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The Greatest Media Salesperson That I Ever Knew

2009 September 13
tags: , ,
by Greg Satell

I started my media career in the ultra-competitive national radio sales market in New York.  I can’t say I was very successful, (I never could stick to those 5 bullet points), but I sure learned a lot.

Not before or since have I ever encountered a group of salespeople as passionate and knowledgeable about their product as the national radio representatives in New York.  However, there was one guy who stood out from the rest and one day he taught me a lesson that I remember to this day.

The Product

Firstly, some background on American broadcast markets in the US.  There are about 210 TV markets in the United States, which are called “TMA’s.”  There are also 302 smaller markets for radio called “Metros.”  Both are centered around, and named for, the dominant city in the area.  However, a TMA can encompass all or part of several radio Metros.

I worked for a representative company, which sold time for out of town stations.  The hero of our story was my client.  He was the National Sales Manager of a radio group near Boston and it was his job to go around the country and present his stations to advertising agencies who bought the Boston market.

His station group had a unique strategy.  They didn’t own stations in Boston, but a group of stations in the surrounding suburbs.  The idea was that by exchanging just one Boston station the advertiser could get this entire network of stations and cover not just the Metro but the entire TMA.  Considering that the Boston stations were weaker in the outskirts of Boston, theoretically it was a perfectly reasonable proposal.

The Challenge

The strategy had some flaws.  First of all, radio buyers didn’t get paid for buying the TMA, but the Metro.  Secondly, these stations were all in separate Metros, which could easily have been put on the brief.  Lastly, these stations were, quite frankly, crap.  As a matter of fact, they were so crappy that they were barely competitive in the crappy radio markets that they actually were a part of!

Now, I should mention here that New York radio buyers are tough.  I mean tough as nails tough…and sometimes nasty.  Although, for some reason, a usually high percentage seemed to live with their mothers, they would much prefer to have a young radio rep for breakfast than a three-martini lunch.

So it was to my utter surprise and dismay that my client’s network of stations got bought on every buy, no matter what demographic – from practically every buyer at every agency.  In fact, despite their weak stations and implausible story, they were one of the most profitable station groups in the country.

(Now, I know at this point some of my Eastern European friends are nodding their heads knowingly – Stop that!)

The Method

I soon found out why.  My client came in for one of his usual visits armed with something new.  (This was a surprise. Usually he came armed with just a smile and a 20 year old presentation.  It still had newspaper clippings from 1975!)  They had done dial group research for their stations, implemented the findings and measurably increased the ratings of their stations.  He wanted to show the media buyers.

I should mention here that most stations in the US were doing listener research every three months and many were doing it once a month.  This was the first time in 30 years that his company spent money on listener research.  So I was a bit skeptical that this was going to be very effective with the radio buyers who were hungry for their next victim.

When it was my turn to take the client to an agency, he calmly went through his delivery.  He explained that they had always been good marketers, but to be honest they needed to improve as broadcasters.

He then proceeded to explain how the dial group research was done. The listeners from the target group didn’t just say what they liked; they turned a dial to show how much they liked it.  Their responses could be aggregated and graphed.  The station didn’t just get an indication of good and bad songs, but the degree to which people liked them.

While my client was talking, the hardened radio buyers were entranced.  It was as if Thomas Edison himself had appeared before them and recounted the invention of the light bulb.  They were amazed at this remarkable innovation and were clearly wondering why nobody else had been doing it.  It was as if every radio station in the country had been cheating them all this time!

The Lesson

Of course, the other radio stations had been doing it.  And that is the point.  My client was the first person to explain to them how it worked.  Nobody else even bothered because, to them, it was nothing special.

Which brings us to the moral of the story:  With all the sophistication the media industry has attained, with all of the GRP’s, CTR’s, PPC’s, ABC’s and XYZ’s, it is also a magical industry that can inform, inspire and delight people.  There is no better way into client’s hearts than to show them how all those wonderful things are actually done.

My client understood that and that’s why he is the greatest media salesperson that I ever knew.

– Greg

Note:  Although I believe the lesson here is universal, I use the qualifier “media” salesperson here knowingly.  My father, Albert Berman, who passed away a few years ago, is undoubtedly the greatest salesperson and best man I ever knew.

28 Responses leave one →
  1. September 14, 2009

    Cool story

  2. September 14, 2009


  3. Mark Mulholland permalink
    September 14, 2009

    I second the postscript about Al Berman!!!!

  4. September 15, 2009

    A touching story, and a great writing style! 🙂

  5. September 15, 2009

    Thanks, Lena!

    – Greg

  6. Bruce Mishkin permalink
    September 15, 2009

    Good story but one major correction: It’s DMA, not TMA. DMA is the acronym for Designated Market Area.

  7. September 15, 2009


    Actually, both are used. I was surprised as well, as I was more familiar with DMA, but apparently TMA is the official FCC term.

    – Greg

  8. Olena permalink
    September 15, 2009

    Great story!
    As always funny and true 🙂
    I just wanted to add that in our soooo complicated with abbreviations and overloaded with data industry we should keep our presentations simple. There’s even abbreviation for that K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid:). But our presentations do not have to be stupid I mean they have to be simple. Everyone can read data from the slide, you don’t have to be a sales person for that. But the way you put this figures (CPP,CTR,GRP etc ect) into your story…that is precious. Clients love when you tell them stories. Not epic stories for two hours, but short stories.And also, let’s assume no one knows the industry and these magic bbreviations and what’s behind them better than us, so why not to tell to your clients something “unusual”, “new” and…basic. Something that your client will value(besides CPP, CTR)… and remember.Not everyone can remember figures , but everyone will remember your story :-)Right, Greg?

  9. September 16, 2009


    agree. Terminology can be useful as shorthand, but should be avoidable if possible. Overusing acronyms and industry specific terms is usually a sign of inexperience and incompetence. A good rule is to explain things so that your mother can understand them (assuming your mother doesn’t work in the industry).

    – Greg

  10. September 18, 2009

    My brother is like your Pa! what an extraordinary father you have I can simply relate entirely to your story… Thank you for sharing it is remarkable!

  11. September 21, 2009

    You should read the book Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins if you havn’t yet. What you discovered here, was also discovered by Claude about 60+ years ago. Apart from the coincidental connection, you’ll find the rest of the book interesting as well.

  12. September 21, 2009


    Thanks! I just put it in my Amazon Basket:-)

    – Greg

  13. October 2, 2009

    Thanks, that was a very touching and informative story.

  14. October 2, 2009


    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it.

    – Greg

  15. October 9, 2009

    You seem to leave out the fact that the guys selling the group of stations were notorious for their Vermont Ski house, their NYC Christmas parties and their $ – 4 figure lunches — all part of the “buying of the Boston radio buyers.”
    Not too hard to sell when you have some smoke and mirrors backed up by an unlimited expense account.

  16. October 9, 2009


    Yes, a lot of that is true, but they were still fantastic salespeople. Large expense accounts and good sales skills aren’t mutually exclusive. Besides, everybody spent money entertaining clients – they were just really good at it – and they were far from the biggest spenders.

    – Greg

  17. October 10, 2009

    Great story, Greg.

    I worked in radio during the time of the “great transformation”, and watched gumshoe salespeople who had passion and persistence give way to young tarts with small minds and big boobs. Soon, it was this new brand of “account executives” that took over the stations, and gone was the art of the sale. Today, radio is in a state of decline, on life support in many markets – and no one can seem to figure out why. You may be surprised to learn that during my six years in the business, I never actually worked on the sales side. I was a reporter and morning drive anchor, and watched my ratings fall as we had to let go of talent after talent to make up for the “shortfall” of revenue that was routine by the end of the century. Today, a 22 year old fresh out of broadcasting school is reading news he know nothing about – telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to know – and another 22 year old is walking in to businesses and reading from a script, getting the cold shoulder, and moving on to another business, without ever doing even one follow-up. Gone is the art of the educated journalist, the educated sales person, and the profitable radio business. Thanks for letting me rant on your blog.

  18. October 10, 2009


    Thanks. Come by any time and rant all you want. I would have to disagree with you about the future of the Radio business, though. I was just going through Clear Channel’s 10-K and apparently they made 30% operating margins in their Radio business in 2008 – a crisis year!

    – Greg

  19. kaustuv permalink
    November 2, 2009

    it is a very nice read. do u sell content space in radio? like a RJ mention and all..

  20. November 2, 2009

    I used to, in another lifetime…

    – Greg

  21. November 9, 2009

    Hi Greg,
    I’m a little late – great story!
    I learn a lot from your articles.

  22. November 9, 2009


    Thanks. Please keep me updated about how your business is going.

    – Greg

  23. Bruce K permalink
    November 15, 2009

    Now now, Greg. I wasn’t that nasty, I always bought the Katz Suburban Group, and other than a few weeks during a divorce, I didn’t live with my mother.

  24. November 15, 2009

    Eye of the beholder, Bruce:-)

    Btw. I heard you changed your name to Kalingrad.

    – Greg

  25. Paul Hanson permalink
    November 23, 2009

    I thought your story was entertaining, until I read a little further and discovered I knew the salesman in question. I worked for the same Suburban Boston Network Group and learned all I know about the radio business from this group of family broadcasters. Spent 25 years in radio before coming over to the agency side. It was then, and is now a great success story. NK would be proud!

  26. November 23, 2009


    Yeah, they were great guys. But to be honest, I forgot his name..

    – Greg

  27. December 12, 2009

    Nice tribute to your dad. I also grew up in a radio family also. My father started his broadcast career at KNOW in Austin, TX when he was 14. He build his 1st radio station from the ground up which just celebrated it’s 55th year anniversary, his 2nd station was put on the air in 1958 and the station group still operates it today although 2 of the original partners in the group are dead, including my father. All toll, these radio pioneers owned and operated 4 AM stations at the same time and put 2 FM stations on the air when FM became popular. My father served on the Associated Press Board for 6 years in the 70s and was among one of the 1st american groups to tour China when President Nixon opened up that relationship. He also served on many NAB committees.

    I started disc jockeying for my father when I was 10 and I started selling for him when I got my drivers license at 15. I learned a lot of my selling techniques and life lessons from my father. Thanks for allowing me to remember my father on your Blog.

    Good Selling and Good Luck in 2010.

  28. December 12, 2009


    Thanks for sharing your story. Have a nice holiday.

    – Greg

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