These ‘4 Rs’ are essential to success in underwriting sales

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Anybody my age who has taken an advertising class or worked in marketing is aware of the 4 Ps of a marketing mix, first popularized in the 1950s by Harvard advertising professor Neil Borden. They are:

  • Product — the good or service
  • Price — how much a customer pays for said good or service
  • Place — the locations where a product is marketed, physically and via positioning
  • Promotion — your advertising, public relations and promotional strategy

Orchestrating these Ps within a comprehensive marketing strategy enables whatever good or service you have to offer to become sought after, positively viewed in the public eye, appropriately priced and promoted to the best possible target audience.

Long ago, I sat on the other side of the desk, as a marketing and communications director for a local nonprofit arts organization. I bought newspaper, magazines, public radio, direct mail, event sponsorships, outdoor ads and more. I always considered these factors before investing in media.

These days, selling public radio, I still consider the 4 Ps, but from the standpoint of how my product/service meets the needs of our prospects and clients. I also came to realize that in media sales, the 4 Rs are equally important. They are:

Relationships. I’m not a transactional vendor. I’m a partner. I aim to follow through, overdeliver and provide value in the form of shared ideas, related content, leads and publicity, in addition to our on-air spots, event sponsorships and online ads. Regardless of whether a promoter or venue invests in a campaign with us, I always encourage them to list their events on WDAV’s online calendar. It’s free and easy. In fact, I often share a list of other free event calendars.

On occasion, we can help get newsworthy items featured in our weekly e-newsletter or arrange for artists or organization leaders to be interviewed with WDAV hosts or for our Piedmont Arts podcast. Lastly, when time permits, we’ll gladly record and play client testimonials on-air.

Renewals. Keeping promises, delivering ROI and doing the right thing results in repeat business. Remarkably, WDAV has several second-generation supporters. Sons and daughters of original business owners are still sponsoring the station via underwriting campaigns, not out of tradition, but because it makes everything else they do to promote their business work even better.

The day you start selling is the day you start losing clients. A business merges with another or is bought outright by a larger national organization; your contact leaves the company; the landscape of your industry is reshaped by a disruptor; or heaven forfend, recessions or natural disasters occur. I’ve experienced all these things and more, but if you’re regularly losing well north of 10% of your clients, the quality of your business relationships may be the issue. Which brings us to the 3rd R.

Reputation. You have only one. Build your reputation brick by brick and protect it as if your livelihood depends on it, because it absolutely does. In terms of how intimately we’re all connected to each other, Charlotte, N.C., is a relatively small town. That’s even more true in the internet age, but also with regard to our networking, socializing, volunteering and use of social media. If you and your organization are not actively doing things to give back to the community, you’re both conspicuous by your absence.

A nonprofit organization in its own right, WDAV has always offered nonprofit organizations a significant discount and, where there’s opportunity for trade, frequently offers additional spots to bolster paid schedules. Throughout the pandemic, the station had unsold on-air inventory and granted no-cost, 90-day on-air schedules to a dozen local nonprofit organizations working in the DEI space. Nonprofits are also, almost exclusively, the focus of our podcast and on-air interviews.

Referrals. Without a pipeline of referrals, you’re flailing. When they happen organically, it’s often because of the aforementioned Rs. I’m something of a dinosaur because I still love to cold call and prospect. Prospecting and cold calling are my work equivalent of the thrill of the hunt, but nothing beats referrals. Here and elsewhere, a significant chunk of my new business has been generated by referrals.

I’m pleased to be working with some clients for decades after I first got to know them while I was with previous media outlets. I also love that, over the years with some organizations, I’ve had multiple contacts working on the same line of business. It’s even better when a media buyer moves within a company or to a new organization and calls you as soon as they settle into the new role.

I don’t ask for referrals. I just follow the advice of Don Brannan, an early mentor at The Charlotte Observer, who said, “Don’t worry about the money. Worry about the clients’ best interest, and the money will come.” And while I don’t expect my 4 Rs to become the stuff of legend, like Neil Borden’s 4 Ps, I wish somebody had shared them with me when I first started selling media. If they help some new media salespeople succeed and thrive, that will be just fine with me.

Jay Ahuja moved to Charlotte, N.C., in 1986 and lives there with his wife, Karen, and their two dogs. He was top revenue producer for WFAE 90.7FM, Charlotte’s NPR radio station, for eight years and, before that, worked for The Charlotte ObserverCharlotte magazine and the Community School of the Arts. Jay authored two sports-travel guidebooks, and he’s served on North Carolina Outward Bound School’s Charlotte Advisory Board since 2008. 

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