January 6, 2015
Erica Farber is a radio lifer, whose been selling the power of radio since starting in local radio, where she became a successful sales force at some of the biggest radio stations in the country. She then spent over a decade at Radio and Records. Yet even when R&R was sold, it was only a matter of time before someone in the industry would ask Erica to once again to share her expertise and insight. That person turned out to be Jeff Haley of the RAB -- and not only did she join the organization, she would eventually be named Pres./CEO. Here, Farber offers her perspective on radio's place in the new media environment, and what to expect at the panel she'll be moderating at the 2015 Worldwide Radio Summit this April.
Why did you decide to join the RAB?
After we sold R&R, I never expected to come back in a full-time position. I had taken some time off, and was doing some projects I was interested in. Jeff Haley, Pres. /CEO of RAB, called and asked if I'd be interested in joining the RAB to oversee the membership area. We actually talked about it for a couple of months before I decided to join and I officially joined the RAB January 3rd, 2012.
Was there an adjustment process at the RAB?
I was in a fortunate position. The RAB is physically located in Dallas and New York City, while I live in California. I was being given the opportunity to work out of my home office, so that was a benefit for me. I quickly tried to do as much intelligence as I could, then once I was inside the RAB, I started to reach out to members. Three months in, Jeff informed me he would be leaving the RAB, which certainly was a shock to me. We talked about what happens with the RAB and he wanted me to talk to the Board about heading up the RAB, because he thought it would be a very smooth transition. After some soul searching, I spoke with the Executive Committee several times and they ended up offering me the position to head up the organization.
Did your perspective of the RAB change once you became Pres. /CEO?
For years and years, I was directly involved with the RAB. During my years on the station side, I was a user of its products and services. When I moved into the rep business, I regularly dealt with members and supporters. Then when I was on the trade publication side, we covered the information, the data and the services of the organization.
Like anything else, a healthy organization is a reflection of its membership. Our goal is to listen carefully to the needs of our members. And our team works very hard and is very focused to support those needs.
From the RAB perspective, what are the main challenges radio is facing today?
Marketers today all have challenges. As much as technology has changed, trying to get the attention of the consumer -- both from a programming standpoint and from a product standpoint -- is still as important as ever. The consumer has more choices than ever before. And those choices have to do with entertainment, news and information, as well as products and services. From that standpoint, radio's challenges are no different than any other medium.
The biggest change for us is listeners used to be able to reach us only through traditional means. Now, technology affords us the opportunity to reach consumers in any way they want to be reached -- and that's a big change. Not only can we offer them a choice on what programming they want to hear and where they hear it, we can offer marketers a choice on how to market to them. Integrated marketing is more and more becoming the norm.
Does the explosion of media platforms prove that radio can generate a decent return on investment from its digital efforts?
Once again, we're putting things in box, which is not appropriate because how and where listeners consume products is changing. So, as a marketer, you ask the advertiser, "What are you trying to accomplish" -- and we in turn provide the most appropriate solutions.
We're putting together complete programs for advertisers. We're not just selling advertisers spots that run on-air or a digital stream, or a banner that runs on the station website. That's not what it's about. Just to step back a moment: We reach over 90% of all Americans, 12 plus and older, every week. There's no question there has been some erosion in TSL, but we still know that our listeners spend two hours a day tuned into AM/FM radio. The main goal is to better reach and motivate them.
Has the advent of PPM - which has impacted the nature of listening and the way radio programs to listeners - similarly impacted the way radio sells and markets to them?
I don't necessarily think radio needs to change its message under the PPM as opposed to the diary. I haven't seen anything that indicates we should. For advertisers, it's all about reach. Radio historically has never been positioned as a reach medium. Especially through PPM, we can prove we are a reach medium. Nielsen's ROI Catalina study, released earlier this year, showed significantly the positive results of advertising on the radio. For advertisers who want people to consume their goods, radio's ROI is significant.
Is the perception of radio being an out-of-date medium a major challenge for radio to overcome?
It depends on the advertiser. If you look at success on radio, how the dollars break out, between 70-80% of all radio sales are derived from local advertisers. Local advertisers continue to use radio because they have proof their registers ring when consumers walk into retail stores after hearing their spots on the radio. We work hand in hand with our clients; no one does promotions better than local radio stations. Local radio stations have a tremendous connection with the local community -- and no other advertising vehicle can say that. It's an emotional connection.
In years past, radio used to boast about revenue increases of high single-digits and double-digits. Today, the usual quarterly shows revenue increases of very low single-digits at best. Should radio lower its sights in terms of revenue increases, or can double-digit revenue bumps still happen?
That goal to advertisers is not unrealistic. We just need to develop better relationships with whose controlling budgets. Borrell Associates publishes studies showing that advertising budgets are not increasing but decreasing, but we are also seeing growing promotional budges. That just again resonates with radio's strength. Who does promotions better than the local radio station?
Traditional ad budgets aren't growing, and there are new ways to reach consumers. We're going to try everything possible to reach consumers wherever they are, so it becomes more important for us, on the radio side, to be able to communicate all of our touch points with advertisers. We can come up with very specific programs with actionable opportunities for advertisers. There's no question some markets have challenges, while other markets are doing quite well.
If there are market or geographic challenges facing radio, what should they do?
There are many stations doing different things and trying new things. I think the ones that are doing just that are seeing results. You don't walk into new advertisers today and walk out with an order. Developing relationships with advertisers takes a long time, from the first time you call on them to actually walking away with a significant order. It's not about getting people to buy 12 spots a week for four weeks. We're talking about proposals where radio can support a client for a significant period of time with long-term programs.
A new buzz phrase going around recently is "programmatic buying." What's the RAB's take on it and what part do you see it playing in radio's future?
The important thing about programmatic ad buying is that it doesn't drive the decision of what media will be utilized by the advertiser and that's why everything else that we're doing to sell the medium is important as ever. With that said, we as an industry want and need to have a role in the space. We, like the rest of the media business, are actively doing our due diligence to work with our partners and understand our place in the marketplace and the opportunities. I'm confident radio will have a role.
Another buzzword that continues to be bandied about is "branding." Exactly how integral is that in radio's success?
As you know, in some markets programmers are now called "Brand Managers," yet no one really knows the audience better than the on-air personality. In fact, recently during Advertising Week in New York this year, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel for advertisers comprised of successful air talent. The personalities did a terrific job in communicating how closely connected they are to their listeners and how they understand what motivates them.
One of topics we discussed was endorsement advertising and how important it is for talent to communicate with the client up front because if they're not talking in their language -- the way their audience is used to hearing them -- the messaging isn't believable and the message will be lost. Relatability and personal connection is so important today.
We've also produced other panels -- one last month in Albany for local agencies and advertisers -- made up of local personalities representing diverse formats in the marketplace. Regardless of their format -- Sports, Top 40 or AC - they all know what motivates their audience and what their audience expects of them.
Speaking of panels, you will be moderating one for the 2015 Worldwide Radio Summit, entitled "Where Art & Commerce Meet." How do you expect to handle that issue?
First of all, All Access has been so supportive of the RAB and has been a very good partner. Every time Joel has asked me to participate, I'm glad to do it. However, this time I said to Joel, "It's interesting when it is a panel for programmers and someone brings up revenue or sales, half the audience gets up and leaves."
Evidently, they don't think it applies to them, yet without great programming and without understanding the connection of programming and sales, you can't market or sell anything to an advertiser. Some people in programming don't care about sales, but bottom line, we are all in sales. The more we wed programming, sales and marketing together, the more successful we'll be. When you look at the talent we'll have in that session, you'll see branding experts discuss how we all can affect the financial success of a radio station by working together.
Finally, considering how invested you are with the RAB, do you still have time to consider your long-range plans?
I am absolutely enjoying my life. I have never considered completely retiring. I know those people who say that's why they call it "work," but I have been so blessed to have been in a business I love and have had a great career. I hope to continue to have a great career, and as long as I feel I'm making a meaningful contribution, I'll be here. When the day comes when I no longer can do that ... I hope I'll know that before they show me the door.