I had the pleasure of travelling to Russia this summer to work with a station in St. Petersburg. The city was beautiful, the people were wonderful and the work was fascinating. One thing that struck me, though, was that regardless where you are in the world, radio is still radio and with the exception of some cultural characteristics, the strengths of the medium remain and areas of significance are no different.
Here are a few things I took away from a couple weeks in ‘Mother Russia’.
This was an area of great opportunity for the St. Petersburg station that was begging to be exploited. Its format put it in competition with satellite-delivered signals that were Eurasian in scope and had only minimal local content. These stations were also outperforming my client ratings-wise. I asked the question why they weren’t taking advantage of that and branding themselves as a truly local station. They replied that the competition doesn’t and they are winning, so therefore that wasn’t an obvious key to success. Needless to say, my first goal was to convince them otherwise.
Radio’s greatest strength is its ability to speak to the listener in the ‘here and now’ (we’ll get to the latter in a moment). As such, your jocks should exercise every chance they get to talk to the listener about people, places, and issues that impact them in their daily lives. While that may not be exclusively local, it certainly should be the majority of the time. I’ve been reading more and more where some people are advising a shift away from this approach, given the technology that continues to shrink the world on an accelerating basis. I see their point and understand their thinking, but I simply can’t agree. Abandoning, or even diminishing this core benefit just blurs the line further between radio and newer forms of media. While we continue to absorb such technologies and develop strategies to use them to enhance our ability to communicate, we still have to be mindful of offering distinct advantages that they lack. Locality is one of those.
The second half of ‘here and now’ has always been a key benefit. 680 News in Toronto says it best in their imaging – “If you’re reading it it’s history… If you’re hearing it, it’s news.” That goes for not just news, of course, but is a cornerstone of radio in general. Our ability to talk about events as they transpire, offer up-to-the-minute traffic reports, say it’s raining when it actually is, etc. all contribute to offer that immediacy that we are better-equipped to delivery beyond any other medium. Certainly, new media like Twitter can offer such instant communication, but it does so in a manner that, by its very design, precludes the sort of mass broadcast that the radio platform continues to provide.
My Russian friends were doing a fairly good job of staying on top of current events, but they were largely of a national and international substance. By not connecting the ‘now’ with the ‘here’, they weren’t nearly as effective as they could have and should have been. My second goal was to guide them into making that association and showing them why “local-perishable” content was the most relevant for their audience.
It’s no different in St. Petersburg than it is in St. John’s. ‘Touching’ the listener with content that is a topic of immediate, local concern is the best way possible to strengthen the bond between the station and listener.
Prior to my visit, the station had completed an Auditorium Music Test. The results allowed us to assemble an active music run that was exceptionally well-tailored to the target audience.
Just like anywhere else in the world, when it comes to such an overriding, vital component as music, you just can’t rely on ‘gut’ or whatever may have worked in the past. Objectivity is the key in this situation and therefore some form of data is required. An AMT is acknowledged to be the surest way to gather such data, but even if your budget precludes such expenditures, then compiling a ‘safe list’ from trusted, successful stations can help take the guess work out of a situation where any guess work at all can be dangerous.
Another area of opportunity with the Russians was their imaging. Most of the ID’s on the station just gave the station name and positioning statement. While that is a valid category of imaging, it’s just not enough to effectively provide listeners with reasons why you are different from the competition. So, where there were only a handful of different imaging types before I visited them, they now have a full range of ID’s to properly tell their story to the audience. These include:
In addition to these imaging types, for the Russians we also developed:
The station now has the imaging to better target their listener and do it in a manner that is timely and relevant.
It should be added that their producer didn’t really care for me a whole bunch by the end of the visit.
My Russian friends had done little marketing to date, and it was probably for the good that they hadn’t. It’s one thing to get people to sample you, but if you aren’t yet ready for ‘prime time’, then you’ve wasted your money and the ‘tire kickers’ will go back to their P1 choice and trying to lure them back later will be much more difficult.
That, however, was no longer the case with this station, so it was time to let everyone know we existed. Again, it doesn’t matter where your station is located, three basic rules of programming still apply: 1. Ask the people what they want; 2. Give the people what they want; and 3. Tell the people you gave them what they wanted.
As it turns out, buying television or outdoor in Russia is very expensive – much more so than we are accustomed to paying in North America. Still, though, I was pleased to find out that the station’s owners understood the importance of high-frequency, sustained marketing. Having them committed to making a sizable advertising investment was necessary, since St. Petersburg is a city of about 5 million people with about 40 signals penetrating it and another dozen or so on the way. Obviously, word of mouth wasn’t going to cut it.
We developed television and outdoor creative that was solidly aimed at their target audience and highlighted the station’s core benefits. It’s now up and running and I suspect we will begin seeing the fruits of our labour in the coming months.
It’s unfortunate, but marketing is often one of the first lines on the budget spreadsheet to be cut when sales are soft or the economy sags. You need to do your utmost to protect those advertising dollars or you may run the risk of a potential downward spiral at a time when it’s more necessary than ever to stay top of mind.
It was a rewarding experience this past summer. The Russians are very sophisticated in some areas, but needed assistance in others. I was initially concerned whether applying time-proven North American principles to a vastly different culture would be successful. As it turned out, those same programming tenets still applied with only minor tweaks. As mentioned at the start, “radio is still radio” and the way people use it is the same, whether in the Russian, English, French, or Spanish tongue. If it works there and works here, it will work for you, too.