RAIN Summit West: Are You On the Phone?

| April 13, 2015

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant

cookewriterLAS VEGAS — April?  Here?  I’d come to Vegas just to shake off the relentless winter that brutalized us back home in New England.  But there’s zero pool time with THREE conventions underway: one about broadcasting, one about podcasting, one about streaming.  That one was yesterday, and funsters surrounding me had already set the stage.

While big radio’s chess kings are swapping stations over at the gaudy Wynn, your frugal consultant is surrounded by Corona-tall-toters at The Flamingo, a working class oasis where every…single…one of the people Sean Hannity calls “great Americans” is also toting an iPhone.  Whether it’s live or on-demand, your work needs to be on that thing.

Day One: RAIN Summit West

RAIN stands for Radio And Internet News, at its publisher’s KurtHanson.com.  Sunday’s conference drew some 300 content-creators-without-transmitters, and broadcasters playing catch-up.  Like Talkers New York, Hanson’s jam-packed one-day events make your reporter wish his laptop battery charge lasted longer.  My notes…

“Show of hands: How many of you – if pitched a serial about a teenage murder – would be interested?”

ABC News Radio VP Steve Jones referenced the groundbreaking episodic podcast “Serial” as he moderated the RAIN session “You Should Talk.”  Soon came a reply, from radio network pioneer turned podcasting impresario Norm Pattiz.  Moderating “On-Demand is In-Demand,” the Podcast One founder said Serial had opened his eyes to concepts that station managers would scoff at.

Key quotes from Steve’s session:

  • Kurt Edwards from the UK’s TalkSport – which Jones called “the biggest sports station in the world” – told us that live events can drive big streaming. During a big soccer game, his play-by-play was #1 on TuneIn worldwide.  Broadcasters: When your transmitter is otherwise engaged, what can you offer, to listeners (and sponsors), on a stream?  Smartphones await.
  • Univision Radio’s Ted Gurley concurred: “Digital lets us invest in things we can’t do over the air.” And several broadcasters who chatted-me-up during coffee breaks agreed that digital is where radio “must” re-stock the talent pond depleted by automation/syndication/voicetracking and other post-Consolidation cutbacks.
  • Advertisers get it. AdLarge Media’s Jay Green had fellow panelists nodding when he referenced the 95 million Millennials who are wresting control of the USA economy from 75 million Baby Boomers: “They’re not just listening.”  They expect to interact.

“Can I give you my card?”

During those coffee breaks, there were selfies aplenty with attendee John Tesh.  And as you might expect, Norm Pattiz got mobbed when he left the stage.  But the biggest star of this nascent universe in attendance was Tom Leykis.  You may have read about him recently in TALKERS magazine and USA Today; and all of radio has followed his story since he left radio, and set up shop in a former laundromat in Burbank.

“We started out doing talk radio [on the Internet], but then it became what it is — social media.”  Tom told us he recently sold-out a LA comedy club “at $75 a head, THREE TIMES the usual ticket price, to watch 15 of my callers perform.”  Leykis got a big laugh when he recalled 1990s boss Mel Karmazin telling him “you can’t monetize the Internet.”

“Podcast listeners are P1 listeners,” Pattiz declared, “because they have to perform a positive task” to listen, by connecting.  He reckons these “lean-forward listeners” are “much-more engaged” than “lean-back” AM/FM/TV users.  Panelist Andy Bowers, ex-NPR now Slate/Panoply Media, offered that “podcasting is like using the DVR;” and radio needs to cater to obvious demand for on-demand.

Take your take out for a spin.

Endorsement spots are the mother’s milk of talk radio, and they R.O.I. best as podcast ads too, according to Dan Granger from the Oxford Road agency, who places advertisers in podcasts: “We look for influence.  Engagement is deeper when you hear a human talk and give an opinion about something.”  He reports that “‘Serial’ buzz has brought a lot of attention” from big brand advertisers, “Madison Avenue starts to take notice.”

Bowers: “Listeners understand that advertising is there to keep the show free, so they’re glad to buy products.”  Pattiz recommends bumping-into spots unsubtly: “We’re gonna take a short break for a message from the company that supports this show.”

“If you work in the media, and you’re not in social media, you don’t work in media.”

Jumpwire Media’s Gavin McGarry sounded almost stern:  “Social media is NOT for marketing.  It’s about building community.”  And he urged that stations take it seriously: “Outsourcing social media to your interns is not an option.”  Your brand is at stake.

And, McGarry said, while “social media is the sexy thing everybody talks about, email drives traffic.”  Quick-to-agree was fellow panelist in the “Digital Solutions That Deliver” session Ruth Presslaff: “The research budgets [of yesteryear] are gone.  Use your email database as ‘an early warning system.’”  Converse with listeners, on-an-ongoing-basis, to know what’s thumbs-up/thumbs-down.

Ditto from 7digital’s Simon Cole, in the “Turning Data Into Dollar$” session: “If there is ONE THING radio should be concentrating on, it’s turning listeners into registered users.”

Animating analog Willie Loman

Corporate is barking for more-more-more digital revenue; but seasoned sellers are in their comfort zone peddling spot packages.  What’s a DOS to do?  Consensus in various sessions: Hire digital-only reps, which many stations are reluctant to do.  Next best thing?

If you’re a GM, this might make you gag, but I thought it was the coolest idea I heard all day: For the first 6 months you’re selling a digital product, let reps keep ALL the revenue.  Why: They’re accustomed to having all the answers for objections related to radio.  But they don’t know digital well enough to have THOSE answers.  But they sure do understand do-re-mi.  Worth a try?

At every station I visit, horrified GMs tell me that digital guys are calling on car dealers, and car dealers are moving radio money toward the shiny object.  And Detroit is telling them to.  Advertisers are being pitched “by as many as 25 digital companies PER DAY,” according to George Leith, VendAsta Technologies.  But he sees an advantage in radio’s incumbency: “They trust your Sales rep.”  So getting sellers up-to-speed is key; and panelists agreed that this emphasis has to be top-down and all-in.  The boss him/herself has to personally USE digital.

That’s the short version of a productive day.  Peruse #RAINSummit and #RAINSummits for more, from high-mojo attendees.

Today, The Big One, The NAB Show; and NMX, as in “New Media Expo,” formerly “Blogworld,” formerly “Podcast & New Media Expo,” of which you’ve read my TALKERS/RadioInfo coverage as the event evolved these past dozen years.  NAB’s theme, again this year, is “Where Content Comes To Life;” and enthused NMX-ers come from around the world to talk about their long-tail acts.  More tomorrow here.

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Holland Cooke (www.HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet.  Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke and meet HC at Talkers New York 2015 on Friday, June 12.

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Category: Analysis