Connecting The Dots
February 28, 2012
How Soon The Picture Forms Makes The Difference
This week we are going to explore some of the largest day-to-day challenges of both radio programmers and record executives. Believe it or not, label reps are an essential part of any music station's endeavors to offer compelling content. Unfortunately, today's time constraints placed on programmers have reduced the amount of time they're available to meet with label reps. There is an upside to this, however. Smart reps, when they do get PDs and MDs on the phone, use their time wisely to connect the marketing dots with the programming dots and with the station's listening audience.
Today's record reps have to be sensitive to what's going on in the radio programmer's world in terms of fragmentation through media and time sensitivity because all of the hats they are wearing today. As a label rep, not only do you have to provide them with compelling content, but your timing has to be right. Smart reps connect the dots by studying the station's playlist. If they're ballad-heavy, chances are they're not going to want to add another ballad. And if they do, it probably won't rotate the way you would like. If the station's current play list is female-heavy, the same thing applies. Just keeping that in mind will go a long way toward helping to break new artists. You also have to show programmers that what you are bringing to the table is benefiting them, whether it's an established artist or a new one.
As group-owned stations are forced to consolidate their work force even more, programmers are forced to take on more responsibilities. Unfortunately, that's leads to a lot less communication between radio and label reps. It's tougher for reps to get their calls returned and answers about market visits where they're trying to connect an artist to their audience face-to-face. They always want their artists to be successful for radio, but the time constraints stemming from consolidation have hindered them from doing that with as much radio as they would like.
Phone time for some busy Urban programmers, who can be overseeing as many as three or four stations, can be like a weekly root canal. Programmers claim their biggest gripes are reps who don't call on time and/or who don't observe the times they are available. As far as being available to speak with reps on the phone, PDs say they are tired of as many as three people all telling the same story. If the local, regional or national reps calls don't produce results, what makes label management think that hiring an independent to say the same thing is going to be effective?
For programmers, connecting the dots means fully understanding the "growing-shedding" theory. The "growing" part of that means understanding their audience, their changes and how that affects what you offer them. While the majority of the hits of the '80s and '90s remain staples for most Urban Adult stations, the listener's tastes are changing. Subtly, there are few songs that are going to go away. Lately there's been a kind of return to even more traditional jams. A lot of the Motown stuff and late '90s titles have been researched, found and overplayed. You have to be more selective today than you were before. To replace music that's become charred, programmers must now try to introduce other titles of the same era.
Finding out what listeners like and dislike requires a well-designed research plan that provides clean and unambiguous listener requests. Just as it takes an experienced golfer to make those tough shots from the sand trap, it takes a creative programmer to turn requests into tangible elements to satisfy those listeners' desires.
Playing the hits is still what's happening, but recent studies indicate musical compatibility is key to gaining and keeping listeners. There's a tendency to just find the titles that test best and don't seem burned out, but it's a lot more complicated than that.
Excessive Repetition And Timing
Lack of variety or hearing the same songs over and over is a common listener criticism for many Urban and Urban AC stations. However, opinions are beginning to shift. Fewer listeners in every format are criticizing stations for song repetition. The term "variety" raises additional questions. Most listeners think variety means different eras, tempos and styles of music within a given format, not different types of music. Listeners don't expect to hear different types of music on a single station. That's a "violation of expectation." They do want a variety of music within the specific format.
Programmers who don't understand this or who are not looking at cluster compatibility data may be missing a big piece of the pie. You still have to find reaction records and jams that fit the spirit of your station's sound -- something other stations can't copy. You have to keep your music targeted. You must always keep an ear out for that signature song that listeners will automatically associate with your station.
Music tests show increasingly there are bodies of tastes within the core audience that really need to be considered. If you're not making sure you're playing songs that not only test well and aren't burned out, but are also very compatible with those tastes, you may not be servicing the core audience as well as you think. There's still a lot of debate over the value of compatibility data in music testing, but ours are formats where that's a very important concept.
Programmers who really want to connect the dots and be in tune with their listeners must learn to realign the compatibility of the music they play with the station's formatic architecture. Record executives who want to be more effective with radio must take the time to understand each station individually. If the station's latest Arbitron ratings show a downtrend, chances are they're going to be a lot more conservative. And it wouldn't hurt to know a little about how PPM works. Those programmers you're working on records would be impressed. I guarantee it!
With PPM, timing is everything. Those of you who have been around long enough to remember when Arbitron measured by the diary method know that the rules of game used to be: five minutes inside the quarter-hour. While that's still true, what has changed with the meter is now PPM's passive measurement captures all types of short-duration exposures. Every time a meter wearer tunes to an encoded station for more than a few seconds, the meter captures it. That's the easy part. The hard part is you have to keep them there long enough to fill up the Arbitron five-minute "parking meter." Again, it's a matter of timing.
Finally, for the record executives looking to connect the dots, lose this phrase: "Do me a favor." This is 2012. Nobody is in the favor business. Looking for favors is like hoping to be lucky. Chances are, you're not going to be. Luck is not a strategy. Luck is not a tactic. Luck is something which happens occasionally and is rarely effective for more than a short period of time. You can't depend on luck. You've got to come with some new ideas.
Experts concede that the enemy of new ideas is the familiar and that there's a resounding dedication that keeps enthusiasts enthralled with the process of steady improvement. Steady improvement is part of the growth and learning process. So it's not just how well you connect the dots. It's also how long it takes that will determine how successful you will be. Everybody is in a hurry. Connecting the dots is really about time. Counting time is not nearly as important as making time count.