Thinking Big

We’ve just been working with a non-radio client who have recently launched a new online business and we’re helping them with some online marketing and web analytics bits and pieces. They are a very small team but they are rolling out products and partnerships at pace – it’s impressive stuff and made me think a lot about our own business but also radio in general.

Indeed, their team is smaller than that of many post-consolidation radio stations and I’d imagine unlike those stations, they’re building their revenues for scratch. What impresses me most is their ambition. They’re relentless about doing ‘big things’.

I think in radio stations we often forget about what’s possible if we really go for it. Our reach, awareness and sexiness (to others anyway!) means we’re in the perfect position to push the boundaries and go for it!

I’m a big fan of Improv Everywhere. They’re a group of people who do outrageous stunts… for fun! And, to be honest, it makes the traditional radio crank calls look somewhat disappointing in comparison.

The video below shows a stunt they did where they picked a random person in a bar and pretended it was the man’s birthday (he didn’t know them – or the 20 people who turned up!) Take a look…

If this was done for a radio station, you’d have great time talking it up, gathering listeners to help you out, then you’d have audio for the show the next day, a load of video for the web, an interview on air with your target and probably loads of local press coverage too.

I think there’s really something in doing more ‘real world’ things that take you into the community. A disproportionate number of your hours come from a small percentage of your audience – your P1s. They’re also the people who will talk up what you do to your friends. Creating new P1s will probably do you more good than any other activity.

My friend Nick’s a (relatively) new Breakfast presenter for BBC Surrey. Now, there are lots of different tips for building a new Breakfast show, but reading Nick’s blog, it looks like he’s come up with a very different one. He’s bought an allotment. For the show.

But more than that, what’s he’s actually done is bought a narrative.

Looking at the subsequent posts he’s attracting listeners to ‘Green Squadron’ to help develop it – a shared activity that he can talk about on the radio. It already looks like it’s touching lots of people and they’ll go on to speak to others and tell them what they’re doing, about Nick, and the show. I’m sure they’ll tune in to hear if they’re mentioned – something they’ll encourage their friends to do as well.

It’s also got ‘passive entertainment value’ – you don’t need to be involved to follow the progress, hear the stories and what they’re up to. Of course, Nick’s got to keep it interesting and not make it exclude anyone, but I think it’s an interesting way to provide an anchor point to the show. Whilst many of the elements of radio shows can be ‘cloned’ by the station over the road, an allotment and all the people involved is a little harder to do.

What have you done recently to think differently? And would you like to supersize it?

RAJAR Awareness for Evans, 6Music and Absolute 80s

The good thing about RAJAR is that there’s at least four times every year where my medium, radio, gets a go at getting some media coverage. This quarter there’s been a change to the reporting rules which focuses that even more. For the first time results are coming out just after midnight (stations get them at 1.30pm the day before) which means the results can all be in today’s morning papers.

The stories that I think are interesting:
1. Chris Evans has 9.5million listeners (up from 8.4m)
2. 6Music has jumped from having 695k to 1,023k listeners
3. Absolute 80s crashes onto the scene with a very respectable 264k listeners and 1.4m hours
4. Big jump for digital – 38.5% of the UK now listens to digital radio (that’s DAB, DTV and online) each week, this collectively accounts for 24% of all UK radio listening. I’ll take that as half way to switchover!
5. Capital back to London’s Number 1.
6. All Radio reach is up – 91% of the population now listen to the radio each week – that’s over a billion hours of listening.

I think many of these stories are a good reminder of the importance of awareness and i’m going to use the first three as examples.

Everyone is busy. Everyone is assaulted by hundreds of messages everyday. Everyone is consuming information on multiple platforms. Everyone has very fixed firm favourites.

It is difficult to tell people that you exist, a reason they should consume you, how to encourage that first trial and then persuade them to come back and spend even more time with you.

In the old days, to make someone aware of your new radio station was quite easy. Just existing on a frequency generated trial and some promo on launch day in the local paper and on the local telly would get you to most of your county. Provided, of course, you had a cheesy DJ wearing headphones and holding a balloon!

Nowadays, people aren’t so starved of media that they scan for new stations on FM, they probably don’t read the local paper (if it hasn’t closed) and likewise for local TV too (do you know who presents your local TV bulletin?). The choice explosion has also now been with us a number of years. Many consumers are used to navigating Sky+, iTunes or the broader internet to seek out media to consume. In radio there’s probably less people who stay tuned to the ‘least worst option’ than there used to be.

Short version – just being ‘new’ is no longer the best route to growing an audience.

So… back to our top stories.

Chris Evans taking over the breakfast show on Radio 2 has been a big, sustained story for months and months. It kicked off from the rumours of him getting it, to the announcement, to the end of Wogan, to the talk-ups on Drive, to the announcement of Moira, to a TV advert on BBC channels, to the launch of the show, to the backlash. Oh, and it also being on-air and being quite good as well! This is sustained coverage from all media – reminding a big chunk of people that Chris Evans (remember, that bloke you quite liked) is on Radio 2 and is going to be doing a new Breakfast Show. There was also big coverage on Radio 2, from Wogan calming his fans to Chris talking it up – it’s the biggest station in the country – a great captive audience to remind people about the change and also a great platform to explain the benefits of tuning in too.

It’s interesting to compare Chris’s additional audience with that of the station as a whole. In total Radio 2 has added 1.096m listeners and the show has added 1.101m new ones. I’d wager this means Chris has managed the double whammy of bringing a load of new people to the radio station AND retaining the same number of old Radio 2 listeners as well. Now, i’m sure these weren’t all TOGs, but it looks like he’s added more existing Radio 2 listeners to his show than he’s lost from it. That’s quite a feat – not just for Chris, but also for Radio 2, who’s seemingly managed to replace a breakfast show at the right time, with the right DJ.

Another massive radio story has been 6Music. The BBC Trust report that predated by a few days the announcement from the management that they would like to shut it, showed that only 20% of the UK were aware it existed. Now, you need to be aware of something to trial it so it’s no surprise that their audience was small.

Well, one thing that certainly spiked people’s awareness of 6Music, was the threat to close it down! The result has increased its audience by 50%! What’s also interesting about the change is that normally when a station increases its reach, its average hours drop, as the newer people are lighter listeners compared to the older ones. 6Music’s managed to do the opposite, increasing its average hours from 5.5 to 7.7. It could be interesting to look at whether the threat of losing something has brought people closer to it and encouraged them to consume more (or, of course, whether there’s some over claiming of listening).

Finally, it’s great to see Absolute 80s do so well both in reach and hours. Not only because it’s been around for just a few months but also because it’s only on DAB in London (though nationwide on DTV and online).
I think the success is down to three main things – format, brand and distribution alongside using different channels to drive awareness.

Anyone who’s carried out radio research in the last ten years knows that 80s has been a format that ‘scores well’. Why has no one done it? God knows. The format is easy to understand, there’s loads of great tunes and it manages to be ‘gold’ without being ‘old’.

Secondly, by christening it Absolute 80s, TIML have done two things. They’ve aligned it to something people already know – Absolute Radio – which has been slowly growing its own brand values about ‘real music’, allowing it to be an 80s station without being too cheesy. They’ve also got the word 80s in its name. If you haven’t got serious money to spend on marketing, you need to have a Ronseal name – one that instantly explains what it does.

Finally – distribution. Digital TV and the internet can only get you so far – especially with listening hours. A good base in London on DAB means it can be a true radio choice for many listeners and launching an iPhone app means that it can be mobile for many more as well.

Using iPhone apps has also been a great way of driving awareness. As well as there being a stand-alone iPhone app, the station’s also appeared on the other Absolute iPhone apps too. This means that a large number of people are going to be made aware of the new station. Additionally as a stand-alone app they will have driven awareness as it’s climbed the iTunes Store charts.

The other thing that they did was actively promote on Absolute Radio and Absolute Classic Rock the fact that the station exists! They did a big on-air push towards the launch with tags on 80s tracks as well as simulcasting the launch show on Absolute Radio too.

It’s amazing how radio groups rarely use their own radio stations to promote their other radio stations. They’re all scared. There’s too many unknowns. I spent a long time hearing something along the lines of “But why should we move a listener from a stations that generates £8 per listener to one that generates 50p?” The answer, should anyone ever ask you, is “they don’t just listen to your station, you dummy”.

You also have to begin by admitting, even with the best will in the world, that it’s going to get harder and harder to maintain your audience. Your best option is to keep existing listeners happy and bring new listeners to your family of radio stations. You want to be fighting for your group’s share of a listener’s hours – you already know they spend time with other people – use a portfolio approach to make sure they listens less to the other people and keeps/grows their hours with you. Also, use the fact that they listen to two of your stations to give them lots of reasons to flick between them and not over to the competition.

Is that the time? Well, in summary, being successful is all about awareness. This can be generated lots of different ways, but it does need to be generated. If your product is right (and the three examples above all start from the point of being a good product) you need to use your entire armoury of weapons to ensure you get your message out there because just existing is definitely not enough. Even if you have a DJ with headphones and balloons.