November 17, 2015
The Disney brand may be family-friendly, while hardly hip and cutting edge, but it's anything but child's play. Especially when it comes to Radio Disney, whose target audience has routinely been ignored by the diary and to a lesser extent, the PPM. Nevertheless, its networks have broken new artists, as well as least built a foundation for mainstream success for many others. More importantly, Disney media has given the youngest generations their first taste of programmed music and helped them develop a love for it that can last a lifetime. Here, Phil Guerini offers some insight into how it works.
Your career has gone from radio to the major labels to Radio Disney. What have you learned along the way?
I've learned and experienced a lot. I embarked on a radio career during the mid/late '80s, prepared to do whatever necessary to "pay my dues" ... everything from answering phones and washing the station van at Y100 in South Florida (with Tony Novia) to being an on-air talent, production manager, and eventually programming a station or two in South Georgia. I did every job imaginable at a radio station with the exception of sales. I moved from market-to-market and station-to-station, like so many others ... about five to seven radio stations in as many years, through numerous ownership and format changes.
My goal with every opportunity was to challenge myself and continue to grow. I ended up in Atlanta, looking for greater stability, where I thought it would be logical to move from the radio side, where I was being worked on records, to the promotion side, where I would work records. I did that for five years, working alongside of Monte Lipman at SBK, working for Steve Bartels at A&M and Greg Thompson at Chrysalis.
Seeking a temporary career change in mid-'92, after being released from EastWest Records following their first merger with ATCO, I moved to Orlando and took on various roles and responsibilities at the Walt Disney World Resort including Park Operations, Marketing/Synergy, and as Talent Executive, booking broadcast specials/special events (most notably the Super Bowl XXXIV Halftime Show in 2000 featuring Phil Collins, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera and Tony Braxton) from our offices in Orlando for 12+ years.
I moved with my family to L.A. in '04 as Director of Synergy, Marketing and Broadcast for Walt Disney Records, on the eve of High School Musical and Hannah Montana ... I played a role in the Jonas Brothers joining Disney, was named Radio Disney VP/Marketing in '08 and Radio Disney, VP/Programming and GM in '12.
Is Radio Disney programmed and marketed like traditional radio stations?
In some ways yes, but in most -- no. Having spent time in traditional radio and dating back to even when I worked outside of Radio Disney, I knew that there were significant differences between Radio Disney and what traditional radio was doing. Among the most notable differences is the Disney culture, working for a global entertainment company that thrives on innovation, collaboration/integration, the lengths we go to protect our brand, and how our audiences inform/improve our products.
How does having a much younger target demo alter your programming strategy?
Radio Disney's primary target is families with kids (8-16). We're hyper-focused on and responsive to appealing to this audience. Most traditional radio stations are programmed to an older audience and based upon appealing to advertisers in order to be monetizable on a local level. We are a national (now primarily digital) network that programs first-and-foremost to appeal to our audience. The more often we deliver, and over-deliver, on what the audience wants, the more they will engage with us. Our ad sales are driven by the strength of our brand and delivering our core Disney family audience to advertisers. From week-to-week our programming generates 150,000-200,000 requests (across online, digital, mobile and landline phones). This level of engagement coupled with company research, various industry charts, sales, and digital engagement data provides us with a solid pulse on our audience and provides the primary basis for our programming strategy.
Would you say Radio Disney is much like Top 40 without any language issues?
We were definitely more like Top 40 musically than when we launched in '96, but what defines us is much more than not just having language issues. Radio Disney is first-and-foremost a trusted "safe haven" for families and a content extension of The Walt Disney Company. We employ a self-imposed, radio industry unique, BSP (Broadcast Standards & Practices) process to aid in making our decisions regarding lyric, artist, and client spot appropriateness. We spend a significant amount of time and resources creating the "Disney Difference" and ensuring we're in tune with our audience, topical, relatable, and always optimistic/appropriate.
How does your programming style impress the labels?
This question is better answered by the labels. However, I think we've come a long way in this area. Radio Disney is committed to creating and maintaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships with our label, artist, and manager partners. Many more now understand our business, our commitment to developing new artists, the complement of our unique audience, and the impact of our support on a broader mainstream campaign. They also recognize our track record of consistent support to the success and development of their artists - many of whom you'll find at the top of the charts today. That includes artists such as Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, One Direction and even Taylor Swift. They all had their very first songs played on Radio Disney -- and they acknowledge that fact. Most recently, when Selena was on the Elvis Duran show, she talked about when she first heard her music on the radio - and it was on Radio Disney. She told him that Radio Disney has been an amazing supporter of hers.
Further proof of Radio Disney being a viable platform and to be an influential place to break careers can be seen in the recent success of Shawn Mendes, Fifth Harmony, Tori Kelly, Rachel Platen and many others who we played and supported much earlier than most other stations.
Are Radio Disney's rotations significantly different than a traditional Top 40?
Yes. Radio Disney rotations are set up differently than most traditional Top 40 stations. Our programming clocks are based upon the daily life patterns of our coast-to-coast target family audience, including co-listening morning routines, school drop offs/pick-ups, middays for moms, after-school activities, increased night listening for kids while doing their homework, and increased free time on the weekends. We also play more music than other most stations (50+ currents on average) and our rotations are not driven by typical quarter-hour listening patterns.
Radio Disney was never able to get accurate monitoring from the diary mostly because the diary doesn't even cover anyone under 12. Has the advent of the PPM given you a better glimpse of the actual size of your audience?
For a national multi-platform content distributor like Radio Disney, it's unrealistic to think that any one form of audience measurement will provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of our total reach and engagement today. The diary and callout methods are antiquated and PPM also has its flaws in measuring our unique audience. In lieu of these traditional means of measurement, today's digital data provides us with a far greater volume and more accurate insights on our audience than ever before. This type of data will only continue to grow in its complexity and importance in the years to come.
To put the Radio Disney audience in perspective, we have over six million subscribers to our app, over two-and-a-half million-plus RD Facebook likes, just short of two million-plus RD Twitter followers. We just crossed the million RD Instagram followers mark, are closing in on a half-million RD YouTube subscribers, attract over 50 million RD YouTube video views, and have over 17 million RD SnapChat views. In addition to these many consumer touch points, Radio Disney can be heard "Anytime. Anywhere" on SiriusXM, the iHeartRadio app, ShowMobile, Aha Radio, Slacker, iTunes Radio, RadioDisney.com, WATCH Disney Channel, and is exposed to millions of targeted TV viewers weekly on Disney Channel via the Radio Disney "Insider," Radio Disney "NBT" (Next Big Thing), Radio Disney "Total Access," and numerous music videos featuring the Radio Disney lower-third animated chyron. Radio Disney is truly a very unique outlet and proposition.
How do we know what's working and how do we gauge ways to continue our growth? We know it's working based upon the engagement of our audience on a week-to-week, monthly and yearly basis. If what we are doing wasn't working, we wouldn't see the continued growth across platforms, in our digital/social engagement, the number of streams, request volume, sweepstakes entries, reactions at our live events, and increase in third party partnership interest.
How does this translate to ad sales? Being part of The Walt Disney Company, the world's leading family entertainment company and brand, has its benefits. Radio Disney is sold by an extremely talented group of ad sales professionals, based in New York, Chicago, and L.A., as part of a portfolio offering selling Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior and our Disney-branded digital assets. The combination of our brand and sales approach provides us with an unequaled advantage in the marketplace compared to most other radio stations/groups.
Do the growing numbers of Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans in your target demo impact your programming?
Absolutely, but we need to be even more mindful of these individuals and groups. While the number of Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans continue to grow within the U.S. it's also worth noting that due to the Internet, social communities, and platforms like YouTube ,many of the traditional boundaries of accessing or being exposed to content from outside of your country of origin have been erased. Today we are much more open to and supportive of playing artists and a variety of music that, maybe just a handful of years ago, wasn't nearly as accessible, like Bachata artist Leslie Grace and singer-songwriter Celeste Buckingham from Slovakia, both who received their first U.S. mainstream radio airplay on Radio Disney.
How has streaming impacted Radio Disney? Do you see them as rivals or as potential partners?
Streaming access of our Radio Disney, Radio Disney Country, and Radio Disney Junior content to our listeners "Anytime, Anywhere" is a significant part of our overall vision and distribution strategy for our network. Therefore, we see a bright future for streaming but also anticipate continued evolution and changes in the landscape as we currently know it.
Radio Disney, in music and presentation, is pretty much upbeat and positive. Yet you've recently started an anti-bullying campaign. How does such a heavy subject mesh well with the overall ambience of the programming?
Radio Disney is always upbeat/positive and yet must remain relatable, aware of, and in-touch with the real life matters facing our audience. Speaking up/out about this issue is something that is important to our audience, so it's important to us, too. Our Disney Corporate Citizenship anti-bullying campaign intentionally approaches this very sensitive subject with a more positive approach. Throughout this month-long program, we ask our listeners and viewers to "Choose Kindness," not to "Stop Bullying." In doing so, we deliver a more proactive message than a reactive one.
Finally, what do you see in the future for Radio Disney and your own career?
Walt Disney once said, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world," and "You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality." Both sentiments sum up exactly how I feel about the future for Radio Disney.
There's still much exciting work ahead of us to ultimately reach our Radio Disney Networks potential. We just launched Radio Disney Country at the CMA Awards, shot our first Radio Disney "Family Holiday" TV special set to air on Disney Channel in December, we partnered with iHeartRadio to launch Radio Disney Junior within their new "Family" app, we're developing a number of new on-air features/programs, negotiating new deals to expand our audience reach on new devices and platforms, we're creating more dynamic and real-time ways of engaging with our audience, in March we'll be hosting a multi-city "Music In Our Schools Tour," and hosting our very first panel at SXSW, and in April we'll host the 2016 Radio Disney Music Awards, our fourth annual and what will undoubtedly be our biggest event and global TV broadcast yet.
As for me/my career ... I have been extremely blessed throughout my Disney career (23+ years) to be part of and contribute to something bigger than I could have ever imagined or achieved on my own. I've been part of a number of amazing teams, I have grown under the guidance of truly great leaders, I've been entrusted to lead tremendously talented people, have had countless memorable opportunities/experiences, and have been given the ultimate gift to do what I love doing for a living. Having grown up listening to Kasey Kasem, I've got my feet on the ground, but I'm always reaching for the stars.