When you think about the skill set required to become a great radio programmer, lots of attributes come to mind. The balance of art and science is a prerequisite. There's also that ability to master changing technology, whether it's music scheduling software, audio production, or encoding strategies in PPM markets. When you think of the very best PDs, you want someone with great vision – a leader who sees the entire battlefield. And of course, there's insightful personnel management, which comes in handy in myriad ways.
But one of the hidden skills that separates the great PDs from the also-rans is the ability to anticipate disaster – to think through every project, initiative, promotion, and contest and run through all the hypotheticals of what could possibly fail. In fact, the instinct that involves avoiding “ramming into the iceberg” is often what separates good programmers from the rock stars. As any owner will tell you, a key attribute is simply not tubing the station or jeopardizing the license.
If you've ever programmed, you've been there. When it comes to planning something with any degree of complexity, you carefully map out the schematics, painfully putting yourself through the process of answering this question:
“What could possibly go wrong?”
And then you factor in Murphy’s Law, because if it can go wrong, it just might.
That famous “Turkey Drop” episode on the old WKRP show was funny in a bittersweet way to programmers because most of us have miscalculated how a contest, promotion, or event could turn upside down in a hurry. But real-time radio is far from a sitcom, and a blown promotion that costs a station a lot of money – or worse – can be truly disastrous.
I was reminded of that fine line between success and failure this past weekend because of a story from down the road in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan football team is on a roll since the return of coach Jim Harbaugh to “The Big House.” The team has started out the season 5-0, generally dominating the competition.
Everyone in the state of Michigan is paying attention to the Wolverines this year, whether you’re a hardcore fan or you’re a Spartan dreaming about the upcoming Saturday afternoon when both teams will clash for bragging rights that last for 364 days.
Like a lot of area business and brands, Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in Ann Arbor decided they’d get in on the maize and blue action by offering a potentially big discount for the remaining games.
The margin of a Michigan victory determines that week’s (Monday-Thursday) discount on any meal at this pricey, high-end restaurant. On paper, it's a smart way to capitalize on a U of M win, while bringing attention to this steak house.
So who would have thought Michigan could possibly roll up a score so big it might actually create something of an economic problem? Last Saturday, the Wolverines maxed out the discount, pasting Rutgers by a school record score of 78-0. Fortunately, for Ruth’s Chris, their promise on Facebook was capped at 50 points – or half off all meals (sans booze). Nonetheless, the restaurant has been packed this week with diners enjoying someone in the marketing department’s costly miscalculation on a football score. When you figure a steak might run upwards of $40, that's a hefty discount this week.
And the season still has a half dozen more regular season games on the schedule, some of which are against opponents that may not fare much better than Rutgers.
Moral of the story? Think it through, because when you cast your brand's fate to the weather or to the outcome of a sports contest, anything is possible. Of course, Ruth’s Chris could have bought some insurance on the outcome of these games, but once again, that's a move requiring forethought, prep, and contingency planning.
But there may be a silver lining to this already costly promotion. And the marketing guru who thought up this promotion may end up getting the last laugh. It turns out that Jim Harbaugh announced on his radio show the other night that he plans on taking up Ruth's Chris on their discount. On the off chance fans would run into the coach woofing down a large filet will be enough to generate even more buzz for a restaurant that's relatively new to the Ann Arbor dining scene. Fighting for awareness in a crowded restaurant market, it's safe to say Ruth's Chris of Ann Arbor is most definitely on the map. As a result of this “Score Big” promotion, the eatery has garnered a lot of promotion, in and out of the metro area.
Yet, something tells me the folks at the legendary Zingerman’s down the road are a lot smarter than this. Hopefully, for the sake of your station's promotional budget, so are you.
For all the carnivores in the Ann Arbor area, hail to the victors…and enjoy those half off prices on T-bone steaks.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.