10 Questions with ... Valerie Geller
May 3, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Worked at various on-air and management jobs, in small, medium and large markets around the country, ending up as news director at K101 in San Francisco, then executive producer at KFI in Los Angeles, moving on to become PD of WABC in NYC. During my entire career, coaching and developing talent, and discovering and training good people was something I had a knack for and a successful track record with. Since the techniques and methods I had developed to work with talent, PDs, producers and news and sales teams to get, keep, and grow audiences worked internationally as well - I expanded to work with stations in Europe and around the world. Throughout the 1990s my company also hosted The Geller Media International Producers(TM) Workshops in NYC. The first Creating Powerful Radio book was based on methods from my consulting work with stations and ideas that came out that work. That first book made its way around the world, and was translated into several languages. Beyond Powerful Radio, is now the fourth book. It is a culmination of everything I've learned and establishes timeless communication principles that work across all platforms in the digital age!
1. Your new book "Beyond Powerful Radio - A Communicator's Guide to the Internet Age" is now available -- what's new compared to the previous (and still available) "Creating Powerful Radio?" What, and who, is the new book for?
Beyond Powerful Radio is for anyone trying to navigate and become a more powerful communicator in the digital age. This new book draws upon the wisdom of its predecessors, including methods to effectively create content, and it covers the world of multi-platform, social media, airchecking, citizen journalism, sales, marketing, promotion, branding and more. (I'm forced to be aware of just how much new material is in the new "Beyond Powerful Radio" every time I have to hoist a suitcase containing copies for my clients into an overhead bin!) It's meant to be for a diverse audience of working broadcasters, both managers and talent, and people aspiring to do creative work, manage creative people or market content in any platform.
2. Speaking of Internet content, are there similarities in producing talk audio content for podcasts or streaming as opposed to broadcast? In what ways should a talent or a producer approach digital content in the same way as for broadcast, and in what ways do they differ?
Powerful, relevant content always wins the day. Good storytelling always works and it applies in any medium. What the internet gives you is the ability to enhance your storytelling by working with the visual component to integrate still images and video with lengthier print pieces with your audio stream or podcast. The internet also offers a new component, but it's not new to talk radio -that's the constant conversation with your audience.
To master the digital world: Adhere to the principles of powerful storytelling. Entertain and inform whether it is live or on-demand. Keep in mind that shows that are downloaded may not be heard right away. Conversely, you should also expect that when there's news of an immediate nature, or a big break in a story, people will still go to their radios, TVs, and computers with the expectation that you will give them the most immediate up-to-the moment information.
3. When do you see digital audio -- podcasts, streaming -- becoming economically viable enough to support a talent and staff without the need for being on "regular radio"? Are we there yet? Will we ever get there? When?
June 27th, 2013. No, seriously, I wish I could predict the date that the money will flow to talent and staff the way it used to. But what I can say is that advertisers are taking internet and digital marketing budgets seriously, and those budgets have grown encouragingly in the past couple of years. That's likely to continue. The power of the internet to move listeners and viewers to buy product is clear and the ability to target your message to more specific groups of potential customers is truly impressive. So we're finally starting to see the money coming in. What's interesting is that some of this money is going directly to independent content producers, and is bypassing some of the more traditional media outlets. Adam Corolla is one example - Broadcasters are starting to make inroads to creating new income streams for their non-traditional content, but it's a process, and there will be a lot of "trial and error" involved. It's a challenging time to be talent, but that's the thing about real creativity, it HAS to find an outlet, and then, it has to pay its light bill.
4. In evaluating talent, has what you look for in assessing a potential host changed as the media has evolved? What, if any, additional talents and capabilities are you seeking? Or is quality content quality in any medium?
Quality content IS quality in any medium. The basics remain - Compelling personalities who can tell stories, write, have humor, are interested in people, good listeners - engaged with life, and have things to say. But what we now look for in potential talent are those who enjoy being wired into a communal conversation both online as well as on-the-air, those who are versatile, capable and WANT to work across multiple platforms. It helps to find people who are willing and able to take a more active role in marketing themselves and their work and are excited about all of the ways for their creativity to be seen and heard.
5. For PDs and managers, in a time when jobs are scarcer, do you see a difference in how talent is treated, especially in large-ego situations? Is talent more cognizant of its vulnerability in this economy and industry? Can you still have a big ego in a business where fewer people are considered indispensable?
No one is indispensable. Think Charlie Sheen. Just about the only thing you own in this business is your good name---in the form of your reputation for honesty, hard work and cooperation. Of course there are still big egos, and you are welcome to have one, if you've earned it, but it has always been true that keeping your big ego heavily guarded is never a bad thing. If you really are an impossibly difficult personality, the internet has provided a way for you to reach your audience directly, without having to deal with an annoying program director or manager constantly reminding you to take your formatics or your commercials seriously, but talent and managers may find that doing it all yourself, by yourself, is a lot harder than it looks. Think Charlie Sheen, again. Regardless of ego, professional standards should prevail in any medium.
6. How, if at all, has the PPM changed your approach as a consultant? How do you advise PDs and GMs to use the PPM information? What additional information is useful, and which might be dangerous?
The core principles of "Powerful Radio" - Tell the Truth, Make it Matter and NEVER BE BORING, are even more essential in the new world of PPM. The entire book is based on how to achieve these three principles. The wake-up call of PPM revealed the shockingly fickle nature of audiences. PPM put the spotlight on the shortened attention span. It's always been true - but now we have glaring proof: If you don't instantly make your point and engage and capture a listener, they're gone.
Each moment on-the-air needs to be compelling immediately. Powerful storytelling that entertains, informs or connects with listeners. Always think: "What's in this for the listener?" Make it relevant. Create content with the listener's shortened attention span in mind. Carefully focus your topics and stories. Ask: "Do people need to know this NOW? Does this have to do with their health, well being or happiness? Is this about THEIR money, safety, emotions? Is this a talkable topic? Will it make them laugh?" If you do this, audiences will tune in and take you with them wherever they go.
The double edged sword of PPM is the immediate feedback. If something doesn't appear to be working immediately, PDs and managers tend to react. If I could sit down with every PD in the business right now I'd advise - "Don't panic. Resist the urge to pull a show or get rid of a talent too soon if something doesn't have immediate results. Give programming the time it needs to grow."
If you know a show or a talent is worthwhile, fight for the time it takes to develop an audience. Building a successful radio show, personality, format or station takes time. Creative work involves risk. With PPM while the feedback is immediate, results and feedback are two different things. Feedback may be immediate, but long-term, successful results can take time to build.
7. How can stations use digital tools and social media to their best advantage? For example, how much can they use "citizen journalism" in bolstering news coverage?
Roughly a third of this book is about news and there's much on this topic in Beyond Powerful Radio, but the condensed version is this: If your station's name is on it, you need to make sure it's coming from a source you can count on. Citizen Journalism - can easily run amuck. Everyone can now be a reporter, but it's like unrefined oil. It's a valuable resource, but to really run a news engine on it, it needs to be refined. That's what your professional staff is for. Also, like crude oil, if information that came from a "citizen journalist" explodes, it can make a pretty big mess that can be hard to clean up. With News/Talk radio in particular, credibility is key. Check your "citizen journalist" sources carefully, and check them again.
Another way to drive listeners to your broadcast? Everyone working in a newsroom or producing or hosting a talk show should tweet - if you tweet breaking news or tease upcoming stories -or topics, accessed through mobile apps or email, you can extend your brand and grow your audience.
Apply the basic principles of radio scheduling to tweeting. Establish a "clock" and use "formatics" for your tweets. Create a working model, with a structure. By creating a schedule of tweets you can work with your staff to consistently let listeners know what to expect .
Social media is a powerful tool for forging personal and meaningful relationships between your audience, your station, your personalities, and your advertisers. It's a huge, and often highly underutilized asset. To take an example from my book, one on-air personality, who'd lost her job, so effectively connected with her listeners using social media, that she ended up being rehired. She kept her audience "in her life" and they created such a quantifiable market for her show that management did not want to pass it up.
8. On the same topic but in another direction, in an era where news, traffic, weather, school closings, and sports scores are now in so many people's pockets at all times through smartphones, how can radio assert its previous dominance in such information, or should stations be cutting back on those elements now? How should stations react to that competition?
Radio should do what RADIO does best. Radio is no longer the sole source of immediately breaking news, weather, traffic or sports. Many stations actually gather their weather, traffic, or sports information from the SAME sources as the listeners can now use. However listeners come for the credibility of your station and your personalities. WHO tells you these things becomes important. That's where your brand as a news-talk station comes in.
Stations should be providing branded content that serves their listeners and viewers wherever they are, and whatever the delivery system.
One way to react to your competition: Mobile devices create a greater need for dedicated web masters who understand how to present these elements in a graphically consistent way with your brand. Spend the money there.
9. Where will radio find the next generation of talent? With small market stations not having as much locally-produced programming, where is the next wave of talent?
Everywhere - Cast a wide net. Talent is born, but broadcasting skills can be taught. Look for creativity online - bloggers, YouTube, podcasts. Listen, watch and read. Don't rule out the "traditional" ways of finding air talent. Look for professionals both in and out of the format. And take the time when you are not actively looking for talent to listen to the MP3s sent to you.
Once you've identified potential talent, be prepared to train them. Both professionals and non-radio people can benefit from techniques in this book which offers tools for talented communicators to reach the highest level of broadcast standards.
There's another way to find and develop new talent. Some stations have begun use their websites as the new "overnight or audition" shift. Use your station's website as a place to develop new people. If your webmaster or content creator or someone on your staff in an "off air" capacity, thinks he or she has what it takes, allow that person to write, put up an interview, or a produced bit on your website. Of course, there needs to be oversight, but give them a platform to show their stuff.
Finally, Public Radio has been great about incubating talent. "This American Life" is an excellent example of people who began as producers, and became, almost literally, superheroes - OK, one became an animated superhero - Sarah Vowell got a voiceover acting gig in the Pixar film, "The Incredibles", but lots of other talent has come from the support staff of that show.
10. Look into your crystal ball: In ten years, how do you expect the terrestrial radio business to be doing? Still strong, radically different, somewhere in between?
No one has a crystal ball, but back in the 1950s when TV came in people feared radio was dead. But that didn't happen. TV didn't replace radio, it augmented and added to it. Radio won't have a future unless it can continue to entertain and inform by integrating all the extra elements that the new technologies offer. If radio offers audiences a unique journey - Powerful storytelling, strong compelling, entertaining personalities and can continue to connect audiences to community, it will have a future.