Monday, September 28, 2009

Please, Don't Pass It On.

I am standing with my wife in the checkout line at a client's store this evening.

The checker, a guy in his late 40's to mid-50's, takes money from the customer ahead of us and places it into the till. Suddenly he lurches forward and catches an explosive, sloppy sneeze with his bare hands, wiping his nose with the back of one of them on his way up.

He mutters something about "this darn cold," and begins to check us out.

I am not making this up.

I stare as he picks up items we've placed on the conveyor, scans them, and places them back on the belt for bagging.

Evidently the shock and disbelief on my face fail to register.

I say to him, "Don't they provide you with hand sanitizer?"

"Oh, yeah." He points (taking no further action) toward a three-quarters-full bottle at the right of the cash register. "I've been using it all day."

Mr. Sneeze continues to handle item after item, passing them along with his germs down to the kid bagging groceries, who appears unfazed, oblivious to his fate.

Not wishing to cause a scene - in retrospect, probably a mistake - I say nothing more. My wife writes out a check and away we go.

On the way out, I grab a handful of complimentary disinfecting wipes to clean the cart handle and my hands. The gesture is largely symbolic, but there's not much else one can do at that moment.

On the drive home I recount a similar experience from a number of years ago, during a meeting with an advertiser. I was seated in front of the client's desk when her young grandson, a lad no older than five or six years, approached me from the left side. Just as I turned to acknowledge him, he sneezed right into my face, making no attempt to cover it and leaving me with no time to turn away or shield myself from the wet blast. The cold that little bugger shared with me was particularly nasty, and lasted several weeks. I don't think I'll ever forget that sneeze.

I am determined to protect my family and myself from whatever Mr. Sneeze is spreading around. As soon as we get home, I fill a little pump spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol and proceed to disinfect: 20 containers of yogurt, two packages of ground beef, two squashes, two packages of mushrooms, and a carton of cole slaw.

Meanwhile, the checker's words keep going around in my head.

"This darn cold," he said.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Social Networks and Business 101 for Radio Advertising Professionals

Thanks to Eric Rhoads at Radio INK Magazine for sharing on Facebook this article by social media expert Soren Gordhamer posted recently at It's an insightful and incisive piece on the new opportunities - and pitfalls - that sooner or later will confront all of our radio station clients and everyone else in business, thanks to the inexorable growth and influence of social networks.

Gordhamer touches on four broad shifts that will have a profound effect on the way we do business:

1. From "Trying to Sell" to "Making Connections" Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube have exploded into our daily lives with powerful repercussions. They're redefining how we establish and maintain successful customer relationships, without the limitations formerly imposed by time or geography.

2. From "Large Campaigns" to "Small Acts" Word-of-mouth used to take days, weeks, months, or years to have an impact. Today, thanks to instant communications via the social networks, a small flame can become a raging fire in a matter of minutes. No wonder CEOs, owners, and top-level officers are increasingly engaging their customers directly via Twitter, Facebook, or the company blog. (Most radio stations have integrated these channels into their own websites - or soon will - and AE's with an eye to the future are also helping their advertising clients navigate these waters.)

3. From "Controlling Our Image" to "Being Ourselves" Public scrutiny is a fact of life for a businessperson. The old model suggested a wall of separation between a company and its customers. Forget it. That wall is crumbling and is being replaced by the new paradigm: transparency. Might as well roll up your sleeves, let down your hair, get comfortable in your own skin and let people see you for who you are. This is not to suggest becoming artificially casual or sloppy, or to jettison the professionalism customers have come to expect. But you - and your clients - are also human beings, with a life beyond work. Don't be afraid to share that part of you, also.

4. From "Hard to Reach" to "Available Everywhere" Having a telephone number and an email address is fast becoming not-good-enough. Customers increasingly want to be able to reach you on their terms (read: favorite channel - Twitter, Facebook, et al) and they're spending their time - and money - with companies that get this.

Put on your customer hat for a moment. Think about the last time you researched a purchase online - at Amazon, say, or Cabelas, or some other big player - especially for a new and/or expensive item. Did you check out the customer reviews? Were you influenced by them? (Most consumers say "yes" and "yes.") User feedback on eBay falls into the same category. Do your advertisers make it easy for their customers to provide open feedback? This is no passing fad or light option; it's the wave of the future.

We really do care what others think, say, and do. Today, even a stranger's experience can have a significant effect upon our own decisions and behavior as consumers. And strangers can quickly become friends, fans, consultants or customers.

Success in business will become ever more dependent upon the quality of interactions with customers and prospects, experiences that are no longer confined to stores and offices.

Welcome to the future.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Opportunity for Any Station in Any Market

Take the total population of your market or listening area. Divide that number by 365.

The result equals the average number of birthdays taking place in your market every day. The actual number obviously will be lower on some days, higher on others. But the point is, every day represents an opportunity to wish some of your listeners a Happy Birthday.

It's easy enough to start a WXXX Birthday Club - have your listeners register via email or a form on your website - and give them some recognition on the air and online.

You might even draw one name each day to win a birthday prize: a cake, a birthday meal, a special gift, etc. - traded in whole or part with advertisers who help sponsor the promotion.

Fun, simple to execute, and it likely would mean a lot to each day's celebrants. What's not to like about that!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Just How Gullible Do They Think You Are?

I've seen my share of pathetic ploys to create store traffic through the use of important-sounding esoteric headlines ("Emergency Inventory Abatement"), but the one I received in this afternoon's mail takes the prize:

Bad enough it's billed as a "Private Sale," seeing as how it's addressed "Resident" and coded ECRWSS (USPS abbreviation for "Enhanced Carrier Route Walking Sort Saturation") - in other words, everyone in town is on the mailing list. Reminds me of the furniture store that once advertised on its readerboard sign, "PRIVATE SALE - PUBLIC INVITED."

The second paragraph reads: "In the very near future we will be announcing the decision to conduct a REMERCHANDISING RELINQUISHMENT. In order to complete this enormous task, we must empty the building for new incoming merchandise."

The insult, of course, is that the advertiser is counting on the naivete or gullibility of x-number of recipients to lead them to believe that this is a rare opportunity to take advantage of the advertiser's vulnerable position.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Politically Correct Advertising

Five candidates were vying for an open seat on the Washington State Legislature in the recent primary election, held August 18th. Washington being a vote-by-mail state, ballots were sent out at the end of July, giving voters several weeks to make their choice. One of the quirky and somewhat controversial aspects of our primary is that the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election. This particular race was among four Republicans and one Democrat. I am pleased to report that the candidate whose radio advertising I was asked to handle, ended up cinching the top spot by a comfortable margin over the second-place finisher, another Republican, whose late husband had occupied this particular seat in the legislature until his battle with terminal cancer forced him to vacate the position. The individual appointed to fill the remainder of his term, a former state legislator himself, chose not to run again.

My recommendation to my client was to start early and advertise consistently. Given the size of our sprawling district - larger than the state of Connecticut - we had several radio markets to cover. The plan was to introduce the candidate, her background and qualifications, and then build the campaign around the endorsements of people throughout the district who know and support her candidacy.

I did not want to use prepared scripts and risk having the individuals sound stilted and artificial, which is often the case when asking people to read from a printed page words that are not their own. Rather, I chose to interview - in person or over the phone - the people whose endorsements might be meaningful to voters. Most of these interviews lasted from ten or fifteen minutes; some took considerably longer. I had prepared a list of questions designed both to keep the conversation focused and to elicit meaningful answers. But we kept the conversation open enough so that each individual might have ample opportunity to share his or her insights.

As all experienced writers and producers well know, the greatest challenge (and the real work) is in the editing. I'm not referring simply to removing pauses, stumbles, "uhs" and all the little mouth noises - the saliva clicks, plosive pops, excessive sibilance and clipping - though this is certainly a part of the process, and can require scores of individual edits. Rather, I'm talking about the choice of which ideas, words and phrases to keep, which ones to leave out, and how best to combine them to convey the intended message clearly and effectively. It is painstaking and time-consuming; one might devote several hours of concentrated effort to the creation of a single one-minute spot. But this investment of time and effort often makes all the difference when it comes to the end result.

I created seven commercials for my candidate's primary election effort. Most of them went through several revisions and refinements, based on input from the client and her campaign staff. We ran them sequentially, each airing exclusively for a few days before being replaced by the next.

One of the ironies of the outcome of this primary race (to me, anyway) was that the candidate who theoretically should have conducted the most effective broadcast campaign, given his background in television journalism, his current position in marketing and communications, and his campaign promise to be, in his words, "your communications warrior" came in a distant fifth of the five candidates. He did his own radio spots, in which he sounded quite confident (some thought perhaps a bit cocky) that he was the man for the job. But his strategy, as embodied by his radio schedule, proved anemic. He ran ads (fairly heavily) for just two days during the entire campaign: the day the ballots were received in the mail, and again several weeks later, on the Monday before the election. By contrast, the top two contenders' radio campaigns were much more consistent.

Ultimately, my candidate's greater reliance on radio proved the best overall plan. Even her main competitor acknowledged this, specifically citing her radio campaign: According to a newspaper report:
Pat Hailey, republican candidate for the 9th District House position, said Fagan is likely in the lead because she spent more money and had an extensive radio advertising campaign.
Music to my ears.
Here are the seven spots from that campaign:

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A Death in the Family

I've been thinking a lot about death lately.

As a rule, we don't much care to think about death, let alone talk about it. As with politics and religion, death is a subject unsuitable for polite conversation - or so the conventional wisdom would have it.

Still, we're all headed there, aren't we? We may not have a clue as to how or when, but we all recognize that death is the inevitable terminus.

For the Christian death is not something to be feared. Absent from the body means face-to-face with Jesus Christ, forever. No more sorrow; no more tears; no more pain. These are the burden of the living.

Which brings me back to why I've been thinking a lot about death lately: a number of people close to me have been dealing with it personally.

A friend of ours traveled back to Minnesota this week to speak at her dad's memorial service. She'd gone back to see him a couple months earlier when he was in hospice care, knowing that it would be the last time they'd be together this side of heaven. In fact, their parting words to one another were, "See you in heaven." They meant it, and their heartfelt smiles were soul-deep.

My parents are in their 80's. Both have had major health problems in recent years; my mom in particular is in fragile condition. I hope to fly them out for a visit this fall. It could be the last time I see either of them on this earth. We know this and accept it as a part of life. Parents naturally expect their children to outlive them.

But it doesn't always fall out that way.

This past Sunday a good client and friend of ours lost his son, a successful physician just 47 years old, in a tragic accident on a lonely stretch of highway in east Texas. The young doctor and his family were on their way back from his wife's brother's wedding, traveling in two cars. One of the children had to use the bathroom, so they pulled off to the side of the road and father and son got out of the car.

The driver of a semitruck traveling in the opposite direction saw the cars and swerved to avoid them. The father barely had time to push his son out of harm's way, before being struck by the truck. He died instantly.

My family and I learned about this on Monday and since then have not ceased to pray for the loved ones left behind: his wife, their three children (ages 3-7), and our client and friend, the victim's father.

We all face adversity from time to time. We all have problems. Often we're preoccupied with them. Or we focus on them to the point of being nearly consumed by them.

Then we run into someone facing a real tragedy and suddenly our problems are put into perspective. A perspective we should have had all along.

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all." Psalm 34:19. God has not promised us exemption from the trials and exigencies of life, but He has promised us deliverance.

According to I Corinthians 10:13, God promises to limit the testing we face to what we can bear. (Note: it's not what we think we can bear, but what He knows we can bear. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Furthermore, He already knows the outcome. So the testing is for our benefit, not His.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6

What does this have to do with radio, advertising, or business?

Only everything.

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month

Just finished producing a couple spots for a local independent insurance agency, their contribution to a national effort to raise public awareness of the importance of having life insurance.

I have to admit, this month-long industry observance was not on my radar prior to last week. But, in the client's words, Life insurance awareness month is something I feel strongly about and I hope we can educate the public via these ads.

Face it, life insurance doesn't make for glamorous advertising. Neither do automobile tires. But both are high-priority items where one's family's safety and security are concerned.

Donny Wahlberg is one of this year's national spokesmen for Life Insurance Awareness Month. Here's a link to his video on You Tube.

For my radio friends with insurance agency clients who may wish to invest in a little advertising with you yet this month, to promote Life Insurance Awareness Month, here are a couple of produced spots you're welcome to use as idea starters, or even just download and tag with your client's information. (A favor? Just let me know if you find them helpful.)

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month #1

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month #2