look and I had one the other day say, “Yeah, I don’t care that we’re doing 8 million in digital revenue when it costs us nine to get it.”
Corey: Right, right, right.
George: And and part of that is, is there’s a hell of a lot more problems that we can get paid to solve than just selling ads.
Corey: Oh yeah.
George: And I’m just appealing to the audience out there that, you know, I’m very passionate about it because it is who I am. I’m a media rep, that’s never gonna change. And I see that there’s an enormous opportunity. But will that be around forever? An enormous opportunity. But my question is, will it be around forever? So that’s my closing words. Corey, I’ll leave the last word to you, but I really appreciate your time on the show today.
Corey: No problem and thank you for having me. As far as that goes, it’s only gonna get more complex, I’ll tell you that. I think a CFO should absolutely be brought into these conversations because there’s a lot of decisions that have got to be made. Where in the market are you missing an opportunity? Where are you not, I’m making this up, are you not selling SEO, and oh my God, look at all the money being spent over here. And this is how we could do it. Or are we not solving this problem? Also, you have to take a look at the businesses in your market too, and understand where you’re gonna chop off that long tail of extremely small businesses because there’s a lot of ’em out there. Are you gonna service ’em or not? And that’s not a leading question. I don’t have the answer, but a CFO along with a head of sales should have that answer and with a good research person next to you, mm.
George: No, absolutely. And if you’re going to get more head count and build out a larger sales force to capture the opportunity, the CFO’s gonna approve the budget.
George: So you need the research, you need the plan, you need the modeling. But Corey, again, we could go on forever. I really appreciate your time. It was very thought provoking and and informative as always. Best data in the business. Really appreciate it. Thanks to our colleagues for putting it all together. And we appreciate you being on the show.
Corey: Great, thanks for having me.
George: Well, as you can tell, Corey and I could go on and on and on, and that’s why we broke it up into a couple of episodes, but a couple takeaways from where Corey is coming from. There are more dollars being invested by local businesses into their marketing programs than there is in their advertising programs. I’m not for once suggesting we shouldn’t sell ads, but what I’m saying is we shouldn’t only sell ads. Advertising is episodic. Businesses need it when they’re trying to solve a problem, excess inventory, trying to drive sales, trying to capture opportunity. On the marketing side of the spend, there are things that businesses need to own in order to make all of their advertising work better, their website, their social profiles, search engine optimization, the story about their brand, whether it be in blogs or social posts. And all of this works together. But throughout that episode, you heard the theme, that we can’t just be one trick ponies that sell ads. Our clients are actually expecting us to solve more of their problems. And that’s an enormous opportunity. If you like Corey’s episode, discussing strategies to boost radio ad sales, let’s continue the conversation and go back in the archives and check out episode 230, Mission Radio to Digital with my good friend Jamie Cohen of Salem, or episode 242, Selling Air with Paul Jacobs. Please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts. And thanks for joining us this week on the “Conquer Local Podcast.” My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.