Self-labelled radio convergence specialists Ultimate Media added a new dimension to the South African media industry, when they entered the market eight years ago.
Developing an array of radio offerings, with non-traditional advertising being a particularly strong focus, the company added even more experience when it brought in Simon Parkinson, known as Parky to his close colleagues. At the time there was a shift within the radio industry, with digital fragmentation growing and marketers grappling with how to use traditional media with new media.
Parkinson’s knowledge and experience as a media entrepreneur has added value to Ultimate Media, and here’s how his journey as a media entrepreneur has unfolded, what he has learnt along the way, and what advice he would give to youngsters.
Q: Why did you decide to branch out with your own business/venture, rather than work for other companies or corporates?
A: I was lucky enough to have worked for Primedia Broadcasting for close on 15 years, before that 10 years on-air in Zimbabwe at the national broadcaster, which led me to think going into another radio broadcaster at that stage wouldn’t stretch me.
I had managed to work in various different guises within the 25 years of radio, from programming and on-air, to production, promotion and online management, to sales and marketing. So the thought of carving a niche still within the ambit of radio, but sitting on the agency and client side of the fence, with radio programming experience, put me at a distinct advantage within the marketplace – I suppose you could say I have a unique selling point.
Q: Give us a brief history of your media venture? What gave you the idea? How did it begin, and how has your business journey unfolded?
A: Ultimate Media was already a going concern and had been for four years, although not with permanent representation in Johannesburg. My partners, ex-Primedia Broadcasting and in Cape Town, had taken the bold move to go it alone and explore the market.
It happened to be perfect timing when they approached me as there was a shift within the radio industry, digital fragmentation was growing, marketers were grappling with how to use so-called traditional media with new media and were open to looking for direction.
I, with my radio experience, was keen to push and try new things – collaboration for radio and presenters with other media channels being my main focus. I spent a significant amount of time at media agencies, creative agencies, and directly with clients showing them how radio could fit into the new advertising landscape. At the same time I was marketing our USP, as Ultimate Media, and our ability to listen and understand what clients wanted to achieve and incorporating radio into the general advertising marketing mix.
Q: What challenges did you face as a media entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
A: Our biggest challenge was no doubt breaking into a tried and tested media landscape and building trust. We added value through radio knowledge, understanding how programming plus presenters worked, and how best to incorporate a commercial client message into on air content. No matter how big the return on investment that we could prove for each project we still had to fight to legitimise a fee and prove our worth.
Building a brand from scratch, and especially carving out a niche in the market is incredibly difficult. I saw radio stations as our partners and businesses that we could deliver results for our clients, whilst aiming to make sure that the spend to radio in general, regardless of station and company would increase. If we could start to show the relevance and response that this medium produces, especially when working hand-in-hand with digital and other media channels, there would be more spend to the radio industry.
Sadly the radio stations at the beginning saw us as opposition. We were and still are station agnostic, so essentially not selling any one particular station, but rather advising our clients on how to use radio programming for their product/brand objectives with measurable results. Over time stations began to trust us and work with us for the common good of all parties with the main focus being radio used well with other media channels delivers great results.
Q: Has there been a moment of success that has really stood out for you and that is your favourite on your journey? To what do you attribute your success?
A: I was asked to put together a Christmas campaign for Coca-Cola three years ago. They wanted to own radio in South Africa over the Christmas and festive season and reward listeners at a time when people would like to spread some joy and happiness. We created a campaign with one concept, across 27 radio stations, in various languages, that ran for three weeks with six competition moments a day. We created all of the production, including all of the imaging and commercial messaging for the campaign, incorporating the various languages. I employed an additional 10 producers and bought in excess of 2500 prizes which we then distributed to each and every winner. We personally briefed every single radio station and ensure that the sound across each station had commonality to ensure the Coca-Cola feel was landed in South Africa on every radio station.
Q: What characteristics do you think make a successful media entrepreneur?
A: I think you have to be passionate and understand your particular sector of the market well. Have an open mind and listen, listen and listen some more. Knowledge in today’s industry is understanding the new, but having respect for the traditional and finding common ground.
Q: Your advice to young media entrepreneurs or those looking to start new media businesses?
A: I believe that you need to understand the foundation of your offering and the core to your business. There is lots of opportunity and alternatives for marketers, unless you have a tight offering, some wow thinking, and good short sales pitch, then you are going to find it difficult to break through. And for the record one order doesn’t mean you’ve arrived – we still knock on doors for business everyday
Q: What next from you and your media company/venture? What can people expect? Exciting upcoming projects?
A: We’ll continue to evolve and push the radio stations to be flexible in their delivery on behalf of our clients. We are creating new products which allow us to use the reach of radio stations and their audiences with the measurement of digital. Clients are looking more and more for measurable results and this is very much where our focus is using the strength of radio and digital as a combination.
Q: What, in your view, needs to happen to encourage more media entrepreneurs and help them stay the course?
A: Radio stations should be holding more open day workshops for young people who want to get into the industry. There is no clear path into radio, and the industry as a whole should be working together to encourage young people to look at the various roles within our industry.
There is too much focus on the glamorous on-air role, and in reality very few people land these jobs, when in reality there are a great many jobs behind the scenes which are hugely rewarding. For an entrepreneur to stay the course they really need to be patient and determined, it doesn’t happen overnight, but with constant focus and determination and customer service you will break through.
Q: How do you ‘pay it forward’?
A: Whenever I have the opportunity to meet and speak with young entrepreneurs I do so over a cup of coffee. I try my best to meet with as many people as possible, I know when I started out getting an appointment was the hardest thing ever.
I find listening to young people can be beneficial. I try to never squash any ideas, but rather give them context and client focus. I speak at various colleges when given the opportunity and have availed myself to mini training programs in the community radio sector.
Q: What quote or passage do you think encapsulates you and your approach to business and success?
A: Steve Jobs once said – “if you really look closely most overnight successes took a long time”. I do love Richard Branson’s approach to business which is you don’t need to create brand-new but rather more efficient, better value and service, with a good dollop of sexiness.
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8
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