Want It, Need It, Gotta Have It: Why You (And Radio) Have To Make Yourself Irreplaceable
This Week's 'The Letter' From All Access News-Talk-Sports by Perry Michael Simon
April 22, 2011 at 11:23 AM (PT)
Are you necessary?
I thought about that question as it pertains to radio while considering all the stuff about FM tuners in cell phones for the last couple of weeks, and I won't belabor that point (I belabored it plenty last week) except to note that the industry is getting it backwards, as it's getting the whole "digital revolution" talk backwards, and it's not just in the context of the emergency information we discussed last week.
No, let's say they put FM tuners in every cell phone. And let's agree with that group head's speech the other week about the benefits of the "digital revolution" to radio, how radio should be taking requests on Facebook and doing replays and couponing and all that stuff. Say we magically put all of that in place for every station in every market. The question remains: Are you necessary? Not good, not just desirable, but can't-live-without-you necessary?
The approach to things like digital and mobile should focus less on the benefits to radio companies' business plans and more on whether they fit the consumers' plan. Yet, it's always about things like instant coupons and geotargeting ads and artist information, and all of that is easily duplicated by others. In fact, radio's a little late to some of that game. Even some of radio's more unique new features, like tagging songs for later purchase, aren't a response to consumer demand; They won't turn it down if it's free, but it's not make-or-break for a receiver or cell phone purchase.
In fact, I don't think any consumers are even remotely talking about it as something they need. They're not asking for couponing from their radio stations, they're not asking to be able to request songs on Facebook. Those things are not just failing to meet consumer demand, they're not even addressing consumers' mild desires. They're window dressing.
But we know that. We know that people don't go to the VERIZON or AT&T or SPRINT or T-MOBILE store and insist on cell phones that have radios in them. We know that a really good AM/FM radio doesn't help sell a car but FORD Sync might. We know that almost nobody buys Walkman radios anymore, if they can even be found at Best Buy. We know that radio's image is as a utility. That's not to say radio isn't liked, but it isn't considered a necessity anymore.
Yet that doesn't mean that it CAN'T be a necessity, or that YOU or your show or station can't be considered a necessity. It all goes back to something we repeat here a lot: Give people what they want or need and can't get elsewhere. It's not enough to provide news or weather or traffic, because they can get that from other sources. It has to be BETTER news, weather, or traffic, faster and always available when people want it. It's not just entertainment, either -- maybe someone enjoys Goofus and Gallant's Morning Asylum when they're in the car for 10 minutes on the way to STARBUCKS, but the utility of that kind of show is limited.
No, it's more about talking about what nobody else will talk about, whether it's uncovering government corruption or having the inside information about the local sports franchises or celebrities or just being funnier and more original than anything else out there.
And that's no different from the way it's always been, except that with more choices of media in more places with different audience measurement and metrics, standing out and drawing attention are more important than ever. A station can't afford to be replacable.
Neither can an individual. If you're a host, just doing a standard talk show is not your optimal long-term employment strategy. There has to be something about you that's sufficiently different and compelling that draws listeners not just to the station but to you. You can't invent that; it has to be part of your personality, augmented by working with social media to build your following, as we've discussed here before. You need to build an army of loyalists. Otherwise, you're like the music station liner-card reader: replaceable.
To recap: The industry needs to stop thinking about how to adapt the changing marketplace to its own needs (and waiting for royalty burdens to kill off the streaming competition) and start thinking about how to change to meet the market's needs -- to be irreplaceable and necessary. Stations need to find ways to reinforce their places in listener's lives so that the audience considers listening every day necessary. Hosts need to stand out so that the boss thinks of them not as interchangeable parts but necessary. You can't get away with just being okay or adequate anymore. The competition isn't just the other station down the dial anymore.
I don't have a clever segue to this week's plea for donations to support me and my wife FRAN as we walk in our fifth REVLON RUN/WALK FOR WOMEN in LOS ANGELES on MAY 7th to raise funds to fight breast cancer, other than to note that supporting research and treatment of women's cancers is a necessity. Okay, that's sort of a segue. But it's a great cause and your support will be greatly appreciated. If you can give, please do: go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon. Thank you!
I'm late with the column this week, so instead of the usual rundown of what's at Talk Topics, the show prep column at AllAccess.com, i'll just advise all hosts, in any format, to go here to find plenty of material to bring out the indispensable, necessary personality in you. There's also an interesting "10 Questions With..." brand-new WHO/DES MOINES afternoon host SIMON CONWAY, whose story and path to his new show are unique and compelling. And there'sthe rest of All Access with all the news and resources the radio industry needs, all in one place.
More? Well, there's pmsimon.com, my personal site, and Nerdist.com, another site for which I write about pop culture and where they're absolutely head-explodingly excited about this weekend's season premiere of "Doctor Who." Those aren't related to All Access, so I take the blame for them. Stop by and say hi anyway.
And you have just a week left to register for the WORLDWIDE RADIO SUMMIT in HOLLYWOOD on April 29th and 30th. All Access is a co-founder of the event, and I will be covering it live. Click here for all the information about that.
I could do the usual closing joke here, but I'm running so late that I don't have one. But I'll repeat that there's only a couple of weeks left before the cancer charity walk, so please give. And there's a week left before the WORLDWIDE RADIO SUMMIT, so if you're planning to come and haven't registered, do it now. Time's a-wastin'. And speaking of wasting time, I... gotta go.