It is Okay To Steal ... Sometimes
November 18, 2014
There are a number of recurring questions and this week I am going to address two that come up almost on a weekly basis. There seems to be a constant struggle to come up with promotional ideas and the other consistent mental challenge is for PDs and personalities to remember the core of their radio existence.
Promotions Don't Have To Be Original
I have always seen radio as a combination of sports, politics, history and public relations. Armed with the realization that the best new promotion is sometimes hidden within an old idea just waiting to be revamped and reintroduced to a radio audience. If it was good enough back when, it will be even better with some updated and creative adjustments. However, the most important thing is to understand the original intent of a promotion before applying your new coat of paint. Some would call this stealing, but I call it "Creative Radio Tweaking." Okay, I confess, I just made the term up and you believed it. My friends, it is exactly what you are supposed to do, rename your adaptation and sell it to your audience.
Sometimes I would be so bold as to take an existing promotion from a competitor and air it on my station using the exact same name, unless there was a copyright. The key was to do it within a day or so after the competition had started their contest. All we had to do to win the listener war was to increase the number of recorded and verbal impressions for the promotion. Taking ownership of a competitor's idea will cause panel/cume duplication and drive the opposition crazy. Original promotional ideas are great, but retooling something borrowed can be just as rewarding. Other than listening to the competition, my other inspiration for ideas included phone calls to fellow PDs, visits to my collected file on promotional ideas, and reading books such as the autobiography of the late sports entrepreneur Bill Veeck.
Truthfully, I would only do this if my station was trailing our competitor in the ratings and if it was a great idea. And yes, it worked every time and always allowed my station to eventually pull even with the competition. A word of warning: Whatever market I was in, there was always a spirited discussion with the general manager, sales manager, promotions, consultant, and some of the jocks before I could execute my plan.
Be Careful -- Listeners Can Be Promotional Spies
Sometimes a spy can come in handy. Years ago at a station I was programming I found out there was an insomniac female listener who loved talking to my overnight jock and the competitors as well. Fortunately she happened to be a friend of our receptionist and a huge fan of our station. One day while she was visiting, I struck up a conversation and discovered the other station's overnight personality would tell her about upcoming promotions. She casually mentioned a contest my competitor was going to start airing. Of course I wanted as much detail as possible, so I gave her some questions to ask. Meanwhile I instructed my jocks to never reveal contest information to anyone outside our station. I put the other PD's contest on our air before he could get his on. A month later I did it again with another contest. The crosstown programmer got so paranoid he stopped handing out contest memos to his jocks! For a long time after that, I resorted to verbally explaining contests to my air staff.
PDs -- Don't Lose Sight of What's Important
Whenever you're feeling out of control because of all the meetings, compromises, conference calls and the daily grind of trying to program, remember the perception of what goes out over the air is the most important thing. Shut the office door and chat to yourself, "It's all about the music."
The Role Personalities Play
In any contemporary music station the objective is play music, talk about the music, provide information, give away a few items, and make things a little less hum-drum. I can't stress enough the importance of show prep because it is the key to concise verbal content. Then you have to be an actor and make an emotional connection with the listener. Someone argued with me that listeners can tell if a personality is being real and I did my best to explain others only believe the character presented on the air. Radio is theater of the mind and it's about being believable. What is real is not relevant, but the persona you can make others believe is.
Prep Is Easy
Consider this, in music radio, outside of mornings, most stations have only two breaks an hour. Therefore, over-prepare, know the artists, music and your town. There are timeless and timely bits of information you can collect and access quickly with your computer, iPad, tablet or smartphone. You could also do it the old school way and keep what is needed in a card file.
Don't make it work, show prep is just about living and staying informed. The difference between an air personality and the informed listener is that the listener doesn't have a daily platform with a huge audience.
One Last Thing
My favorite observational story happened during my early on-air days. I had just finished my show and my PD Chuck Roberts passed me in the hallway. He casually turned and asked me a question about the weather. I told him I did not know and he said, "You just did four hours on the air telling listeners what a great day it is and you don't know what's happening with the weather; observation only works if you observe and remember it." I got the message and now I am passing it forward to you.