I don't know about you, but I'm thinking the upcoming Fall ratings book is going to be one of the most important in recent history. Yes, they're all life and death – and don't let anyone tell you any different. But the rating period that finishes off 2021 is going to be telling – about radio's rebound, the trajectory of the pandemic, the economy's recovery, the holiday season, and whether we really return to some concept of “normal.”
So, I ask you: With so much on the line, what plans do you and your team have for marketing and promoting your radio station?
I can hear you laughing from here. No one's got any money. And among those with any kind of budget, it is modest at best. For most broadcast radio stations, that's not a result of COVID – it's been that way for years. Marketing money has been at a premium for a long time, reserved for new station launches or when a usually solid brand goes into a slump. Many programmers have simply stopped asking for marketing dollars because they know what the answer will be.
But following up on a recent blog from superlative talent coach, Randy Lane, last week, the fact is every station has a healthy budget – that often goes underused.
Randy's post – “Are You Giving Away a Million Dollars a Year?” – made the point that many stations have tremendous potential to “market” its best personality shows on their own air. Randy goes on to list some of the more successful promo styles – “Best of” and listener testimonials among them. Good points, all. It's a blog post well worth reading.
But it was this line that just about jumped off the screen:
“So many stations don't take advantage of the free advertising on their own station to promote a star morning or afternoon show.”
I'll double-down on that, and say many stations don't use their promo inventory strategically – period. Oftentimes, promos are randomly placed, if scheduled at all.
Many programmers meticulously schedule their music each day – sometimes requiring 90 minutes or more – but neglect to spend much time considering, much less mapping out their promo content marketing strategy.
There's an old saying you've heard before:
“The shoemaker's children go barefoot.”
That's right. Hundreds of clients get the best from a station's reach, exposure, and credibility. But the station itself often suffers because while the expertise, the knowledge, and the promos are at hand, there often aren't enough hours in the day to address the opportunity of marketing a station over its own airwaves.
The management tools are there. RCS's Linker was designed to do just that. But to effectively use promo scheduling tools, PDs need to think like sales managers. MusicMaster has a tool called Airplay Affidavit that provides great insight about a station's promo schedules.
The sales department thinks about their inventory like precious metals. Yes, some avails are more valuable than others, depending on the show, daypart, and day when they're scheduled. But all their units are meaningful, particularly because they are finite.
Unlike a carpet store or a brewery where you can walk in the back to grab another roll or a case, there are only so many advertising opportunities on any radio station – commercial or public. You have to sell them – and utilize them – surgically.
That means radio station avails are more valuable than an average company's inventory because they are limited. All the more reason why PDs need to find the time to manage it.
Many programmers don't see it through that lens. In fact, a station's programming inventory often is under-utilized, and in some cases, rarely considered. This is the case on both commercial and public stations, where promos are often afterthoughts, randomly scattered throughout the broadcast day.
It is not uncommon to hear a host do a live read for a station event, immediately followed by a produced piece for that same event. Or hearing promos for something upcoming a handful of times during a daypart, followed by a gap of several hours before it is mentioned again. Much of the problem is that these avails are scheduled more by chance than by design – not a particularly strategic way to handle valuable inventory that reaches thousands and even tens of thousands of key listeners.
So, if a value was placed on avails controlled by the programming department, what would that amount to every year?
We do know this – when there's a buy on the line, PDs and sales reps run the numbers. They add up the cost of :30 and :60 spots that make up the pitch, and then place a value on included “mentions” and promos.
My back-of-the-cocktail-napkin-math is at right.
If you figure there are 4 avails per hour to promote station “stuff” – personalities, events, features, contests, charitable campaigns – that means there are nearly 35,000 of these opportunities a year.
If I price them at just $50 each (which is lower than many stations would charge a client), the value of an average station's inventory comes to:
That's nearly double Randy Lane's estimate of $1 million, and it underscores just how much value a station's promo inventory has. Of course, your math will vary, depending on avails and how you price them.
It also makes your station – and by extension, your PD – the biggest client on the station by far. Based just on the value of ad spend, “the client” in this case – you – deserves to have this inventory professionally managed. And that means asking the same key questions an advertiser ought to ask:
1. What's the focal point of the day? Or the week?
Programmers in television or shows like Today or Jimmy Kimmel Live! look at both that day's show – and that week's shows. If they know they have something really amazing coming up later this month, they'll factor it into the messaging mix, too.
It helps to have a grid, a white board or some other tool that helps programmers visualize what's coming up, what needs to be promoted, where it should be promoted, and how often. It's also useful for seeing where there are “voids” – where very little is going on.
2. What types of promos work best?
As Randy points out in his blog post, there are several ways to architect your messaging, depending on what you're promoting. If it's a promotion with a personality attached to it, a testimonial/live read might be most effective. Or maybe a produced spot would make more sense. Or a mix of the two.
If it's a major promotion or event for the station, it likely deserves more than just “mentions.” Letting the airstaff know what needs to be emphasized or a sign in the studio isn't going to get it done. (“Hey, J Dub, hit our contest once an hour or so this week, OK?”). You wouldn't do that to a client. And remember, YOU are the client.
3. What's the reach and frequency analysis on your “schedule?”
That's right. Calculate the reach (how many people will hear your message in a week) and the frequency (how many times they'll hear it) on the current plan you want to go with. Study the results. You might not know exactly how many times you want most of the cume to hear the message over a week, much like you think about the rotation of songs. But by also watching the results (registrations, festival tickets sold, sign-ups on a landing page), you will get a feel for how many avails it will require to get your message across.
4. How do you manage two, three, or more promotions at the same time?
Chances are, you've got multiple contests, events, promotions, and features going on simultaneously. Prioritize them because they're not all A-level. When you know how many avails you have, and where they are, you can begin to plan your day (or week) based on which campaigns deserve a more robust promo effort.
You might also decide the campaigns that need fresh creative – especially promotions and events that run for several weeks. At what point do you swap out old copy and production for new, updated messages?
The bottom line?
Most stations have a million dollar nuclear promotional weapon that's just a mouse-click away. But programmers need to find the time and energy to put it to work.
Now, I know some of you reading this post want to scream at me for creating more work for you to do. I know – you're slammed, you're swamped, and you already wear more hats than you should.
I hear that, and I am seriously empathetic. But let me ask you an important question:
How are the nation's biggest companies – iHeartMedia and Audacy – utilizing their promo inventories? What have Bob Pittman and David Field told their marketing departments to do on a company-wide basis?
They are each throwing a ton of local station promotional weight behind their podcasts, their apps, their streaming channels, and their corporate events.
In other words, they are managing their promo inventory across the scale provided by their hundreds of radio stations all over the country. That's a lot of megaphones all churning out the same messaging at the same time.
On a smaller scale, every radio company – or any station – can and should do this, too.
Radio works – and that's why the biggest of the big are ensuring their avails are strategically deployed, doing the heavy lifting.
Shouldn't you do the same for your station's local assets?
Now, if your market manager or your SVP from corporate calls this month to tell you they've found a slush fund of promotional dollars for the fall, go for it. But for the other 95% of you that will have to get through the Fall book on your wits, your creativity, your innovativeness, and your abilities, spend a few hours now architecting your plans, your promos, and your messaging.
You just might come up with a million dollar idea.
And now, you'll have the promotional firepower to pull it off.
- The Power of Music Passion - October 21, 2021
- Addressing My Car Radio Paranoia 3: Let's Fix It - October 20, 2021
- Radio's Car Radio Paranoia 2:What If Eric Rhoads Was Right? - October 19, 2021