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Tap Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

Selling radio time? Aim to be the high-priced, high-value supplier


In the course of my advertising business, I chat with stations about their strategies for success and their excuses for low-level achievement.

The reasons vary, but the key takeaway is found between the lines: lack of entrepreneurial drive and sense of partnership with their customers. Many stations are in denial that they have anything to do with their problems.

Their main excuse is low spot rates that don’t allow frills or frosting, such as account executives who get to know their customers and their needs.

Ask why spot rates are falling, and you get familiar answers: competition from social media, an eroding listener base, too many other stations in town all owned by one consolidator, etc. But this is barking up the wrong trees.

Decades ago, stations romanced advertisers with care and respect for the ensuing value-for-value exchange. There were attractive suitors from other stations, so it was important to be a top-notch professional.

Many salespeople became seasoned veterans who supported families on their base, commissions and residuals.

Key air personalities sold their own shows by calling on advertisers personally and writing orders. Being on the radio was a big deal. Radio was important. Having the local morning man stroll into your bakery was an honor.

But as the years passed, stations changed hands and the veteran salespeople retired. The entrepreneurial drive got lost in the shuffle. Radio debased its own currency with syndicated programming, lost community prestige and started down the slippery slope.

It has nothing to do with competition, and everything to do with the lack of respect for the value proposition of radio advertising.

It astonishes me that some stations believe they can succeed in luring a teenager away from McDonald’s by offering him/her a 5-percent commission with no base on spot sales at $2.50 per each. That won’t cover gas across town, and most of them wash out in a few days. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

What are they thinking? That’s all they can afford. Nonsense! It’s conventional wisdom that the sales force should be the highest paid in the station.

The real root cause is management that doesn’t have enough skin in the game to make it painful when they fail, combined with a general sense that the station is just a cog in a big wheel. Getting a spot on the radio is the main objective and the only obligation the station has. Beyond that, it’s not their concern. The time gets billed and paid, and it’s on to the next little one-shot conquest.

How very sanitary and short-sighted.

Unless the advertiser succeeds, their business is in jeopardy, and the radio station is in danger along with the advertiser. But when stations develop a sense of partnership with their advertisers — when they genuinely care about their success and work to fine-tune the advertising campaigns to make it happen — the process works and everyone prospers.

Yes, of course, that takes more work than just bringing in a signed sales order with a few copy points and heading out the door to the next commission.

Spot rates can be raised over time by showing just how well radio actually does work for advertisers. Good radio programming and quality commercials drive customers into stores. Commercials that perform well inherently are worth more, therefore stations can charge more for demonstrated results with testimonials as part of the contract.

Stop the race to the bottom by competing on price alone rather than performance. All radio stations are not the same like bananas in a bunch. Aim to be the high-priced high-value advertising supplier. Start to regard your advertisers like royalty and express gratitude for their business. Take that to the bank!

But you have to care enough to put your heart and soul into your station as though your life depended on it. Or go work at McDonald’s.

Jim Potter owns the Little Spot Shop. Read more tips at

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