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REALITIES IN FARM RADIO
Consolidation in agribusiness and the radio industry ... Fifty percent drop in agri-chemical revenue ... Loss of national ag advertising revenue ... Fewer employed NAFB farm broadcasters... NAFB's Marketing & Promotions Committee is challenged ... This is the reality of farm broadcasting in 2003.

Recognizing this trend, the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) invited owners, managers and sales managers of communications companies together to discuss this situation and the ways that farm radio can overcome slumping ad revenues. NAFB executive Ken Root and Marketing & Promotions chairman John Vasichek, Red River Farm Network, set to work on "New Realities in Ag Advertising," a seminar held May 22 in Kansas City, Mo.

NAFB hosted industry experts who spoke to member companies about the economic realities in farm broadcasting today. Speakers were: (l to r) John Raines, Monsanto Company; Dick Weaver, DTN; Steve Barr, Osborn & Barr Communications; Joel McCrea, Iowa Ag Radio Network and Clear Channel Communications; and Ted Haller, Osborn & Barr Communications.
The purpose of the meeting was to bring together decisionmakers from NAFB members' companies to exchange information on the current economic situation in agribusiness and the future advertising revenue opportunities for farm broadcasting.

It brought together more than 80 farm radio professionals with experts from agribusiness, advertising agencies, consolidated (group) ownership of communications companies and new technologies, which included: Ted Haller, formerly of Brighton USA and currently media director for Osborn & Barr Communications; John Raines, U.S. marketing manager for Monsanto Company; Dick Weaver, director of new technologies for DTN; Steve Barr, president of Osborn & Barr; and Joel McCrea, manager of Iowa Ag Radio Network and Des Moines market manager for Clear Channel Communications.

WAKE-UP CALL

Root requested the panel discussions be a "skillet to the face" for farm radio professionals. "I wanted them (NAFB members) to realize how much has changed in the industry," he says. Each speaker agreed to foster very open and honest discussion about the economic situation and how farm radio was reacting to it.

Root says one of the main questions that the meeting answered for farm radio is what does the industry want? "Companies are facing a great deal of financial stress, which farm broadcast has to react to as well. As an industry, we must wait until agribusiness is able to get its house in order," he says. "But, in the meantime, companies want greater communication between dealers, customers and farm broadcasters."

Haller, an authority on ag radio research, says of the stark realities, "Money has left the market area and you can't do anything about that. The only thing you can do is adapt."

He offers a few suggestions for radio managers, such as considering exclusivity in your advertising. "Look at exclusivity rather than trying to please everyone," explains Haller. "That may mean featuring only one chemical manufacturer advertiser in the morning."

Another solution could be the use of rural lifestyle content. Haller says many print publications have had great success with the rural lifestyle segment and it would be easy for farm radio to adopt this content.

Haller also explains that tightening ad revenues put pressure on the type of programming and length of farm programs. "History proves that length of programming is not indicative of billing," says Haller.

From the discussion, two points where improvement is needed were recognized. First is that radio is difficult to buy compared to other media. Second, some agreed that creative is lacking in farm radio.

Haller also noted that not all marketers are using the medium to its fullest capacity. "The pendulum has swung around, and farm broadcast is probably the best value in half of the Midwest - if you know how to use it and you have some money to spend," concludes Haller.

FEEDBACK

Vasichek believes the meeting was a great benefit to the industry as it created a dialogue between many players in farm radio. "The meeting has really helped many in the industry to look at our problems as a whole, rather than focusing only on our individual needs."

In a survey, one participant echoed Vasichek's thoughts, saying, "The special meeting in Kansas City was invaluable in terms of the opportunity to look squarely into key ag advertisers' minds and find out what the challenges are that we as an industry must overcome."

NAFB will host "New Realities II" at its annual convention Nov. 12-15 to further explore the current climate in farm broadcasting. AM


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