Spring Cleaning

pi78oqeMTby Chris Byrnes

This week I finally decided Spring was here and had the snow tires changed on our vehicles.  This weekend I will clean up the yard, winterise the snow blower and find out if the lawnmower will start.  This is just a small list of things I do each year as Spring arrives, but it got me thinking about the importance of doing a spring clean on the radio station.  We recommend you conduct a full “checkup” of your station once a quarter. Here then are a few suggestions of things that you might want to look at in order to get your radio station ready for Summer.

Listen to your radio station:  When was the last time you ran a complete audit of all your on-air programming?  Take a day away from the radio station – we suggest you check into a local hotel room and turn off your cell phone and stay away from email just for one day.  Take a copy of your music and commercial log and closely listen to your radio station from when your morning show starts until the end of the day.  Yes, we are talking about an 18-hour day here folks, but if you take the time and actually listen to your radio station for a day, chances are you will have a note pad full of ideas to improve what comes out of the speakers.  You might want to also create a score card and rank each of the following areas out of 10:

Music: Listen for music flow, note how many songs play before you hear a core artist.  If you have the data, check your music against your research scores to ensure you are playing the strongest songs possible.  Look at your Currents and see how they are plotting.  If you play a Power Current in the 7am hour and it shows up in the 5pm hour, chances are many of your listeners will hear that songs twice which is more often the cause of “repetition fatigue” than the number of songs you have in active rotation.  Hint – many radio stations have too many songs in active rotation because they do not have their music scheduling software set up properly, and compensate for poor rotation by increasing the library size.  Check to make sure you do not have any vertical stacking in any of your categories. By that we mean songs playing in the same hour every day or every other day.  Look at category sizes, especially the Recurrent category which can easily get bloated.  Look at how the Gold categories are rotating and check the category plays to identify any songs that are not scheduling because of rules.  Also, take a look at every song in every category and kill those weak titles that somehow found their way into the system.  Lastly, compare what was scheduled verses what was actually aired on your station, and look at what songs each announcer may be dropping for timing purposes.  The entire feel of your radio station can be changed by an announcer dropping the wrong songs or playing songs that were not scheduled.

Information:  Local news and information is one the tools you can use to set your station apart from all the others.  Did your news department deliver the key local stories of the day?  Did they write the news copy for the ear and not the eye, and did they have the local news makers on the air in the form of news clips?  Some radio stations track the percentage of local stories they run in a week and set benchmarks to reach or exceed.  Did they deliver stories that are of interest to the target audience or did they fall into the trap of looking for stories developed by calling the local police, fire and hospital?  Those stories still matter, but if you are ever lucky enough to see research about what listeners are really interested in, you will be surprised that many of these easy-to-get stories are of little interest to the average listener unless it somehow impacts them personally.  Beyond the news, sports and weather, what other information does your radio station run and overall how would you rank the information out of 10?  By the way, I don’t get why radio stations think sports news is what happened in the NBA, the NHL, the NFL or the MLB, depending on the time of the year.  Yes, we still need to mention the major winners and perhaps the losers, but it should not be the focus of the sports news.  Fans of these sporting series have apps and social media feeds that get them all this information instantly.  What is lacking on so many radio stations is local sports news.  While this information is harder to find, it is of more interest when you mention local sporting teams and people by name in your local sports news.

Clocks: The music clock is what helps create the impression of balance, and flow in the hour.  We often find the “set and forget” method is used at many radio stations, which over time can result in a feeling of sameness or staleness on the air.  At least twice a year you should review and freshen your clocks.  Most radio stations have more clocks than they actually need, so it’s a good idea to cull clocks that are not active or are not required.  Look at the clock flow and where each category is positioned in the clock and what follows or precedes a particular clock element.  For example, you might want to ensure that the last song in a music sweep is a core artist or a high appeal song as the announcer will probably back sell that song.  Look at the category used to start each hour and make sure it is not always the same category.  It’s a good idea to plot all your clocks out on a spreadsheet to make sure there is some variety within the clocks.  If the Power Current is always in the same position that can lead to the “I know what song this station will play next” feeling amongst your P1 listeners.  Clocks can help you sound both familiar and fresh based on where in the hour you plot each category.  Check to see how many categories are used across the day and if the number of clock calls jives with the number of songs in a category.  It may for example, make sense to play more Recurrents in AM and PM Drive and not play that new category before 10am depending on the target audience of your radio station.  Once you have created the perfect clock you should then create a second version of that clock and then plot these clocks in such a way so that it will be two weeks before your listeners will hear the same clock in the same hour on the same day.  Freshening up your clocks is a great way to put a “spring in the step” of your radio station.

Imaging:  When was the last time you looked closely at the station imaging?  Imaging helps a radio station own a position in the minds of your audience.  Did you know that the radio station’s largest client is always itself?  Imagine if you had to write out a cheque and purchase the imaging slots you use on the radio station each week?  Would that force you to think more carefully about what you want to achieve and the best way to go about it?  Spring is a great time of year to do a complete review of your imaging.  Look at each imaging category to see if it still meets your strategic goal.  Assuming it does, then look at how many imaging cuts are within each category and how many times a day they play.  If you have imaging that is turning over faster than your smallest music category that can lead to listener fatigue.  Next, look at the number of plays each imaging cut has had, and determine at what point you need to remove or freshen that image cut.  Some stations will pick an arbitrary number of say 400 spins, and once it gets to that point they will change or update it.  Spring is a great time to be writing new imaging and getting your radio station ready for summer.  When you write imaging, be mindful of quality, listenability, understandability, memorability and of course your target audience.  Also, does it achieve the desire goal?  For example, the goal may be to produce a series of short image cuts that will play between songs so people know what station they are listening to, and reinforces the station’s “family friendly” image.  Remember, when you write imaging you need to not only tell people what you want them to do, but if possible what you want them to feel.  Once you have written the imaging and sent it off to the voice and had it produced, be sure to listen to it before it goes into the system.  You need to make sure your station image voice read it the way you intended and that the production director added to the quality of the work.

Air Talent:  The announcer is the one part of the on air product that cannot be easily replicated or cloned.  Often, they are the major point of difference between your radio station and all the other signals that come into your market.  There are many ways to rank and grade the performance of an announcer, but here are some you might way to look at:
Localness:  How local do they sound?  Look for breaks that could only be said today and only in your market.  This is content they have researched and brought to the control room that relates to your community.  Do your announcers sound local and plugged into your community or are they just going through the motions and reading what was already in the room?
Ability to Read the Day:  This means they are taking about things that your target audience are thinking about and interested in.  Chances are that is not what the Kardashians are up to!
Communication Skills:  Are they easy to listen to and understand?  Can they sell a thought using as few words as possible and not have to repeat themselves?
Friendliness:  The best announcers come across on the air as your friend, and are someone you can trust.  They say and do things that reinforce the personality of the radio station and in doing so form a bond between the listener and the announcer.  They are the kind of people you’d like to hang out with and perhaps meet in person when the opportunity arises.
Story Telling Skills:  This is the ability to hold the attention of your target audience, no matter what else is happening around them.  Stories have existed since long before recorded history, but the desire to hear stories hasn’t changed, nor has the longing to tell stories.  Today though, there are more stories than ever.  So the challenge is standing out from this clutter.  Just as important as standing out is getting remembered in this ultra-connected, interruptive world.  An effective announcer knows how to tease a story to build TSL and then tell a story and do it using only the number of words required to sell that thought or story.
Puts on a Show:  This is vital on AM Drive but can also help build ratings in other dayparts as well. Their talk breaks make you want to turn the radio up to hear what they are saying.  They deliver content that you want to repeat and tell your friends.  They create the impression that if you don’t listen to them every day you may miss something important.  Perhaps they give the listener a peek behind the curtain from time to time to establish and keep the interest.
Fun to Listen to:  The best announcers not only put on a show, they are fun to listen to.  The best ones hook and tease and keep you wanting to listen longer.
They Pay the Bills Well:  They deliver the content that is in the room in such a way as it sounds like it is part of their personality and part of the show. This is everything from the PSA’s to the station liners.  They don’t just read them, they make it sound interesting and sell the listener benefit.  The other thing they do well is sell the call letters and positioning statement of the radio station with pride and affection.

Stop sets:  As you listen to the commercial clusters on your radio station, look at where they are falling in the hour, and if you are in a competitive market, how that relates to where your primary competition locates their commercial islands.  Make sure that your commercial islands are balanced from hour to hour to ensure your sales department is managing inventory thought the day and throughout the week. Next, rate the quality of the commercials running on your radio station.  Are they well written, produced and voiced?  How many clichés do you hear, and are there too many words jammed into the 30 second commercial?  Less is more when it comes to the 30 second commercial.  Sell one key message and call to action and the commercial will be so much more effective.  How many meaningless phrases do you hear in your commercials, such as, “We’ve been in business since 1977,” and is there a clear call to action in each commercial?  The less-is-more tactic also applies to your call to action.  What do we want the potential customers to do?  Go to the client website, telephone them, email, or visit a location?  Pick one. That’s right, one.  Give listeners just one way to contact the client in the commercial, and it will increase the responses dramatically.  Unless you rank your commercials an 8 or higher you might want to download the E-Book called “Solve the Right Problem” written by Canadian creative genius Wray Ellis.  Find it for $10 at www.WrayEllis.net.  I also found this article online and thought it had some good tips on how to create great radio ads.

10. Production value and voiceover talent.

Contrary to popular belief, these are not the most important element in great ads. Yet they are what clients often use to determine whether they “like” an ad. From the data we’ve collected through ten years of testing radio ads we’ve found that there is very often an inverse relationship between production value and ad performance. Yes, that’s counterintuitive. Production value shouldn’t “hurt” response, right? There are a number of possibilities for why this is true. Maybe good production value distracts ad developers from the right amount of focus on great copywriting. Or, perhaps good production value creates an ad that is so “slick” that it doesn’t stand out. As Seth Godin puts it “perfect is boring”.

Nonetheless, production and voice are still important. Production must enhance believability, catch attention, and ensure the message can be ingested by the audience with minimal effort. And the voice talent’s read must be evaluated for it’s non-verbal communication, not just what the words mean as they’re strung together.

9. Distinctiveness of the offering.

The greater the “me too” factor, the lower the potential for the campaign. If your product is another of the hundreds of weight loss products or diets, then you’re likely going to have a difficult time coming up with something new to say to people. Distinctiveness applies not just to the product benefits, but also to the creative approach, the offer, and any other element of the campaign.

8. Effective use of the interplay between emotion and logic.

There are points in the ad where emotional appeals are appropriate, and there are other points in the ad where logical appeals are potent. Few people make a purchase decision based solely on one or the other. Quite often we’re “reeled in” with emotion, and just before we buy we look for a logical reason to rationalize our emotional decision. Successful radio ads recognize this dynamic and flow accordingly.

7. Articulation.

There are a number of different ways to express your message. Any one can get the message across. But only one is the optimum formula that presents the combination to the lock on the door of your customers’ minds. Changing just one word or a few words in an ad can have an amazingly large impact on results. We’ve seen this over and over again – some key insight that produces a small copy change that dramatically boosts results. Or the opposite. Articulation matters. One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen is using wishy-washy, non-specific language. Saying something “Product A is designed to do X” is not as strong as saying “Product A does X”.

6. Simplicity.

You have sixty seconds. Packing too much into the ad overwhelms the listener, triggering the natural cognitive processes that minimize sensory overload. Leave the kitchen sink in the kitchen. If the kitchen sink is what’s so impressive about your product or service, then at least test a focused approach next to it so you can learn which performs better.

5. Use of sound elements to enhance the message.

This is radio. The theatre of the mind. In TV you can just show someone. In radio, you show them with sound. It’s both a burden and a benefit of radio advertising because it’s both harder to do but more impactful when done well.

We’ve separated this from #10 because we’re not talking about a slick production value, rather the use of a specific production technique to help the ad stand out. This can’t be done at the last minute. Use of sound must be considered as the ad is written, and the use of sound that is irrelevant or detracts from the believability of the spot is a detriment to ad performance.

4. Authenticity.

This is hard to do because we’re so conditioned to look outside our business for clues as to how to succeed. The result is inauthenticity. Me-too-ism. All things to nobody or nothing to everybody. The best radio ads flow from an authentic connection to a product or service’s uniqueness, passion, and identity. Authenticity is influential, believable and enhances credibility. It is also a differentiator (unfortunately). See our blog posts on this topic for a lot more about authenticity in radio advertising.

3. The offer.

As with nearly any direct response advertisement, there must be a call to action that is relevant, compelling and simple enough to grasp quickly. Relevant means it matters to a potential customer – it reduces my risk, makes picking up the phone a no-brainer, or gives me a reason to go with my emotions instead of my logic. Compelling means it has a “wow” factor. As in, “wow, they must really believe in their product to do that. And simple means it’s … not complicated. It doesn’t make me stop and think too much. It doesn’t confuse me with language that’s spun to sound like it’s a great offer but really isn’t. One insight is pivotal here: the business model must be built with the potential offers in mind. Think about it – you can’t make an offer in an ad that you can’t afford to make.

2. The opening attention grabber.

The first impression of a great radio ad must provoke a desire for further exploration. If not, the radio ad will be categorized by the brain as the same old noise it always hears. And it will be blocked out – a victim of the cognitive processes that ensure we don’t experience sensory overload. The challenge of grabbing attention is huge. Don’t underestimate it. This is a difficult thing to do. Why? Because we’re all bombarded relentlessly by huge number of other advertisers who are trying to do it.

One way to think about this is ‘don’t bury the lead’. Make sure that the most impactful aspect of your ad is expressed early on. Don’t wait until 20 seconds into the ad to make your first point.

1. Benefit orientation.

One of the biggest mistakes made is assuming people care how something works before they care what it does for them. You must only say how if the what is so incredible that you need a “reason to believe” in the ad – and then you do it in one sentence or less. Clients seem to love the how, but it typically doesn’t sell.

The ad must answer the question: what’s in it for me? How will it impact my life in a way that I think it will make my life better, happier, or easier? This requires understanding and tapping into the fundamental human beliefs around these topics. A product that prevents a problem I don’t yet have? I don’t care about that because I have current problems that matter more to me. Prevention doesn’t sell. What does sell is something that solves my problem quickly, safely, better and more conveniently than anything else. If you use your 60 seconds in any other way, you’re wasting time.

Thanks to www.strategicmediainc.com for allowing me to re-print their top 10 list.

Technical:  How does the radio station sound from a technical point of view?  Is the signal clear and clean, and is it easy to tune?  It does not matter if you have the best programming minds working on a product, if the signal cannot be heard in your CMA.  Hopefully that is not the technical issue you are facing.  However, often times the radio station sound can become less appealing or even fatiguing to listen to.  When was the last time you checked the processing equipment to make sure it was set properly and the technical sound of the product matches your stations strategic goals?  Check to make sure that you have the latest version of the processor firmware, and that the processor is set properly.  Ask Engineering to take you to the transmitter site and check to make sure the modulation levels are correct, and the transmitter is running at the correct power.  Lastly, make sure that your audio chain is clean and operating properly.  If you or your engineers find problems, get them fixed quickly which will likely improve the technical quality of your station.

Promotions & Marketing:  This is often referred to as the “fun and games” department.  It is the on-air promotions, prizing and contesting.  You know the stuff that some say only appeals to that small percentage sometimes referred to as prize pigs.  I believe promotions is so much more than appealing to that small percentage of people who will enter a contest or call a radio station to win a prize.  When I rank a radio station in this area, I look at the target audience appeal levels of the contest and prizing.  I also look at the level of passive appeal a contest has.  Ideally, an on air contest will engage the larger audience and they will listen to and play along with the contest. Unless you are in a major market, you will not likely be running external marketing at this time of the year. However now is the time to be planning for your fall marketing and get that booked and in place.

Conclusion:  The suggestions above are not meant to be a comprehensive list.  I have not mentioned social media, websites, blogs or a number of other areas.  You may also have other areas you wish to rank your station on in addition to the list I have provided.  But, I hope this is a good starting point and will encourage you to take a day from your busy life and actually focus 100% of your attention on your product for just one day.  Of course, if you are a PD looking after multiple stations then you need to do this for each of your stations.  Good luck and happy listening.