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Although each contractor interviewed by The NEWS approaches the market differently, they all emphasized that it requires a long-term commitment of time, effort, and money to benefit from a radio show.
Meet the Radio Personalities
Dave Borowski, vice president at Wiegold One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating in Naples, Fla., has been on the air for 12 years and can be heard on WINK every Saturday morning. Wiegold has been in business for more than 30 years in the Naples and Fort Myers areas. Borowski’s philosophy is “go big or go home,” so he not only conducts a weekly call-in show but also runs over 250 radio ads per week. He uses a take-charge approach by creating his own radio commercials and promos for his weekly show. Borowski scripts his shows and is prepared to do an entire show if there are few or no calls during the hour. He picks topics that are topical and seasonal and believes “the best radio is reflective of what is happening right now.”
Ellis Guiles, vice president of Tag Mechanical in Syracuse, N.Y., decided a weekly radio program was a great way to publicize a home performance service his company started in 2005 because it offered him the opportunity to educate consumers in his market. He was motivated to become a radio personality when he kept getting upset at a weekly homebuilding radio call-in show that kept giving bad advice about heating and air conditioning. Guiles began by negotiating with the general manager of the local rock-and-roll station to do a drive-time minute commercial series that was a trade for doing work and guiding her through a home performance process. After getting some on-air experience, Guiles then approached the station about doing a weekly program.
John Fletcher, sales manager at McCarthy’s One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating in Omaha, Neb., has been on the air for 14 years. He started as a co-host with owner John McCarthy, and then took over the entire program last year. Fletcher, who had spent time behind the microphone as a professional hockey player and coach of University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey team, has transitioned the program into an infomercial approach geared to providing information to the consumer and also to driving leads. Each show has a call to action such as a free thermostat for anyone who calls in that day, or a $200 coupon for the first five callers. After 13 years of a weekly topic/call-in format, Fletcher felt the show needed to change from focusing on the company brand and image to generating leads.
Gene Slade Jr., owner of Air Genie Air Conditioning in Bonita Springs, Fla., caught the radio bug when he co-hosted a show in Tampa. He began hosting his own show in 2008 shortly after he started Air Genie. Slade is really committed to radio programming; his weekly show is broadcast on nine radio stations. After three years of experience, Slade takes more of a freewheeling approach to his program. He and a co-host just pick a topic and talk about it for an hour. Slade partners with his father, Gene Sr., or his general manager, Earline Mapother, to do the show. He also shares a microphone with Steve Spigle, an expert on duct systems. Each show has a special offer for listeners, like a tune-up for $29.95.
Market Awareness Comes at a Price
These four contractors all agreed that a radio program is a tremendous tool for creating awareness in the market, and helps differentiate the company from other HVAC contractors.
According to Slade, “Your company develops a reputation in the community, people tend to trust you, and there is a little bit of celebrity that goes with it.”
The awareness of the company in the market comes in handy when there is a maintenance or service problem. According to Borowski, if the contractor is “top of mind,” he gets the call first. Plus, he has already bridged the gap of creating rapport and trust with a potential customer.
Because of this, Borowski said, “We don’t get price shopped, so my margins stay healthy.”
The radio hosts also cautioned that, before getting involved in a radio program, contractors must be prepared to make a sizable commitment in time, effort and financial resources. It takes time to prepare for a show each week if it is going to stay fresh and relevant in the market. Contractors are also most likely to maximize the benefit of the program when they take the time to coordinate it with seasonal promotions and other offers made in direct mail or other marketing efforts.
Additionally, success does not come immediately. According to the radio hosts, an investment of a year or even two is required to get an adequate return on investment. The program may generate loyal listeners, but it might take a year or two before they have reason enough to call.
It’s important to recognize the stringent scheduling demands of hosting a radio show. “It’s going to disrupt your life,” Guiles said. Committing to a show usually means spending part of a Saturday away from family and friends. The question then becomes: Is it worth it?
Rewards Can Be Great
According to the radio hosts, the financial rewards can be substantial. “The radio program alone was responsible for growing my business from a start-up to $2.5 million,” Slade said. He has funneled almost 100 percent of his promotional dollars to the weekly radio show format, and has even negotiated block programming for the show on several radio stations.
However, Fletcher noted it can be extremely difficult to tie sales directly to the program over the years. Because of this, he changed his show to an infomercial format with a call to action.
“We have three very sizable sales as a result this year,” Fletcher said. He added, “And quite a few more leads than we generated in past years.”
Guiles decided to stop his program after three years because he couldn’t justify the return on investment, and he felt the major problem was the type of radio station. Guiles believed that he needed to be on the top talk radio station, but at the time a weekend time slot was not available.
Other contractors echoed this sentiment and stated that the program needs to be on the local market’s top talk radio station despite the higher-per-hour cost.
Pricing for weekly blocks of time varies greatly by market and by the overall ratings for the radio station, but it is always negotiable. The contractors said programs cost from about $600 to $2,000 per hour of time, depending on the ratings of the station and the available time slot. Oftentimes, the price includes some promotional tags from the radio station during the week. Borowski and Slade have even negotiated to write and produce their own promotional tags.
As these contractors demonstrate, radio programs can be great for creating a recognizable brand in a local market and for enhancing a company’s professional image. Additionally, the shows can generate a steady stream of leads and additional revenue. But the question contractors must consider before diving in is if they are willing to invest the necessary time, effort, and budget to achieve measurable results.
Publication date: 5/14/2012