Welcome to 2013. As you come back to work after what I hope was a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas for you and your family, I wanted to share some of the things I have been pondering as I prepare for 2013. A lot of this is focused around how we can better serve our two important sets of customers being the advertisers and the listeners. The start of a new year is an opportunity for each of us to think what we can do differently so we are more effective and more productive than we were in the previous 12 months. I know a very talented GM who encourages each of his staff to focus on doing on thing better each week because by the end of the year that employee has improved in 52 ways. He does the same thing and works hard to ensure his product and service gets better with each week. Rather than bombard you with a huge list I intend to focus on a few. This month we will focus on 9 things you might consider to better serve your listeners in 2013.
Talk to listeners: Spending time talking to your listeners and digging a little deeper to get their opinions about your station is a great way to get feedback from your one set of customers. There are lots of opportunities to meet with listeners over the course of the year, at station promotions, client remotes, and when they come into the station to pick up prizes. Ask enough listeners for their opinion and you will likely find some areas where you can improve your product. I know lots of radio stations who run regular listener advisory panels which is a great way to seek feedback. You need to have someone moderate the session who knows what they are doing, you need to ask the right questions, know which ones need to be expanded upon and how to keep things moving along. The venue should be outside the radio station and once you start them you should never stop them. You will be amazed how much listeners know about your station and how freely they will offer their suggestions for improvement. In markets where perceptual research is not an option this can be a very powerful tool.
Listen to the product: In this busy world we all live in today the very people who are responsible for the product do not get to listen to it frequently enough for an entire uninterrupted day. It is critical that the PD take at least one day a month and hide out in a hotel room across town so he or she can listen intently to the product without the interruption of meetings, phone calls or people dropping by with one quick question. Take a back up of your music log and follow along, because music makes up 60 to 70% of any hour so you need to ensure that it flows, and each 15 minutes is representative of the brand, and that you have enough core songs in each quarter hour. You will also find out which announcer messes with the music and get to hear how the product all fits together. Chances are you will take lots of notes and come up with a few ideas to improve what comes out of the speakers. If your PD is responsible for multiple stations they need to spend a day monitoring each station. If that is not possible then hire some outside help to do the job.
Listen to the competition: While it is important to listen to your station, it is equally important to listen to your competition. While you cannot control what your competitor is doing, you need to be aware of what they are doing and look for ways to exploit any weaknesses in their programming. Have they altered their music or positioning, have they moved the position of their stop sets or are they now placing their power records in different parts of the hour? An easy way to do this is to setup an old tuner and interface it with a spare channel of your audio logger, so you can then listen to this audio at your leisure, but pick a specific time/day to do this each month or it will be forgotten. This is especially important if you are sharing lots of audience between your station and a competitor. Done correctly you can keep them listening to you for longer and reduce their TSL with the competition.
Listen to other stations: Make time each month to closely listen to stations in other markets who you admire and who you feel you can learn from. A quick look at the BBM or Arbitron ratings will get you a list of stations who are outperforming the format. You need to listen to these stations and establish what they are doing to make them so successful, and if the idea is applicable to your market and station. Be mindful some stations are successful because of reasons beyond what comes out of the speakers. Most stations stream their audio so you can listen to them from the comfort of your home or office. Ask the engineer to setup logging software so you can automatically record these stations and listen to the audio at a convenient time.
Conduct research: If you have the budget, hire a research company to identify any areas of weakness or opportunity for your station. Sometimes we are so close to our products that we cannot see the wood for the trees, so it becomes difficult to be truly objective. Investing in research is a great way to improve your ratings or hold onto them. Care needs to be taken to ensure you ask the right questions and that you get information that is actionable. By the way never ask a question in research if you do not intend to act upon it. If for example you have no intention of reducing your advertising minutes then don’t ask which station plays the most commercials in the market.
Review your brand: When was the last time you conducted a thorough review of your brand? What are the core values of your brand and are they still strong and relevant. Does your brand live up to the expectations of your audience? Does your brand excite your audience, and does it create a clearly definable point of difference? Look at your website, your business cards, your stationery, your vehicles, the signage at the local rink and ensure that it sells a benefit and lives up to the brand. Buy Steve Jones’s book “Brand Like A Rock Star” because it is packed with lots of great ideas that will help you refocus your brand and in some cases breathe new life into a brand that may be a little tired in the minds of your audience. I wrote an article about Steve’s book and branding in December 2011 which can be found on our website at www.ByrnesMedia.com
Look for the big idea: Too often we focus on lots of small things that do not create street talk and fails to move the needle. Will 2013 be the year that your station will do something so extraordinary that listeners beyond your format will talk about your station and some may even tune in to see what all the fuss is about? This does not have to involved huge external marketing budgets or giving away large sums of money. Often the idea is simple and not expensive, but is so different that it peaks the interest of the average consumer. For example a few years ago the station I was working at purchased a leg of the Olympic Torch as it made its way across the USA. We were able to give away something that the average listener would never have the opportunity to do. Yes the station dressed it up, made it sound larger than life and invested in external marketing, but most people in that market were talking about how great it would be to carry the Olympic Torch. As it turned out a fireman won the contest and he was super fit and a runner. We sent him and his family to the USA and he became the only Kiwi to carry the Olympic torch that year. Give the staff some notice and offer a decent prize for the best idea and gather the staff and have a brainstorming session and see what big ideas you can come up with. You might be better to put more of your resources into one big idea rather than executing lots of small ones that do not get any attention.
Get serious about coaching talent: What happens between the records will be more important in 2013 than perhaps at any time since, given there will be even more competition for your listeners attention. Therefore helping your announcers understand how to show prep, how to prepare and how to deliver compelling local breaks is more important than ever. Help them understand the power of storytelling and how to do it using only the number of words it takes to effectively sell the bit. Notice I did not say deliver it in 20 seconds or less. It you are very lucky you may have a talent that is so good at what they do you are prepared to sacrifice a record per hour and allow them to talk a little longer. Unfortunately these personalities are becoming the exception rather than the rule. So come up with a plan to help your talent improve in 2013. That may involve sending them to a course, bringing in some outside help or working with a local improv company. Make sure you have a regular air checking program in place and ensure the person delivering this coaching knows what do to and how to motivate each of your announcers. If you can find a way to motivate and improve your average performers, chances are this will really improve the product because on most stations 60% of the staff are average and less than 20% are the superstars who will perform well no matter where they are. Coaching via regular air checks is something we see less and less of as we go into radio stations these days. Often that is because either the PD does not know how to air check, and/or is doing multiple jobs and may also be looking after multiple brands. The end result is that regular air checks are not done or are so infrequent that they are not effective. Average performers need a weekly air check, and this is often the best way to help improve them and create a better listening experience for your customer.
Invest in staff training: Send your PD or some of your announcers to a broadcasting conference or to training that would benefit them. There are regional broadcast conferences such as the OAB, the BCAB as well as international conference such as the NAB or the World Radio Summit. Canadian Music Week www.cmw.net is held in Toronto each March (19-24 this year) and this is a great learning conference that attracts some of the best in the business. If you have not been to Conclave you should consider it. This is held in Minneapolis from July 17-19 in 2013 and is one of the best USA based radio conference in terms of ideas sharing. Learn more at www.theconclave.com. Chances are they will make the most of the networking opportunities and come back with some practical ideas that can be implemented at your station to improve ratings, revenue or both.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start. This may prompt you to come up with other ideas that you feel are more important for your station because of your market or where your station is in the lifecycle of the product. But I hope you will use the typically quieter month of January to focus on the product and look for ways to create an even better listening experience for your customers. Next month we will focus on your other set of customers being advertisers.