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SYNDICATION 101... Relations vs Promotions

Although the music world is very familiar with the term "promotion", the syndication world does not yet seem to have a grasp on the term. In music, the marketing of a song/album is broken down into several segments... one of which is "promotion". The sole purpose of promotion is the contacting of stations in order to get airplay; the other marketing departments of the record company handle things like talent issues, appearances, contracts, sponsor tie-ins, product sales, film-tv placement, publicity, etc.

In the syndication world, most hosts and syndicators have a simpler idea of what marketing is: "Affiliate Relations". This occurs because of the less competitive nature of syndication compared to music promotion. In music, promotion people can spend their entire lives doing just one thing... getting radio people on the phone. In affiliate relations, the atmosphere is more like, "run some ads, take some calls, make some calls, meet some folks, re-send some programs, listen to some interviews, check some info, etc"... in other words, relation folks are less concerned about getting in contact with new stations than they are about dealing with all the other marketing aspects that need to be taken care of with the current affiliates. Result: Few new stations.

But now that talk radio has had a good 10 years of growth, it finds itself where music was in the 1960's... promotion was beginning to be an important (and expensive) part of marketing. Today, half of the entire budget of a major label release goes towards one thing... radio promotion. This is a lesson that can be applied to syndication.

Syndication marketing can be broken down into different segments too... one of which certainly is affiliate relations. But the specific part of the marketing that does all the contacting of prospective affiliates is called promotion. Getting new stations requires promotion; keeping the stations requires relations.

True, established shows have less of a need for promotion than newer shows do, simply because established shows feel they are already on every possible station that they can be. With these established shows, they may be truly just doing "relations" with the current stations. But newer shows (shows with less than 200 small stations, or 100 medium stations, or with less than a quarter million cume) have a serious job ahead... contact hundreds (if not thousands) of prospective stations every week, repeatedly, for one purpose... additional clearances.

Note: It is not an option to go "step by step" (just contacting five or ten stations at a time) for reasons that I'll cover in an entirely separate article. Doing so will fail every time.

The promoter can be on the syndicator's affiliate relation's staff, or can be independent. The promoter's whole job is to get PD's, managers, and possibly the station sales staff on the phone (we'll not get into consultants, regional PDs, or cluster VPs here.) This is a huge task when dealing with hundreds or thousands of stations every week, but there is no other way to build a show. This is a full-time job for several people, and there is no time left for any other activities.

Once contact is made, the heat can be built up, the awareness made, and the stations that are getting warm can be given special attention. Whether or not the promoter handles the actual closing will be up to the person funding the syndication. If the promoter will be doing the closing, some sales skills will also be needed, in addition to promotion skills.

It's after the closing, where the true affiliate relations part of syndication comes into play. After closing, the timing of the contacts (much less mass-contacts) is no longer critical, the sales skills are no longer mandatory, and station-operation knowledge is no longer a requirement. As long as the "relations" folks make sure the current affiliates are happy with product and service, then all will be relatively fine. But dealing with current affiliates, and promoting to new ones, should not be confused.

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