Reinvention And Inspiration
September 17, 2013
Staying On The Road To Growth
A lot of what inspires new listeners and encourages old listeners to continue to listen today are reinvention and inspiration. Reinvention is the art of relishing the idea of looking for a new way of doing something. It's presenting something fresh. Exercising our creative abilities is one of the most important aspects of being involved with radio. The more we explore looking at things differently and creating another way to do them, the more choices we'll have to invent a new framework, a new format. Do this successfully and you'll be able to do something others have not.
Inspiration is constantly in the air. It's up to you to develop the sensitivity to pick up on it. One of the most important ways is to be open and trust yourself and your ability to take whatever may be happening on the streets and turn it into an asset on-air.
We're all in different fiscal boats than we were a few years ago or even last year. We've all picked up more work. From a technological standpoint, we are now not just programming what goes over a stick. There is more attention being paid to digital assets. Programmers have to oversee more stuff that goes into the brand. We have to do more with less and we have to more effectively delegate the pieces of the puzzle that are becoming larger and larger.
A few years ago companies weren't afraid to spend what it took to get a great result. Then things changed. Today terms like "free cash flow" and "multiples" have entered our vernacular. Now we're talking about things we once thought only "the suits" needed to know. Programmers have to figure out how to get a perceptual in this year, while saving the night jock or not losing a producer. Those are the harsh realities we all have to face. The good thing is it has transformed a lot of programmers into keener business people. The problem is that when we take our eye off the programming ball, we forget about the art and entertainment that goes into building a great radio station.
If you're a programmer, the problem is to get your boss to like your ideas. It's even tougher today because he or she may not understand them and consequently will shoot them down. So how do you get your boss to listen? Here are some secrets I've used successfully in the past.
First, formulate your idea so it can be approved by your immediate supervisor. If he or she must go to their superior for approval, your idea may remain just that. Then talk with your peers as well as those who may be affected by your plan. If your boss says they won't like it, note that you've already gotten their support. Then find something in the station's guidelines or policies that support your idea. Supervisors, especially those who are insecure about their jobs, are always ready to embrace official procedures. Explain how your idea will help the station get where it wants to go faster, easier and cheaper. Show how your idea will promote the station and make your boss look good and make money. Finally, present persuasive illustrations and examples, then give at least three reasons why your idea should get implemented. Two may not be enough and four may be too many.
Overcoming Sales Issues
One of the important steps to inspiring new concepts is understanding terms. Just as the term, "Urban," embraces a wide variety of musical styles, there are many different sounding stations that can be called Urban. Although each of these formats may sound different, even within the same chain or group, there are similarities.
In today's competitive environment -- even though in some markets, Urban format shares are shrinking -- if you can compete and make money with this niche format, you can score. The key elements for the existence of the format are longevity, a large enough demand for the music, and a fragmented Urban market. While the demand for this kind of format exists in lots of markets, the big question is how large a piece of the pie can it claim? Markets with strong local music heritage are natural locations for these kinds of stations and formats. Yet, while the perceived niche may have been obvious, the young-skewing demographics have deterred many stations from looking at Urban or Urban AC as a viable format choice owing to sales problems.
What are the real sales problems? Some stations change formats because they feel they can't make enough money with their present on-air product. What is the answer? We have to convince ourselves that the format is being underutilized by advertisers. Then we'll be in a position to convince others. No matter how poorly people think Urban is doing today, it does incredibly well in some markets. So why are GMs unwilling to tell the Urban story and why are some advertisers and agencies obsessed with 25-54 demos?
People, especially salespeople, take the path of least resistance. They do this mainly because of demographers who've tracked where the bulk of the population is centered. By wrongly focusing of the 25-54 demos, we've renounced our share of what amounts to millions of dollars annually by advertisers. Media buyers currently are directing 60 cents out of every dollar to 25-54 year-olds, so naturally radio is positioning itself to be in that pipeline.
Meanwhile, we need to re-examine our paradigms -- the personal belief system that define the boundaries of our perceptions and establish the rules of behavior within those boundaries. The current paradigm is that many salespeople in the format are almost ashamed to admit they represent a format that plays rap music and have teens as part of their core audience.
A lot of programmers have been asked to become format contortionists. Straight-ahead Urban stations are designed to do one thing: appeal to teens and young adults. But we're constantly being told to get the other demos that belong elsewhere. If you're successful with 25-54-year-olds and if that's your core audience, then you may not be a true Urban station. The secret is that if you're an Urban station, you must have a young core. But that shouldn't preclude you from having older listeners.
Most PDs aren't being encouraged to win 6+ or even 12+ when they're asked to get into the advertising pipeline. If PDs were turned loose on a realistic ratings target, we'd be fine. It's a major compromise to stretch to where you're playing music that's not in the target. Urban stations that still grab a wider share of upper demos have a strong presence in the community and on the air, plus a great morning show.
Unfortunately, many Urban stations are in the process of rebuilding for the future and their timing couldn't be worse. We've got a slow economy, banking and gas crises and a push for the 25+ audience. Added to this, many stations have been forced to take on a syndicated show that doesn't work. They didn't make or even participate in the decision to bring these syndicated shows on board. But if the show fails, the PD is blamed.
Now, let's go back to the economy for a moment. The biggest problem lots of stations that are part of a large group face is debt service - the amount of money borrowed to purchase the stations. Unfortunately, last year, nearly 60% of all stations lost money or just broke even. Ownership has a vested interest in making money, not staying in a particular format.
Unfortunately, very few are enjoying real profits. It's important to grasp this point. If owners aren't making money in the format, they can't stay with it.
But there's evidence to show if done right, they can make money with Urban formats. Unfortunately, in some markets the format will continue to change unnecessarily and unproductively. The programmers, air personalities and listeners are already suffering. Many people are losing their jobs and not coming back, and the format isn't serving the core audience. If we can refocus ourselves, the creativity will come back. However, who can be creative when budgets and staff are being cut? It's an unnerving environment.
Some are blaming the rep firms. Today rep firms are basically clearinghouses for advertisers who want to buy radio. Then we have the RAB, basically an educational organization, with pressure from NABOB and others, which has lobbied for Urban radio and black-owned broadcasters as a whole. They've been inspired to be more active advocates of Urban radio in the last few years.
We need to convince and inspire all these people, including our bosses, that there is a huge market for those 18-34-year-olds and the product and service categories that target this audience - fast food, concerts, soft drinks, beer, clubs, the automotive aftermarket (parts and servicing), music, movies, sporting goods and clothing all fall into this category. Strength in this demographic enables Urban stations to position themselves as a critical ingredient in the mix for any advertiser looking to reach the entire 18-34 demo cell. If we dominate any one cell (and we do), we'll be viable in broader demos. We need to stress the active, responsive nature of our audience. In some cases, we need to focus more on local advertisers who are less likely than national agencies to play a strict numbers game. National business may account for only 15-20% of the stations' total business. The stations' sales departments also need to develop other way of getting business on the air than just through agencies: co-op, direct business, vendor programs, the food business and the Internet.
The fact remains that in 2013 we have to inspire and attract listeners who have lots of other choices. We have to convince and attract them. Are there gender specifics? Do we need to apply different strategies to inspire women separate from men? Not really. Like we said above, reinvention and inspiration are a matter of what you do and what you don't do. It's kind of like the happiest and most successful people don't necessarily have the best of everything, they just make the most of everything. ..