Finding The Perfect Balance

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “The Bigger Picture” series, written by Charese Fruge on April 28, 2022 

There are many situations in which we need to find a good balance in the industry to be successful. Finding a balance between a good Program Director and Music Director on music stations, finding a good Programming balance between ratings/research strategy and gut, and finding a good balance between the number/length and time of commercials and the same for good content or songs. But the one balance that impacts both Programming and sales considerably, is the number of endorsements which an individual talent should be doing not only on one station, but most importantly, during one time slot.

There are so many things that can impact this scenario required, like day parts for spots, the stop set length, the total number of endorsements by talent, and most importantly, a traffic director who actually programs commercial logs like Programmers do music logs. In other words, a traffic director who knows what they are doing, and cares about their logs.

I was driving around my local market the other day listening to the radio, and sadly, almost every station (that matters) was in a stop set at the same time, because no one in the market has figured out the potential advantage of breaking down at opposite times of their direct competitors in a PPM world. So, I had to choose one to sit through commercials until something would entertain me. Problem #1, had I been just an average listener, I would have switched to Bluetooth immediately to listen to my on curated playlist on Apple Music 100% commercial free. But because I was listening as a Programmer, I stuck it out with one of the bigger stations.

Problem #2, here is what I got from the commercial break: A prime time talent’s endorsement of a car dealership scheduled right next to another prime-time talent’s endorsement of a competing dealership. Then, a carpet cleaning company endorsement from the previous talent, from just one commercial ago. Then a few regular commercials, followed by another endorsement from the first talent again. There are so many things wrong with this. So out of fascination, I decided to continue listening to the entire daypart out of curiosity. I kid you not, almost every other commercial in a total of about 13 minutes an hour (not including promos, traffic etc.) was an endorsement by the prime-time talent on the air at the time. And on more than one occasion, direct competing spots were scheduled back-to-back within the stop sets.

Let’s examine the disadvantages of this, outside of the fact that the commercial window requirements are so tight in prime time, that even if a spot airs 30 seconds out of the daypart, it has to be made good, which means the station loses available inventory moving forward (a vicious cycle) and more importantly revenue. The bigger challenge when it comes to advertisers is that most will complain if they are aired next to a direct competitor, especially if the competing spot is an endorsement, and will demand a makegood, or discount on the original buy. This isn’t an irrational demand. Most advertisers expect that the usual rules/policies apply. Typically, that entails no direct competitors running within the same stop set, or at the very least, at least three spots away.

The challenges that come for the talent doing the endorsements can also be detrimental. If stations are lucky enough to get listeners to stick through stop sets, particularly during the workday, or dayparts that entail long periods of listening at a time, hearing the same talent every other spot endorsing anything they can, not only annoys listeners and cause tune out, but it can also cause listeners to perceive the talent as someone who would endorse anything that came their way, and the trust is broken. Don’t get me wrong, I understand both the need for talent to do endorsements to supplement income as well as the sales departments need to sell premium spots to loyal advertisers who are willing to pay the talent for their endorsements. But there needs to be a balance, and that starts with a reputable number of endorsements per talent, with a solid talent fee and an agreement that the endorsement will be guaranteed for a certain amount of time if possible. One offs are okay, but it won’t matter if the talent already has six different endorsements.

In order to pull off the right balance for endorsements to move the needle for both the stations revenue and potential clients, you must have three things:

  • First, respectable talent with 3 to 4 (AT THE MOST) solid endorsements so there is enough time in one stop set and daypart to separate the endorsements.
  • Second, a seasoned Sales Exec who knows how to drive premium rates on these spots and market value endorsement rates for the talent. In addition, the Exec should be a good negotiator and have the knowledge to steer advertisers in the right direction when it comes to talent (utilizing all solid talent on the station), dayparts outside of the talents primetime slots, and the ability to extract from the client what their call to action is so the talent understands how to move the needle when creating the spot.
  • And Last, but certainly not least, an experienced traffic director who knows how to look at commercial window requirements, the number of endorsement spots overall and in specific windows, and who knows how to schedule spots so endorsements and competitors don’t end up next to each other, spots don’t cross over daypart requirements making them “no charge,” and they don’t wait until the very last stop set of the hour (or half hour) within the required commercial window which to schedule a spot which will ensure that a “no charge” never happens.

Now, of course there is more to the perfect balance than these three requirements. You need a Great Sales Manager who knows how to manage inventory, a talent that for the most part stays on time and understands commercial windows, and a PD who can manage a clock if a shift is not live and the station is on auto pilot. But that is a much bigger conversation and a management strategy. But if you can start with the three listed, then at least you can ensure your talent has credibility, your audience trusts your brands, endorsements will move the needle and Advertisers will get results. That is the common goal in the end, so clients continue to come back and keep spending money with your brand and your brand and talent continue to get results for them.