Two weeks ago, I joined the iHeartMedia team and several hundred marketers and agency executives at the 4th annual iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, an exceptional two-day music and marketing feast. I waited to write my feedback and overview, because to be objective I wanted to let some of the buzz wear off. And while I've come down off the high the iHeart Festival inspired, a new buzz of enthusiasm for the newly–named iHeartMedia has replaced it. While the lead economic story at iHeartMedia continues to be debt and a steep road ahead to achieve challenging growth goals, the company under CEO Bob Pittman has deflected that issue and somehow managed to turn radio into a medium of the future – or at least a media company that is trying to define the future of media.
Why am I enthusiastic? Early in my career, I spent three years in ad sales and management at WPLJ-FM, then the flagship New York FM station of ABC Radio. As FM radio was exploding, I personally experienced the value of the medium as a retail response medium that had a unique and powerful connection to its listeners. My experience selling DJs Jim Kerr, Pat St. John, Zacherle, Carole Miller and Tony Pigg to local New York retailers was an eye-opener and formative throughout my career.
In November 2003, I called on this experience in publishing a strong message to the radio industry (see below) – a message that has gone unheeded for the past decade. Until now. At the iHeartRadio Festival, after a late night of music and parties, nearly 1,000 advertiser and agency executives attended the early-morning iHeartMedia Advertiser Summit, where Pittman, Ryan Seacrest and sales chief Tim Castelli outlined their vision of the newly named company as a 360° marketing platform founded on its radio industry leadership, but enabling marketers to achieve their goals and reach consumers through an expansive network of integrated and branded marketing opportunities, with the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the center.
Read below my criticism of and recommendations for the radio industry that I wrote in 2003, more than a decade ago, and you'll not only understand my enthusiasm for iHeartMedia, but you'll also gain a better understanding of the relevance this refocused company has for redefining the future of media and advertising. (Note especially point #5) While the company remains debt-ridden and radio remains a struggling medium in a video, digital and procurement/programmatic-centric media world, Pittman and his team deserve credit for bringing the company and the medium to the forefront of the industry when it comes to innovation and creativity.
JACK MYERS COMMENTARY. NOVEMBER 10, 2003
(For the full commentary, link here)
• There are no short term solutions to the problems facing the radio industry. But until innovation, creativity and brand development become institutionalized within the organizations of the major radio companies, real solutions will be shot down by overwhelming economic and regulatory realities long before they bear fruit. It's time to bring some free form management into the radio business with a commitment to long-term support.
• The industry is desperately in need of a new playing field. It's too late to try to simply play the game differently. The game is broken. Radio as a medium is on a downward slope. It's time for a completely new game to be developed, tested, and implemented.
• Conceptually no creative business can grow without innovation and development. Radio's business models are broken as much as its programming models — both need to be rebuilt from the ground up. Clear Channel and Infinity (now CBS), along with the other major radio owners, need to develop new models and build them in tandem with advertisers. The radio industry must reposition itself, re-create its unique marketing proposition, and rebuild its competitive and proprietary position.
• Where are the Radio Brands? Everything is about brands today. The radio business will suffer if it fails to develop and market relevant national branded properties.
•Be Interactive & Think Nationally. While many stations have created promotional websites, only a fraction stream their audio signals via the web. This creates an opportunity for audio brands to develop on the web and slowly erode radio's share of market. It's time for radio executives to begin thinking nationally again - and even globally - by embracing brand-based media expansion opportunities combined with Internet streaming. Radio should be co-opting the Internet as an expansion vehicle before the Internet becomes the new audio medium of the Net generation.
It's obvious why I'm enthusiastic about iHeartMedia, even if it's a decade late!
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