Innovation & Creativity
August 7, 2012
Re-Defining The Roles
Many of us are so busy "putting out fires" these days that we don't have much time for innovation or creativity. But they're too important to ignore. As a program leader, what is important about creativity and innovation and your role with them is knowing just how much they can help you. It's time well spent.
Innovation can mean many things. At its essence, it's a change in what has been established. What if what has worked for you at stations in the past doesn't fit the situation you're now facing? At a time when offerings we never knew we needed are transforming multiple industries in ever briefer windows of time, learning more about innovation and creativity can be crucial to your career and your station's viability.
Top executives in major broadcasting companies are often enmeshed in a flurry of activity this time of year. They're writing up their proposed budgets for the coming year. Knowing that unforeseen demands are inevitable, they often introduce something called "placeholders" into the budget; unspecified project lines to be filled in later.
Fast forward to the end of the following year. Sure enough, unexpected problems and needs have arisen. Those placeholders have become hidden buffers that managers dip into to fund cost overruns and a variety of pet projects, including research, that would not have passed the rigorous scrutiny of the formal budget process. Why do I bring this up at this time? Because it's important to know how these things get handled and why the timing of your requests has to be scheduled accordingly.
How do stations innovate? The smart ones follow a plausible theory based on how the brain produces creative ideas. There are two basics sides of the human brain. The right side is creative, artistic and intuitive, whereas the left side is analytical, logical and rational. This "split brain theory" explains why some people come up with new ideas easily and others struggle. A noted neuroscientist named Barry Gordon holds with the theory that there is no left brain; there is no right. There is only learning and recall in various combinations. Regardless of which theory you buy, what is important is that innovation and creativity take place on a regular basis.
Major corporations have the ability to operate great local broadcast clusters, but these days high financial expectations are being placed on them, so you generally see less risk-taking and more corporate network programming instead. But they do have the means to fund research, digital initiatives and syndicate the best talent once they're convinced that an opportunity for growth and success really exists.
The challenge is to find finance partners who know enough about broadcasting to allow them to take the necessary risks and have realistic expectations. They don't have to "fall in love with risk," but they can't have an aversion to it, either. And today's ultra-competitive, multi-media landscape leaves little margin for error. As programmers we live where the rubber meets the road, and we must have more of a say about how our stations operate.
An Innovative Idea Called Intimacy
Innovative ideas can come from anywhere, but where they come from is not important. What's important is what kind of difference can they make? I'd like to share one such idea with you, along with some secrets that make this idea truly valuable.
Innovation for radio is first and foremost a social act and it requires human connections to thrive. Social interaction is a critical factor in the generation of ideas, but innovation is more than creativity. Innovation is the process of transforming new ideas into tangible concepts that can build and hold audience. Society plays an essential role in this process, which starts when a concept has sparked -- but before the fire has spread.
Of all the tactics Urban stations can use to help them win their ratings battles, one of the most effective and challenging may be intimacy. A few stations are already benefiting from it and may not even know they're using it. We've all heard about how terrestrial radio's one advantage over the Internet, iPods, Pandora, iHeart and satellite is localization. Recent studies have shown that something else we can offer that gives us an edge is intimacy. The combination of localization and intimacy can be very powerful.
Providing intimacy or companionship, a live, warm human, offers a distinct advantage.
Urban radio is more than capable of providing companionship on a one-on-one basis. Companionship is part of intimacy, and some say it's an elusive quality, although my guess is most of us sense it intuitively. And I'm fully aware that many stations don't have full control over their air talent due to syndication and voicetacking. But when you do or when you can, plug in some intimacy and watch it work.
So, what is intimacy ... and why is it important? Intimacy is a combination of elements. It's communicating effectively with each member of your audience. And yes, an air personality still has to make the audience laugh, chuckle or think, or all three -- especially in drive-time. But intimacy is more than that. It's impossible to sound intimate with a member of your audience if you haven't the vaguest idea who he or she is. That's why it's important and why we recommend the use of the personal listener concept. When you believe you're talking to one good friend, everyone in search of human contact will perceive you are talking to them.
In addition to that one special person we're communicating with, it's extremely beneficial to know the actual makeup of our audience. We may assume everyone is getting up and going to work or school between 6-10a and then heading back home somewhere between 4:30-7p. But the latest national surveys are showing that fully a third of our audience doesn't work the traditional nine-to-five. So now that we know this, what do we do with it?
Well, once in a while you can put some backspin on the show by saying something like, "Checked in with Bryan, who works the night shift at [local factory, plant or company], and yesterday he and his homies all listen to us and they want us to know they like the vibe. Lorraine on the South Side says that on weeknights she listens when she and her friends are headed to the club. Well, check it out, whether you're headed to the club or crib right now, here's a little something to ride with."
Or how about for middays, when most savvy programmers have their stations targeted directly at the "semi-desperate housewives," mothers or homemakers? They're not that hard to figure. They're like everybody else. They just get more meters or diaries -- and in the case of diaries, they often fill them out for the whole family. For this coveted crew of listeners, you might handle it this way: "For everybody balancing their bankbooks right now, here's a little music to sign checks by." Phrases like that help you to connect; they put you top-of-mind and in emotional contact with some people who are usually left out. Including them is putting intimacy to work.
Another thing that is directly tied to intimacy is polling. There's a direct benefit to polling your audience occasionally. For example, "We'd like to know what you're doing while we're jamming the box for you. Why don't you hit me up on the jam lines or log onto the website or send me a text?" Then share this information on the air: "We just heard from Cynthia at the main post office. She says that every now and then they make her stop listening and sort for a few minutes. I'd love to hear from you, too." The richer your understanding of exactly who it is you're talking to, the better you'll be able to create the illusion of one-on-one radio.
Here's something else to keep in mind about intimacy. We're all so complicated and stressed while dealing with life's daily issues, we need relief. It's nice to be able to connect with someone. If you're an air personality who presents the exact same face to your listeners all the time, they will soon sense your "act."
Nobody's cool all the time. Nobody's always bubbly or up and bright all the time either. Trying to be that way, as many of us were taught for years, doesn't really uplift your audience. It can alienate them. That doesn't mean you should bring them down by being grouchy or negative. It simply means that being real and intimate is what will give you an edge. The bubbly, positive, always-laughing posture are attitudes that are nice "default positions," but if you don't occasionally show the range of your emotions, including frustration, sadness, tenderness and grief, the audience is not going to think of you as a real person and bond with you. This innovative intimacy can also help you do one more thing: It can help deliver some fresh new cume. Innovation and creativity are two more examples of how small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion.