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Attributes of a Great Radio Client

‘Look for someone who impresses you to such an extent that you are unwilling to pull your punches or cut corners.’

The e-mail arrived out of the blue on a recent Thursday from Steve, whom I’d never met. It contained questions about radio advertising — more precisely, about radio advertisers:

So many businesses … How to tell which ones might become successful clients? iStockphoto/Justin Horrocks Dear Mr. Schwartz, a thank you from a fledgling radio entrepreneur. I’ve gotten a lot out of your postings and enjoy your writing style. Your “Darci” find is delightful — what a great voice. Quirky but friendly. I’m assuming that you wrote the copy — good work.

Can I ask a radio sales question? How do you target the best prospects for radio advertising? What are the characteristics or demographics of the businesses that become great radio advertising clients?

I am working on a business plan to purchase a local AM radio station and need to develop some realistic numbers for our business consultant. Thanks for all you’ve shared, Mr. Schwartz. I’m getting quite an education!

I didn’t have a ready answer, and that bothered me.

Usually I’m able to address radio advertising/sales questions quickly and confidently, off the top of my head. This was not one of those times.

Steve’s questions demanded deeper delving into 38 years’ worth of accumulated experiences and education, to try to identify the traits common to my best and most successful clients.

After pondering for several days, I replied late the following Monday night as follows:

Steve, thanks for your kind words — much appreciated. Your questions, while beguilingly simple on the surface, have substantial depth, and I wish I had the time to answer them in as much detail as they deserve.

Setting aside such obvious considerations as the prospect having both the desire to grow his business and the financial capacity to fund that growth through effective advertising, one looks for a number of things. I’ll give you seven, in no particular order:

  1. Someone who runs a good business well, and who has above-average growth potential in the market. (The Wizard, Roy H. Williams, would say, “someone who’s great at running his business but who stinks at advertising it.”)
  2. Someone who is genuinely open to new ideas and willing to embrace a calculated risk, looking at the advertising campaign as a long-term investment in the future of his business;
  3. Someone who recognizes that results take time, and is willing to give a new campaign several months minimum to gain traction before judging its merits. (Williams has written extensively on this; it’s the approach of the farmer, as opposed to that of the hunter. Suggest you go to, find the DVD called “The Most Common Mistakes in Advertising” and watch it at least several times. You’ll thank me for the suggestion.)
  4. Someone who has a compelling story and is willing to entrust you with its uncovering and telling, one installment at a time;
  5. Someone who impresses you to such an extent that you are unwilling to pull your punches or cut corners; rather, you are committed to investing as much time and effort as it takes to get his message and schedule right, and who, in turn, respects your time and talent and is prepared to compensate you fairly for your investment of same in his behalf;
  6. Someone who isn’t likely to be moved by petty criticisms, peer pressure or the snipes of your competitors, but who will remain committed to the course come hell or high water;
  7. Someone who can accept occasional setbacks as part of the learning process, and who is willing to move past them. Great advertising is more of a process than an act. It involves testing messages (not your radio station!) and refining them as time goes on. Beware the prospect who is easily distracted by novelty or who will leave you for someone willing to give him a lower price.

I also invited Steve to join our online network for radio advertising sales professionals, Radio Sales Café,, which is free to join and offers information, ideas and experiences that members share on a regular basis.

Steve’s reply was waiting in my in-box the following morning:

Wow, wow, WOW.

You know, having only been on the periphery of radio (traffic director, three years; broadcast engineer, six years; never an owner, air staff, salesman, PD, or GM), I am constantly amazed at the kindness being shown to me, by the generous amount of time that strangers, really, are willing to give in order to help someone come into their world.

Thank you very much, Rod.

I hope you can repurpose your extensive reply. It is scary to think that I am moving towards the radio world (as a business, away from what I do now), so I’m moving slowly … with guidance from sound business minds, and professionals and friends like yourself.

Thanks again. I’ll see you at the Radio Sales Café.

Did you smile when you read his observations on the reception he’s had from people in the radio industry? This is something I observed early in my radio advertising sales career, the open doors and hearts of station owners and managers, willing to help a newbie succeed in the business.

I’d often tell new hires that one of the best things about our industry was that there would always be a job available anywhere in the country for someone who enjoyed radio advertising sales and became good at it. I believed it then, and I believe it today.

Given his attitude, perspicacity and focus, I predict that Steve will succeed in spades when he launches his station. I hope he is able quickly to find good employees and cultivate great client relationships.

And I hope that he, in turn, will pass along to others what he learns in the process.

Rod Schwartz, owner/creative director of Grace Broadcast Sales and a longtime radio sales professional, shares stories, commercials and advertising lessons on his blog. Contact him at [email protected].