How to Fix Radio’s PR Problem

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip
February 1, 2005

No one doubts Radio has an enormous PR problem. You can read it in every news story about Satellite or iPods. You can feel the vibe when you hear “Less is More” and conclude that Radio is on the defense. You make the obvious conclusion when you hear that Radio’s biggest star, Howard Stern, will soon be Satellite’s biggest star.

So what do we do?

“You Heard it on Radio First”

The current spate of “Radio first” spots circulating through the industry will do absolutely nothing to solve Radio’s PR crisis. In fact, I expect they will actually fan the flames of listener dissatisfaction, and I believe your station should not run them.

First, what’s the strategy? To communicate that Radio is your first source of all the music you grow to love. But wait, aren’t people swapping Radio for Satellite or iPods exactly because this is wrong? In fact, isn’t the “Radio brings you new music first” angle our biggest vulnerability relative to these new technologies? And aren’t the people who value new music the very ones most likely to defect first?

This campaign is wishful thinking. You can’t convince an iPod user that Radio is a superior source for new music. You can’t convince a Satellite Radio subscriber that he will hear more new things for free than via subscription. This strategy is completely flawed and will bounce off the minds of our listeners like bullets off the Man of Steel.

And why are the Spots so Bad?

The structure of the spots: “Before this…Before that…” is gruesomely tiresome. Try telling your neighbor a story in a single sentence with a bunch of “Before…before…before”‘s for sixty seconds and see if she’s still paying attention by the time you finally reach the point.

And then do this over and over again. How persuasive were you?

It’s no surprise that the artists featured on these spots have deep ties to the very industries that worry Radio. They would be fools if they didn’t. If Radio wants to pay talent to keep them off Satellite or iPods then we’re welcome to do so. Right now those talents are people like Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura. And one of those talents used to be Howard Stern.

Set our Priorities Right

Recently a top-five market station had been negotiating with a well-known talent for afternoons, but the deal fell through over money. Where did this talent eventually go? Satellite Radio. Over money he ended up at the company that wasn’t making any instead of the one reeling it in hand-over-fist.

Satellite Radio understands what Radio forgot. If you don’t invest in what can make you different and vivid and compelling you will cease to be any of these. And instead you’ll obsess on your weaknesses and trivialities: The length and frequency of a stop-set or the duration of a music sweep.

Talent – big name talent, not simply the organically-grown kind that takes years to develop – is Radio’s best answer for its future. How much advertising did SIRIUS have to buy to tell America that Howard Stern was coming? None.

Want to turn around Radio’s PR problem? Invest in talent. Star talent. Forget the tap-dance ad campaign. Grab the headlines because we deserve them. Earn a positive image and a positive image will be our reward. There are no shortcuts and no advertising quick-fixes. In the end, more is more.

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  • http://www.koolsandiego.com Dave Mason

    Congrats to Mark for having the brass to say what needs to be said. Let’s take it one step further. Let’s create “Talented Radio Stations”. Chuck Blore had the right idea-so did Jack McCoy. Radio has always been best at painting a picture…it still can. Get the listener involved in more ways than one. Get them involved in every aspact of the station from the choice of music to the talent to the promotion and lifestyle relativity.
    If someone loves their Ipod because there’s no commercials, let’s give them commercials they can LOVE and LIVE with. Talent goes further than just a jock. Without his support cast Howard is just a “jock”. Without Ed, Doc and the many guests, Johnny was just a talking head.
    The “talent” has to start at the top. Today in radio, it’s too easy to see the possibility of making money-and too many people will focus in on that. Once the golden egg is fried, they start looking for the goose. In more and more cases, the goose has flown the coop.
    The proof of most of this happens on February 6th in Jacksonville. Is the NFL cutting corners on the “big game”? Since Monday, it’s been a huge week in Jacksonville. It all culminates Sunday – not at kickoff, but well before that. Talent, creativity and spectacle. Radio’s challenge is to do that 24/7. It may cost a little more, but the revenue that can be created will far surpass cutting corners.
    Once your radio station is more than “fewer commercials”, “today’s hit music” or “good times, great oldies” – - once you nail the audience with the things that really matter to them….radio will again be in the driver’s seat.

  • http://www.mercradio.com Mark Ramsey

    And Mr. Mason knows of what he speaks! Thanks for the great input, Dave. Let’s hope the powers-that-be are listening.
    I’m tired of reading so much crap about the state of our industry. I can tell you this: The people I work with are better than that.

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