On the day Barack Obama became America's 44th president, 1,850 Clear Channel employees became former Clear Channel employees with hopes that the newly inaugurated president's stimulus plan contains a quick fix to get them back to work.
Clear Channel became the latest radio broadcaster to thin its work force in a soft advertising-revenue marketplace.
Sales staffs bore the brunt, leaving surviving account managers with the added burden of serving more clients in an already overtaxed workweek with a finite number of hours.
For listeners who think Clear Channel stations are already homogenized from city to city, the outlook is worse. Programming budget cuts will mean more national content on local-station airwaves, making radio more like TV, where small islands of local programming float in a sea of national, one-size-fits-all content.
Blame the economy? Sure, why not pile on. Both brand and direct marketers are feeling the pinch and the pressure to boost sales with smaller budgets. And radio's been on an icy slope of declining market share for years; online spending finally surpassed radio spending in 2008.
Lesson in accountability
So what can save radio? How about a shiny mirror and a lesson in accountability?
Like warriors entrenched in battle, radio's leaders have lost sight of the big picture. Revenue isn't down because of Sirius XM or iPods or any of the 101 other things that were trumpeted as slayers of terrestrial radio. It's down because new media have empowered marketers to measure and manage the results of their advertising campaigns. And radio has been slow to accept the rules in the new world order of advertising.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Mark Lipsky is president-CEO of Radio Direct Response, one of America's few "radio only" advertising agencies. RDR creates, places and manages radio advertising campaigns for such clients as Cisco Systems (WebEx), Dice.com and DirecTV.
A dollar spent online can be tracked, sourced and managed. Media buys can be tweaked, improved and repaired. Meanwhile, too many in radio cling to the belief that their jobs are finished once they deliver the ratings and air the commercials.
Radio managers who take time to understand and embrace their advertisers' business models are rewarded with year-round schedules.
Once a vile word
Accountability was once a vile word with no place in weekly radio sales meetings. Supply and demand set the rates, while flash and fluff artificially drove prices higher, not unlike the stock market.
Now rates have crashed, and there are more sellers than buyers.
Today's Warren Buffetts of advertising are buying low while many mainstream advertisers ride out the storm. These new marketers have come prepared to win with the precise metrics by which they will measure a successful campaign.
If all radio salespeople understood and applied this mind-set, radio would be hiring more salespeople instead of laying them off.
Chance to boost market share
On the programming side, local stations unencumbered by the need to play corporate, vanilla radio face a potential field day and a chance to boost market share with programming that plays to their local audiences. Their higher ratings will lead to higher rates and greater demand for commercial inventory, while the cookie-cutter clones will sink slowly into the west.
It's not that radio lacks for talent or vision. It's just that ever since the bean counters took over the toys, top talent has been locked out of the playroom.
For all that terrestrial radio once was, can be and (in a few rare instances) still is, there's an eager audience starved for content, willing to support those who support the medium.
But that requires leadership with the bold determination to superserve the audience and boost time spent listening, not number crunchers that seek ways to slow the attrition.