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What Business is Radio In?

Everyone knows the old story of how the the railroad business faltered because they thought they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business.  Yet the lesson of that story is lost on many broadcasters today.

In fact, the lesson is worse than lost.  Because many broadcasters see themselves not even as being in the radio business.  Instead, they think they are in the “making money” business.

The problem is that there is no “making money” business.  You don’t attract clients because you want to make money.  You don’t attract consumers because you want to make money.

As TuneGenie’s Jeff Specter said to me recently, “If you want to follow the money you had better start with the content.  Money follows people, and people follow content.”

Money follows people, and people follow content.

Yet I constantly see broadcasters tackle digital tactics without a strategy to guide them.  And I constantly see broadcasters under-invest in those tactics, both because there’s no broader strategy and because if you’re in the “making money” business then every tactic must be monetized in order to be realized rather than vice versa.

Indeed, this is why so many digital efforts fall short.  They are short on strategy, short on funding, short on execution, short on talent, and thus naturally short on success.

So what business IS radio in?

Radio is, broadly speaking, in the media business.  But the problem is that every brand and every consumer is in that business, too (which is why your client has more YouTube views than you do and many of your listeners have more Facebook friends).

I have argued that radio is in the business of connecting consumers and advertisers across all platforms for the benefit of both in the local markets they serve so well.  This means your job is to create content that attracts and enchants consumers (note I did not say “listeners”) as well as content that attracts and enchants clients who value those consumers and benefit directly from their actions.

If you tell me this is too much “trouble” or it’s too expensive or you aren’t staffed for it or you need to monetize it first, then I will tell you you are not in the radio business – you are in the “making money” business, and good luck to you.  Because others will eat your lunch.

And then they’ll make your money.

Instead, reconfigure your structure.  Hire folks who thrive on this kind of “trouble.”  Invest for your future before somebody else does.  Think strategically, not historically.

For one hundred years radio has largely meant one thing to everyone – good-enough content that all can agree on pumped out from one to many in a world of finite choice where all the control was in the hands of Federal licensees.

That world is rapidly transforming to a new one.

The new world is about infinite choice where only quality, value-laden content captures fickle consumer attention (not just usage, Mr. PPM device, but the far more valuable attention).  Here, control is in consumers’ hands.  The new world is a place where your digital platform is a sandbox and where consumers play together in that sandbox in the presence of your brand.

But from broadcasters today, what I mostly see are lots of web brochures, lots of repurposed over-the-air content, lots of me-too widgets, lots of “for their own sake” blog posts, and especially lots of banner ads.

It’s a sandbox with no toys.

No friends.

And no sand.

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