Originally published on October 31, 2008
Presslaff Interactive Rev
Presslaff Interactive Revenue president serves the industry its own tailored 'information age'
Early in her career, Ruth Presslaff learned how to turn relationships into revenue, and that has been her mantra ever since. Having founded her own company more than a decade ago, Presslaff helps radio stations communicate directly with their most passionate listeners, which in turn results in additional profits.
Getting into the business: Before I ever walked into my first class at Tulane or Newcomb, the women's college, I walked into WTUL [New Orleans], the college radio station. By my sophomore year I was the first female, second sophomore general manager of the station. Talk about being bitten. I took my parents down to the ratty basement of the university center when I graduated, and said, "Make no mistake, this is what I'm graduating from; this is where I've learned the most."
First job: I was working for a New Orleans band called the Cold that had Ellen DeGeneres' brother Vance in it. I left and ended up working for a small syndicator, Narwood Productions, for about six months and moved to United Stations, doing affiliate relations. I think I did four moves in five years, working up from affiliate relations in New York to managing the department in McLean, Va., to director of Midwest sales in Chicago selling network time, to vice president of affiliate relations back in D.C.
Founding your own company: When I left United Stations, I knew all the decision-makers for all the formats in all the markets, so I figured there had to be a rep business model to take different products and sell them to radio stations. And with many thanks to Steve Goldstein at Saga Communications, I met Carl Berringer, who was running RadioWare. I was living in Dallas at the time and Carl was 20 minutes away and all of a sudden I'm selling radio station music scheduling and research software. And thank God for Carl because he bought me a computer. He ended up selling his company to RCS and I ended up repping some other products. Meanwhile, I moved to Los Angeles and ended up working with interactive phone systems and finding a company that would build a product for me. I was kind of a value-added reseller and did very well.
Arbitron needed someone who knew this interactive technology for a company they had bought in Santa Monica, Calif. I sold the company to Arbitron and ran this division for them called the Media Gallery. Then I bought the company back in 1997 and changed the name to Presslaff Interactive Revenue.
Mission of your company: It's all about the relationship that media companies have with their audience. It's understanding that at the end of the day the database you build is, in my mind, the most important asset a radio station has. These are your listeners who give you ratings; these are the customers who buy things from your clients. You have to know who they are and what interests them—to maintain your relevancy and build a relationship with them. We are all about that.
Long-range plans: We're always looking at new technologies. How do you increase and learn more about listeners? And how are you smarter about doing it? We are both a technology and marketing company, so we're always going down two parallel paths: What's the next thing in terms of technology and what's the best way to use it so our clients are going to get value out of it? The word "revenue" is in there, because we understand all this stuff is great but if it's not making you money, it's not doing what you need it to.
Biggest challenge: It's gone from "Why do we even need to do this?" to "How do we do it better?" The tough thing is there is no director of database marketing at a radio station. It's still one of many things a marketing director, sales manager or program director is responsible for. It just depends on the individual stations, what the priority is, the level of understanding and the time commitment. It's the toughest thing we do—making our ideas bite-size enough so they can be executed easily at the station.
State of radio: We all know it's hard. Could this month have been any worse for the whole world? So it certainly would not be factual to say that everything is great, but you've got to find your opportunities. This is why it all goes back to the database and the relationship and finding out what people want—not just for listeners but for clients as well. Car dealers still have to sell cars, restaurants still have to fill tables, home improvement has to go on. Find out who needs what and provide clients with access.
Career highlight: I have a remarkable team here: Jose Gomez, Jessee Parker, Jerry Parker. Steve Zielonka joined us from Susquehanna, and we just hired Michelle Novak from Saga. The company uses my name but it's not just me. And the three things I'm proudest of are Dana, Walker and Ben: I was always so career-focused and the fact I've been married to this man for over 20 years and have two phenomenal sons is the stunning revelation and joy of every day.
Most influential individual: Steve Goldstein at Saga has been a great sounding board since before I started the company. Corinne Baldassano with Take on the Day has been influential in a way she has no idea. She used to have a sign on her door that said, "Everything's going to be OK. Everyone's going to be all right. Everything's going to work out fine." I told someone who was writing a book about this, right after I bought the company back from Arbitron. I had more payroll and financial obligations than ever before and we were making it up as we went along. I remember going in and seeing that sign and that became my mantra. You have no idea how much that saved my life.
Advice for broadcasters: Their imagination, ingenuity and ability to innovate is cost-free and could reap huge rewards. Radio has always been about theater of the mind. Your mind. Think differently. Think creatively. See what happens.
Profile: Ruth Presslaff
Title: Presslaff Interactive Revenue president
Favorite TV shows: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," "House"
Favorite artist: David Gray
Favorite movie: "When Harry Met Sally"
Favorite book: "It changes with each book I read."
Favorite Web site: "These days I'm going to CNN.com to see if we're still standing."
Favorite restaurant: Le Madeleine in New York
Beverage of choice: Water
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org