I can say, with some degree of confidence, that digital presents the greatest opportunity in the medium's history. Evolving from analog to digital is incredibly exciting and this brave new world (for some) signals what I hope will be radio's "platinum age." The CBS Radio/AOL announcement is just plain huge. Bringing together the programming prowess of CBS and the expanse of AOLs platform is more than just "game changing," it's probably the single most important radio/digital convergence to date. It's going to be tremendous fun to see how this relationship will evolve.
For all of the upside in this deal, there are quite a few challenges still to address. This is an industry that prides itself on being very protective and proud of their programming product. As well they should be. However, there is, in some areas, resistance to the idea that digital is really that important. This is very dangerous thinking. Thankfully, radio station websites are evolving from online "billboards" into more rich, robust entertainment opportunities and client-centric work continues to improve. However, there are some that feel the industry is getting "too cute" with the digital product at the expense of the on-air product.
Before everyone piles on, let me reiterate: there are some strong digital efforts out there right now. Aside from CBS, Entercom has made monumental digital strides with some of its brands; Cox continues to grow and evolve; Clear Channel is doing the same. In fact, just about every radio group out there is working hard to reconcile this digital divide. As we move forward, there are some specific ideas, in my mind, that are important to address. Many of these are applicable for anyone thinking of jumping into digital:
- Don't be afraid to flop a few times. It's perfectly OK to fall on your face. When we interviewed him in Orlando, Penry Price of Google talked about how plenty of things "fail" there before they become viable and important to the business. Hell, our pOne partners site was a disaster before we revamped it a couple of months ago.
- Don't try to monetize first. This is a big trap. It's vital to think the content concept through first. If it doesn't hit with one client, it may with another. The upside is that you may be developing best practices by having the discipline to create first.
- Take baby steps. With long strides. If you wait or try to go too slowly, you'll be left behind.
- Serve your client by serving the listener/end-user first. We know what clients want to say, but what do you think the listener/end-user wants to see and hear?
- You don't have to go it alone. Clearly evident with the CBS Radio/AOL deal. If you have the chance, partner with someone who can get you where you need to go, even if it is on a local level.
- Lean on part-timers and interns. Program directors have their hands full enough with their own stations. Sales managers are stretched as thin as the air on Everest. Let your part-timers and interns live in a creative "playground" to develop content (HD Radio especially) and ideas that, ultimately, you can figure out how to sell.
- Change can be incremental. Don't think that you have to bite it all off in one chunk. Find small ways to make progress. For example, let's say you have a morning show with a strong personality. At the end of each show, give them a 3 x 5 note card with a topic or question. Hit record on a video camera and let them riff/rant on it. Do a quick edit and put it up on the station/morning show site. Voila. Instant, incremental content. Bookend it with a sponsor and you have a win-win.
- Be proprietary when you can. There is nothing more annoying when a morning show tells me to go to its MySpace page. Now, there is nothing wrong with having a MySpace page, but why the hell would you call it out and direct people away from your station's website? Never made much sense to me.
- If you're doing (or want to do) video, get this book. It's called "Show Me: Marketing With Video on the Internet" by Jessica Kizorek. Easy to understand, clearly written, a great place to start getting your digital and video feet wet.