Originally published on April 17, 2009
Local Focus Radio
Rep firm vet relies on bedrock of local radio to lead independent stations to new opportunities, directions and success
Kay Olin is enjoying a lifelong and successful career in radio. While at Interep, she won the company’s prestigious Chairman’s Circle Award eight times. For the past four years, she has been named one of American Women in Radio & Television’s 25 Women Who Lead in Sales and Management. In 2008, she was one of Radio Ink’s 50 Most Influential Women in Radio (MIW). In addition to serving as president of independent rep firm Local Focus Radio, she’s a member of the AWRT National Board and a founding member and immediate past-president of AWRT’s Atlanta chapter.
How did you get started in radio?
When I graduated from Agnes Scott College [in Decatur, Ga.] in 1976, my first job was with RKO Television Reps as a sales assistant. I decided to try sales when I moved to Jacksonville in 1977. Television was not hiring women at the time but radio welcomed me with open arms at WIVY. A year later I moved to Tallahassee [Fla.], where I worked for WGLF before moving upstairs to their sister station, WANM, where I became one of the youngest female GMs in the country. Between the two stations, we had over a 50 share of the market and two of the greatest college sports programs, FSU and Florida A&M.
Prior to moving back to Atlanta in 1980 I was investigating rep firms for the Tallahassee stations. The more I talked to them, the more interested I became in selling radio on a national level. My first national sales position was at Torbet Radio Reps. McGavren Guild Radio hired me in 1981 and I was with what became Interep for over two decades, until it declared Chapter 7 in November 2007.
How did Local Focus start?
Phil Brown, like me, a 20-plus-year veteran from Interep, started Regional Market Radio over a decade ago. He wanted to bring “big” solutions to advertisers, in addition to spot and small-market radio. Hence, RMR, now called Local Focus, was what launched his parent company, Focus 360. Interep approached Phil about putting a marketing agreement together with Local Focus and asked me to become president of the division, which Interep launched in September 2007 to serve [midsize] and small markets, as well as nonrepped, unrated and rural radio stations. Phil had the nucleus of a great rep firm so the fit was perfect. We doubled the station and market list, billing and personnel in the first year as partners. When Interep folded this past November, within 24 hours, like the phoenix, Local Focus rose yet again. The Local Focus Radio team’s commitment to continuing our company was made possible due to the wonderful support of our great clients, Phil and Focus 360.
Talk about the various Focus 360 divisions.
National Focus is our network radio division and has been very successful in both attracting existing radio network programs and in building out new properties. Digital Focus is our division that aggregates over 35,000 local Web sites to offer advertisers a way to buy Web sites like spot radio. Finally, Multicultural Focus has been very successful in partnering Billboard Latino artists with local Spanish radio.
Why is it that despite the closing of Interep there is room for a new radio rep firm?
This is an excellent time to be independent and to be in the position to service and represent those independent broadcasters who truly represent the heart of local radio and the individualized needs of the markets they serve. Competition raises the bar. National advertisers are more focused than ever on connecting and engaging their products with the local markets and consumers, not just broadcasting commercials. It is our responsibility to bring the two together.
What steps do you go through to get to know a new client?
We listen to and build an understanding of the station’s needs and expectations. We start our selling partnerships with a nationwide conference call to introduce the station, understand market positioning, their expectations and discuss with each region their history, goals and where our national opportunities lie. Our divisional managers take ownership of the stations in their regions and work to review account history and manage the team across the country. We build communication and accountability from day one. It is important to continuously review your progress along the way for satisfaction.
What are the key differences between working at a rep firm 10 years ago, five years ago and today?
Timing and the number of media assets. I remember when you had two weeks to do an avail because we did not have overnight service, faxes or computers. Five years ago timing sped up as a result of delivery resources but you were still just selling radio.
Now you have less than a day to respond to most of your opportunities and you are selling the expanded assets of your station partners. The consistency has been the value of relationships and radio’s continued ability to be a wonderful catalyst for whatever changes there are in technology. Radio continues to be the ultimate marketing partner because of its local focus.
What is the outlook for new radio salespeople?
New radio salespeople are coming into the industry at the best time, technology-wise, and obviously the most challenging times economically. New salespeople are in a great position to help our industry see the value of the digital partners available to radio and to help us best understand how to engage our listeners. The local marketing connection and relationship local stations have with their listeners remain our core value, and new eyes and ears will keep us on track to broaden all of our partnerships.
What should the sales industry do to attract new talent?
It is our responsibility to pay it forward. Through AWRT and MIW, I have been privileged to be involved with their wonderful mentoring programs. They are equally important to both the student and the teacher. We learn from those we share our experiences and relationships with and help grow new talent in the process.
What do you advise to all radio salespeople in challenging economic times?
Work hard, listen to and understand your customers’ needs and be the one that delivers the solutions. Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. Be honest and care about making a difference on behalf of those you serve. You have to enjoy servicing your customers and be a problem solver. Have fun. It is important to keep the fun in our daily lives so that you are speaking and listening with a smile.
These are times fraught with change and unprecedented opportunities. Thank goodness we have the bedrock of local radio to continue to build on, create options and partner with other entities to lead us to new opportunities, directions and success. Remember, change only happens outside of our comfort zone, not in it.
‘This is an excellent time to be independent and to service those independent broadcasters who truly represent the heart of local radio and the individualized needs of the markets they serve.’—Kay Olin