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The Real Deal: Improve Local Ad Campaigns

Deal-driven sales tactics have been killing local TV and radio sales for years and reflect an extraordinary lack of direction. Consistently high demand and mediocre management have enabled them to flourish. Stations that sell solely on the basis of deal-making and CPMs (cost per thousand) are trapped in a never-ending downward spiral.

Those deals will always be met by a competitor offering a more attractive package. The tactics do not address either the station's or the clients' goals, and that's the only result that will ensure a long-term relationship between client and station .

Some sales tactics are regularly confused as strategies: Endless price cuts and client incentive trips aren't business plans. Some managers try to induce sales by offering inflated commissions, holding sales contests or dramatically expanding the sales staff.

These ideas must not work: Local sales' huge failure has been the inexcusable churn of too many new accounts. Renewals must become as high a priority as new sales. Jubilation over getting the order clouds the important responsibility of delivering a solid campaign. Failure to do that results in missed opportunities to convert an initial commitment into an ongoing annuity.

While most stations are ill-equipped to provide complete advertising services, many accounts now want more from them. Typically, ad-campaign efforts by stations focus primarily on airtime, with the creative viewed solely as a means to an end. That's no surprise since that is how sales staffs are trained.

And while targeted frequency and effective flighting are important elements, any advertising expert will attest to the fact that the message must be correct.

The locally produced commercial should rise to the level and break through the clutter of well-produced messages, while connecting with prospective customers. Sad to say, but it's always easy to spot commercials that are produced by stations, as they generally fail at this fundamental mission.

More-effective involvement with agencies, as well as with direct accounts, is essential. Stations not only have the responsibility but also the right to ensure flawless execution of advertiser campaigns. And if stations don't voice early concerns, they are just as much at fault— and at risk—as the agency.

Retaining skilled creative personnel and arming them with knowledge and technology is a vital supplement to a competent sales force. When creative becomes a top priority, clients will pay for quality.

In today's business environment, few companies thrive on simple deal-making. They offer clients real value and differentiation that goes beyond price. This is no easy task. Yet on the station level, the television industry, with its

extraordinary profits, has perpetuated a recruiting, hiring and training standard, which could be characterized as ordinary, at best.

The traits that managers look for in job candidates typically include a driven and smooth-talking personality with a desire to earn lots of money. Stations flood the streets with armies of inadequate salespeople who sell but don't create new bases of revenue. This industry roadkill has seeded competing media with new opportunities.

If Madison Avenue agencies and consumer-product companies can recruit highly intelligent, highly motivated marketing minds, why can't broadcasters? The higher salaries would be significantly offset by the long-term benefits of superior sales and management. It takes smart, disciplined management with a commitment to excellence. To quote a noted Yale graduate, "It's hard work."

Local-TV veteran Cozen ( is the former VP/GM of KDKA/WNPA Pittsburgh.