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Opportunity Screams for Radio – Talking with Tom Asacker

Tom Asacker is one of my favorite marketing change-makers.  He is a popular speaker around the world and works directly with the marketing teams at numerous Fortune 500 corporations.  He is also author of some terrific books, including his latest, Opportunity Screams: Unlocking Hearts and Minds in Today’s Idea Economy


Listen to our entire conversation here (it’s worth it) – or subscribe to all the Mark Ramsey Media podcasts in audio or video at iTunes.

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Tom, Opportunity Screams present us with three doors that must be unlocked in order to experience the opportunity that awaits us.  You have labeled those doors “Engagement,” “Interest,” and “Belief.” What is the most important thing broadcasters need to understand about unlocking those doors?

What do broadcasters need to know that they don’t know?

Most importantly that the doors are available for anyone to open. I think large media companies (including radio) have somehow equated audience size with power instead of responsibility – a responsibility to engage people, to surprise them, and add energy and value and meaning to their lives.

What everyone needs to understand is if you do that better than other people do the audience’s doors swing right open for you, so there really is no real barrier to entry anymore.  This is the idea economy today.

But the radio industry is all about audience size as an objective.  Everything is “reach, reach, reach,” no?

I know.

And you’re saying that’s all well and good but that has nothing to do with radio’s opportunity and its obligation to its consumers, right?

Not if you want to continue to keep them engaged, interested, and buying in to the value that you provide.


People have options.  It’s about options.  Anyone who listens can hear the screaming that’s going on.  It’s true for radio and every other business and industry for that matter.

They have to stop thinking about what they’re good at and how to best package it for people for their consumption, and instead they have to start asking “what does our audience hunger for?” And then they have to go make that happen.  They have to go do whatever that is.

And what does the audience hunger for?

Which audience?

I mean if it were mine, I know what my audience hungers for. And that’s what radio needs to understand.  They need to understand what their audience hungers for.

I mean didn’t have to release a reader, the Kindle

.  They saw something that no one else was seeing about what their audience was hungering for, and they didn’t say “well, we’re not a technology company, we don’t build products.”  They didn’t say that.  They said “look, how do we do this thing now. Let’s go!” And they did it.

That’s what people have to do, look at what the audience hungers for and then go do it.

It reminds me of Starbucks introducing VIA.  A lot of people said this is ridiculous, it’s going to cannibalize their core business and so on.  Then Starbucks opens these digital media platforms in their stores and people are equally critical. USA Today introduced a wine club not that long ago.  A broadcaster would argue “this is not your core business, why are you doing this?”  What you’re saying is these things and hundreds of examples like them satisfy the desires – the hungers – of their audiences, right?

Yes, plus how do you know until you do something what the future is going to bring?  How do you know?

If you sense it and then you go after it and it happens, then people look at you and go “wow, visionary, a genius, gutsy!”  Not true.  You sensed it.  There was something inside of you saying this needs to be improved or we can do better, and so you did it.

Tom, I guess the average broadcaster could turn that around and say “listen, if the only way for me to know this is going to work is if I try it, that’s a huge disincentive for me to authorize this because I don’t know this is going to work! I’m responsible for financials this quarter.  I got to keep the doors open.  I got to keep all these people employed.”

Here it is.  This is simple.  Just what you said, “I don’t know this is going to work,” and so it’s this cognitive thing.  “I don’t know this is going to work” as opposed to “I feel what my audience wants.  This is what we’re going to do.” You see the difference?


The “I don’t know if this is going to work” part, that means “hey, I’m out of touch. Somebody’s giving me advice.  I can’t feel it.  They can’t prove it, so why take a risk?”

You’ve got to feel it. If you don’t feel it somebody else will and they’ll do it, and that’s what I think is happening here, right?

Let me tell you something, radio has their arms wrapped loosely around the most important asset in today’s idea economy, and that is established relationships with their audiences, but they can’t be passive with those relationships.

Industries have a tendency to go with the flow.  The flow is what I and others call “the cultural immune system,” and the scary thing is you don’t even know it exists and that it’s happening to you – that you are letting it happen to you.

Remember Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

? Not many people know this, but he came out of nowhere years later and wrote another book called

.  I want to read you something he wrote in this book:

Just as the biological immune system will destroy a life-saving skin graft with the same vigor with which it will fight pneumonia, so will a cultural immune system fight off a beneficial new kind of understanding.

Now it’s obvious to me that broadcasters are having a difficult time distinguishing irrelevant ideas from beneficial ones in today’s fast moving marketplace, but I’m hopeful that soon they will feel the difference.

Well, broadcasters are also distinguishing between the ideas they feel may be important in a not too distant future and the ideas that they know are insanely, ridiculously profitable in the here and now.  For example, a digital strategy was on the table with one particular broadcaster and one of their financial people commented that “those are really expensive dollars.”  The distinction is obviously between the inexpensive dollars of getting an order in from the agency versus the process of diving into a digital opportunity which, even if it pans out, will produce dollars which are “expensive” compared to the ones that we’ve grown accustomed to.

I wonder, are we addicted to easy dollars? And if you’re addicted to easy dollars, can you feel the future?

You know what kills companies and organizations?  They’re not paralyzed because of what’s happening around them.  Their own success is killing them, their inertia, right?  Success breeds active inertia, active inertia breeds failure.

Here’s your metaphor:  A lion in Africa can run around, chase down, and catch field mice all day long and eat them and feel really good inside.  That’s “easy eating,” right?

Those aren’t “expensive dollars,” but what the lion does not know is that the calories it puts out running around in the heat chasing the mice are more than the calories it gets back from eating the mice.  Slowly, even though it feels good inside, really slowly over time, it dies.  It starves to death and dies.  That’s why lions are genetically programmed to spend the “expensive dollars” and go after antelope, big stuff, big ideas.

It’s the big ideas that you latch on to that grow you to the next level.  You cannot get ahead by eating field mice, but that’s what 90% of the our businesses are doing.  It just can’t be done.

If you had the head of one of the major broadcast companies in front of you and he said, “Tom, I’ve got time for one piece of advice to bring my company to the next level and usher in the future boldly,” what would that piece of advice be?

I would say lock yourself in your car for a month and leave your radio station tuned in and never change it, and then you tell me at the end of the month if you want to listen to that anymore.

I’m serious.  If he says “yeah, it adds tremendous value to every minute that I’ve been listening,” then I would say “good, do more of that,” but if he says “I’m about to lose my mind here,” then, guess what, you are now your audience.

It’s as simple as that.

So what do you do?  You reinvent, right?  You look at what can we do.  We know who our audience is better than anyone else.  How can we add value to the relationship quicker, better, faster, whatever?  How can we do it in a way that compels people to stay engaged with us, to have them believe in us, because that’s what we do?

That’s Apple’s game, isn’t it?  Look at how soon they come out with new products. They know they’ve got us itching, and they know they have to scratch this itch.  “Let’s come out with a new MacBook Air now.  Let’s come out with a new iPad.”  Let’s see what the new iPhone looks like at the beginning of the year.  That’s what they’re doing.  They’re saying “well, now that we stimulated this in these people, let’s feed it.”

That’s what I would say to a broadcaster.

What is the hunger out there that you’re feeding?  What is it?  What is it?  Don’t say it’s a desire to listen to music.  Okay, I mean really?

How are you uniquely feeding their hunger that somebody else isn’t?

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