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Making money in radio: It is possible if you know how to sell

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BY DAN SMALL

My good friend and mentor, the late Tony Dean, often said that his little three-minute radio show earned him more money than anything else he did. After a 20-year career in Public Television, I decided to try commercial radio myself.
My show is now in its 10th season, and while I can’t yet make Tony’s claim, I have found there are many ways to make money with a commercial radio show, and they all begin and end with selling.
A consummate salesman, Tony was the first to admit he learned to sell the hard way, one “No, thanks” at a time. I was lucky enough to make a sale to the first person I called when I decided to launch my show: A friend who owns a personal injury law firm and who loves to hunt. Dozens of calls later, I still had only one sponsor.
My success rate improved considerably after I sought the council of Bobby White-head, who taught me there are four steps to every sale. Bobby said they always happen in the same order and if you leave one out, you won’t make the sale. Each step might take a few minutes or a few years, but each is critical to completing the transaction.
Step One: Establish rapport.
Your prospective sponsor must feel comfortable with you and your program. I’m actually pretty good at this step, maybe because I like schmoozing and I listen to people’s stories. I think I made my first sale to my attorney friend because he and I hunted together and he was already a staunch supporter of my TV show. I lost him as a sponsor when he hired a new marketing director, which brings me to step No. 2.
Step Two: Determine need.
Your prospect must need what you are offering, or at least perceive that he or she needs it, or you’ll lose the sale. My attorney friend told me he did not get any referrals from the outdoor market (translation: he didn’t need what I had to sell). Maybe my listeners don’t get into motorcycle accidents. (Or, maybe I don’t have enough listeners?) At any rate, he now buys time on Milwaukee Brewers broadcasts. I hope he’s happy, but I do intend to ask how that’s working out for him. Sponsors’ needs change, so don’t hesitate to revisit a prospect every quarter or so, to see how his business is doing.
Step Three: Make your pitch.
Once you have determined that your sponsor might indeed need what you are offering, then and only then, should you make your pitch. Sponsor need should determine the duration, elements and cost of your proposed package.I sold a commercial roofing company a three-month package back in 2008 because they were hiring when other businesses were laying people off. They got lots of calls from their ads and hired some good people. In fact, the ads worked so well they didn’t need to run them anymore. They stayed with me, however, because we wrote new ads aimed at solving summer roof problems during a hot, dry season and winter roof problems during a heavy snow season. Then they hired a new marketing director, and now we’re back to step No. 2 with them.
Step Four: Close.
Closing is simply asking for the sale and sealing the deal, but it’s the hardest step in the process and where many people fail. I like to think that if you and I get along fine, if I understand what you need and if I make you a reasonable offer, you should automatically buy what I am selling. But more often than not it doesn’t work out that way. Some prospects might hesitate at the price, or they might want other features than what you are offering. In those cases, you might need to back up to steps No. 2 and No. 3 and start again.
Tony Dean was a master at closing the deal. If his prospect agreed the offer was fair and he needed it, Tony immediately asked, “Well, can you sign this agreement so we can get started?” What can you sell? Your show length and frequency will dictate to a certain extent what you can sell. Tony Dean’s three-minute show was typical of short-form programs. He sold two 30-second spots embedded within the show, but he could also sell spots adjacent to his show.
My show runs for 50 minutes on 11 broadcast stations and at least that many podcasts. Most of the broadcast stations I work with keep six minutes at the top of the hour for news, weather and maybe a couple of spot ads. They also have four minutes of spot ad time after the second break. The rest of the 50 minutes are mine to fill with content or ads. All ads also run in my podcasts, so my sponsors get online as well as broadcast listeners.
Obvious inventory items include the standard 30-second or one minute spot ad and the presenting sponsorship. If a sponsor doesn’t have spots already produced, you can charge them to write or record them, or you might want to offer producing the spots at no charge as a “value added” service.
You may also be able to sell 10-second or 15-second spot ads, live reads (essentially ads or announcements that you read during the content portion of the show), promotional announcements, show segments, sponsored interviews, space on your e-newsletter or website, giveaways, live remote broadcasts and more. We sell the opportunity to sponsor a segment of our choosing for one price and an interview with a sponsor’s spokesperson at a higher price.
If your broadcast station gives you promotional announcements (15 or 30-second spots that run at other times during the week to promote your show), you can sell those. Ask the station sales manager what he sells them for, then price yours accordingly. A typical 15-second promo might sound like this: “This week on Outdoors Radio, we’ll hear about winter outdoor programs for women and talk to Bass Pro’s Brent Chapman and Ott Defoe about the upcoming Bassmaster Classic. Brought to you by the Lake Home & Cabin Show, Jan. 23-25 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. Lakehomeandcabinshow.com.”
You can sell naming rights to show segments: the “Rapala Fishing Report,” ”Coleman Cooking Corner,” or “Toyota Tundra Destination of the Week,” for instance.
We even sold our phone line for a year and a half to a sponsor who didn’t want anything else. Every time we called a guest, we said, “Joining us on the (name of sponsor) Call of the Wild Hotline is charter captain Joe Guest.” It might sound a little corny, but every time we made a call (three or four times per broadcast), our sponsor got mentioned. You can probably think of more items to sell, but you won’t sell them unless a sponsor trusts you, has a need you can meet at a reasonable price and of course — you are able to close the deal.  ♦
– Dan Small has been host and producer of Milwaukee Public Television’s “Outdoor Wisconsin” since its premiere in November 1984. He also produces and hosts a weekly radio show, “Outdoors Radio with Dan Small,” which airs on broadcast stations throughout Wisconsin and on numerous websites
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