A Unified Focus
November 5, 2013
The Electronic Age's Social Network
Radio has often been called the electronic age's original social network. Its focus on local markets and close connection with the audience has made it an important part of life for generations. However, Urban radio has had a rough transition into the digital age, an era that has put the users in control.
Urban radio was slow to add even the most obvious offerings such as streaming of their live signal; many, especially small and medium-market stations, still haven't totally embraced the fundamental technologies such as text messaging. New media initiatives for many stations continue to be little more than a website that's more brochure than content center.
What's going on with Urban stations in 2013 is no different than what's happening with other formats. Successful stations must have a unified focus along with clearly defined marketing campaigns that focus on and explain what the product is and where it can be found on the dial.
There are still lots of successful Urban and Urban AC stations that have high cumes -- in some cases, some of the highest in the market. Now it's a matter of expanding the core and converting more P2 and P3 listeners into P1s. That's a function of the on-air product and marketing combined with local competition. It's not a problem with Arbitron (now Nielsen) survey methodologies, whether it's the diary or the meter. Urban cumes are large thanks to loyal P1 core audiences. Successfully maintaining P2 and P3 listeners, which could cause an identity problem, requires converting them to longer listening, which is a function of product, marketing and competition.
Are Clubs Still The Key To The Streets For Urban Stations?
Urban programmers have always felt that being visible in the clubs is an advantage. Using clubs as a marketing means and a form of research to help them get closer to the streets will therefore get them closer to the truth. But what is the truth?
Obviously, there's a lot more than dancing going on in the clubs. Many clubs are so ahead on new jams that they're even beginning to get credit for forcing radio on new music. As clubs' impact increases, labels are producing special mixes and club-oriented videos that also work on the small screens of home computers or iPods.
Still other stations have found positive aspects from club broadcasts. Both PDs and club owners agree that the key ingredient is fun for the listener and the clubbers. One major-market Urban AC PD said, "We're always looking for ways to lower our demos." He feels being active in the clubs helps. "Even though the clubs play some songs we can't play, just the association helps us."
A word of caution about club involvement, though: Don't overdo it. That's especially true for remotes, which may have been triggered by the Saturday night club broadcasts and then spilled over into other areas and dayparts. You have to shield the consumer, who is no longer thrilled by remotes, from clubs. These remotes and rinky-dink morning-drive prizes "don't trip their triggers." Listeners are primarily concerned about the station's entertainment aspect, which includes the music, what the air-personalities say between the jams and promotions.
Recent studies have shown that listeners aren't really that interested in things like "Thousand Dollar Thursdays" because they don't really believe they can win. Now with Nielsen's PPM, Mondays can be the "new Thursdays." But regardless of what the emphasis day is, listeners are more apt to want things they can relate to ... things that would enhance their lifestyle. They're more interested in the entertainment elements that you bring to the party. They want and can relate to concert tickets and movie passes. If you're able to put together lifestyle events that service audience needs first and then, concurrently, serve the station and the advertiser, everybody wins.
Despite what you may have heard elsewhere, today's economy is enabling certain big stations to get bigger. Operations making money who understand why they're making money will make the commitment to maintain their market position. Today, it's extremely difficult to work for companies without deep pockets and even some of them are forced to work down to a price, rather than up to a standard.
The economy will most likely remain flat at least through the end of the year. Regardless, Urban radio's new goal must be to remain a unified focus even in tough times. For the top markets that are, or are about to become, PPM markets, cume is still king.
We need to remind people who we are and get them to sample our station. Our stations need high sampling because they've traditionally done very well with their core audience, but now they need to attract the fringe listeners.
While some on-air promotions can take a back seat, it all depends on the competitive climate and how much time you have. For all of us, time is a precious gift -- so precious that it's only given to us moment by moment.