THE BLOG

Advertsing sales 101. A lesson from the Zen Master.

04/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

According to Wikipedia, Mel Karmazin started selling radio when he was 17 years old. Years later, Don Imus would refer to him as the "Zen Master" on air (being contractually obligated not to use his name) when Karmazin ran Infinity Broadcasting and Imus was at WFAN in New York. Today, Karmazin runs Sirius/XM, and if there's new media newer than the Internet it's probably satellite radio. Maybe mobile, but while ubiquitous as a device, advertising has had a hard time sticking to mobile, which has been without the adhesive material characteristic and necessary to most ad-supported media -content.

Satellite radio is all content. Thus it's interesting to compare to the Internet. Both are digital. Both are new. Both are content rich. Both have lived through/are living through a tortuous right of passage to believability which, until the line is crossed, consigns them to a diet rich in direct response and light on brand.

Go figure, right? Here we have satellite radio, a close relation of broadcast radio, which our father's father's father grew-up with, and which buckets listening audiences into engaged, affinity groups that, until now, required live stage performances to assemble in one place, and satellite still struggles as a start-up. Sometimes, it makes one want to shake the head and throw-up the hands.

You have to hand it to Mel Karmazin, though. As picked-up by Paid Content and FORA.TV (link below) he would not be dragged into a conversation about audience ratings during a conversation at the Paley Center for Media, even by Barbara Walters, host of an episode of The View which airs on Sirius. This is what 100 years of experience selling radio gets you: knowing how to stick to the high road and sell the programming.

As Karmazin says, if you sell ratings people will simply want to buy more ratings. Never mind his chutzpah, his hubris or the obvious fact that satellite is still just starting out. Sell the programming. Sell the content. Sell the reason consumers love your show, Barbara. Sell the value.

Of course, as charmed media dragon-slayers, we did not sell that way online. We sold ratings in the form of results. And, well, guess what?

Ratings may or may not ever come for satellite radio, but, if they do, the advertising industry will, as Karmazin says, be happy to tick that box. It will know apart from ratings what and why it is buying. Hopefully, by then, the Internet will have found its own inner value bringing together not just ratings, but reasons for buying online.