Are You A Drain On Those Around You?

Your trials may create hope for others.

I was recently stunned when I heard that Kelsey Clous just celebrated her tenth-year of being a survivor.  I got to know Kelsey five years into her survivor journey.  She was a 21 year-old woman fighting a rare blood-clotting disorder.  While working at Bill Marsh Auto I helped organize a fundraising event called Caring for Kelsey.

The family, headed by mama Carol, was being overwhelmed with debt due to a steady stream of medical and non-medical bills.  They were about to lose their home and Carol was struggling to hang on to her job due to all the trips for medical treatment.

Thanks to tremendous community support the event was a huge success.  It was followed by another fundraiser hosted by J&S Hamburg called Grillin’ For Kelsey.  If I recall correctly the two events raised over $50,000.

Grillin For Kelsey was held at J&S Hamburg

Five years later, I would love to tell you that there is a storybook ending to this.  I’d love to say there was a medical miracle and Kelsey was cured.  I’d love to say Kelsey and her family are living happily ever after.  But life is not a storybook.  I can’t tell you those things.  What I can tell you is that Kelsey is a 10 year survivor.  She still struggles with the blood-clotting disease.  Mom tells me she has more good days than bad days.  Kelsey and her mom were able to attend a conference in Florida recently and take a few vacation days.  She did pretty well.  But life for the Clous family is a struggle.  

Carol will often have Facebook posts about all the blessings in her life.  Those blessings are often about folks that may have helped them. It could be a string of great days for Kelsey.  It could be that trip to Florida where Kelsey and Carol enjoyed themselves.

The intent of this blog post is not to pat myself and our community on the back and say we did such a great job in helping the Clous family.  No, what really struck me was that I was pretty sure that Kelsey, her mom and the whole family have no idea how they impacted the people around them. And in a recent conversation with Carol she confirmed my suspicion.

A huge crowd showed up to support Kelsey’s battle with a rare blood-clotting disorder

Getting to know the Clous family and to share their struggles and their triumphs has been a blessing to me.  And I know others who worked on Caring For Kelsey felt the same way.  I got to watch the dignity of this family as they dealt with a medical problem that would have broken the spirit of most other families.  I watched as they praised God for all their blessings.  Carol wrote, “I have faith that God has a plan for her (Kelsey.) She is lifted by God, and those who have come beside us to walk along on this journey.”

When I may be filled with self-pity for whatever reason, or challenged with my own lack of faith – I realize that I have been blessed to know the Clous family.   I am not their blessing – they are mine.

We have no idea the impact we have on the people we touch every day.  We can trigger self-loathing in others based on how we treat them. Or we can be an inspiration for them to pick themselves up and make the best of their day.  The inspiration you give to others could be given on the days you may be at your weakest. It could be showing others how you face adversity today.

For ten years Kelsey and her family have faced adversity.  For ten years the family has been an inspiration to others. They just didn’t know it.  

Kelsey’s story is still being written.  There is still time for a storybook ending.  But right now, in the middle of her story, they are a lesson to us all.  Face your adversity with strength.  You never know the lessons you are teaching others.

Caring for Kelsey included a lunch, silent auction and plenty of outright donations.

Make The Commitment

There is no magic bullet for advertising

Here’s a challenge for you: Take nine words, not ten or eleven words – just nine words.  In those words sum up your business, let people know you exist and move those people to action.  A logo, phone number, e-mail address those all count too.  Can you do it?

I just described the challenge for creating good billboard advertising.

I recently had coffee with a friend who excels with creating memorable billboards.  You may not know Karl Bastian by name, but if you are from the Traverse City area you know his work.  I just need to say, Maxbauer Market and you know what I’m talking about.

Yes, Karl is behind the billboard that proudly proclaims that Maxbauer’s has “Steaks bigger than an 8thstreet pothole.

Billboards must be easy to understand to someone driving past at 55-mph.

(And if you’re counting, there’s more than nine words on this board.  But I’m going to call “Maxbauer, specialty meat market and address” a logo and count it as one word.  Some may argue that it isn’t fair.  But I just did it.) Just remember a billboard needs to be easily understood by someone driving past at up to 75 mph with all those distractions – like the need to safely drive.

Karl is based out of Traverse City with PB&J Marketing, but he handles clients around the country.   While he does plenty of other advertising, he’s really good at billboards.  It’s a skill I admire.

But what struck me during my talk with Karl, was a discussion on why the Maxbauer ads work. Yes, the creative is really good and gets people talking.  But more important is commitment.  Maxbauer has been doing billboard advertising for years. The message changes but the look is always the same.

And that is the key for all advertising.  No, there is not magic bullet.  Are you willing to stick to a look and feel to your ads?  Are you willing to be consistently out in the public with your message?  Are you willing to commit a monthly budget to get that message out? Will you stick with it for years? 

Most of us have examples of commitment in our lives. It can be the commitment a soldier makes to selflessly serve our country. For me the example of commitment was the one my parents made to each other. The picture at the top of this blog was at their 25th wedding anniversary party. We had our family together back in 1969 to celebrate the event and I actually had a great crop of hair. My parents were committed in good and bad times. They never lived in the lap of luxury and it was never really easy for them. But we always felt the commitment they had for our family. While I turned out much better than my siblings, we were all solidly grounded in that commitment. (That will get my siblings riled up now.)

When it comes to advertising, most will agree with that commitment in theory. But when it comes to practice, they look at cutting their marketing budget at the first sign of a down month.  And if you have a downturn in the world economy, like in 2008, well that marketing budget is the first thing that gets tossed in the trashcan.  There are a variety of studies that say a recession is the perfect time to increase your advertising.  They say it helps recover quicker from a recession.

I’ve been a huge fan of consistency over the years.  I like to keep the same music, the same writing style, the same voice talent, similar visuals.  It builds familiarity with the product and with your brand.

An example of this is the ad I’ve used over the past seven years for the TC Patriot Game.  I change the photos every year and update the content.  But keep the same music, the same voice talent and the same style.

Typically a client will get tired of seeing his same ad running again and again.  He’s getting tired of it, about the same time the public is just starting to see the ad and pay attention to it.  The client is paying the bill for the ad and watching it much more closely than anyone else in the public.  Repetition is our friend.  We want people to see the ad again and again.  That’s where your commitment comes to play. Are you willing to stay with the ad?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should never change the ad.  There are times you will realize the ad is a dud.  It’s doing nothing and needs to be replaced. Absent of any clear sign that the ad is a failure, stay with it.  Give it time to work.

That same is true about the medium you use.  Any medium will work: radio, television, digital, print, direct mail, even advertising in bathrooms.  You probably won’t know if it’s working in a month.  Give it at least six months.  But be vigilant.  Pay attention to customer feedback.  Ask customers, family, employees and friends if they are getting response from the ad.  Survey your customers if you can.  But don’t ask if they saw your ad, ask what their media habits are like.   Since your customers are bombarded with thousands of ads every day, they probably have no idea where they were exposed to your message.

The main point is: be patient.  I know when you are up to your neck in alligators it can be tough to be patient.  Advertising is a long-game strategy.  You want to be one on the top when your customer is ready for your product or your service.   Advertising can give you top-of-mind awareness when the customer needs you. It pays dividends – there is a return on your investment. Be brave and keep with your commitment.

These guys get it. A billboard that is unsafe at any speed.


How Do You Picture Your Business?

Can an image really reflect you?

Don’t’ believe it for a minute.  When you hear the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  It’s not worth a thousand words in the story.  No, in fact, it IS the story.

It doesn’t matter if it’s photography or videography, I love working with skilled visual artisans. They make my job easy.  They make me look good.

Photos can be used to convey feelings such as friendliness.

Because I will often have a camera strapped around my neck at public events, I will be mistaken for a photographer.  I’m not.  You may see me taking a hundred photos in the hopes that I may get one image that’s not bad.

Now, I am in total awe of my son.  He is making a name for himself as an exceptional photographer through Allen-Kent Photography.  It may sound like fatherly pride, but that’s only a small part of it.  I have hired him many times and I never had to worry about charges of nepotism.  His work speaks volumes.  His photography breathes life into a project.

Mike Kent takes an average concrete background and sees a picture that comes alive for the TC Patriot Game.

The difference between my pictures and his photography is all wrapped up in emotion.  Great photography and great videography do an exceptional job of capturing emotion.  Joy, anger, fear, trepidation, uncertainty, elation – these are all emotions that are readily at the hands of a skilled photographer. Capture those emotions and you can capture the story.

If you capture emotions, they must be honest. (Photo courtesy: Allen-Kent Photography)

Years ago I helped the Father Fred Foundation with a capital campaign.  Again I worked with a skilled photographer, Beth Price. Her photos were subtle. They didn’t show people digging in trashcans for a meal.  No, her photography shared the emotion of “uncertainty.”  People who struggle to find hope, can telegraph their uncertainty for the future.  That emotion is what made the campaign a huge success.

We carried that same emotion over to the a television public service announcement (PSA) through the work of Fluid Motion Productions.

The emotion you project must be honest.  The public will see right through you tugging at their heartstrings for a cause that is less than sincere.

But how much are you willing to spend on capturing that emotion?  Most skilled photographers and videographers have a lot of money tied up in their equipment and their training.  Their rates are not cheap.  Many people are reluctant to make the investment. This is where they decide to trim the budget.  They may decide to invest in a nice camera and take the pictures themselves.  

There are so many emotions that can be captured. Joy is just one of them. (Photo courtesy: Allen-Kent Photography)

Think about that for a moment.  If you buy a professional stove and install it in your house, does that make you a gourmet cook? Probably not.  If you buy a high quality tool chest for your garage, does that make you a trained auto mechanic?  I guarantee you do not want me working on your car, even if I have the best equipment.

Today there is seldom a time when a camera is not far away.  We work hard to capture that perfect selfie.  We quickly share our vacation pictures with our friends and sometimes amaze ourselves with how good they are.  It leads to a delusion that anyone can be a photographer.

What do the photos you use say about you? This photo reflects honor and respect. (Photo courtesy: Allen-Kent Photography)

There is a creative skill at work with good photographers.  You can almost see the right side of their brain overheating with ideas when they walk onto a photo set.  You and I may walk on that set and see a wall behind the photo subject.  The photographer sees colors, lines and contrast.  They are looking to see how a single image can tell a story.  I’ve learned to stand back, and let their minds go to work.

Even back in my days as a TV reporter, I would be captivated by photojournalist that could take one picture to tell a story.  Then I would struggle to tell that same story with many lines of copy – and still not capture the emotion.  If you’ve ever paged through Pulitzer Prize winning photos you know exactly what I mean.  Many of these photos have changed the course of history.  They impacted the war in Vietnam, they told the emotion of the 9/11 attacks, they captured the devastation of war and famine.

Saigon Execution
This Pulitzer Prize winning photo that ran across the US is credited with impacting the public opinion on the Vietnam War.

You may not be working to change the course of history.  But you may be trying to impact your business, shed light onto problems in our community, or motivate people to take action.  When you first start working on a strategy for any of these goals, ask yourself: “How can I visually tell the story.”  If you answer that question first, you are well on your way to get your strong message across.

Some photos just put a smile on your face.
Puppy dogs and babies are sure to convey a wide range of emotions. (Courtesy: Allen-Kent Photography)

Why Is There A News Crew In My Office?

Does news coverage create opportunity or fear?

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm has lots of experience dealing with the media, but you may not. Still, there’s no reason to avoid the attention.

There’s an old joke that says, “You know it’s going to be a bad day when there’s a 60 Minutes crew waiting for you in your office.”  On my list of “bad days,” I would probably put this to the very bottom of my list.  I think the top of my list would be a northern Michigan April blizzard.  No, that 60 Minutes crew, to me, would be the sign of a great day.

For many, the thought of a news crew coming to see you, can create a deep feeling of dread. Even if you are comfortable talking to groups of people, the moment they turn on the camera light and start asking you questions – your mind takes you back to elementary school when you were about to take a test that you forgot to study for.

I have always taken a different approach.  Any chance I get to be in front of a news crew is an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to explain your side of a story.  It’s a chance to promote your business, your event, your employees or a cause you are passionate about.

Now, I have to admit that I may have a bit of an advantage.  I worked in the news business for 17 years as a reporter and a news manager and I have an understanding of what news crews need.  For the most part, especially in a smaller market like Traverse City, reporters are not looking to skewer you.  They are looking for information and they always have a tight deadline. If you can tell your side of the story and give it to them in a timely fashion you will immediately establish credibility.

I doubt any reporter will beat up on Santa.

Since I left the news business, and to this day, I tell reporters that they have open access to me.  If I know something about a topic, I will tell them whatever I can legally tell them.  When I worked for a car dealership, reporters knew they could always swing by our dealership if they are doing any kind of automotive story.  If they needed video at a dealership, they could shoot any time of the day or night.  I would make myself available for good stories and bad stories.  I would make time at all hours and on holidays.

This approach was tested when the economy imploded in 2008.  Few businesses were hurt as hard as the auto business.  In northern Michigan, I don’t think any dealership group was hit as hard as where I worked at Bill Marsh.  We lost Saturn (which typically sold about 100 vehicles a month) and Pontiac.  Both General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, and we had no idea if they were going to survive.  While Ford managed to avoid bankruptcy, we did not have a Ford dealership at that time.  Our emergency plan was to become a big used car dealership if we lost both of those manufacturers.

The auto business was in the news on nearly a daily basis.  And reporters were told we would be available to talk about any news story that impacted us.  Through the non-stop coverage of the auto plight, I can only remember one dealership story that did not include someone from Bill Marsh responding to the news.

I was challenged about that position.  Was it wise to be the one talking about all this negative news?  For me, the answer was clearly “yes.”  Every time we were interviewed, it allowed us to frame the discussion of the issue.  We didn’t leave it up to others.  Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t always easy.  But we were always honest.  We were always available.  

And in July of 2009 when Governor Jennifer Granholm was looking for a dealership where she could talk about the bailout program called “Cash For Clunkers,” her staff tracked us down and wanted to walk our lot and learn about the program’s impact.  There was a photo of the governor talking to a little red-haired girl on the lot with the “clunkers” lined up behind them. It was priceless! We were part of a national story and again, we were able to tell our side of that story.

Governor Granholm takes time to talk with a young lady at a Cash For Clunkers press conference.

There are techniques to help ease the stress of doing a news interview.  These can apply to television, radio, newspaper and digital interviews.

  • Have one clear message you want to convey.  Make it early in the interview and see if you can repeat it.
  • Don’t wing it.   Take time to prepare.  Even one minute to think about your message can be the difference of having confidence or not.  It’s also true if a reporter calls you up on the phone. Excuse yourself for even 30-seconds and take a moment to think of your key message.
  • Only speak of what you know.  Don’t speculate or get forced into answering questions you know nothing about.
  • Be enthusiastic.  Your voice should show emotion and conviction.  
  • When appropriate – smile.
  • Have one clear message you want to convey.
  • Keep your comments short and as simple as possible.  TV reporters are often looking for a “quotable-quote” that only lasts a few seconds.
  • Tell the truth.
  • You don’t have to say everything.  There could be legal reasons not to respond to a question.  That’s especially true when employees are involved.
  • Have one clear message you want to convey.
  • If you are comfortable using hand gestures, do it.  That will help you relax.
  • In a studio interview, lean forward a bit in your chair. It gives non-verbal communication that you are engaged.
  • Have one clear message you want to convey.

You may have noticed there was one key point I tried to emphasize.  That was to: Have one clear message you want to convey. It’s remarkable when you have a clear message to get across, you are better able to frame the discussion of the issue. It also helps you relax.

Cecelina Chesney from Big Brothers Big Sisters talks to a reporter with great enthusiasm.

For many years I conducted media training classes around the state.  The goal was always to teach participants how you attract news attention, and how to make the most of it once you get their attention.  Months later I ran into people who took the class. They always commented that as long as they had a clear message, the interviews were easy.

Working with the news media is all about opening up opportunity.  Facing a reporter doesn’t have to be something you fear. Bring on 60-Minutes, or TV 7&4, or TV 9&10, or NPR.  You can handle it.

An event for Big Brothers Big Sisters attracts media attention.

Does Your Business Get A Halo?

Charity involvement reflects the character of your company

It was eight years ago that then-TC West Football Coach Tim Wooer approached me about a grand plan to make the big cross-town rivalry football game in Traverse City even bigger.  Tim had been shaken to the core when one of his former players from Kingsley, Justin Hansen, had been killed serving his country in Afghanistan.  Tim wanted to use this big game to honor Veterans and all those in active duty military.  My then-boss, Bill Marsh Jr., and I fully embraced his idea.  From that meeting came the T.C. Patriot Game.  

The TC Patriot Game has grown far beyond expectations.

It’s a game that has grown far beyond anything any of us had ever imagined.  10,000 to 13,000 people wildly cheer and support our Veterans, active duty military and first responders, in a pre-game ceremony that includes a fly-over by a Coast Guard helicopter.  Players from both teams shake the hands of hundreds of Veterans while the name of Justin Hansen and 13 other northern Michigan residents who have recently been Killed In Action are read to a somber crowd. It brings so many Veterans to tears, and gives goose bumps to the thousands in the stands.  It also raised $81,000 to support a variety of Veteran causes through the sale of commemorative shirts and sponsorships.

Is the event something you believe in?

The TC Patriot Game has become the highlight of my year.  I’m proud to have played a part in the game, along with a group of organizers that are dedicated to help Veterans.

The TC Patriot Game is just one organization I have been blessed to be involved with over the years.  Bill Marsh and his brothers are generous in so many ways, with so many organizations. Sometimes their participation was shown by writing checks, other times it may have been rolling up their sleeves and asking their employees to do the same for a worthy cause.  I was constantly told that as a company, we did not compete with other dealerships on the charities we supported.  We got involved because we believed in the cause.  As a results we asked our competition if they wanted to join us in events like the TC Patriot Game – we were always much stronger as a group, rather than as an individual company.

Can your support make an impact in a community event?

So we did things like teaming up with Fox Motors, Williams Chevy and Serra of Traverse City on Toys for Tots and the TC Patriot Game.  We worked with our competition on the Katie Heintz Tournament, the Walk Against Suicide, Jobs for Vets, Gladhander and so many more events.

Can you collaborate with others to make an event bigger? Here Bill Marsh Jr works along with John Cueter who was with Fox Motors to help The Bigs.

Due to their support of community events, the Marsh family was the first stop for any group doing a fundraiser.  Like all successful businesses, we had to make painful decisions on which worthy organizations to support, and which ones to reject.  Because the reality is, you can’t support them all. I was involved in many of those discussions and in some cases became an advocate for many of those events and organizations.  

So how do you decide which ones to support?  

  • First, you need to determine if the cause is worthwhile.  You can be dragged down in a public relations nightmare if the cause you supported ends up being a scam, or run by shady people.
  • Secondly, ask if you, your staff or maybe your customers have a passion for the cause. It’s easy to get employee involvement if they strongly support what you are doing.  Charity events and fundraisers can be an excellent team-building exercise.
  • Third, ask if your involvement can make an impact.  If you are just providing a small drop of water to a huge ocean of need, it can be tougher to get support.
  • Fourth, can you get media support for the cause?   Your media partners can be a critical key for the success for any event.  Is there a chance you can bring them in as a sponsor?
  • Fifth, is there a public relations “halo” that you can give to your business as a result of your involvement?  There are plenty of times it’s not appropriate to take credit for your support of a cause.  But that “halo” can speak volumes about the character of your company and your people.  If the “halo” is appropriate, go ahead and claim it. 
  • Sixth, can your involvement help shine a spotlight on a chronic problem in the community.  I witnessed that through support of the Walk Against Suicide last year.  On average, one person dies by suicide in the US every seven-hours.  But it’s a subject we don’t like to talk about it.  By supporting the walk we helped create a public discussion about suicide prevention.  The event was one of the biggest suicide prevention fundraiser walks in the country.
  • Seventh, and it probably goes without saying.  Do what you can, and do it for all the right reasons.
Can you bring along media partners? WKLT and Fox FM helped make Kampout For KAIR a huge community event.

Involvement in the local community can make any business stand out.  Amazon will probably never support the local suicide prevention walk, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl For Kid’s Sake, the annual toy drive of Toys for Tots of Northwest Michigan, the TC Patriot Game, or other causes that local businesses backed.  It reinforces the reason why your customers should shop locally. 

You are judged by the company you keep.  If that company is critical to the backbone of the community, then that judgment should be very kind. 

TV 7&4 has helped to sponsor Toys for Tots for more than 15 years. The news crew covers the Shop With The Heroes event at Meijer last year in their morning show.
Toys for Tots has been a part of my life for more than 20 years. It helps provide Christmas for over 7,000 children in the region.

Life Is Like A Pop Machine – Advertising Is…

Manage your expectations

It’s really not an unrealistic expectation.  You stand in front of that bright red and white machine with a dollar or two in your hand. That hard-earned money goes to work for you the moment you put it in the machine and push a button. After you hear the mechanical sounds at work, the machine spits out a pop (or a soda if you live someplace other than the Midwest).  

It’s a great expectation when you are buying a pop.  And many people think the same should be true about their hard-earned advertising dollar.  That’s where you run into trouble.

We develop an expectation that if we put a dollar in the advertising machine, we should be able to sell a product — a dollar goes in and the product spits out.  That product can be a car, new shoes, dinners at a restaurant, or anything else you may sell.  

But advertising is not a machine.  It can be just as complicated as the mechanical works of that pop machine, but its impact is dependent on so many things.  What media are you using?  Who is your audience?  What was your message?  What is the reputation of your business?  How much repetition did you have with your message?

That last item can be key.  Studies indicate that each and every day we are subjected to anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 commercial messages.  It could be that logo on the red and white pop machine.  It could be a Facebook ad.  It could be a TV or radio ad.  You are constantly being bombarded.  It’s easy to get lost. 

There’s widespread disagreement on how many times an ad needs to be seen in order to be remembered.  It can be anywhere from three to 20.  If you’re paying for the ad, you want it to be three.  If you’re selling the ad, you want it to be 20. Based on my own experience, I tend to believe that number is around seven or eight.  So if you place one ad and expect people to respond, you may have an unrealistic expectation.

Then you toss in the Broca impact.  Roy H. Williams is known in advertising as “The Wizard Of Ads” and I’m a huge proponent of Roy.  He talks about this area of the brain that is responsible for a large part of your ability to talk and understand communication.  It is also the part of your brain that anticipates the predictable.  If Broca sees or hears something that is fully predictable – it has a tendency to discard that information.  And when you sleep, it treats your memory like a blackboard and wipes out much of what it considers to be useless information. That means if you want an ad to be noticed, there needs to be something unpredictable so that Broca sits up and takes notice.  That’s why comedic ads (think Old Spice ads) or strange ads (think most Geico ads) are carefully crafted by high-priced New York ad agencies.

Most local advertisers don’t have the budgets to hire those New York ad agencies.  But they do have the time to carefully consider what their message should be.  If you ever find yourself looking at an ad or a script and say, “That’s good enough.”  You can bet it isn’t. 

Dig deep into your business.  Figure out what you do better than your competition.  Ask your customers why they came knocking on your door.  Take time to understand their needs.  And most of all, craft a message that is “You.”  It represents what you stand for and how you hope to benefit your customer.  Take the time to make it look good or make it sound good. 

When you craft the message, make sure that it’s not about you – it’s about the customer.  I recently signed on as the agency for Lautner Irrigation.  I’m excited about this.  It’s a family run business that’s been around for nearly 50-years.  They made it clear to me their success is tied to the quality of their product and focusing their business on the customer. If we run an ad that says, “we’ve been in business for 47 years,” that’s about them.  If we run an ad that says “we bring 47 years of knowledge to your yard,” that’s about the customer.

Finally, be in marketing for the long run.  Don’t look to see what happened this month or next month.  Give it at least six months and be very aware of trends.  Is your advertising impacting your trends?  

I have seen aggressive advertisers go black for months and not see an impact on their business. That blackness eventually caught up and the businesses saw a predictable decline.  It can take two or three times to recover from letting up off the gas.

Advertising is not a pop machine.  There will be times you put in a dollar, and get nothing back.  Other times you put in a dollar and get three pops out. There will still be times when you push the button without putting in your dollar and you get that pop. Advertising works.  You just have to make sure you have the right medium, frequency and message.


Radio Is Dead – Hold the Obit

Radio is effective, but know how to use it

In the mid-50s the decree heralded the death of radio.  After all, why would you want to listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio, when you could watch it on TV?  AM radio died when FM radio was added.  The sound was so much better on FM, there was no reason to listen to AM.  In the 1980s radio died again.  Why would you want to listen to your songs when you could watch them on MTV? If you haven’t heard, radio is dead yet again.  This time, digital killed the radio star.  With digital you got the songs you wanted, when you wanted them.

As I write this I’m listening to Elton John on Pandora.  As Rocket Man would say: “I think it’s going to be a long, long time.” Don’t start writing that obituary yet for the radio star.

Mike Kent uses radio to talk about the TC Patriot Game on WJML.

Recently I did a study of five-year trends on all mass media in northern Michigan.  I not only reviewed the Neilson history, I also looked at an internal survey we kept for the last 20 years.

There’s no doubt the radio landscape is changing.  Millennials and Generation Z (those born after 1995) don’t always embrace traditional radio.  Listeners have changed their radio habits.  They normally don’t listen to the radio for long periods of time.

But recent studies have shown that radio is still strong for stations with local content. That’s still very true in rural areas like northern Michigan.  If you live in the community of Gaylord, how are you going to find out what’s going on today?  You lack a daily newspaper.  Your TV news may show up once or twice a month, unless you are in the middle of Alpenfest.  But Eagle radio is there every day.  One of the radio guys, Rob Weaver, has been in that community for around four decades.  He can tell you what the Gaylord Blue Devils are doing in basketball, of fill you in on the payment of a new Chevy Silverado.  

For decades Rob Weaver has been a part of the Gaylord community.

If you live in a larger rural community like Traverse City it’s someone like Ron Jolly at WTCM that will fill you in on the latest fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters, the air schedule during the National Cherry Festival and that nasty traffic accident along South Airport.  As long as the Rob Weavers and Ron Jollys of the world are around, and local communities are served by their local radio stations — the radio obituary won’t be published.

Ron Jolly talks with John Cueter from Fox Motors and Bill Marsh Jr. of Bill Marsh Auto about Big Brothers Big Sisters and Bowl For Kid’s Sake

You can go ahead and publish the obituary of Yellow Pages.  I never had any confidence in them.  I always felt they held me hostage.  I had to include my ads there, but never felt I got a good return on that investment.  Now even older people don’t use them.  People go online to search for a body shop or pizza joint.

For more than two decades as a media buyer I have had great confidence in radio.  That confidence has not been shaken. Aside from looking at the rating numbers, I have a long history of anecdotal support.  Over the years I have orchestrated hundreds of events where I used extensive radio to promote retail events and community events. Every time I used heavy radio support for community activities like the TC Patriot Game, Toys for Tots, Kampout for KAIR, and so many more – those events always exceeded expectations. That was true 20 years ago and just as true last year.

In 2018 iHeart radio filed for bankruptcy and raised concerns for one of the largest owners of radio stations in the country.   But as long as cars still come equipped with radio receivers, the medium will be easily accessible.  Radio may have to reinvent itself again.  But it has a history of doing that.  Love him or hate him, Rush Limbaugh has been given credit for the revival of AM radio.  Radio powerhouse personalities are paid millions in large markets and worth every penny.  In small markets they are paid much, much less – and people like Rob Weaver and Ron Jolly are worth much more.  Why?  It’s clear they are a critical part of the cohesion of a community.

No radio is not dead. It’s alive an well. It continues to be threatened, especially from mega radio owners that lose touch with their local community in the search of greater profits. But in northern Michigan and most other places around the country, radio is vibrant. It is a viable medium that can be an excellent media partner.

Rob Weaver at home at The Eagle FM

Lessons From North Dakota

It’s flat, it’s cold and filled with lots of marketing wisdom.

In northern Michigan we take great pride in the fact that we are a hearty lot.  We scoff at bitter winters.  And laugh at blizzards.  But I’m going out on a limb to say that you’ve never really experienced winter, if you never experienced it in North Dakota. I’ve been there in January and still get the shivers thinking about it.   Think of daytime highs that never got above -15° for the air temperature.  But the real temperature, the wind chill, never got above -30°.  

The people who live in North Dakota give “hearty lot” a whole new definition.  I worked for about three years in Grand Forks on a great project with another car dealership group.  Through my time working with the Rydell Auto Group, I learned many marketing lessons that I carry on today.

Bud Solem, Fluid Motion Productions, captures the rural side of truck production in North Dakota.

Rydell was a company with about 80 dealerships, but they were based in Grand Forks.  They asked me to help them with the marketing of just the Grand Forks dealerships.  

I felt I knew something about the company because they were very similar to the Bill Marsh Group where I worked.  Rydell was third-generation, family-owned, highly respected in the industry, a non-negotiating car dealership, a clearly defined culture that revolved around a solid mission and value statement – all just like Bill Marsh.

I still needed to know more, but what I really needed to know was about the community.  I knew Grand Forks was cold in the winter (although I didn’t know it was -30° cold).  But I knew nothing about Grand Forks other than it was flat.  When I travelled to the region, I met with every media outlet that I could.  I wanted to know their business, but what I really needed to know was: Grand Forks.  I needed to be a sponge.  They were in the Red River Valley (which is the only US river that flows north to Canada.) They have strong pride in the Sioux tribe.  

Sioux warrior Sitting Bull is honored at the University of North Dakota campus.

They have some of the most fertile farmland in the country.  It’s home to the University of North Dakota.  It’s population for the state is roughly the size of the city of Detroit.

So why did I care? How did that impact marketing and advertising?  Let me show just a few examples:

  • Rich farmland = rich farmers: these are farmers that can afford $80,000 GMC Denali trucks.  And come the end of the year, they are looking for tax write offs.
    • Red River Valley: In 1997 there was a major flood along the Red River that nearly destroyed the entire downtown. Although the dealership was a long way from the river, since the area is flat, the floodwater severely damaged the dealership.  The flood still has a major impact on the terrain of the area.
    • The University of North Dakota means everything to the community.  Where does the town go in the middle of the sub-zero temperatures?  They go to watch hockey at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.  It was the home of the Fighting Sioux, until the NCAA made them change the name.  But the arena was intentionally built with the Fighting Sioux logos embedded into it so those logos could not be removed.  It is an amazing facility that would be the pride of any community.
    • And yes, the entire state has a small population.  As a result of that, the dealership needed to dominate the competition to get more than their fair share of the business – and they did exactly that.
The Ralph Engelstad Arena is the pride and joy of Grand Forks.

Here’s my point: when I went into Grand Forks, had I just looked at the demographics and the numbers presented to me with Nielson ratings, or newspaper distribution numbers – I would have missed the important things.  I would have missed the real opportunities to market to the community.

Many ad agencies use a cookie cutter approach to their marketing.  The theory is that it worked in Paducah, it worked in Poughkeepsie – well it will work in Grand Forks.   Don’t believe that for a minute.

In northern Michigan the average age here is higher than the national average.  We have rural communities.  It’s very conservative with a few liberal pockets. If you don’t know the community – you don’t know how to market to that community.

You need to not only know your customers – you need to know what drives the community.  Once you know that, your advertising and your marketing will be much easier, and much more on the mark. Ask yourself, do you really know your community? Can you know more? Do your people appreciate what makes your community unique? If you have an ad agency, do they know your community? If they don’t, start feeding them some information and make sure they act like sponges – they need to soak it all in.

The more you know about the community, the more you get to enjoy special events – like taking in a UND hockey game. It really is a blast.

UND Hockey is the hottest ticket in town.

When Burgers Sell Cars

Where do you find “sticky” stuff for social media?

It was outlandish! I was incensed!  How can you put a list out of the top 22 burger joints in Michigan – and not have a single Traverse City location on that list? Haven’t you heard that Traverse City is a “Foodie Town?”  Visitors come from all over the country, and internationally, to visit this little corner of Northwest Michigan to eat at our restaurants.

This is more than a mouthful of steak burger from Bridgewater Bank Tavern in Bridgewater, Michigan.

My wife, Maggie, and I were not going to let that stand.  We had a plan.  We would go to all 22 locations and compare those burgers to some of the best we’ve experienced in Traverse City.  Plus we would reach out to others to see if they had recommendations.  This was the creation of our Burger Blog.

OK, but what does this have to do with selling cars?

Well, I needed an audience for what I wrote.  I was keenly aware of the 80 – 20 rule of social media.  Create 80-percent of the material that has nothing to do about your business, and that gives you permission to use 20-percent of the material to talk about your business.  This was fresh content that had nothing to do with selling cars. And who doesn’t like to hear about hidden, great burger joints – especially if they include bacon?

So Maggie and I took to the road.  We crisscrossed Michigan and travelled roads that took us to Detroit, Grand Rapids, Grayling, Sault Ste Marie, Menominee and all places in between — except Traverse City.  

It took us over a year, checking out locations that were close to our normal travels.  Along the way we fought off sea gulls that would swoop down on our drive-in tray at West Pier in Sault Ste. Marie.  We dined in a house that at one time was raided by the Feds for running a speakeasy during prohibition and marveled at the ceiling that was just an inch away from the top of my head.  

I only stand about 6-feet, but the ceiling at this former speakeasy was only about an inch away.

We went to the Eastern Market area of Detroit on Primary Election Day where they mixed politics and burgers while a radio station did live interviews with candidates.  We tasted some incredible burgers and some that we couldn’t figure out why they were on the list. Most of the restaurants not only had a story about the food, but also had a unique story about the restaurant or the community.

We added Frita Batido in Ann Arbor to our list due to suggestions from readers. It deserved to be on the list of 22 best burgers.

Truth be told, we never quite finished the project.  We missed one burger that was down by the Indiana border.  We could never fit it into our schedule.

What we did end up with, was more than a year of great, fresh content.  These were stories we shared on social media.  They always had strong click rates.  We also served them up on our monthly e-newsletters.  They were always some of the most read stories that went out to 30,000+ customers.  We would serve burger messages right along side the monthly offers on new GMCs, Jeeps and Fords.  

Cutters in Detroit had a wicked burger stuffed with cheese and jalapeño.

Many businesses look for social media and digital content that is “sticky.”  Content that gives your audience a reason to linger. For me it was travelling Michigan to check out burgers.  What is it for you?  Do you have a passion that might bring you an audience?  How about your people?  Do they have passions?  Can they write about them?  If you sell hats, or furniture, or boats – you can still write about burgers, or hunting, or fishing, or kids, or the things you find funny about your daily life.

You can read the Burger Blog at:

As for Maggie and I? I just read a list of the top ten diners in Michigan.  Not a single one was in Traverse City.  How can that be?  Have they never been to Randy’s Diner?  That’s outlandish!  I’m incensed!

Maggie and I enjoyed amazing burgers, had some fun road trips, and ended up with some fun content for social media and e-newsletters. Perhaps we need to check out the top ten diners next. Stay tuned to this blog.