February 22, 2011
Greg Ashlock heads up arguably the most successful radio cluster in the country, yet he'd be the first to tell you that the eight Los Angeles stations he oversees haven't achieved this success by playing it safe. Ashlock delegates authority to a team that takes risks -- in content and with its multiple platforms - to keep the cluster ahead of the pack. Here's how he ... and his team ... do it.
Although you obviously budget for 2011 months in advance, what's the key to starting a new year on the right foot?
The first thing we start with is the product; we make sure it's aligned and properly funded from a marketing standpoint. Given the size of our cluster, that's not an easy task. We've got eight properties with six of those consistently performing in the top 10. We're fortunate to have finished 2010 on a strong note with plenty of momentum and, therefore, have high expectations for an even better 2011.
So it would be fair to say that you're bullish on 2011...
We're cautiously optimistic. Last year we had political dollars, which added demand, so there is a bit of a hill to climb. However, industry pacing for Q1 is up significantly and clients are starting to unleash funds earlier, so there is some cause for optimism.
When you have eight properties, each with its own needs, how do you balance all of their interests equitably?
It definitely makes for a fun day. One thing I love about my job is the diversity of responsibility. A typical day might include something entertainment-related with Seacrest in the morning, followed by a stir created by KFI for its blunt and stimulating style of delivering current events; a few meetings with current and prospective clients; then capped with a visit to the playground (which is what we call any activity related to our Sports station, KLAC). It's a balancing act that requires a prioritization system, good time management and, most importantly, delegation, but I wouldn't want it any other way. Very energizing.
Clear Channel led the industry in reducing clutter by launching its 'Less Is More" initiative. How do you reconcile that with the now growing-demands from your advertisers?
Today's clients are looking for and demanding a point of differentiation outside of traditional spots. Although the 15s, 30s and/or 60s remain the meat of the campaign, every client is looking for an "a ha" element, be it through integration with a social media campaign, through rich media digital assets, via personality endorsements, through organic tie-ins to a targeted event, or a combination of them all.
Clients are also looking for ways to connect messaging across media vehicles to deliver more continuity. As the largest out of home media company with more than 200 million weekly listeners, more than 300,000 outdoor facings and 30+ million monthly uniques to our websites, Clear Channel is in a unique position to address those needs. It's exciting to be able to sit down with a client knowing that we have the resources, both locally and nationally, to help them meet their goals.
How does the station/client relationship develop at Clear Channel/Los Angeles?
Every discussion we have with clients begins with "ideation." Creative is king. Media efficiencies are important and we understand the need to be competitive in that regard, but creative is what separates the great from the good. This is true on the product side as well.
I noticed that on your AM stations - especially the Sports KLAC -- you're branding specific segments of the shows and your personalities are doing a lot of live-read endorsements, thereby interweaving the spots within the program. At least perceptually, are endorsements the way to get around high spot loads?
Endorsements are definitely more effective at grabbing the listener's attention. We try to cater the endorsement to fit the talent's persona and encourage them to have fun with it. Scripts should be directional, but not etched in stone. Some clients have strict directives, while others offer more freedom to our talent - and those are the spots that stand out the most.
How effective are the live-read endorsements?
I would say that most of our endorsement spots move product at a 3-1 ratio compared to a normal spot. I always use the analogy of end caps at grocery stores. Product featured on the end caps in grocery stores moves at a 3-1 ratio to the normally stocked product. An endorsement is our version of an end cap. They're more prevalent and are more activating. Most of the clients you hear in those spots are direct response advertisers, so it's easy to judge the effectiveness. And measurability is becoming increasingly important.
As a player in direct-format battles in Top 40 and Alternative, do you view the competitive situation in the L.A. market on a whole cluster vs. cluster basis, or on a station vs. station basis?
Both. Each property stands on its own. PD John Ivey and Marketing Director Eileen Woodbury of KIIS solely focus on making that station the best Top 40 in the country. From my perspective, I'm here to strategically build an eight-station portfolio. Our formats are chosen based on demand (which we closely monitor through audience research) and how they complement the other stations in our mix.
As it relates to the competition across the street, we've discovered that there is ample room for more than one station in both Top 40 and Alternative Rock. The music is strong and Southern Californians have an appetite to consume the offerings of multiple stations in the format. When AMP launched against KIIS, its initial novelty had an impact -- and it still does fine in the ratings, but KIIS' ratings have never been stronger (#1 in practically every demo).
It's the same story with Alternative and 98-7. It wasn't our intent to go after KROQ. We just felt that there was a sizable group of music fans who weren't being completely served by KROQ, so we decided to jump in and fill that void, with an intense focus on the music. The result is that KROQ's ratings are still great, but 98-7 is now a contender for all adult demos, especially on the younger side.
How important is the digital revenue streams for the cluster?
Digital is bringing significant new dollars to radio -- but what digital is today and what it will be five years down the road is very different. It's a car on the train now, but could very quickly become the engine.
Currently, the meat of what we provide is still over the air. That's where the economies of scale weigh in for advertisers and listeners. But the connectivity from the digital side is really helping us keep our audiences for longer periods of time and allowing us to develop deeper relationships. We can hand off listeners from the terrestrial side to a chat session or to one of our Facebook pages and continue the conversation while pointing them to listen online or on iHeart.
I've got a teenage daughter who never used to listen to KIIS because we live in Valencia and you can't always get a clear signal over the hill. She became more of an iPod person because of limited options. With iHeartradio, she's got her iPhone docked with an iHeart app - and now listens to KIIS all the time. Listening habits will continue to change as more digital options become available. Radio will have a leg up in this arena with established personalities who make the overall listening experience more meaningful.
Is selling clients on your digital platforms easier today?
Every client we talk to on the revenue side is interested in a digital option. So, yes, the increased interest in digital options over the past two years has made it easier. But the digital landscape has also become much more competitive. The key for us is transitioning. Terrestrially, we reach 8.5 million people a week locally and 190 million people a week nationally, which gives us a unique selling proposition versus others in this space. Our goal is to develop a relationship with these listeners and then use our terrestrial strength to transition them to our digital properties. So, now it's not just another unique, but an engaged unique.
How do you tailor your content to be fully utilized on your digital platforms?
It's the same content with more extended options. We might be handing our listeners off to exclusive content they couldn't get on-air, such as an extended interview with Valentine, or our 98-7 Rockaholics might be commenting on a live performance from our studio, or the Taco Bell Break-Out Star Competition may now include video uploads with listener voting.
From programming to sales, from terrestrial to the digital platforms, how have you developed the time management skills to keep all these balls up in the air simultaneously?
I know this sounds cliché, but it's true: I have an incredible staff. I'm very fortunate to have a top-notch staff of programmers, marketers, sales and integrated managers who simply find ways to get it done every day. I can rely on these people to make smart decisions and to run with them. They're empowered and encouraged to act. One of radio's strengths that we should evangelize is speed to market from a programming and sales perspective. But that only happens if you fully trust your staff.
Although it won't impact you in Los Angeles, are you concerned that nationally, when Wi-Fi becomes fully integrated in automobile dashboards, that listeners in, say, Boise, will forego the Top 40 there for the big dog - namely KIIS in Los Angeles? Why listen to a voicetracked Seacrest when you can hear the real thing live?
One of the things that makes radio so powerful is localism, so while the listener in Boise will be able to decide whether to hear Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga on KISS/Boise or KIIS/Los Angeles, the distinction still comes down to what the personalities bring to the table -- and they can bring more to the table if they're part of the community. That connection, coupled with the music, makes the magic. Ultimately, people will gravitate to good product in the market ... and if you're not providing a good product, you are at risk. Those capable of balancing local flavor with news, entertainment and connectivity to listeners are going to win -- and that won't change in a wireless world.
A number of your air personalities are voicetracking. Are you ever concerned that they are either diverting their attention too much towards that end of their work and not their own air shift ... or that they're starting to burn out from too much voice work?
There are a lot more opportunities for talent today, some of which are the result of efficiencies created by technology. I'm not too concerned about burn-out because it is an opt-in proposition. As far as workload is concerned, if we felt that the talent's primary responsibilities were being compromised, we'd ask them to scale it back. And, yes, there have been times when talent has been asked to cut other market responsibilities.
So, bottom line: What's your outlook for the future for radio overall and, specifically, Clear Channel/Los Angeles?
The outlook is positive. New delivery platforms and complementary digital assets are going to make radio more relevant than ever. Spending is picking up and clients are pushing creative back to the forefront, which bodes well for a medium that is flexible and personal.
I'm also fortunate to have a senior management team with Susan Karis and John Hogan, who have championed our desire to take educated risks, both from the content and revenue side. If you're not pushing the envelope, you'll stagnate.
Winston Churchill said, "Some see opportunity in every danger (risk), while others see danger (risk) in every opportunity." I'm a big believer in the former and our cluster operates that way. Approaching our daily duties from that perspective keeps things fresh and fun. Yes, radio is fun!