June 29, 2012
Yeah, so, there's a lot of buzz about how some news organizations jumped the gun on the Obamacare ruling, and how that proved WTOP's Jim Farley's adage, "First get it right, THEN get it first," which, of course, is the proper way to go about things. And then there was the inevitable "what does this all mean" analysis, the talk about how we're in an era when getting the scoop is more important than accuracy, and how that leads to calamities like we saw in this case. It's all true, but it led me to think a little further about news and brands and how this all relates to radio's future.
I do that sometimes. It's annoying, isn't it? You start out on one topic and before you know it, you're going off on tangents and... wait, what were we talking about? Oh, right, radio, news, that stuff. Sorry -- we're SO close to July 4th that it's hard to concentrate. (Just wait until next week's column, if there IS a "next week's column.") Anyway, when the news about the health care ruling was about to come out, I was one of the millions waiting to hear what was happening, and I thought about the whole process, and it prompted me to ask myself this: When huge news is happening, from whom do I want to get the story? Which news organization do I trust to a) get it right, and b) get it fast? Do you go to one of the broadcast networks, a cable network, Twitter, a radio station, a radio network, a newspaper, a website... who, among all the choices, is the one you turn to for the biggest breaking news?
Obviously, a lot of people picked CNN, which is why they, among all the organizations which initially misreported the mandate as being found unconstitutional, became the subject of countless jokes and Internet memes. People invested trust in them and felt a little betrayed. It'll pass, but for now, it's a problem. Still, it reminded me that CNN, like Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, AP... they're all brands that stand for something in people's minds, and when it's time for breaking news, those brands mean something. You want information, you know where to turn.
And that led to thinking about something that radio has that other media, especially new media, would love to own. Radio, at least in some cases, still has amazing brand identification. In many cities, the word "news" is synonymous with brands like WTOP, WCBS, WINS, KYW, WBBM, KCBS, WLW, KMOX... Something happens, and people are used to turning to those stations for fast, reliable information, whether it's a weather emergency or a court ruling or a police chase. Even with all the cutbacks, that goodwill and brand loyalty still exists.
Yet, I don't think radio really exploits that the way it should. I know I'll get contradicted by some new media experts who will tout the benefits of aggregation and shared resources, but I don't really understand why you'd not push a radio news brand established for over 40 years (like, say, KYW or WBZ or WINS) and instead submerge it in a corporate portal named after the licensee, mushed together with other valuable brands. Short term, you're dragging eyeballs together. Long term, you're diminishing very, very valuable brand identification. Let's ask this: When you need reliable news, are you thinking any of the call letters I've mentioned above, or are you thinking about the owner's brand? I'm not going to look for CBS Philly, no matter how much it's promoted, I'm thinking KYW. I'm not thinking iHeartRadio as much as I'm thinking KFI. I have no idea what RadioPup is, but I know New Jersey 101.5. In establishing new brands, I'm not sure that we're not diminishing brands that are even stronger. Radio has some of the strongest local brands in any media; If there's anything that can help extend and grow the business, it's that. (And with due respect to Ries and Trout, using your brand in new media is NOT the dreaded "brand extension" if your brand means "reliable news" and not "radio station." What your brand should stand for is the content and not the delivery system)
And, of course, you gotta get it right before getting it first, but Farley got that right and got there first.
All right, I'm running way, way late, so here's the plug: Talk Topics at All Access News-Talk-Sports has plenty of material for your show, and you'll find it by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. We also have "10 Questions With..." Tommy G., a talk show host who's gone from terrestrial to streaming and is establishing a presence in his old market in a new way, and, of course, you'll find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
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Again, a reminder: I'll be at the The Conclave Learning Conference July 18-20 in Minneapolis moderating a panel, and I'll be covering San Diego Comic-Con International July 12-15 for Nerdist. And, for U.S. readers, Happy Independence Day and Happy Perry's Birthday! Don't ask which one. Please.