Way Off The Mark! - January 1997

by Mark Margulies

The check is in the mail. I'm from the government and I'm here to help. I don't advertise because it's a waste of money.

Three great lies. Let's examine the final one.

More times than not, an AE has been stonewalled by the words, "Sorry, I don't advertise because...," and nothing is more full of hooey than that excuse. It's a lie, of course. But, for a retailer, it sounds much better than admitting, "I'm scared stiff about spending money with you guys because I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to advertising. I don't know how to measure my results, and I don't want to make an expensive mistake." But instead of something similar, they simply say, "Look, I don't advertise." Well, it's a lie and an old excuse that just won't cut it anymore. And here's why: EVERYTHING a retailer does is advertising.

Show them. Take them around their establishment. Do they have a sign out front telling people who they are? That's advertising. Do they have their hours posted on the window? That's advertising. An "open" sign hanging on the door? Advertising. Do they have business cards, a telephone number or credit card slicks in their window? You got it. EVERY SINGLE THING a retailer does is advertising. Because without advertising, they have no business. Without advertising, you'd never even know the business existed. No one would ever walk in. Their entire business is predicated on advertising. So the idea that a retailer "doesn't advertise" is pure nonsense.

Of course, you may also run into that other school of thought, the one that won't tell you they DON'T advertise. They simply say, "I just depend on word of mouth." Another excuse, another dodge, one quickly eliminated when you explain to them that if radio isn't the ultimate word-of-mouth advertising, what is?!? Word of mouth is a trusted, friend-to-friend way of communicating ideas. So is radio, with the exception that your personalities aren't talking to just one or two friends at a time. They're talking to hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousands.

I bring this all to your attention because you've heard it all before. It's a proven fact that retailers lie. They elude. They create excuses. Why? In most cases it has to do with the fact that they've been burned by advertising before. They have baggage, and instead of dealing with it, they simply choose to ignore it. Either that, or they are just very unsophisticated in the ways of advertising and are afraid of being taken. But here's where a savvy Production or Creative Director can be worth their weight in gold to a radio station (that savvy individual, of course, being YOU).

This is the point where it's time for you to step out from behind the console and take a more active "consulting" role in the development of a retailer's buy. Too many times we sit back and listen as an AE goes it alone against a tough retailer, or a retailer afraid to advertise. Or, if a retailer is willing to try, we simply accept it when an AE shows us the retailer's "ideas," not paying attention to whether they're right for them or the station. This is where we need to make it a point to be a part of retailer/AE discussions.

You say you're already going out with your AEs and developing ideas with retailers? Hold it. No one mentioned "ideas" yet. Do yourself and that retailer a favor: enough with the ideas already. Ideas should come AFTER you've spent time determining specifically what they're trying to accomplish. And for that, you must be direct and pointed when asking questions. And they must be questions your AE hasn't addressed. Focus on their problems. Focus in on what they'd like to see happen. Drive the meeting with your understanding of the various types of ads that will or won't work, and WHY. The WHY is as important as the BUY.

Soon you will discover something wonderful, that even retailers who "will not advertise" become more pliable when they see there's someone who understands the problem they're trying to solve and who can begin to make sense of how they can successfully deliver a message to the listener. It is at that point they begin to awaken to the notion that maybe radio isn't the three-headed Gila monster they thought it was. Establish your credibility. Listen to what they say. Explain some of their options and most retailers will thank you as they open to the idea of advertising once again.

The key to all this is, remember the retailer's side of this story. Your station is just one of many different media sources that swoop in on them like vultures on a daily basis trying to ply a piece of that hard-earned advertising pie of their's loose. And they're all trying to "sell" their particular form of advertising. Your retailer is inundated, overwhelmed by it all. And, in most cases, that means they're confused. An apocryphal story I heard years ago highlights this confusion. It's about an ad executive who was sitting next to the CEO of a large corporation on a long plane flight, extolling the virtues of HIS particular media product and how the CEO was wasting money on other forms of advertising. The CEO listened patiently, then simply answered, "I know fifty cents out of every dollar I spend is wasted. I just don't know which fifty cents that is." And the same goes for your local retailer. Everyone SELLS your retailer, but no one truly sits down with them and explains why their product is being featured in the way it is, or why one approach is better for their message than another. That's why, in situations where the retailer is defensive and hesitant, you become so much more valuable. All a retailer wants to do half the time is talk to someone who could say, "It's okay. I understand. Answer some questions for me and we'll fix your problem." And that someone, in most cases, has to be you. That's your job. That has to be job one.

"I don't advertise" is a cry for help. A good AE understands that and can redirect the potential retailer accordingly. The good Production or Creative Director can be a part of that redirection too, bringing a sense of continuity and reason to a retailer who may never have had anything like that explained to him before. So make time to team with your sales staff and ask them about the folks who say "they don't advertise." Chances are, you could go a long way to ending one of the great lies of all time.

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