Thursday, January 31, 2008

Imaging - We Need New Tricks

Looking over the PPM data we get a real picture of how the audience uses our programming. We can see exactly when they tune out and in and with a little reconstruction we can see what was on the air when they left.

What the early data analysis is showing is that the 'trigger finger' is quicker than we may have imagined. They mostly come for the music and when we spend too much time away from it they leave. After you've spent hours and hours pouring over the data the most obvious reaction is DUH!!!

The first reaction by some programmers has been to cut it all down. Limit the jock breaks at all costs and cut the imaging down to the smallest level possible.

No doubt we needed a big hair cut in imaging. Look at the long winded morning show recyclying promos with a 40 second bit (or longer) and plenty of set up around it. Or take the contest where you listen for the secret song, which will be announced by Jimmy and Debbie at 7:35 every weekday morning and then listen all day for the song with special clues at 9-2 and 5 only on WXXX the best of the 70s 80s and 90s. Did we really think anyone with a life was going to play the contest? Or how about the music promos with long music clips in them and spiced up with clips from movies only a Blockbuster employee knows.

Also look at our imaging plan for most hours. EVERYTHING has imaging around it. It's between every song, sometimes in the middle of the spots and of course on both sides of the spot break. There are more imaging sweepers/promos in an hour than there are songs played on nearly every station. Much of this has come from the diary recall system. When you look at the task of getting into a listener's head with enough impact to get them to remember you station that evening or even a week later and enter it into a diary many of us programmers took the sledge hammer of frequency to it recklessly.

In the end we have bit off way more than we have time for with the audience. We often want to accomplish way too much with every sweeper and promo.

It's time to get organized. It's time to get creative.

How well organized is your imaging clock? Take a look at the MOST VALUABLE images you need and want to convey. Then take a look at how much 'inventory' you have to invest in building the image. You need both a long term plan for the campaign and also a short term clock to execute it. Gone are the days when we used to put all the Morning Show sweepers in a cart/folder and just let them rotate. You need a lot more detailed and strategic plan to execute your imaging on this kind of budget.

Creativity counts big time. Every second counts and at the same time you can't overcook it. You also can't just let the same imaging piece ride for weeks on end. It needs to be freshened.

Another fact seques are back and should be used. Many may shutter at the 'dead air' as 2 songs just blend together. How will they know who they are listening to? Guess what - they have some brains and if you've done your job in building the brand and your stationality they will know. Most radio's have a little indicator of which frequency they are tuned to - let's let the audience use that resource to also record their listening.

Even if PPM isn't on the way to you we have to fact the reality that this reflects the real behavior of the audience. Take a close look and listen to what you do between the songs - remember the audience does and from the PPM data it looks like we have some work to do.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Recission - Visiting an Old Blog Entry

With all the talk this week of a recession and the stock market becoming a weird thrill ride most days I dusted off a piece I wrote here back in mid-November about the recession we are clearly in. While everyone (the Fed, White House and many in Congress) seem to be dancing here and not seeing the reality of a banking industry gone amuck, too much spending and the damage the high oil prices have on everything.

Surely CNBC will have bigger ratings as economic issues are clearly taking the spotlight. Rising Oil, the mortgage lending mess, the weaker dollar and the high cost of the war are starting to all combine and head us close to or into a

Retailers are already expecting a weaker holiday spending session and
we've already seen the auto industry struggle for most of the past year. It's
also affecting radio as the results from 3rd quarter in radio are disappointing
and in some groups it's more about 'just getting 07 over with' at this point.

So let's say we go into an official recession which would probably be declared
after more than a few months of a significant decline of economic activity,
according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. According to the NBER
we've been chugging along for the last 7 years without a recession - look at the
history of 'official' recessions for the last 60 years:

July 1953-May 1954 10 months

Aug. 1957-April 1958 8 months

April 1960-Feb. 1961 10 months

Dec. 1969-Nov.1970 11 months

Nov. 1973-March 1975 16 months

Jan. 1980-July 1980 6 months

July 1981-Nov. 1982 16 months

July 1990-March 1991 8 months

March 2001-Nov. 2001 8 months

They are usually not that long and over the last 20 years we've only 2 of
them lasting a total of 16 months.

I bring this up not out of a desire to give up radio programming for economics, but perhaps to help your team as you plan for 08 just ahead. We shouldn't let the 'R' word worry us even though there will be lots of 'hype' around it.

We also shouldn't let the 'R' word spook our advertisers and the teams inside the stations. Remember we sell advertising and there are always products and services looking to brand themselves regardless of the economic conditions. Actually a recession is the perfect time to build a brand. You will likely see less competition, less clutter around your message, and remember the audience is STILL THERE. Just because they may be holding their wallets a little tighter they are still looking for entertainment and we offer it for free every day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Few DEMO Facts

As 2008 gets underway everyone is another year older and when it comes to target audiences and demos some interesting facts come up:

  • If you take the definition of the boomers as being born from 1946 to 1964 the first boomers are now 62 and the youngest are 44.
  • The only cell with any boomers left in it within 25-54 is the last cell 45-54!!!!
  • The peak year of the boomers was 1957 and now they are 51 years old - in just 3 years they will be out of the 25-54s.
  • Around 38% of the boomers are already out of the 25-54 cell.
  • The newest members of 25-54s were graduating from high school in the 90s.
  • If you were graduating with the dawn of grunge (1992) you are now 34.
  • In 2009 Led Zeppelin's first LP will be 40 years old. In 1990 a 40 year old piece of music was from 1950 - the end of the big band era.
  • The last boomer will turn 50 in 2014.
We used to think of 25-54s as all boomers and the formats that did well in that demo were boomer formats for the most part. Classic Rock/Hits, AC, and Country all had good appeal with boomers and are often the first choice if you want to win 25-54. But the reality of 25-54s is changing the Generation X and Y are taking over the demo and the music of the 80s and 90s is starting to be the mainstay soundtrack for the new 25-44 demos. Soon there will be no boomers left. What formats will be the most valuable then? Have we even thought about this or even started to create new formats that will appeal to the new 25-44s?

This could be the golden opportunity if you are looking for new ways to win in 25-54s.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Selling CUME

One of the BIG CHANGES we face in selling with the new PPM Ratings system is the sudden advantages we have in Cume. On the other side of those advantages is the news that the AQH numbers are not as large as they have been with the old diary system.

In Arbitron's analysis of the Houston and Philly PPM data so far we are seeing HUGE Cume numbers that are a lot higher than we are used to seeing. Just look at the comparisons from Fall 06 comparing it to the diary Cume of Summer of 06 in Houston.

For years we've sold radio a lot more on frequency than we have on reach. The focus has been on how many people will hear my spot when it runs. In working with Cume the focus is really more on how many people will MY CAMPAIGN (the whole schedule) reach.

Getting the advertisers to understand that they are reaching a ton more than they imagined is a challenge. Look at the numbers here - the Cume for every station is DOUBLE what we see in the diaries and for many stations the Cume is close to TRIPLE.

The advantage here is that radio is really a MASS MEDIA. It reaches over 90% of the market and when you look at individual stations they all reach over 450,000 in Houston. In today's crowded media landscape is there any other outlet that you can go to and reach this many people? Not many if any outside of TV and when you consider that most have over 100 channels to pick from on the cable/satellite you have to buy a lot of stations to reach the levels radio delivers.

The news here really does make RADIO a great vehicle. But, we have to change the habits of the media buying community which is pretty point/AQH driven.

Why not start selling more with Cume numbers in all your presentations now???

Even if PPM won't hit your market for a couple of years you still have a lot more diary cume than you have AQH numbers. The more you start to use the Cume numbers the more the buyers and advertisers will begin to get used to them. Explain that these Cume numbers are way under estimated and reality is a lot bigger. Add a bullet point on the Cume - even if they typically 'don't care.' The more they see it, the more they will get their arms around it when PPM is in place.

Not in a PPM market? It's still important.

As buyers in regional and national spheres begin to work with PPM they will be shifting their focus to the Cume numbers for radio. Arbitron is doing it's part by mostly publishing the Cume figures in the monthly releases to the press.

How will the buyers work with 2 different systems - PPM and Diary? Will they have one set of parameters or expectations in PPM markets and different settings for the Diary markets? Maybe, but we will probably see 1 set of standards emerge here and the bigger markets will take the lead.

The sooner we start to 'prime the pump' for selling Cume the better off we will all be. Maybe including CUME in your presentations should be your New Year's Resolution in 08.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Entertaining The Audience

Making your radio station shine and deliver bigger audience's in today's world means more than having 'the 400 best songs from the 80s, 90s with 51 minutes of back to back music every hour.'

I can get that on my I pod, a billion Internet stations, and many other sources.

While traditional radio may offer it for 'free' (not counting the commercials) it's not enough to earn a P1 in today's media landscape.

We have to go out and actively ENTERTAIN the audience. All it takes is 3 basic ingredients to pull it off:

Ideas - They don't have to all be amazing - ground breaking - knock you off your feet ideas. But, you have to have a reasonable collection of on-air features, local events, audience participation vehicles, web attractions, and even sales tie ins.

Talent - A creative approach to the ideas. Sometimes that means the air staff executing it on air, other times it means producing it, and other times it comes from the creative juices in the promotion department. Brainstorm with your team every week and if you don't have a big team (maybe no team at all) collect some people from sales, production, or even the other stations in the cluster.

Organization - Having a promotion calendar is a start, but it's just scratching the surface. You need a much bigger view than planning a Valentines Day Date night at a bar. You need to look at everything from the music to the TV shows to the web sites to the community and more. If it's on the audience's radar you need to take a look at how to team up with it and even if it isn't you may want to work with it and put it on their radar. There are also lots of sales tie in oppotrunites with lots of the events and ideas, but you have to give the sales team time to circulate the idea, make sure to have your calendar set up months in advance for the ideas that have sales potential.

We have a lot going on right now with elections on the way, winter weather in may cities, big football weekends/games ahead, spring hopefully on the way, TV shows, movies, and lots of music news/releases to get involved with right now. What are your plans for St. Pats Day, Cinco de Mayo, the first day of Spring?

If you don't have anything going on this week MAKE SOMETHING UP. Maybe it's Pet Picture Day where everyone posts pics of their pets, the coolest leather - where people post their leather jackets on your site - or maybe a Commando Friday (the hell with casual days - let's go Commando). None of these ideas takes money but all of them could be entertaining with a little production and air staff magic. Integrate your web site, use the audience on the phone, - give the listeners something to talk about and have some fun with.

Often when we work on the entertainment factor with stations the issue of limited staff and budget comes up, often putting out the fire. It needn't be that way - you can do a lot with a small team, a simple idea, and a little radio magic.

The key is filling you your dance card with lots of ideas and making every day or week special. Let's go out and have some fun and entertain. If you're just pressing F10 on Selector and thinking the station is fine. Quit worrying about what you don't have and work with what you DO have.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sound Quality Today

With the CES going on in Vegas this week we've been seeing and reading all the reports of new tech. The tiny/slim new LCD TV, HD Radio, and all kinds of new devices.

One thing that we didn't hear much about was 'sound quality.' In today's world it doesn't seem to matter. We listen to music on the tiny and tinny speakers in our laptops, our I-Pods have little ear buds that really don't sound very good in the end, we plug in tiny speakers, and now we even listen to music on our cell phone speakers. I wonder what the frequency response is on these systems - maybe 5 or 6K. That's about as good as the old AM radio.

It seems like no one cares about sound quality anymore. We have digital music files that are super compressed and sound pretty bad in the end. I can remember guys hauling up speakers as big as a small dresser to their dorm rooms in college. Systems that looked more like this and of course we also had a full wall of 'albums' to play on them.

There was hardly room in the dorm for the bed - but it clearly sounded GREAT.

Is your station keeping up with the down trend in sound quality. First, you shouldn't give up and forget about quality. There will be a return to a trend towards higher quality and there will also be innovations to make smaller devices have higher quality. Also the quality could soon be a much stronger selling point for radio. It could even be now if we took the time to sell it more on the air.

But, you should make sure your processing and files sound good on any system. As much as you can. It may take some sacrifices but it's worth the effort.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Old and Tired?

With all the 'new media' tugging away at TSL for radio we all need to make sure we are look and sound fresh. As we all approach the new year with our stations take a good look and listen to your product.

Is it the same tried and true music, positioning, look, air staff style, and imaging that's been there for years and years?

Is it laden with 'old style' cliches in the production and from the air staff?

Does the logo and marketing image look the same as it did in the 80s or 90s?

Is the air staff doing the same features over and over for years and years?

Does it sound like a machine or is it human?

Does the web site look like it's right out of the 90s?

In radio we often get into a mind set that over focuses our habits and thinking for consistency. We get SO worried that we might ruin the recipe for success that we refuse to update or change anything.

Some of this comes from being measured with the recall -diary system for so long. We had to drill it into the audience's head so we did it over and over and over till we pounded it in there - and then we kept it up fearing they might forget.

Hopefully the diary system will fade away in our life times (it could take that long). But, our relentless pounding on so many fronts has damaged our image with the audience.

Aside from all the flash of new media we have been our own worst enemy when it comes to creative thinking, innovation, and just trying new ideas.

It's making terrestrial radio look old and stuck in our ways to the younger audience and in the older demos they've been exposed to it for so long they often show boredom or weaker passion levels.

If this describes your station it's probably time to take a long look at the ingredients of your brand and see which ones can be updated or shined up to look and feel fresh. Everything has a shelf life - radio is no exception. Take a day get away from the office - listen and look at your product as if you were a new listener. If it looks boring, old, tired then it's time to dig in and bring it back to life.