Making Eye Contact

Chris Byrnes – ByrnesMedia

Researchers who study relationships have discovered that a big difference between those people who make new friends easily and those who don’t, is that socially successful people tend to make eye contact with their conversation partners much more frequently than those who are less successful socially. In radio we also have to make eye contact in order to engage and connect with listeners. I was reminded of this in late November as I was listening to the morning show of one of our competitors. They were talking about the American Music Awards that had been on the previous evening. This morning show spent a complete break discussing if Eminem should have won two awards (Favourite Male Artist and Favourite Album). In the next break they talked about how Usher stole the show with his performance, which led to a discussion about how ABC had messed up the awards because the onscreen graphics listed Chris Brown as the winner, but they gave the award to Usher. By the way, this was a morning show on an AC radio station and these two breaks were about artists this radio station does not play.

If you look at the ratings for the American Music Awards you’ll find this show does not draw much of an audience, so I would question the wisdom of dedicating two breaks in the 7am hour in the first place. However, if you decide it is worth talking about, then tell me things about the core artists for this radio station. What was Katy Perry wearing? Does Bon Jovi still have it after all these years? And what about that new song that Rihanna performed? However, in order to pick the most appropriate, relatable content that will be of interest to your target audience you would either need to watch the show live or watch a recording of the show.

Perhaps this was a morning show that does not fully understand who the station’s target listener is and what things they are interested in. So here is a tip – at your next announcers meeting ask each of them to write on a piece of paper who the target listener is for your radio station. How old are they? Where are they likely to live? Where do they work? How many children do they have? What do they drive? What is their household income? What do they do in their spare time? What worries them? Chances are you will have a number of different opinions.  By the way, when I looked at the ratings for this morning show I was not surprised to see they had not performed well. I suspect one of the reasons for this is because this morning show does not deliver content that makes a connection with their audience, and they fail to talk about the topics that are of interest to that audience. They are not bonding with their listeners and they are probably not creating that feeling of “If I don’t tune in to them today I might miss something important.”

Incidentally, some of that station’s core artists did appear at the AMA’s, such as Michael Buble, Katy Perry and perhaps even Justin Bieber, but this morning show was not talking about these artists. The assumption is if I am listening to this radio station I probably like certain artists about whom I would like to hear information. I suspect they had quickly grabbed content from a show prep site, or looked at one of the many entertainment websites and took the easy way out.

So here are some other suggestions to help your talent and staff make “eye contact” with your listeners and potential listeners:

Know your community:  To be successful in any market you need to know your broadcast area like the back of your hand. You need to know the names of important streets, where businesses are and who the “movers and shakers” are in your community. This will all take time and requires some additional effort on their part, but over time will really pay off. Roger Ashby told me that when he first moved to Toronto he would make a point of driving around the city after his show and made sure he took a different way home whenever possible to help him get to know the city. One tangible example of the benefits of knowing your area is you will be able to direct listeners via an alternate route if a major road closes down. You can also reference landmarks into your on-air breaks and name drop so people feel that important connection.

Talk to lots of people: The benefit of talking to lots of people in your broadcast area is that you will find out what is important to them, what they are concerned about and what you need to be talking about. Announcers are like politicians in that the smart ones are always campaigning to get re-elected. The recent local body elections saw lots of changes in key positions and in many cases the listeners voted out the incumbents because they felt these politicians had stopped listening to the people. So as an announcer, make the effort to go where your listeners go and listen to conversations. Where possible, get involved in conversations. Most radio stations do not have the budget to conduct regular focus groups in your market. However, many still conduct informal listener advisory meetings on a regular basis as a way to find out what is on the minds of the target listener and what they like and don’t like about the radio station.

Avoid the generic rip and read content: Doing show prep is quickly becoming a lost art, especially these days when there are so many websites, and options to find content. There are entire websites dedicated to “idiot of the day” or “real life stupid criminals”, but unless you can localize it or make it relatable then avoid doing it. “Here’s another reason to be thankful we live in such a safe community” might be a way to position such a story. But on any given day you are better off talking about things that are happening in your broadcast area that you feel will be of interest to your target audience than relying on the rip and read content that you find on the wire service or a show prep service.

Do things your target audience does: This is pretty obvious, but one of the keys to winning is to create the impression you live a similar lifestyle to your target audience or you can relate to them. This all comes back to understanding who your target audience is and what they are interested in. You are not expected to take up knitting or gardening if that is not your thing, but if your target audience loves these things then learn as much as you can about them and find ways to incorporate this content into your show.

Make the station liners your own: Take a moment before you pre-read a station liner or PSA and think about how you can make it sound like your own. I am not being critical of the PD or whoever writes your liners but they have probably written them as they would deliver them. Taking the time to re-write the liner in your own words can often make a better connection with your listener. I heard an announcer read a liner that was promoting a more music position and he said, “You know if playing music was like eating food, we’d have to go to Weight Watchers because nobody is playing more music than (station name).” Later I heard another announcer read the liner the PD wrote which said “(station name) plays the most music guaranteed (station name).” I think the announcer who took the time to modify the liner so it was more relatable to his target audience did the better job.

Know your music: There is nothing that gives the game away quicker than an announcer that mispronounces the name of a group or artist, especially when it’s a core artist of your station. Today it is common for an announcer to work on multiple formats in the same market. I know of one radio group that requires announcers to use different names on different radio stations. So the morning personality on one station uses a different name when they track PM Drive on the sister station.  It’s clear that some announcers simply do not have an affinity for the music, and in some cases clearly do not know the music. I heard an announcer pronounce the 80’s American pop band REO Speedwagon as “Ree-oh” Speedwagon. That person effectively alienated himself from a large portion of his audience.

Make sure the imaging and jingles fit your station: Do your jingles sound like they are from this millennium? Do they promote a listener benefit and are the jingle singers from your time zone? There is nothing worse than hearing singers who are clearly from the Deep South trying to pull off a jingle sing for a station that’s located on a different continent. All this contributes to “stationality” which is part of the packaging and that can be the one thing that separates one station from another.

Make sure your external marketing relates:  Creating some consistency with your external marketing and making sure you are selling a clear listener benefit are basic and to be expected. But simply putting your logo and dial position on a billboard is unlikely to motivate lots of potential listeners to tune your radio station, given they already have their pre-sets tuned to their favourite radio stations. A logo and dial position may not tell a listener enough about what they will hear on your radio station so keep this in mind when creating external advertising.

Make sure all your station staff understands the target audience: There is little point in spending lots of time and effort ensuring your announcers understand who the target listener is if your sales staff don’t get it. If your station is running advertising for products or services your target audience is not interested in then you are hurting yourself twice. Firstly you will likely tune out listeners who don’t care to hear about this product and secondly it will probably not work for the advertiser who will then walk away saying, “I tried radio and it does not work.”

Conclusion: As you start 2011 take some time to carefully listen to your radio station and look for areas where you can improve in order to make a better connection with your target audience. Even better, bring in some outside help to conduct a station monitor. The benefit of employing an objective, experienced set of ears is that we will catch things your staff will miss because they are too close to the product. Provided we are open in your market we will send in one of our dedicated specialists to conduct a detailed monitor for you. Call us toll free at 1-866-332-1331 to get the ball rolling.