Relation Between Radio Stations And Ad Agencies
( Originally Published 1932 )
CURIOUSLY enough, the relations between advertising agencies and individual broadcasting stations have been rather slow to develop. There is, perhaps, an excellent reason for this. The agency's advent into radio advertising came through the networks, and it was not until the coming of spot broadcasting that the necessity for relations with individual stations began to make itself felt.
When broadcast advertising became a practicality through the formation of the networks, it was entirely natural in the experimental stages that the agency should turn to the networks. Agents were so busy with the development of programs and program ideas that they were glad to leave station relations to the network engineers.
The agency viewpoint, of course, was developed by network contact, and primarily it devoted itself to the copy slant—just as in past decades the agency attempted to produce magazine and newspaper copy before necessity made it imperative to study markets in relation to circulations. Attention was focused on continuity writing and program building long before any concerted effort was made to develop station contacts.
But things move rapidly these days. Broadcast advertising is still in its swaddling clothes, yet its technic has developed with amazing rapidity. Where it took thirty years to develop copy writing to coordination with market analyses, it has taken less than five to bring broadcasting to a plane that does not compare unfavorably with other media in ascertaining values.
It was not until the development of satisfactory means of making records for electrical transcription that the agency was prompted to seek serious contact with stations individually. Barely three years have elapsed since these relations began to develop. Of course there have been exceptions to the rule. The growth of outstanding individual stations such as WLW, Cincinnati; WOR, Newark; and stations in metropolitan centers isolated from New York, brought much earlier contacts from agencies located in those points. But agencies located elsewhere did not pay much attention to them until difficulties in securing network time forced them to go beyond New York City in their search for adequate broadcasting outlets.
The situation was notable for the lack of knowledge on the part of all concerned. Broadcasting came like a tidal wave upon the advertising world. If the agencies were lacking in their knowledge of broadcasting technic, so were the broadcasters. Self-appointed experts arose from every conceivable quarter. A flood of gratuitous advice flowed from those who labeled their abilities as based upon "showmanship." Ideas—some good, mostly bad—sprang from unheard-of sources. Volunteer experts overran stations and agencies, ready to offer ideas—at a price. The flood is receding, there is plenty of wreckage on the rocks, but the wave has not ebbed entirely as yet. Out of it, however, has come a steady development of knowledge and technical ability on the part of station and agent alike. Remarkable progress has been made, and the amazing thing about it all is that so many programs have been fundamentally successful.
Out of the maze of conflicting ideas has come a program technic—a knowledge of continuity writing and program building that constantly presents better programs to the public—with finer results to the advertiser. Out of it has come, too, a host of new problems, chief of which are those of the so-called split network and spot broadcasting through one or more individual stations.
In theory, if not in practice, adequate coverage may be obtained by the advertiser who uses a basic network. In practice, many fine programs are being presented successfully on individual stations. Both of these escape consideration of the intricacies and possible weaknesses of electrical transcription. Not so with the split net-work advertiser. True, he may turn to electrical transcription as his solution. But recordings have yet to prove completely that they do equal equivalent talent broadcasting from the studio.
The split network advertiser—which is to say, the smaller national or semi-national advertiser—has had broadcasting problems multiplied. Except in one or two sections of the country, no sectional networks have operated satisfactorily; the cost of building a network of privately leased wires is inordinate; and the split net-work using part of a chain is surrounded with problems and perplexities almost without end.
It is easy to see, therefore, why the development of relations between stations and agencies becomes increasingly important. The agency has had some little experience with network problems and network coverage. In the beginning, split networks offered few problems because there was plenty of time available. But today the popularity of chain broadcasting has automatically increased network problems to the point where the question of reaching groups of territories or individual uncovered territories has become one of the most difficult problems in broadcasting.
Certainly the medium-sized advertiser is entitled to his place on the air. It is not enough to offer him electrical transcription. If network advertisers and single station advertisers have direct studio transmission available for their programs, surely the so-called "split" net-work advertiser rates equal facilities. How to find the solution calls for close study by both stations and agencies. Perhaps the welter of confusion now existent in network relations with individual stations will resolve itself ultimately into specific time allotments for the sale of single station time, for full network time and for split network time.
Spot broadcasting has helped in meeting the problem but, with the help we find another multiplicity of troubles. The problems of spot broadcasting make it of primary importance that advertising agencies develop relations with individual broadcasting stations that permit of knowledge, appreciation and harmonious cooperation. Unless both the station and the agent understand each other's point of view, much must be lacking in this development. Spot broadcasting has assumed immense proportions involving the expenditure of many millions of dollars. It is doubtful whether any program can begin to function as it should without a thorough knowledge on the agent's part of conditions existent in individual stations, and it is likewise doubtful whether the time broker as he exists to-day can give this knowledge in clear and unprejudiced fashion.
While it devolves upon the station to work out a satisfactory means of presenting its facilities to the agent at large, it is also necessary for the agent to develop contacts that give him a background of understanding and satisfactory means of discrimination in fully appreciating what any given station has to offer.
It may be argued that most broadcasting questions require complete agency understanding—whether the program be network, individual studio or spot. True, but the problems of spot broadcasting come home quicker and with more difficulty than any other. Study a few of the questions that exist at present whenever an agent undertakes a spot broadcasting campaign. Immediately comes the need for knowledge and understanding of such subjects as these:
1. Station Facilities.—The agent should know just what the facilities of the station are, so that he may have an understanding of how it is equipped to respond to the needs of his client. He should know where the station stands in relation to competition, its place in the wave band, its time for broadcasting, its popularity through other programs and sustaining features, its personnel, and its success in handling broadcast advertising.
2. Program Material.—Some few individual stations are well equipped with local material; others are not. Local talent varies tremendously. As is to be expected, a large part of it is amateurish; yet on the other hand some of the finest programs on the air to-day have developed through talent secured from local stations. where successful performance has made their popularity outstanding in the area covered by the station.
3. Special Hours.—Many a local station owes a large part of its popularity to the development of special hours that attract locally because they are peculiarly adapted to conditions that exist in that locality. Participation in these hours on the part of an advertiser has some-times produced excellent results at remarkably small cost. If the agent is to function successfully in spot work, he must have facilities to obtain information concerning special hours.
4. Electrical Transcription.--It is not enough to know that a station has such and such equipment for the handling of electrical transcriptions. The rate card can-not possibly contain all of the essential data, because most of it relates to the station's ability to make use of its equipment. The quality of equipment is important; even more important is the quality of operation. Staff understanding of the control board, appreciation of musical qualities, and thoroughness of performance will make or mar any program, no matter how good it may have been in the recording studio.
5. Studio Direction - Directions for handling electrical transcription in the individual station are usually vague and can easily result in errors. One of the most important contacts to be made with the individual station is the development of a method of handling spot broad-casting script so that the proper cues for work to be done by the station staff are clearly indicated, with nothing left to the imagination of the individual operator, who may have no knowledge of the transcription and the proper methods involved in broadcasting. Agencies have much to learn from experience in this connection, and only staff contacts can develop systems that are suitable and foolproof.
6. Mechanical Equipment.—This item relates to station power and transmission qualities. It is an important factor in measuring the effectiveness of the station's coverage and is one that can hardly be obtained from a mere statement of mechanical equipment. Contact with the station is necessary to appreciate what might correspond to editorial quality and format in a printed publication.
7. Station Coverage.—While progress goes on in determining the effectiveness of station coverage, much remains to be learned. Station popularity, as well as mechanical equipment, enters into this, and unfortunately neither the question of quantitative nor qualitative coverage has yet been determined accurately in relation to most stations. Many a broadcasting station will deny this indignantly, but lack of contact on the part of the agent has kept him in ignorance of this so far. Moreover "blind spots" and poor reception areas from outside causes are still unknown quantities to the average agent, at least.
8. Credit and Billing Relations.—Contact is an important phase in developing a mutually satisfactory method of giving credit and maintaining billing methods.
The National Association of Broadcasters is contributing materially to the evolution of credit policies, but if the agent wishes to have his problems fully recognized, he must have individual station contact so that broadcasting operators may fully appreciate his own problems in relation to client billings, discounts, payment dates, etc.
9. Station Relations with Time Brokers.—Much of the confusion of thought regarding the place that the time broker should hold in the radio sun will be dissipated when contacts between agency and station establish a complete understanding of agency functions. The chief difficulty that seems to prevail is due to the fact that the time broker up to the present not only has rep-resented broadcasting stations, but has also performed, in part, agency functions, with the result that sometimes a double effort, as well as a double charge, has come about because of the overlapping between agent and time broker. Station contacts will go a long way towards building an understanding as to where an agent's functions begin and where they cease, what the full extent of a station's responsibility may be, and just what place, if any, the time broker should occupy in station representation. More and more stations seek exclusive or non competing representation—an important factor in developing contacts with the agent.
10. Spot Broadcasting Production.—A further complication in electrical transcription production has been the tendency of time brokers to take on production studios, so that one company not only develops the mechanical production of a program, but also places the time. A number of studios have entered into the time brokerage business upon the plea that they cannot operate profitably purely as producers; that they must have the brokerage from time placing to make a decent return upon their investment.
Be this as it may, it complicates matters and handicaps clearer understanding between agent and broad-casting station. In this connection it must be understood that the agent has one phase of the matter to consider that he alone can consider—and that is the complete advertising problem of his client. Producers, time brokers and individual stations can only relate themselves to the part of an advertiser's campaign that affects broadcasting. Broadcasting may or may not be the primary medium; in many instances it is not. In any event, only the agent can have the essential concept of a client's problems that is necessary to successful broad-casting advertising.
The problem of station representation is steadily approaching its solution. It must, however, be evolved so that it does not place too heavy a burden of cost upon the station and yet maintains a satisfactory representation of the station's facilities and merits to agent and advertiser. Closer contact between individual stations, individual agents and such organizations as the National Association of Broadcasters and the American Association of Advertising Agencies make the quick solution of this problem entirely feasible.
The need for better relations between individual stations and advertising agents is hardly a subject for academic debate. It is difficult to discuss accurately because of the tremendous variance in competence on the part of both advertising agent and broadcasting station. A few of the larger agencies have very highly organized radio departments, and in one or two instances have been the chief factors in developing betterment of spot broadcasting. These agencies, however, are located almost entirely in Chicago and New York, and their staffs' acquaintance with individual stations is comparatively limited.
The same may be said for the broadcasting station. Some of the larger stations, pioneers in broadcasting, are still pioneering the path of commercial policy for themselves. In the course of their work they have developed contacts with many agents which have proven exceedingly valuable in developing mutual education.
For the most part, however, advertising agents know comparatively little of station technic, particularly in reference to electrical transcription, and have still to be forced by circumstance into contacts that make them so valuable in appraising quality in other media. Only a few broadcasting stations have any appreciation of the tremendous scope of the good advertising agency's functions. This is explained by the fact that so many broadcasters have been recruited from ranks outside of advertising and have little or no concept of agency technic.
Broadcasters' prejudices concerning advertising agents are based largely upon the agents' ignorance of individual stations and their problems. Too often they gauge the advertising agent by the inquiry from the pseudo-agent whose education in programming, or any other phase of broadcasting, is woefully lacking.
Then, too, many of the contacts which broadcasters have experienced with less skillful agents have been exasperating and costly. They have answered questionnaires without number; most of them, they feel, senseless and inadequate. Frequently, too, it has been necessary to make expensive researches to find answers to questions —and more than once costly data have been furnished to an agency without even the courtesy of an acknowledgment.
Small wonder then that broadcasters, lacking direct contact with competent agencies, have felt, to put it mildly, that the agent is uninterested.
This is primarily due to the fact that indirect contact has been the rule. Stations have confused many of the advertising agent's functions with those of the time broker who has been selling time to agencies and whose value to the broadcaster depends almost entirely upon handling of time alone. Consequently the station lacks any strong appreciation of the advertising agent's interest, his desire to learn, and, indeed, his sometimes outstanding knowledge.
Too often the broadcaster believes that the advertising agent is simply endeavoring to capitalize upon the ideas and efforts of some one else. He feels that because he has not come into personal contact with- a given advertising agent that the advertising agent lacks interest in him. He is apt to overlook the fact that part of the advertising agent's job is to develop some little knowledge of all broadcasting stations, and because perfection of understanding has not arrived in his own case, he is inclined to feel that it cannot have arrived elsewhere.
Of course this is a common failing and is not confined to broadcasters alone. Indeed the shoe may fit the other foot. The advertising agent whose experience has been confined to networks frequently develops the idea that networks are not anxious for business; that the heavy demand for good hours on the air makes the individual station indifferent to problems of spot advertiser and network advertiser alike. Likewise, apparent indifference on the part of a given station sometimes is misconstrued by the advertising agent as indifference on the part of broadcasters as a whole.
The tremendous discrepancy between network rates and local rates is another source of misunderstanding which enhances the agent's feeling that the broadcaster is indifferent to national business. Many agents still do not understand the intricacies of costs that make the discrepancies between local and network rates such a seeming paradox. It is very difficult for an agent who does not fully appreciate broadcasters' problems to understand why a network charge for a station, including a heavy telephone line charge, should be much less than the local rate the station obtains. Correspondingly it is difficult for the broadcaster to understand why, when he can secure higher rates for his station locally, he should be expected to accept national advertising which produces so much less revenue for him.
Without an intimate knowledge of the factors that have gone into the development of station popularity, of costs, of equipment and other details of broadcasting technic, it is impossible to arrive at such an understanding. Only by contact between station and agent can an appreciation be found of the other's point of view. And many agents are taking steps to obtain this contact, although not a few difficulties bar the way.
One outstanding difficulty is the lack of direct station representation. Time brokers who are selling time on all stations, in reality represent no station effectively when the discussion goes beyond available time and rates. The direct station representative is a rare visitor. Consequently the advertising agent is prone to develop the following misconceptions:
1. The smaller the station, the less competent it is.
2. Few, if any, stations have decent program facilities.
3. Individual programs will not be handled properly if left to the station staff.
4. Records for electrical transcriptions will be man-handled nine times out of ten.
5. Local stations use no judgment or control in censoring advertising credits.
6. The average station is narrow and unprogressive in method and will remain so because it is interested in trivialities and not in better broadcasting.
To which the station owner is apt to retort that:
1. Agents are in complete ignorance of the individual station and show no inclination to learn anything about it.
2. Agencies have no concept of station problems.
3. They cannot appreciate local ability in programming.
4. The agent is interested only in network broad-casting or spot electrical transcription that involves no station effort on his part.
5. All agents lack any scientific concept of broadcasting. Unless they are bludgeoned into a station contract by high pressure selling on the part of a time broker, there is little hope of interesting them in any given station.
6. Agents do not create local business for the station; they merely grab business created by broadcasting "experts."
Obviously both points of view are fallacious. There is just sufficient smattering of truth in both sets of prejudices to permit them to linger. The self-appointed "expert" encourages their continuance. But as the advertising agent's contact with the individual station develops, these misconceptions vanish into thin air. The advertising agent comes to learn that the station must deliver to the listening public a quality of entertainment, information and education that may be tinctured with advertising only when, if and as the public approves. The individual broadcaster learns that the advertising agent, if only to survive competition, must serve his client faithfully and economically to give the public what it wants in broadcasting, if his advertising message is to be favorably received. When a satisfactory method of station representation is developed, progress in these matters will increase to a notable degree.
After all, it is wise for the station to promote contacts with agencies, possibly to an even greater degree than the agent should seek contact with the stations. Adequate station representation has a direct bearing on the future of the station's earning power. It will have much to do with the future of radio's usefulness as an advertising medium. The mere fact that the initial popularity of broadcasting has created any number of advertising successes is no guarantee that the air is permanently good as a medium for any one advertiser's continuous appearance. Moreover, despite radio advertising sensations, there has been tremendous turnover in advertisers on the air.
The furtherance of station and agency contacts will have much to do with the development of available talent, particularly in smaller cities. It will play its part in developing a means whereby sectional networks may be constructed with some flexibility of operation. It most certainly will figure in developing competition that is independent of the networks to a point where sound economic costs are recognized by agent and advertiser.
Finally, the development of station contacts must play an important part in making broadcasting increasingly productive in relation to expenditure. Conflicting schools of thought, some of them based purely on advertising, others on public economy, others on political aspects, all lean towards satisfying public taste in the end. If the broadcaster and the advertising agent—the two most interested parties, commercially speaking—arrive at a thorough understanding of each other's problems and endeavors, the solution will come much quicker than otherwise.
To-day there is no question as to advertising's place in a newspaper or a magazine. No longer do the editorial rooms thunder denunciations of commercialized columns. Advertising revenue is recognized as the staff of publication life. Advertising columns are of vital importance to the circulation department. Possibly the same development will take place in radio. There is need of progress on the part of the individual station. Wastes exist in representation that put unnecessary costs on advertiser and station alike. The public wants better programs, and if radio is to remain a permanent force in our national life, the public will get them. "How soon?" is a question, the answer to which can be given by better contacts between broadcaster and advertising agent.
After all, it is a question of "quality." Broadcasting stations, no less than publications, cannot survive unless they fill a public need—intelligently and constructively. The agent—the good agent—has a thorough knowledge of markets—and public reactions. He has much to give the broadcaster in knowledge and experience. Better and more direct contact methods will put his knowledge at the broadcaster's command.
What of the agent? First, define "advertising agent." Not every company that titles itself "advertising agent" deserves the name—either for creative effort, competence or financial responsibility. Thousands of names are listed in telephone directories under "Advertising Agencies," yet the membership of the American Association of Advertising Agencies numbers less than two hundred. And that membership places a very large part of all national advertising.
Good agencies are limited in number. The task is to recognize them. How? Let the broadcaster devise his own standards of requirements—apply the test—maintain his standards—and the results will be apparent soon enough. A high standard for agency recognition by broadcasters is needed—it is simply part of the development of contact between station and advertising agent.