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With the Radio Show one month away, Inside Radio caught up with Alpha Media president/CEO Bob Proffitt for the low-down on the industry’s Main Event of the year. Proffitt chairs the agenda steering committee for the 2018 Radio Show, which takes place Sept. 25-28 in Orlando. He offers an insider’s view of what to expect at the NAB and RAB-produced conference, from the hot topics and can’t-miss sessions to why his company is sending salespeople from its 15 top billing markets to Orlando. An edited transcript follows.

The show kicks off with iHeartMedia’s Bob Pittman and Entercom’s David Field talking about big data and analytics. Why is this topic so essential that it gets primetime treatment with a two-part opening session?

It truly is the hot topic for this year’s conference. And these two guys deserve primetime because they run the two biggest companies, they’re really good leaders in the business and have a lot to say. The ability now to track, prove and better utilize radio to help advertisers grow their business is one of the most exciting things we’ve seen and something the entire industry will benefit from. In addition to the opening session, there will be a Data Row section in the marketplace exhibit area so that people can see some of the services and technologies that are available. There is another session called “Punch Drunk On Data: Case Studies That Prove Data Drives Ratings and Revenue.” There are a couple more sessions on artificial intelligence – one is called “Alexa, Let’s Listen To The Radio: Best Practices For Smart Speakers.” It’s important and pertinent and the timing is great as we roll into 2019 and look at pools of budgets we can go after that we haven’t had before. I for one have always felt that radio has gotten short-changed in digital. 

Attendees will hear from other big radio CEOs at the annual Pillsbury Broadcast Finance Breakfast on Wednesday Sept. 26. 

It’s Caroline Beasley [Beasley Media Group CEO], Ginny Morris [Hubbard Radio chair], Dhruv Prasad [Townsquare Media co-CEO] and Marci Ryvicker [Wells Fargo Securities managing director]. Caroline has done a wonderful job growing Beasley’s business and is well respected as the chair of the NAB Board. She knows a lot about the regulatory issues that are coming up and is a conduit to [NAB CEO] Gordon Smith. Caroline’s very good at sharing what she knows and what she thinks. Ginny runs such a wonderful business at Hubbard and is very candid – she just tells it the way it is. Dhruv is very smart and creative with finance. Townsquare continues to post very strong earnings and has what I think is the best digital footprint of any middle market company. He’ll give some great insights into that. And Marci has been around the radio business forever. This session is pertinent to anybody – not just bankers and brokers but operators who need to hear what these guys are seeing. How do they feel about the business, where do they see it going? What’s the financial forecast and where are we with the lending situation? One major group is out of bankruptcy and one soon will be and that fixes things, it gives you a fresh new breath and they’ll be able to touch on that. It’s been a tough few years but it’s still a great business. Show me a business that consistently throws off 30%-40% and in some cases 50% margins. People would look at that and say, “I want to be in that business.” While a lot of us are in day to day combat, Ginny, Dhruv and Caroline are thinking past that—they’re thinking six months to a year down the road and that will make this a really valuable session. 

What are some of the other hot topics for this year’s conference?

There’s a couple of sessions devoted to in-car audio in 2018 with new industry research that we can share with everybody to see where we are on the infinite radio dial in automobiles. Another one is “Radio Drives Store Traffic.”  We’ve thrown out stats before that radio can drive search and ROI in specific categories. This one is going to go deeper than that. One of the things we need to do more of in the industry is case studies. You can’t go in and try to convince anybody by asking listeners to tell them they heard it on the radio. That is really old school. But we have statistics and information that will help you show clients that radio advertising is a good investment and gets good results in return.  The Opening Reception is a great place to network. Michael O’Rielly, the always candid FCC commissioner, will be there discussing radio policy.  One would hope we can get a sense of where they stand on dereg. The Marconi Awards are always great and really highlight local radio and make you proud to be in the business. The BMI Songwriter Series brings in people that do more than strum a guitar and sing a song. They tell you stories. When they asked me to chair the steering committee, I thought of the stat from last year that 43% of Radio Show attendees thought they could make at least $25,000 in new sales after attending. I think that’s on the low end. Our folks at Alpha that attend split up and their job is to come back and share what they’ve learned with the rest of the group. Kim Guthrie [Cox Media Group president] taught me that a few years ago. And 94% of the people that went to the show last year rated it as good or excellent. I’m very proud of how the RAB and NAB work together on this.

Alpha is doing a contest in your 15 top billing markets for salespeople to win a trip to the Radio Show. How does this work and why is it important?

I thought we would put our money where our mouth is. We’ve got 49 markets and we can’t send people from every one. Like everyone, we do sales contests and there are many ways we try to incorporate this. On this one it was simply “Make The Dough And Go To The Radio Show.” It’s a contest to drive new business that we kicked off in the middle of the summer. Every market has put a different twist on it. Each market has weekly prizes for bringing in new clients. We have a neck and neck battle in Lincoln right now where three sellers are fighting tooth and nail to write more new business than the other so they can go to the Radio Show. The benefits are that you go back to your marketplace and take the information from the Radio Show to develop some more business or retain new business – what a huge win it is for the company. We’ll do a special dinner with the winners who attend the show and some one-on-one training. But for the most part I just want them to enjoy the show and understand what a great business we’re in and all the unbelievable tools people have. Between the RAB and the NAB, we've got a lot of information, data and tools in front of us. I’m hoping they come back really fired up and pumped about using them.