Coordinate’s Voice of Experience: Sam Webster

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Author: Coordinate

You will almost always hear Sam Webster before you see him. As he makes his way into the Coordinate office, his sonorous baritone moves from one corner of the open-plan workspace to the other as he greets colleagues.

That’s what a career in radio can do for one’s vocal projection.

Sam is Coordinate’s Retail Account Director, but he is also an elder statesman of the office and mentor to some of the younger team members, having forged a career in media and advertising over more than four decades.

And yes, that means he started work young.

In many ways, Sam typifies the idea that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.

At just 15 years of age, he was so obsessed with radio that he approached his local station, 5SE at Mt Gambier. He knocked on their door and was turned away because they were busy. So he wrote them a letter explaining why he loved radio and why he would work hard at whatever they had going.

A few weeks later the station rang Sam’s school asking him to come on down. They needed a sports reporter to collate the results from the weekend of local competitions. While Sam started merely as a scribe, he would sit in the studio and listen studiously as his meticulous results tables were read out on air. His break came when the presented suggested he record himself pretending to be a DJ—just to get some experience.

In good faith, the presenter listened to Sam’s experimental tapes and took them to the General Manager with the suggestion Sam be given a go—the kid had talent.

Sam soon ended up presenting the sports results live on air and by his final year of high school was doing music shifts. The first single he ever played was Stayin Alive by the Bee Gees from Saturday Night Fever.

It was, as they say, the start of great things, and he would later go on to interview the band.

Sam was the local kid made good, rising to become Mt Gambier’s “King of Disco” and a DJ who could handle his vinyl “unlike today where the DJs just do it all by pushing buttons,” he says with a booming laugh.

He would move to a few small regional centres before Canberra came calling and was asked to help set up radio stations 2CA and 104.7FM. It was 1988, and like many before him, Sam arrived thinking the city was freezing and full of public servants. It was only supposed to be a two-year post—it’s been 33 years and counting.

Sam’s ease in speaking to his radio audience translated into ease in promotions and communicating with potential clients about opportunities in advertising. He fell into sales but quickly realised he could “sell ice to Eskimos”. More importantly, he loved it, and his experience meant he knew what campaigns would cut through to consumers.

Somehow, he managed for several years to wake at 3am for his breakfast shift and still wear a suit and tie to look after his clients after his shift.

“I absolutely loved the work. I was never a star. I never talked at my audience, I talked with them.

“Meanwhile radio gave me a good understanding of media and I was able to observe the whole business and see how all media intersects.”

This is pretty much his role at Coordinate.

“My skills are in understanding media and the sale cycles.”

Not that the entire media ecosystem hasn’t changed dramatically since he started.

The rise of digital media has opened new frontiers for advertisers who can now be far more selective in the target market to which they can appeal.

“The old media landscape offered around 10 slices for advertisers to pick from, but now there are about 50 slices.”

Sam says his experience has been invaluable in negotiating the new landscape, but it has come with some challenges.

“I’d say the most challenging part is trying to keep up with all the tech, and things like programmatic advertising.”

But Sam is not ashamed to stick to some “old-fashioned” techniques.

“I’ve always been one to go and see people, to speak to them face-to-face rather than rely on email or even phone calls. I think there is something fundamental to making the time to go and see what is being marketed to the public, particularly if it is retail. You don’t fully understand it if you don’t go there in person.”

“My mantra to clients is: ‘Where have you been, where would you like to get to and how can I help you get there?’”

Sam likes to think that, at the age of 61, he brings something different to a mainly Millennial office team. “I like to think I bring a bit of experience to the team. I love working with younger people, it keeps me moving and I can certainly make my own voice heard.

“I think I have always been able to maintain a really strong sense of professionalism—whether I am announcing a meat raffle at a local sports club or emceeing a function at the Great Hall of Parliament. In the end if all comes down to having the right skills to communicate.”