Moments Of Choice
August 20, 2013
There are many theories about how to get and keep your listeners, but the truth is that in any situation, you have to know what listeners expect of your station, then under promise and over-deliver. Obviously, it's a lot easier said than done, especially in today's competitive environment. But the whole idea is to force your listeners to choose, and there are many theories on how to best do that. And each of these theories force to the surface moments of choice.
You have to pick your battles and you must really know what your listeners are looking for. What would make them want to choose your station over your competition? Now before you say, "better music," that's almost a given. But beyond the music, what can you offer that could make a difference? One that in a moment of choice would make them favor your frequency and have the advantage accrue to your side of the meter or diary.
Remember the days when the sales and programming departments could afford to (or at least think they could afford to) enter into hand-to-hand combat over client promotions, remotes and value-added giveaways? While the need to satisfy the client always remains a top priority at any station, consolidation has forced these two sparring partners to understand the separate-but-equal pressures behind driving the ratings and generating the revenues.
High financial expectations are being placed on major corporations today, so you generally see less risk taking. However, these realities have now made keener business people out of programmers. We have to figure out how to scrape out some marketing money while not losing a producer or a night jock. Hopefully, at some point we can add in digital initiatives, talk about syndicating the best talent, and taking our station into the digital age, securing its place on cell phones iPhones, iPads etc.
Our problem and the harsh realities are as programmers we're never going to get these "bean counters" with MBAs totally on our side so that they "fall in love with risk" and fully support our programming needs. That's something to which they have a fundamental aversion. But that's where creativity starts. We need to take the time to learn how to convince them to take the right disks with good intuition, necessary intel and interpretation that will convince them they will get a return on their investment.
With limited resources and more work in the new paradigm we still have to keep ourselves and our staffs focused on the creative parts of the gig and continue to create dynamic programming. .
In 2013, the programming and sales departments have to work more closely together than ever. Because of the demands placed on the sales department from consolidation and the inflated prices that have been paid for stations, there's a stronger demand for revenues than ever before. Many programmers have made genuine overtures to sales, and sales people have made overtures to programming to determine what they can do to work together more effectively.
Striking a balance between sales and programming can be difficult if the managers of both departments fail to understand the critical role both play at the station. Sales managers and PDs have to interact on a daily basis. If there is friction between the two, it's just not going to work. A programmer who views the top priority maintaining an on-air purity might not understand the financial realities of the market.
One of the realities that immediately come to mind is the whole idea of contests and promotions. Programmers naturally want bigger budgets and better prizes. Management wants to control the costs. The question becomes just how effective are contests and promotions anyhow?
In a recent national study, it was determined that only about 18% of the people who listen to radio play contests, which means over 80% of your audience is not involved in these giveaways (this same 80+ percent would never buy a lottery ticket, never call into your station, never log-on to your website, and never even agree to participate in a survey).
Another moment of choice occurs when you examine the benefits of an effective contest. When combined with the other elements, contests can help to build and maintain cume. They add excitement to the radio station and hopefully give a listener an additional reason to stay with you. We call it cume conditioning.
When you've done contests and promotions in the same market on the same station over the years, the audience pretty much expects (or becomes conditioned to expect) that when an artist whose music you play has a concert or there's another related event in town, your station will give away tickets. Although they are an integral part of every music station's rating strategies, contests and promotions are not really marketing steroids and if you're not careful, they can cause irreparable damage.
Damage is caused, and contests can end up working against you, when you reverse your priorities and the main concern of the station becomes the contest and not the overall entertainment value of the music and content you offer. As long as you realize that the music you play and the features of the station have to remain in the forefront of what you do at the station, you're all right. Then when you add contesting it simply adds spice to the overall plan. It's a lot like adding vegetables and seasoning to the meal. As long as you don't put so many vegetables and seasonings on the plate that you totally forget about the meat, it will work. In other words, when there's a lot of contest hype with little or no substance, or if the contests are so overbearing that they take control of the station, you've got problems.
Research continues to show that the music audience can become very anxious and excited about participating in contests if they are clever or exciting. If your air personalities are sharp enough to get them to play along, and if you can make it one of the reasons they listen or listen longer, you've scored.
In its proper perspective, like anything else, contests do have their value. You could take that same argument and apply it to "no-talk segues," for example. They can be a good thing, but if they were all you did on the station and you never say the call letters, or engaged the listeners, it would be damaging.
The secret is to find a way to tie the contest or promotion into the music or image of the station. Just giving away cash and trips or paying bills can get dull, believe it or not. Furthermore, you have to be careful with certain levels of escalation that can become dangerous. In other words, there's that need to always out-do yourself. Listeners need to realize that contests and promotions are just a part of programming, and you have to keep them in perspective.
While you can't artificially hook listeners with promotions and giveaways, if the promotions are part of an aggressive, well-thought out campaign, it can work for you. Any station that does giveaways and big promotions knows they're obviously just part of a tool to get ratings.
Even the most aggressive promotion or contest has to be fun for the listener. There's got to be a little P.T. Barnum in it. Good personalities presenting entertainment for the listener beyond the music is the key. You want to give listeners a chance to become part of the station. Winning makes a listener participate. When a listener becomes a participant, they feel a part of the station. Picking up a prize at the station makes them special and part of a relationship that no other tool can do. They hear and like the personalities and music. They win a prize and they come and see the station. Maybe they get a tour or a bumper sticker or a T-shirt. They're touching something they don't normally get to touch.
The reality is that we're in the business of entertainment. Whether you're an artist on stage, an air talent in the control room, a writer, a programmer or a MD doing the music logs, you're in entertainment and a large part of the job of entertaining is to be fun.
A big part of the entertainment element is that fact that you give people a chance to win things they would not normally be able to afford or inclined to buy. You've got to provide some sort of escape value or bonus to listener. In a day and age where many of our listeners still have to choose between groceries or filling up their tanks, giving them upfront concert tickets means you're almost performing a public service.
The reality is that today many people don't have an opportunity to go out. Contests just have to be a form of responding to the marketplace. While part of the competitive nature is also to be more aggressive promotionally, you still have to walk a thin line. A thin line between moments of choice. Like years ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today, it's called golf.