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“Radio, get your head out of the sand” – an interview with marketing guru Joseph J

. He is the president and founder of

Crayon, LLC, a new marketing innovation company. He is formally the president and founder of Jaffe, LLC and a Director of Interactive Media at TBWA\Chiat\Day and OMD USA. Clients have included Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Starwood Hotels, Proctor & Gamble, K-mart, and many more. He’s also author of Life After the 30-Second Spot

. Joe also does a very popular podcast at

What follows is Part 1 of an edited version of the interview. For the full effect please listen to the whole thing. It’s quite worthwhile.

[Note: Thanks to the quirks of the Internet, the first ten minutes of this audio are a bit shaky, but it's clear as a bell thereafter]

In your book, Joe, you say “Conversation trumps communication.” Tell me what that means?

Even when the entire media industry is at the top of its game it has become impossible now to break through the clutter. Without conversation between your brand and your audience, without viral or word-of-mouth efforts, you can’t stand out from the crowd, break through that noise, and ultimately deliver a return on investment to shareholders and specifically build your brand.

Radio, TV, and print are considered “traditional media vehicles.” How are these different from the digital and interactive tools of the conversationalist?

Well, you ask the question in a very interesting way because I would also say that a lot of digital and interactive online advertising is as much communication-focused – not conversation-focused – as anything else.

I remember a strategic planner that I used to work very closely with when I was working on Madison Avenue, once asked the question, “What is more interactive: a coloring sheet on a McDonald’s tray table or a banner advertisement?”

I think it’s probably too easy to say, “Television, radio, and print are the dinosaurs and the outmoded forms of building brands or engaging consumers.” It’s too easy to do that. That said, these more established media have to work so much harder to stand out from the crowd and go that extra mile.

Facebook is a great conversation tool, but the ridiculously oversimplified skyscraper ads there don’t impress me at all. What impresses me is any form of communication that gets you talking – that can at least transform into conversation.

The tools of conversation ultimately are community, dialogue, and partnership-based. And so, a spark becomes a raging fire of passion, in a sense. It is the ability to extend and enhance and amplify a message into an event or an experience or something truly transformational.

Suppose I am a radio station and I want to get deeper into the conversation business. Focusing on the listeners, what are some ways that stations could dive headfirst into conversation?

Radio is the one form of big media which has probably been least innovative when it comes to adopting and embracing some of the new approaches that arguably have threatened it the most.

I’m not necessarily saying that the television industry has done a very good job at all, but at least they’re experimenting to no end. A lot of shows are trying to keep viewers engaged by using SMS technology. On The Amazing Race the contestants that finish last and leave the show are actually sequestered into a house and stay there until the end of the series, and there is exclusive content available online to connect with these past contestants.

In the print industry, online versions of newspapers have embraced social media quite extensively. They’ve embraced pretty aggressively certain conversational approaches, such as the ability to comment on an article, to digg the article, to forward it to a friend, etc.

Now I’m not really sure what the radio industry has done at all to shift their thinking, their mindset, their philosophical approach to their art and their trade and their profession to fully adopt and embrace the elements of community dialogue and partnership.

One might argue that radio has always been in the business of dialogue in terms of welcoming callers, but I think there’s a difference between taking live calls and being listener-driven like, for example, podcasting has proven to deliver.

We’ve seen, for example, how newspapers and magazines have brought in a lot of comments or commentary to their content and into their text. I think there’s a huge opportunity for radio to do the same, for radio to figure out ways to bring the audience into their programming lineup or into the content itself to fuse these two different worlds.

So maybe I should throw it back to you and ask you, have you seen much innovation? Would you agree with my statement that the radio business has not been overly innovative at adapting and in so doing adopting some of these seismic shifts in the landscape towards consumer-generated content or citizen journalism?

Yes, I agree. I think that radio views itself in the business of selling spots and everything is evaluated against that metric. There’s little understanding about how getting deeper into podcasting, community, and conversations, might relate to our ability to maintain audiences and sell spots.

Okay, you raise a very interesting point, because you’ve zeroed in on the business model, but a business model that is tired and economically does not make sense anymore.

The clutter right now – eight minutes sometimes – of advertising that is not relevant, advertising that is – from a creative standpoint – beneath sub-par and inferior. It’s bizarre, especially considering the radio listener is probably the most empowered consumer because of the ability to easily change the channel. Relief is literally just a finger’s distance away.

So here you have an industry that doggedly continues to “spam” its customer, its listeners, instead of figuring out new revenue streams, and/or business models and/or smarter, more considerate ways of engaging its listener base and its community. And, by the way, there is no community at the end of the day; it’s just a bunch of disparate listeners.

On one hand you’ve got this incredible potential, this “theater of the mind,” but on the other hand you have content that has not yet been liberated and become more mobile, as it should.

The business model is in dire need of an extreme makeover.

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