How his decades-old radio marketing company had to reinvent itself
For media marketers, this is both the most exciting and uncertain time to be in the business, according to marketing expert Barry Berman, President of CRN International.
“It’s a head-scratching time for legacy media and those of us who have to take it to the marketplace,” said Berman, whose 40-year-old company uses radio and other forms of sound to solve major brands’ marketing challenges.
In a speech to the sales force of Hearst Magazines’ Women’s Lifestyle Group, he said, “Not a week goes by that I don’t hear ‘no one listens to radio.’ I bet you get a lot of: ‘no one’s reading magazines anymore.’”
Berman warned against using any media phenomenon just because it’s new. It must be effective in selling a client’s product, he said. “Whether it’s sound, ink on a page or digital ones and zeros, media is just a conveyance for content that must engage an audience and deliver for the advertiser,” he said.
Berman said his company has evolved to respond to new technology and changes in consumer behaviors. The most recent development is establishment of a podcast division, called Collisions. Its podcasts have attracted such sponsors as Pepsi and Toyota, and drawn prominent rankings and positioning in Apple iTunes.
“What drove us into podcasting was not the defensive rush to all things digital, but the intrinsic belief that audiences want a good story and advertisers will follow,” he explained. “Creative in the ear space was moving to podcasting, and we wanted to stake a claim.”
Some of the podcasts produced by Collisions in its inaugural year include: “Distraction,” on coping in this crazy-busy world, hosted by ADHD expert Dr. Edward Hallowell; “Just the Right Book Podcast,” with award-winning bookseller Roxanne Coady; “Stockton!” with Hall of Fame sportscaster Dick Stockton; “The Sasquatch 2016 Official Festival Podcast,” a Live Nation event; and “The Car and Driver Podcast,” with the editors of Car and Driver magazine.
He said that business evolution can take years, as it did for his company, which he founded in 1973. “Much soul searching around core competencies took place. And where we landed was: we are indeed a marketing solutions company that uses media to accomplish our goals. We are strong believers in and have a strong history and know-how in sound,” he said.
CRN’s projects have included nationwide “honest” ski reports, sponsored by Maxwell House; weather reports that triggered a call to buy Campbells Soup when snowy conditions were in the forecast; and beach reports sponsored by Noxzema, which cooled the burn. CRN also combines radio with retail tie-ins, sweepstakes, contests and other promotions.
“We needed to expand our aural footprint from only radio to all things that hit the ear, that will drive our clients’ businesses,” he said, citing satellite, streaming, podcasting and NPR. And, he said, social media had to enter the equation.
“We had to become facile with an array of social media, not as appendages, but as strategic integrations focused on the clients’ problems,” Berman said. He pointed out, for example that “Pinterest may be the ticket for Target, but just won’t work for Chrysler’s Ram Heavy Duty Trucks.”
Berman encouraged the gathering of sales professionals to listen carefully to what their clients really need and find solutions to their challenges – and don’t worry what form or format that solution ultimately will take.
Berman said CRN morphed from “a company fighting the frustrating agency-driven commodity pricing wars to a marketing company where rates take a backstage to effectiveness and real client results.”
What had to stay in the forefront of CRN’s thinking, according to Berman, was that “Clients ultimately are hiring us to sell for them.”
He said, “Advertisers were not using us to purchase radio ads or generate awareness. Most of those we deal with have plenty of awareness and lots of places to buy ads. They were hiring us to sell their cars, pasta sauces, candy bars or get people to use their search engines. That dawning affected the way we talked about our work, the language of our proposals and the way we marketed.”