Monday, February 23, 2009

Control Your Expenses

You’re a pilot flying @ 36,000ft. No parachute. You have two major problems:

1)   There’s another plane careening towards you and unless you do something about it IMMEDIATELY, you’re going to hit it. Worse yet, each of your actions (steep dive, fuel dump, pulling up) come at the expense of your long term goal: Landing this plane safely on the ground.

2)   You are out of fuel above mountainous terrain.

This describes many of you reading this.
Short Term Problems: The looming bank. Survival.
Long Term Problems: Listeners & Clients defecting to new media.

So let’s get past this major obstacle in front of us. If we don’t do that, we’ll never have the opportunity to land this thing. If we can accomplish both goals with the same strategic move, great, but our singular goal right now is to avoid this collision. If you don’t stay within your covenants, if you don’t make your scheduled payment to ‘The Man’, it’s all over. There will be no opportunity for a landing. The impact @ 36,000ft will break you up and there will be no plane left to land.

Many Terrestrial Radio critics are out there suggesting glorious changes we should make to our radio stations: “Invest in this. Buy that. Hire a format Guru to create specifically targeted formats to reach specific listeners meeting this Psychographic criteria.” This reminds me of a few years ago: I had broken my finger playing roller hockey. It looked wrong and clearly needed medical attention. As I was leaving the rink, a nice kind woman starting giving me advice on what to do with it. “I work at WholeFoods in the Personal Care section”, she said. “You should use their soy wraps, curd foams, natural dressings, antioxidants, blah blah blah.”… All with the confidence of a surgeon. I was baffled by how CONVINCED she was, even though she had no clue. (I love WholeFoods, I’m in there twice a week getting takeout, etc.)

Now I probably don’t recognize the full benefits the soy humus wrap, I’ll concede that. But WholeFoods lady must concede that she doesn’t really comprehend the gravity of this situation. Nor do Terrestrial Radio critics: We’re dealing with big numbers, big responsibility, lots of people’s jobs, lots of listeners, and a lot of money.

Terrestrial Radio Station C-Levels: If you need to cut to avoid that oncoming plane, you cut all you need to cut. If you have to cut jobs or salaries by 10% to save the other 90% of the jobs, you do it. If you need to make some short term sacrifices for long term survival, you do it! And anyone that tells you different hasn't been in your situation and definitely isn’t in that same plane as you.

Remember, in this example, we were cruising at 36,000ft. You’ve got to use this altitude to your advantage. In 2002, when the bubble burst, there was no cushion for all the dot-coms. You have a cushion, and unfortunately, you’re going to have to burn through a lot of it in the next 2 to 3 quarters. The alterative is no alternative: A mid-air collision. You owe it to your shareholders, your listeners, and your clients to be here after the economic downturn passes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

About This Blog

To the many people who picked up on this blog from Inside Radio, welcome. Big thanks to Mike Kinosian for the mention. If you’re new, I encourage you scroll down to the bottom and read from the bottom up to the most recent.

Today in Terrestrial Radio, you & I are fighting a battle on 2 fronts: Short Term & Long Term.
Short Term: Difficult economic times. Some companies won’t make it through the next 6 months.
Long Term: Threats from emerging technology. If your company gets through the next 6 months, how will you retain your assets’ value over the next 10 years?

There are lots of voices out there commenting on our industry:
- Some make good points (including INSIDE MUSIC MEDIA!)
- Others make noise with limited reality associated with their observations.
Based on what I read, I thought it was time to create a place where Terrestrial Radio Station Owners & Operators could read about these topics BY one of us, FOR us…so I created this blog.

Know this: You are not alone in this fight! Use this blog as a source for all of this information, without the now-standard kick in the teeth. I will be your watchdog. Remember, I’ve got a vested interest. (scroll down to my first post)

Also, know this: I’ll give it to you straight. I’ve done what you’ve done, sold what you’ve sold, managed what you’ve managed. I also fear what you fear and know that we have to attack our problems. When I have bad news, I will deliver it. (again, see my first post)

Bookmark this page…
Subscribe to my posts by adding ‘TowerstoBrands’ to Google
Follow me on Twitter

I will keep you in the know so that your company can survive in the short term, and our industry can succeed in the long term.


Tony Renda

The Framework

In my first 3 posts, I tried to inject a lot of reality into our situation:

1) You need to be aware of your surroundings and not bury your head in the sand.
2) You need to expect the worst. The absolute worst. Your listeners are starting to wander off. And rightfully so. Lots of cool options out there.
3) The revenue is starting to wander off. Efficient, measurable options out there, but more importantly, it’s where the people are going, for whatever reason.
4) No magic bullet. Google Audio is adios. Newmark’s supply-side is a KILLER model, especially in this economy, but it won’t replace the revenue fast enough.

Is that everything? I’d say we’re only halfway there. You’re already facing major problems in the very near term:

5) You have huge debt that you must service. You borrowed money to purchase your stations @ 16-17x multiples and they are currently valued @, what, 6-7x multiples? You projected the stations’ earnings based on the on a history of success in running radio stations, and you projected upward economic mobility for the country and your industry. Now, things aren’t upwardly mobile. If things continue like they are, one of four things will happen with your company:
A: Break your covenants, pay very significant penalties.
B: Miss a payment, pay very very significant penalties.
C: File bankruptcy; Go through a painful WorkOut session.
D: Sell your company at an undervalued amount. (see multiples above)

These are all of the current problems facing radio stations. We’ve got both short and long term problems and we’ve got to fix them both at the same time.


With this full disclosure, with all of our problems identified, we can now begin to move forward. So, now to the question: How to fix them? More specifically, How to fix them BOTH AT THE SAME TIME. The solutions seem diametrically opposed to one another, don’t they?

- You want to put out a compelling product with excellent content: An innovative format with great talent in touch with the local community, but you need to cut costs.

- You want to grow your sales staff and create opportunity, but you have AEs who are costing you 25%, 35%, 45% of sale and you can’t afford that.

Many of you are in the same boat: You have made changes that, in the long run, will hurt you, but are NECESSARY for short term survival. This is business, and you’ve had to make these difficult decisions.

Since we’re taking stock of liabilities, let’s also take a quick look at your assets:
1) Great, recognizable brands.
2) Portable. Free.
3) Effective marketing solution: Your station moves traffic, sells cars, and puts butts in seats.
4) Terrestrial Radio is a very profitable business. Especially when compared to other media.

This is our landscape. These are your challenges.

And here is the framework of your solutions in its simplest form:

1) Grow Your Mindshare
 a) Become a bigger part of your listeners’ lives.
 b) Other.

2) Grow Your Revenue
a) Become a bigger part of your clients’ marketing needs.
b) Drive revenue from every possible angle.
c) Strategically manage your inventory.
d) Other.

3) Control Your Expenses

This is the framework on which I'll expand. Everything will always come back to this model, to these three major points. Everything we do…short term, long term, offline, online…will get dropped into this outline.

As we build this outline and create a complicated construct of marketing ideas, revenue streams and expense mangement, we will see opportunity and risk and we'll need to go after both to survive and succeed.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Google Audio and Your Short Term Survival

I loved Google Audio Ads and the initial technology that dMarc created. What an amazing Idea: Technology that allows you to drop in spots after a music log is complete. The value wasn't the tons of money they would bring, the value was that they could fill in the gaps that we couldn't. 

Think of it like a commercial airplane: Once that door is closed, and the plane begins taxiing away from the gate, it's over! No more passengers. An empty seat is a missed opportunity. Not with the Google Audio! Their product was the equivalent to dropping in passengers on the taxiway before the flight took off. In this example:

- The airline gets paid less for those seats, but that's OK, it's 'found money'.
- Those passengers that were ‘dropped in’ at the last minute were OK with it: They knew the terms and conditions and because the rates were so low, they were OK with joining a flight at the last minute. Seemed like a pretty good system!

 But it wasn't. According to Google's Official Blog, “we haven't had the impact we hoped for."

 Now they are turning their eye to the future: They will explore Online Streaming Audio…so let’s talk about TargetSpot.

I love TargetSpot and have for a long time. I especially compliment them on their ability to establish themselves as the standard on the CLIENT side. If you stream Audio, you need to be with TargetSpot.

So, how does this impact them? When Google comes into your space does that make you happy?
- Yahoo would say NO.
- I’m sure MapQuest isn’t a big fan of Google Maps. (Poor MapQuest.)
- Microsoft can't be too excited about ‘Google Documents’.

I’ll tell you who IS happy that Google moved into their space:

-       dMarc.

-       DoubleClick.

-       YouTube.

-       And a whole bunch of other companies that Google Purchased. There’s a list of them here.

This is every VC’s dream or nightmare: Google Moves into your space. We’re all going to witness either a long painful battle between Google & TargetSpot, or we’re going to see a sale. My money’s on the sale. With the work that CEO Doug Perlson's team has done over the last bunch of years, Google HAS to consider making a bid. TargetSpot is too entrenched NOT to make an offer. 

So, to Terrestrial Radio Station Company owners, what does this mean to you? I'll tell you what it means to me:

1) I'm going to miss all of that Google Audio money. It was nice. Yes it was cheap, but it was different and BECAUSE it was different, I could sleep at night with those rates.

 2) Looming over us was that question: "What happens a year from now when the local car dealer discovers Google Audio and decides to use it as a means to buy my station?" No longer an issue.

3) This is yet another indication of where things are going. I loved the attention we got as an industry when Google bought dMarc. You thought “Wow, Google! The coolest of the cool is interested in Terrestrial Radio! See? We’ve still got it!” It was a little glamorous, wasn’t it?

Now they’re gone and as excited as you were when they started, you should be doubly disappointed now: There is no magic technology that will drive your revenue. Worse yet, there will be none. That was the last train out. You must survive in the short run by driving traffic to local direct business. Period. Control what you can control.

I grew up in Pittsburgh. When the Steel mills went away, many that were laid off were in denial. “Something will come back! This is _____________!” (Fill in your once-vibrant suburb in the Mon Valley) Nothing came around for them, and nothing’s coming around for us.

Consider this: If neither Katz nor Interep nor Google has (have?) developed a simple system to purchase commoditized radio by now, when will they? I can buy an $89 airline ticket online, but there is no system for buying radio spots! Google was the most recent hope for that ‘magic bullet’. Assume it will never happen.

Local direct is how you will make your bank payment and how you will stay within your covenants. Changing your product from a radio station to a brand is the other.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Second Post: Taking stock

You need to recognize 2 things:

1) This asset you have is very powerful.
- You already know this.
- You’ve seen it drive traffic.
- You’ve run a client's ad for a month and the copy was attention grabbing and it increased sales: They re-signed for 13 weeks.
- You’ve been at a local business packed with people, the local owner and you are standing there while a jock is announcing someone’s name, giving something away, and you have that tangible PROUD
 feeling of success.

Terrestrial Radio drives foot traffic.
Terrestrial Radio still drives music consumption.
Terrestrial Radio is a very profitable business. Not bankrupt like Sirius XM. Not losing money like on-line broadcasters. (Competing media would KILL to have your advertising revenue and profits, and they're going after your clients.)

…But this is today!


2) This asset’s value won’t last forever. Not in its current state. Won’t happen!
- Listeners are harder to reach and need more personal interaction.
- Advertisers want accuracy and accountability in their advertising, and the PPM is still the exception, not the rule.

So what’s your company’s plan to come out on the other side of this digital revolution with your asset intact? Not the short term, the long term. 2014. What about 2019? What will the value of your company be then? What actions will you have taken to remain competitive?

Time to strategize on HOW TO HOLD ON TO THOSE ASSETS. Time to build the plan.

RBC's plan is solid. I'm proud of the steps we've taken. I'll share these plans as we go, but before I lay it out there, you've got to accept the reality above. Sharing this info before that would be pointless. 


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

First Blog

In this blog, I’ll document Terrestrial Radio’s transformation from Radio Frequency Towers to Multi-Media Brands. From the inside and from up high.

- Some are in denial. “Terrestrial Radio is strong! Terrestrial Radio will rebound!”
- Most are claiming witness to its demise. They hammer Terrestrial Radio, often justifiably, sometimes with malice.

I’m here to deliver some reality. 

Who am I? Why do you care what I have to say?? My name is Tony Renda, and I have more ‘skin’ in this game than you…and just about everyone else out there authoring or reading these 'industry' Blogs, Articles, and Twitters. I’m a guy who’s family business owns 25 radio stations. I've run 3 of our markets, 9 of our radio stations, including RBC's largest market and RBC's most proftable market. I've got revenue and profit goals that would make you wet yourself.

What do I think?
1) First and foremost, embracing the truth and defining obstacles is the only way to survive in the long run.

2)  I fear the worst. The absolute worst. And I have for a long time. I fear that 3G & WiMax will kill the Terrestrial Radio Industry in a matter of years; I think Terrestrial Radio’s best days are behind it, and to argue anything different means you’re not paying attention. Will radio be a viable advertising medium in the short/medium run? Yes! But the clock is ticking, isn’t it?

3) I think that being content with a web page that compliments your Radio signal is scary.

You're not used to hearing these things from someone in my position, but it’s about time you did. Lots of opinions out there, none of them coming from this perspective. None of them from this high up inside a Radio corporation. Some I’ve come to respect: their links are to the right.

Over the next two years, as ‘Towers to Brands’ becomes THE source for Terrestrial Radio Stations making the transition, I will provide you with information, data, experiences, challenges, tough decisions, and answers to questions that you and your Terrestrial Radio Corporation are already facing.

Subscribe. You’ll enjoy the ride.