September 13, 2011
In an era of major consolidated radio groups and networks, Jason Bailey has started a business to essentially represent the "little guy." He launched the Sun Radio Network to offer a national footprint to the smaller radio stations that couldn't get enough national advertisers -- and the smaller advertisers that wanted national exposure but couldn't afford the high-priced network talent. Predictably, Sun Radio's growth has been relatively slow, but it has been steady ...and momentum is on its side. Here's how Bailey sees Sun Radio's place in the always-competitive radio environment.
What made you decide to leave Sky to start Sun Radio?
Sky was my marketing firm during the real estate boom, but before that, I'd been in radio since I was 17. I started my career in Worcester, MA at WXLO. I moved to Florida in 2004 and got into real estate for a while, but it wasn't long before I felt the time was right to create a unique business to serve radio stations and advertising clients.
I saw a demand from medium and small-market businesses that couldn't afford the larger national networks. Many mom-and-pop businesses that make this country great can't afford to air a $5-$10,000 commercial on a Rush Limbaugh or a Sean Hannity. So we structured our campaigns to be tailored to the affordability of the shows. All of our shows and services, big and small, are partners with us and share in this new type of network, sharing in the risk and reward.
How long did it take before you were confident that Sun Radio would succeed?
When we started in 2008, we realized that the buyers and planners in New York and beyond might want check us out first; they're not going to jump in bed with any new company until they're comfortable about what we do and how we do it. We knew that on day one we would not get a giant deal from a Sherwin-Williams or a Dr. Scholls, so we needed to figure out how to be different while still paying the bills. We instantly went after the smaller, faster-type of business that was rarely approached by the big networks, such as the smaller Net businesses and direct-response companies.
What was the key to maintaining that business and growing your clientele?
I made sure everything we did could be measured. When a client bought an ad, they could measure its effectiveness and ROI. We didn't have the luxury of just branding clients. When it came to the small and medium-sized businesses like pet shops, jewelry stores, etc., we had to prove that their ads got click-throughs or made their phones ring. We centered our entire product on that benefit.
As an example, we have a wonderful client -- Pearl Paradise, which sells jewelry online -- that runs national commercials with us every holiday season. They didn't have millions to spend on radio, but they have a product and a need to spread the word about it. Like any privately owned company, they need to make every dollar count -- and we make it work for them every time. Now the larger agencies and businesses are taking notice of our hard work; that's the price of being successful.
At the same time we're always looking to bring on shows and services that will add to the uniqueness of what we do. With all the network mergers lately, we know there are many folks who feel like their inventory isn't being sold properly by their sales companies. At Sun, because every show or services is our partner, we make them ALL a priority again. We're not exclusive to one owner/operator ... and we don't favor one station over another. We want great products to get on great stations, which will appeal to great advertisers. It's quite simple.
Is it tough balancing the needs of your smaller clients with the demands from the bigger companies with more to spend?
It is tough, but coming off what I did with the real estate market, I've learned that each client is a unique entity. What's important to them is getting the right message out and how frequently it's exposed. Our goal is to put that together for people in an affordable way.
The recession really helped us because many businesses needed to advertise but had to cut back on marketing. We were able to provide them with a national footprint at a very affordable price. It helped us grow in the last three years. Although now, even thought we have a national sales team hitting the clients in New York, L.A. and Chicago that all the major networks get; we have to fight a heck of a lot harder for them. It makes us a better company. We just can't take orders from clients who want to be on the Seacrests of the world. We have to be creative in our packages and offer unique opportunities. We still have to fight very hard to get their business and earn their trust, but it is happening.
How do you get creative when you don't have the biggest names?
We do it the old-fashioned way - if we don't have the big names, we have the big ideas. We have to go into agencies and blow them away with the concept. That's how we landed Dr. Scholls as our first major account. We put together an amazing group of stations and offered a 30-second fitness tip that was piggy-backed with a 30-second spot. We wrapped all that into a 60-second package, so instead of a commercial interruption, we were providing listeners first and foremost with an informative spot. Dr. Scholl loved it and worked with us on it.
Now this doesn't work for everybody; some clients still want to run straight :30s or :60s and that's fine. What's difficult is there are many clients that want a Seacrest to reach 18-34s, but just because we and other smaller networks don't have him, they think that means we can't get 18-34s. Our challenge is to prove to them that there are plenty of other 18-34s out there.
I'm sure your successful ideas can be and have been copied by larger networks; how else do you try to stay a step ahead of them in the pursuit of clients?
We structured our network differently, so we can be very nimble by geo- and demo-targeting better than the rest. It's more work for us, but it makes us that much more efficient. Also, as we start to increase traditional copy-splitting abilities, because of the way we built the network, we feel we have a much better, MUCH more affordable approach for the advertiser. We can put together a network of 400 stations, but use 20 different shows that are cut and pieced together so the reach makes perfect sense to the advertiser. The small and medium-sized businesses need every one of their ad dollars to count -- and we take the time to ensure that it's aired on the right program, on the right station, in the right markets.
We realize that the big brands and small brands all want the same thing -- RESULTS. The way we prove that we can deliver is by working hard. We're a 24/7 network, so if the client needs something, we handle it immediately. A lot of networks may get a request from a client at 8p but do nothing about it until the next morning. We make sure we're very accessible so when an agency needs something on its desk tomorrow morning, we start cranking away on the solution at 11p that night. That's the world we live in.
Do you alter your campaign for advertisers when a station that is airing it flips format?
A lot of clients we do business with have services that reach across all the formats and we're always adjusting a network or ad campaign to make sure it fits the client's needs. What's more important for us moving forward is to create cross-format programming that doesn't exist today. How do we become a different kind of network for advertising on different kinds of programming? Our network is starting to put together shows that have never been done before. Some people may look at us like we're crazy, but they don't realize how the listener is changing.
I'm not talking about brokered shows or shows being produced and sold in the typical syndicated model. We're developing shows that will roll out in 2012 that will be very different; I promise you that they'll be something that you've never heard of on radio. We feel this is a time to offer the listener something remarkably different. You can't keep plugging along with same formula of radio personalities and programming; you have to break the mold.
But will advertisers be attracted to network product that is essentially unproven?
Will it work? I sure hope so; I think listeners will enjoy it. If it doesn't work, okay, at least I went down trying to make the industry better. I have been in this business for 17 years and there are a lot of great programs, but there's also a lot of repetitive product with the same clocks, same sound and same methodologies. What some believe is "tested" programming, others see as cookie-cutter. That's why there's a demand for services like Pandora and Spotify. More and more listeners don't want cookie-cutter; they want their own cookie, their own way to use and enjoy terrestrial radio - and we think we've got a formula that can work.
Some of the programming we're putting together is based on what has happened in marketing, largely because of apps. Just four years ago, we were introduced to the word "App" ... and look at how it has quickly changed our world. Four years from now, where will we be? I'll tell you what I won't be -- a radio guy playing catch-up. I'm going to put products together that are absolutely 100% different than what's being offered today. They'll likely be even more interactive, where listeners can control the product to a unique level.
Starting next year, six major auto manufacturers will have apps built into their cars. Eventually they'll all be pulling out the little knobs and preset buttons that we've all grown up with -- and when that happens, this world is going to get turned upside. For the first time, drivers will have to choose to push the FM or AM icon over, say, Pandora or Spotify. Terrestrial radio won't be the "default" audio in these cars when you start it up, yet too many in the radio industry haven't figured that out yet.
The reality is as long as we give the audience good content for them to control, they'll still do whatever you tell them to do to get that control. They'll open that app and log in; they'll open that website and click around; or they'll manually push that FM or AM radio button in their car and navigate to a great local station to get great content.
You can't expect to stay in business by simply claiming to offer "traffic every 10 minutes," because if they want the traffic or news at that moment - with mobile devices and apps, they can get it. They don't need us the way they used to. If they're stuck in traffic, I'd rather offer them, collectively as a group in a given market, a way to get what they want, when they want it. They may need a traffic update today at 8:05a, but tomorrow when the ride is smooth, they just want to hear a hit song.
I'm not a guy who's saying the sky is falling here, but the world is changing - and I believe it's a good thing for our industry. Terrestrial radio is still an important piece of the puzzle; we just have to make sure we evolve it quickly and in a way that makes sense to the world we now live in.