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The Best Way to Run a Fiscal-Year-End Underwriting Inventory Fire Sale

sales strategy, Corporate Support

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As we approach fiscal year-end for many public media stations, one of two issues may be at the top of your must-do list: You realize that you need to generate more underwriting revenue in order to make your budgeted goals, or you’re on track for revenue generation but you want to surpass your goals.

As you look over your avails report, if the unsold underwriting inventory in your most-listened-to programs (usually your morning and afternoon drives) is not sold out, and there’s plenty of unsold inventory in other programs, this presents an opportunity to make or exceed your goals.

In the commercial radio world, unsold inventory is often packaged as a “fire sale” with a combination of avails in drive time and avails in off-prime-time programs. The packages are structured and priced so that, by selling a certain number of them, it brings in the needed revenue for the station.It’s not uncommon for commercial stations to offer these fire-sale packages with increased urgency toward the end of each month and certainly before the year’s end. It’s an offer that salespeople present to their clients with a “buy now before this opportunity is gone” approach.

The explanation the salesperson gives to their clients is that there are only a few of these specially-priced packages available and each salesperson is allowed to offer it to only five of their top clients. (In reality, the number of packages they can each sell is much higher, but offering something that’s very limited, with special discounted pricing to the salesperson’s “top” client, can make the client feel special and create a stronger client/salesperson relationship.)

All of this sounds good, right? The salespeople are able to sell more, earn their sales commissions, and help bring the station’s revenue in line with monthly sales goals. And the client feels special having received the special offer.

But beware of the temptation to repeat the offer the next month, and the next, and the next. How special is it when you receive an email from retailer Bed Bath & Beyond with this subject line:

“Today is your special day! Just for YOU, here’s a 20% discount coupon off ONE SINGLE item in the store or online”. (In the email it further explains, “This offer expires in three days”.)

Now imagine getting a “special” 20% discount offer in your email everyday. I know that happens because I’m on their email list. I also know that if I don’t rush to their store right away to use my coupon that there’ll be another “special discount offer” in my inbox tomorrow. And the next day, and the next day, and the next…

These fire sales can burn out quickly. Calling all of your clients monthly with a “just-for-you special offer” makes it more “business as usual.” 

If you really like the idea of being able to offer your underwriters a special package that can help you reach your goal, and you know you’ll be able to sell the packages, go ahead. Just be careful how often you do it. Midway through your fiscal year and before the end of it would be the timing to consider making an offer. Properly structured and implemented, you can take the same fire sale idea and reposition it as a way to pre-sell the upcoming fiscal year. 

But an underwriting fire sale that’s presented too often can signal to your underwriter that you have a lot of unsold inventory. This could make your client question your value and his own decisions about remaining an underwriter.

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