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Causes Build Ratings

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip March 25, 2004

What if I told you one of the most powerful things you can do to generate buzz and juice ratings requires not one penny in advertising and marketing expenditures? “You can buy a hand,” the expression goes, “but not a heart.” Leveraging an important cause is all about moving hearts, minds, and ratings.

What a Cause is – and What it isn’t

To most radio stations, a cause is a charity. Wrong. I define a charity as “someone ELSE’S cause.” That doesn’t mean Toys for Tots or fighting breast cancer or education or the environment or any hundred other charities aren’t noble ways to be a good corporate citizen. It just means those aren’t YOUR causes.

YOUR cause is the one that resonates for YOUR audience. Ideally, it has some connection to your station’s product or the benefits of listening. It should be emotionally rich and important on principle to a lot of people. It should be one which some folks will rally behind while others will oppose (great causes are usually polarizing). It should be one which connects to the fundamental value proposition of your station. It should be one nobody but you will or can get behind.

What a Great Cause Does

Great causes create rabid evangelists for your station. The bigger and more resonant, the better. Stanley Gold and Roy Disney have a cause. It’s a crusade to return the magic they believe has been lost from the Walt Disney corporation. Thanks in no small part to their efforts ( they have fueled a shareholder uproar that has shaken Disney to the core. They have recruited believers to their cause – fans. And to Radio, more fans mean higher ratings.

Wrapping your station’s image around the family or around decency is a great cause for some stations. This cause, in fact, has had a lot to do with the rise of Christian music stations nationwide. San Diego’s ground-breaking Alternative station 94/9 has a cause – it’s the antidote to “corporate” radio, it’s “about the music.”

Great Causes are All Around Us

Boston’s WBCN has a cause: “As long as Howard Stern is on the air, you’ll be able to hear him on WBCN.” Likewise, Stern affiliate KLSX hosted a Howard Stern rally and urges listeners to contact the FCC and their representatives in Congress.

I’m amazed that more stations haven’t come out against the RIAA for suing our listeners. This issue is on the front page of every paper and on the tip of every listener’s tongue whenever another 500 lawsuits are filed. But where are the stations that pledge to pay their listeners’ fines – not because these stations support illegal downloading, but because they reject the tactic of suing consumers for consuming. We don’t want you to download music illegally, they should be saying, but we will not stand by as our audience is sued simply because the labels can’t figure out a business model. Will the labels be pissed? Sure. But labels don’t keep diaries. Will your audience consider you a hero, and will it help your ratings?

What do you think?

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