05 October 2014


Cutbacks at radio stations have created a demand for Benztown’s ‘aural branding.’ By MARK R. MADLER Staff Reporter Photos by DAVID SPRAGUE Consumer products have their familiar logos and color schemes to attract potential buyers. But what about radio, where expressing a brand is done with sound? That’s where Benztown comes in. The Burbank company specializes in audio branding – creating the aural signatures that remind listeners where they are on the dial and why they should stay there. BENZTOWNThe most familiar of aural branding is, of course, jingles, but there also are musical segues between songs, musical accompaniments to station promotions and contests, and voice-overs for identifying stations. In the case of Benztown, its audio content library of more than 200,000 audio elements are heard on 1,900 music and talk or news stations worldwide, despite being founded just six years ago. What’s more, the company’s 17 employees – split among its Burbank, Germany, and U.K. offices – generated $2.5 million in revenue last year, enough to place for the second consecutive year on Inc. magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies. For decades, radio stations would create their own jingles and sounds in house, but Benztown has grown by seizing on consolidation and cutbacks in the industry that have prompted more stations to outsource the task. “They have minimized budgets to the extent the people who do what we do are no longer there or passed over to people without the skill set,” said Masa Patterson, Benztown’s vice president of sales and operations. “We have taken that as an opportunity to become a supplier for those stations.” One recent project, for example, was a series of promos for a Miami radio station that parodied the theme songs to the TV shows “Happy Days” and “The Love Boat.” Other work has sent employees to Moscow, Istanbul, and Paris to work on client projects. Mary Beth Garber, executive vice president in the Los Angeles office of advertising and consulting firm Katz Radio Group, said that while radio imaging companies have been around since the late 1990s – and jingle companies longer than that – it’s a growing market. There are more than 11,000 radio stations alone in the United States and out of those about 9,000 are found in small and medium-sized markets that lack the resources to do imaging services in-house. “Those would be good targets to have someone like (a Benztown) come in and help with the image,” she added. Benztown points to ReelWord, a Seattle firm, as among its chief competitors. Tucked Away In Burbank, Dave Denes runs the show, a former program director at an L.A. station owned by iHeartMedia Inc. (formerly Clear Channel Communications Inc.). Denes met Andreas Sannemann and Oliver Klenk, the other two co-founders of Benztown, through a business colleague. Sannemann and Klenk were visiting the country and toured KBIG-FM (104.3), the iHeartMedia station broadcasting in Burbank where Denes was program director. The three stayed in touch and after Denes was let go they started the company in 2008. Initial funding came from the founders and a few outside investors. Benztown also has credit lines with City National Bank and Bank of Hemet. In Burbank, the company’s operations are tucked away in non-descript offices on Riverside Drive. It’s where Denes and his staff of 10 create elements such as sweepers (the segues between songs that identify the station), station identifications and music beds, the instrumental music in the background of station ads. “Imaging directors use those elements like a chef would use ingredients,” Denes said. “People will buy off a brand and the emotions it creates more than the quality of an item.”BENZTOWN Among the radio operators Benztown supplies to is Cumulus Media Inc. in Atlanta. It has stations in 110 markets, making it the second largest U.S. radio company. Mike McVay, senior vice president of corporate programming at Cumulus, said Denes’s background as a former program director and morning show producer comes in handy. “He is able to know what a program director wants to come out of the speakers,” he said. The trio say that despite the artistic under- tones to the business, one key element that has helped it thrive has been a proprietary website through which its product is distributed to clients stations. The site was updated for a third time this summer. It is loaded with 21 libraries for the news, talk and music formats, which includes adult contemporary, classic rock, contemporary hits, country and others. Industry cutbacks have affected more than just sound elements for imaging campaigns. Voice-over work has been impacted as well. So Benztown offers a stable of freelance voice- over artists to record station IDs and promos. Those artists are in high demand by client Sparknet Communications, a Vancouver, British Columbia company that produce the Jack-FM format of adult classic and contem- porary music that is heard nationwide and on K-CBS (93.1) in Los Angeles. The format does not have on-air personalities, with the taped voices provided by Benztown, which also has a library of more than 4,000 sound elements specifically for the Jack format. The company’s growth has been stellar. It recorded $2.5 million in revenue last year, just about 800 percent over the $280,000 in 2010. This year, Denes anticipates another 10 percent to 15 percent increase. Internet radio One unusual element of its business model is that the company doesn’t receive payments directly from stations. Instead, the stations pro- vide airtime that Benztown sells to advertisers through client and partner, Cumulus Media. “The downside is that the value has dimin- ished since 2008,” Denes said. “The reces- sion, coupled with advertisers having more choices to spend their ad budgets, makes the climate very competitive.” But for all the spectacular growth that Benztown has experienced in terrestrial radio, the founders believe the future hinges on Internet radio. In July, the company set up a partnership with Radionomy, an online radio station hosting site in Brussels. Benztown will have its own station to promote its radio imaging services, and offer lim- ited content to station operators hosted on the site. With online music services such as Pan- dora and Spotify changing the radio industry by offering listeners the opportunity to pro- gram the music they want to hear, online is an untapped market for Benztown. “The relationship with Radionomy is an entry point to digital webcasters,” Denes said. BENZTOWN
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