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Razorfish’s Clark Kokich: Radio must “Do or Die” – Part 1

This is one of the most important interviews you will watch, read, or listen to this year.

Clark Kokich is the chairman of Razorfish, the well-known international digital agency. He is also the author of a fabulous new book called Do or Die

. Clark is at the forefront of the digital revolution and his perspective on the direction of advertising and marketing will have huge sway over radio’s future. Watch this. And share it with your peers.


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What follows is an abbreviated transcript of our chat….Part 1…

Clark, the theme of your new book Do or Die is summed up in the very last sentence, and that sentence is ‘I used to be in advertising, now I do things.’ What do you mean by that?

I’ve spent my whole life either in agencies or in clients doing marketing and advertising, and for 50 years marketing has basically been saying things, figuring out how to say things with a high degree of cleverness or by just spending enough money that your message gets through. It’s basically talking to customers. While that’s still part of marketing, it’s not the whole story anymore. There’s this whole other world opening up of actually doing things that matter, of building experiences, building applications, building websites, mobile applications, out of home, in store, QR codes, all the stuff you read about all the time that’s growing exponentially.

Once you really realize what those tools allow you to do, you start thinking less about what can I say to my customers and more about what can I do for my customers?

Broadcasters have grown up in a ‘We say, we hope you do’ model. How do broadcasters navigate this transition from say to do?

Broadcast is, in a way, a very intimate medium; you have very strong relationships with customers either at the program level or at the station level depending on what kind of organization you run.

If you get up every day and you think “I own a TV station” or “I own a radio station,” you’re setting yourself up for failure in the long term. But if you get up and say, “I feel a need in my listeners’ or viewers’ lives and can I use all these new digital tools to fill that need in a better, more expressive, deeper way” then I think it opens up a whole new avenue for exploration and for creating new relationships with those listeners or viewers.

What you’re saying is that those who wake up every day thinking “I’m in the radio business” are technically mistaken or those who think “I’m in the advertising business” are likewise mistaken, right?

Absolutely. They are severely limiting their future because media habits change but peoples’ needs for information, for entertainment, for involvement in the world around them doesn’t change.

So, instead of seeing all these new tools as a threat (which I know a lot of people do), start to think about what you can do for your customers that’s unique for them or for your viewers or listeners that would involve both the radio, the television, applications, and websites.

I think a lot of organizations in the broadcasting space have simply taken what they do on the radio and put it online, what they do on TV and put it online, and said “Well, I did that; I’m not sure that will work because I’m not sure that pays.” And why should it? It’s just taking one form of entertainment or information and moving it to a new medium without really thinking about how that medium works.

That’s a mistake I see as an advertiser. As an agency buying time, that’s a mistake I see a lot of broadcasters making, and I don’t see a lot of real originality in thinking about what my consumers really need and how can I fill it in a brand new way?

There’s a lot of room for innovation and imagination now.

Do you feel that we’re seeing some of that innovation and imagination in the Internet radio space from companies like Pandora and Slacker and others where there’s an opportunity to create novel experiences driven by cross-media opportunities: Text, audio, video, all integrated with some knowledge about who that person is at the other end of the communication?

Absolutely, and I don’t see any reason why that innovation should just be coming from startups.

A lot of the innovation early in e-commerce came from specialized e-commerce companies and startups but eventually the traditional retailers got the message and aggressively integrated their online and offline presences. It gave them a real advantage. So there are still companies like Amazon and some specialty retailers that have done well solely online, but the real advantage goes to the companies that have been able to integrate online and offline retail. And I think the same thing is true for broadcasting; the traditional broadcasters (if they think this through sufficiently with enough creativity and imagination) should have the upper hand as long as they don’t bring their old ways of thinking to an entirely new world.

Clark, it seems to me that when you talk to a broadcaster, they’ll tell you 70 percent or 80 percent of our revenue still comes from cost-per-point buys from agencies done in the decades-old traditional manner. One reason why broadcasters are not more innovative is actually because they are “enabled,” if you will, by the agencies who are their clients. Do you see that changing any time soon?

That happens in every industry that has a long history of generating cash in a traditional world. A new up-start comes along, it takes a lot more effort, complicated technology, high investment, lower return and you think “why should I do this? If I just keep doing what I’m doing, I’m fine, I’m generating cash, it’s all good.”

And that’s fine in the short term; that’s what newspapers did, and for a long time newspapers managed to survive and thrive right through the Internet revolution until about two years ago, and their revenue has fallen off a cliff. Now the only ones doing well at all are the ones that have been able to integrate both online and offline experiences.

I see the exact same thing happening in broadcasting long term.

So then do you think we’re going to see a massive shift of advertising dollars from traditional media buying to more of a “do”-based, idea-based model?

I do, I just don’t know when it’s going to happen.

It’s like any huge transition or transformative moment in history; after it happens everybody says, “Oh yeah, I saw that coming.”

So many of these broadcast companies and advertising agencies are run by people in their 50’s and 60’s and they’re experts in the business that they’re in. To go into these new worlds means you’re not an expert anymore, and that’s tough for people. It’s tough for people at that age (my age) to admit that they don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t know what the future is, that everything is uncertain and we have to take a lot of risks, make a lot of mistakes, and start over again.

Emotionally that is very hard for people, but I think it’s critical.

Tomorrow I’ll post Part 2 of our conversation, where we discuss what broadcasters need to “do,” the importance of knocking down silos, the role for traditional advertising in the future, and why brand reality is much more important than brand perception.

If you don’t want to wait for part 2, just watch the video or listen to the audio.

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