Ears Eyes And Hearts Get Ratings
March 11, 2014
More work, fewer decision-makers, smaller budgets, greater consolidation, less staff and the music you are playing music is the same as your competitor. Hmmm, what to do? A friend of mine who is programming up in Alaska these days, Chuck Geiger, was once quoted as saying, "We need to transmit passion that is received and documented by the listeners -- not by long-term listening, but by having them use our brand more than others."
Radio has always had the advantage of touching its audience directly, but I can hear you saying, "Sam, how can we still do that with syndication becoming more prevalent each and every day?" I usually don't admit this, but I hear voices in my head constantly reminding me of the ongoing adjustments being made to radio. It is a regular push-and-pull, pros and cons, good cop/bad cop, glass half-empty/half-full, partly sunny/partly cloudy-type stuff rolling around in my head. Thank God for all the weary but positive OMs, PDs and VPs who shrug off some of the doomsday folks out there who continuously tell us how bad things are and how much worse they will get.
Radio folk are part of a small specialized area of entertainment which, like everything else on this earth, is in a constant state of transition. Change is inevitable for everything, the real trick is how we adapt and still succeed.
Just because you have a smaller staff and a syndicated morning show, it does not mean you cannot keep with the original basic philosophy of radio, which is to serve the community. Sending out a van and handing out freebies is not community involvement.
Strategically, you have to find ways to maximize your time and that of staff to potentially touch as many listeners as possible. Sure, you get to do a little of that through paid remotes, but you have to do more than that to reach as much of the audience as you can. I always programmed by this formula: Ears + Eyes + Heart = Branding + Ratings + Profit.
How The Formula Works
- Ears: Getting the music in order for your audience is always the first rule of thumb for any contemporary music station.
- Eyes: Find ways to rub shoulders with your audience as often as possible. Try and find existing community events needing help with marketing whatever it is they do.
- Heart: Selecting causes touches the lives of people, some of whom may be on a PPM panel or get a diary -- or indirectly affect a family member or a friend of theirs. Whether they listen to your station or not, they will know who you are and might even begin to occasionally tune in. There are so many variables with people; you never know what one thing might get your station an extra one-tenth of a ratings point. When you touch a heart, people remember that more than all the cash giveaways, ticket giveaways, and large promotions -- however if you have a budget, still do those things, too.
Making your station known is as important as the music you play; there's nothing worse than great music and no one knows what station is playing it. True, in PPM markets, the inaudible signal of a station is picked up if a person's meter is exposed to that station, which is great, but in order to make money, your station has to make an imprint on the brains of its listeners. The same holds true for diary markets.
You Can Do It
Chasing ratings through community involvement should consist of giving some time and energy in making a difference in the lives of those who listen and those who might. Over the years I've seen several stations, syndicated programs, and some giant ownership groups achieve this in creative and winning ways.
Choose a cause, such as keeping music classes available in public schools, by raising funds and awareness year-round through events and campaigns. The key is finding out what issues touch the hearts of those listening -- health care, literacy, domestic violence, sexual abuse, educational deficiencies, a need for youth enrichment programs, or a need to help the elderly.
A lot of these issues also touch the hearts of advertisers as well; there is no telling how much profit might come the stations way just because you show a concern for your community. Creative concise recorded promos, 10-second live liners, and shotgun creative drops can create quiet a branding tool while you are banging the hits!
Let me make another suggestion while the big picture is being attended to. At one of the stations I programmed, I made it mandatory for individual jocks to devote some time to an organization or charity they had an interest in. There are so many charities, mentoring programs and non-profits in need of volunteers. However, make no mistake; although I knew it would help others, my goals were always towards increasing the possibilities for branding and higher ratings.
One of My All-Time Favorite Events
While programming in Greensboro, NC, I put together a series of community self-awareness cookouts. It was an idea based on something another PD had done in another market. However, by enlisting the local housing authorities, apartment complexes, and local banks and civic leaders, it organically grew into a huge ratings-catcher. The main thrust was to get the areas to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of their neighbors at every age level. I got record labels and eventually sales got some of the local banks to get the food for the events and the communities organized the cooking, the programs for awards and recognition, the cleanup, and with the police department for security. After the first one, all the organizations involved did the work for the station.
And what did our station actually have to do? Nothing but show up in the van on the day of the event. I used to do two or three of these a month during the spring and summer. These events took place where the people actually lived which was the entire point of the operation; go to the homes of those responsible for our ratings fate. Let's just say, it was worth the one point and some change jump in our ratings and our community brand.
Some Current Community Events to Worth Noting
- Reach Media's Tom Joyner annual "Take a Loved One to the Doctor Day." It is a year around campaign to promote health with affiliate participation.
- Clear Channel's Northern Colorado cluster of stations' annual "St. Jude Cares for Kids Radiothon." This year over $109,000 was raised to benefit the hospital.
- KPRS/Kansas City "Blanket KC" partners with the Salvation Army to collect blankets for the homeless. Those donating qualify for concerts held throughout the year.
- Greater Media Classic Rock WCSX/Detroit "Stone Soup Project" gets listeners to rebuild a classic car to raise money for local charities.
- K104's evening personality Cat Daddy conducts Kid's Camps and Cat Daddy's Campus Invasion (School Tours) program.