In March, I attended the Michigan Association of Broadcasters' Great Lakes Media Show and I dropped in on a session hosted by Steve Wexler. Steve has been a radio executive for decades, primarily for Journal Radio Group and E.W. Scripps, but in the last several years he's shifted his focus to coaching other leaders in the industry with his new company, WEXL. I'm really glad to see that somebody in our industry is doing this.
My appreciation for leadership development can be traced back to a time when I left the radio industry. I had been a Program Director, and I found that I was much better at programming (making the radio station sound good) than I was at directing (managing people). A short time after I left the radio industry in 2006, I found myself working in the marketing department at a leadership development firm. Prior to that, I did not know that leadership development existed.
I learned as much as I could from the coaches at that company, and I found their insight so valuable that I often wondered why the radio industry didn't invest more resources into training their leaders. I'm happy to see that Steve is working to change that.
At one point during Steve's session, the subject turned to “Prize Pigs.” Anybody who has worked at a radio station knows what a Prize Pig is: a person who repeatedly shows up to radio station events to try to win something. Broadcasters tend to look down their noses at Prize Pigs, viewing them as an annoyance and speaking derisively about them on the drive home in the station van.
Steve questioned why we treat our stations' most loyal fans this way.
I asked him to elaborate after his session, and he said to me:
“Imagine that Jane, a loyal customer of Wex’s Widgets, continually stops by the store, reacts to the offers she sees in social media or recommends us to her friends who are in the market for widgets. Instead of welcoming Jane to my business, what if I treated her with clear disdain, rolling my eyes when she popped in the store for my winter widget promotion, and even call her a “prize pig” behind her back? Worse, I tell her that because she won a prize at my Saturday WidgetFest promotion, I didn’t want to see or hear from her for 60 days. Take that, Jane!
Even worse, I’m no longer the only widget store in town. There are now hundreds of ways for Jane to buy widgets. And worse yet, I chuckle when I see her going to Wally’s Widgets down the street, knowing that she’ll soon be bugging them as well.
Jane is a loyal widget consumer. She likes what I sell. She listens to my marketing. She responds to my promotions. She refers others to my business. She does everything I ask her to do as a loyal Wex’s Widgets P1. Why, and how, did she become a “pig”?
Let’s try celebrating our most loyal fans, learning what we can do even better from them, to create more fans. To treat people who love what we do this way is arrogant and self-destructive.”
What Motivates Your Listeners?
Regular readers of this column (both of them) know that I've been rethinking our industry's approach to prizes in recent months. In particular, I've been taking a closer look at the way our prizes motivate our listeners.
There are two types of motivations: External and internal. When people are externally motivated, they perform an action to gain a reward or avoid a punishment. When people are internally motivated, they do something because it aligns with their vision of themselves; it reinforces their social identity.
As an industry, we usually use our prizes to appeal to external motivations — essentially as a bribe for listening. From this point of view, it's easy to understand why Prize Pigs are a problem. After all, we need to maximize our listening, and there are only so many bribes to go around. Why would we waste them on the same people over and over, especially when we know that they're probably going to listen to the station anyway?
But what if this is the wrong way to think about our prizes? What if the best way to use prizes isn't to try to convert non-listeners, but instead to thank die-hard listeners. In other words, what if the prize were not a bribe, but a token of appreciation?
Perhaps the best way to use swag is to get it in the hands of people who already love and support us, not in the hopes that they become a walking billboard for our stations, but because it makes them feel appreciated. After all, we know from the results of our annual Techsurvey that many of the top reasons that people listen to the radio is because they feel an emotional connection to their favorite stations:
By contrast, winning prizes is tied for last place as a motivating factor, suggesting that few people can actually be bribed into listening. So why not use those prizes to reinforce those emotional connections that rank higher on the list?
Reevaluating Prize Pigs
In light of these motivations, Steve's right: we should rethink the way we treat our Prize Pigs. After all, these are the people that show up to all of our events, including those car dealership remotes and supermarket parking lot stops. We need people to show up to these events, and they do — faithfully. We should thank them for their support.
And we should stop worrying about whether they're reducing our ability to bribe other people to listen. Chances are, that strategy wasn't going to work anyway.
Moreover, one of the big advantages of using prizes to thank listeners is that tokens are often less expensive (yet more meaningful) than bribes. A few months ago, I asked you what your station has given away that was “worthless but priceless,” and all y'all had some wonderfully creative ideas.
When prizes becomes tokens of appreciation rather than bribes, it changes how we should think about them and use them. Thanking our die-hard fans suddenly moves to the top of the priority list, and Prize Pigs definitely fall into that group. Maybe it's time for us to thank them instead of scorning them. Oink!
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