"My task is to be rainmaker," says William R Stark, Managing Partner of management consulting firm Maverick LLC.
His target? Accounts serving small to mid-cap public companies with annual revenues up to $6-7 billion.
Unlike many consulting firms that grow through a tight circle of networking based on partner connections and current clients, Stark wanted to expand the Tampa-based firm to big, broad national stature. "I don't like to take small steps," he explains.
First he reviewed what helped him reach targeted CEOs in the past. "Historically, we're almost always brought in through decision influencers the next level down from Group VP. It might be a senior director or manager for acquisitions, or operations, or sales who believes someone higher up might be looking for a consulting company."
To influence this broad group of potential evangelists on a national level, he's have to cast a very wide net. "I could probably spend $20 million a year on branding and not be enough ahead of the curve - just not get enough frequency and reach."
So, he thought, why not do a syndicated radio show featuring Maverick's unique type of management advice, and get a national network to carry it?
Only problem -- the overwhelming majority of radio shows of this ilk are actually paid commercials. The talk show producers pay the stations for air time and cross their fingers hoping to either get sponsors or new customers to cover the costs.
Stark didn't want to go into what boils down to a risky form of show business. He wanted to build buzz for Maverick for as reasonable a cost as possible.CAMPAIGN
First Stark came up with a general program idea -- a 30-60 minute national call-in show featuring Maverick's consultants as business relationship Dear Abbys. Now all he had to do was get it on the air.
Step #1. Pitch letters
Stark drew on 20 years of business writing experience to craft the most compelling pitch letter he could. (Link to sample of the winning letter below.)
Then he Fedexed it to high-level execs at NPR, Sirius, and XM Satellite radio among others. "Snail mail has almost no chance of getting through to senior people. Fedex at least gets to the top of their admin's pile and may be read."
Step #2. Format development & sample production
XM was the first to bite at the pitch. They loved it, but... required a drastic format change. Instead of a live 60-minute weekly, they wanted a polished, pre-taped 60-second daily show. "We had a plan," says Stark wryly. "This was not Plan A or even Plan B."
Plus, even if he invested in sample pilot production -- which might take an estimated week of his time plus $15,000 hard costs for everything from studio time to voice overs and music royalties -- there was absolutely no guarantee XM would decide to run with the show in the end. Stark decided to take the risk anyway. His pilot production tips:
Tip A: Invest in a great template
Just as with a TV show, talk radio shows have a set structure, starting with a bit of music and a voice-over introduction, and then ending with the same. This would be the template into which all future shows would be placed.
For a one-minute show, the intro was four and a half seconds, and the ending was five seconds with an official show tagline and exit music. In total the template was under 10 seconds long. But these are incredibly high-impact seconds -- so Stark was willing to invest a significant amount of his budget on them. "We hired a very well known voice pro to introduce the Maverick Minute."
Tip B: Hire the best sound engineer you can find
"In terms of sound engineering, low cost is not an option," Stark advises. "It's the same difference between being a good golfer and being on the PGA. It's not a thin line at all to cross, it's a very difficult line."
He continues, "Too many people think quality content alone is an indicator of success. If it was about great programming, we wouldn't have so many horrible movies or TV!" You have to feel slickly, professionally produced to fly on network radio. Drop your podcasting-style dreams at the door before you come in.
The key is consistency. "A great engineer makes sure the talent has the same intonation, depth, and energy level to their voices week after week." Shows recorded months apart would sound as if they could have been recorded the same day. Step #3. Signed contracts
"We are paid in kind, I can't discuss the terms of the contract," says Stark. Suffice to say Maverick is not paying for their shows to run on air. He notes, "We developed the content to their specifications, and they really liked it. That was our leverage."
One other tip -- don't sweat the length of the contract term if there's a 30-day out-clause elsewhere in the contract. That out-clause effectively turns your contract into a month-to-month deal as it is. Focus on making your partner so happy later on that they never invoke it.
Step #4. Ongoing scriptwriting
Stark notes that writing a script for a 50 and a half second show is incredibly challenging. "It's about 150 words." How can you possibly impart value in such a tiny space? (Link to actual sample scripts below.)
Tip: Use shorter monosyllabic words to fit more content in.
Tip: Give a fact or straight-forward advice - there's no time for a debate, complex analysis, or to tell an introductory story.
Tip: Be careful using humor because inevitably some people won't get the joke.
Tip: Serialize your shows, writing several in a row on the same topic, each promoting the next while being able to stand on its own.
Step #5. Turning air time into marketing
XM wouldn't let Maverick do explicit sales pitches during the minute -- nor would that have been appropriate for the format. Blending high-quality advice and an overt sales pitch is always iffy. (Consider the fact that the most-forwarded and influential white papers have no sales copy at all beyond a logo.)
So the call to action had to be passive -- a brief tag-line mention to find out more at Maverick's Web site. To get the most marketing bang, Stark:
o Assigned a staffer to answer all show-related email within a few hours or even more quickly if possible. That way when prospects emailed they'd be met with a prompt friendly welcome.
o Added a 'listen to our show' hotlink prominently on the company home page.
o Tested putting a required registration form in front of the online listening part of the site to generate prospects.
o Contacted clients -- and former clients -- to let them know about the show, including hotlinks to specific episodes he thought they might personally be interested in.
o Used the existing radio show as a credibility springboard for pitches for deals in other media, such as a mass market book deal.
"We haven't gotten any new clients directly from the show since it launched in August," says Stark. "However, we've gotten renewed interest and work from existing and past clients.
"It's created an amazing amount of good will. They seem to put more stock and credibility in the fact that we do a radio show for XM than something innovative and valuable we did for them as a consulting company." Why? "They paid us a lot of money for the consulting and we met their expectations. But when they hear us on the radio, that builds a little excitement. There's a Wow! factor."
As XM's reach has grown over the past 10 months from 1.5 million to 4 million listeners, Maverick's incoming email as a result of the show has burgeoned. Currently they get a couple of hundred emails per month, and it continues to rise sharply, as does site traffic.
"Lots of those emails are from those senior-level people we were targeting. The majority of those who write to us are in the $60-100k level salary range." Most often site visitors and emailers are seeking to hear an entire show -- turns out that even though the show's only a minute, the content is good enough that folks want to hear it again. Or perhaps they only tuned in for the end and want to hear the whole thing.
The test that didn't work was the required registration form. It generated a few leads, but roughly 99% of site visitors bailed rather than filling it out to get to the content. Since the point was to get a message out broadly, Stark decided to only ask for registration if folks wanted to surf the library of past shows.
The other hard lesson -- Stark wound up spending almost three months in the end producing, tweaking and redoing the initial pilot show before XM was satisfied with it. The process was much harder than he expected, although now he feels it was well worth the work. (Much like working on a business book with a tough editor.)
The good news is that although at first shows took literally weeks to produce and write, now he can write an entire month's worth of shows in a few days. Then the actual studio time is only half a day to record 20.
What's next? Stark's in the midst of contract negotiations with even larger media platforms that could bring the Maverick Minute into tens of millions of radio listener's cars. Stay tuned. Useful links related to this article
Script and audio samples, plus the original pitch letter that Wowed XM: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/maverick/study.html
Mike Lemon Casting - helped Maverick chose their voice over talent for the intro http://www.mikelemoncasting.com/
XM Satellite Radio http://www.xmradio.com
Maverick LLC http://www.maverickllc.com