Wednesday, February 20, 2008

All Christmas - It Took GUTS

We've all seen the success of going All Christmas Music for AC/Oldies and even Country radio. The numbers show impressive gains year after year. It's become a rather obvious strategy that has spread to nearly every market in the land. The AC format across the land shows up with significantly bigger shares in the Fall and it's due to the tactic. The most recent format analysis from the Fall 07 book shows around a 10% increase for ALL/AC shares over the Summer shares, but if you just pull out the Mainstream AC stations (leaving out urban, hot AC, and Modern AC - who mostly avoid the Christmas tactic) you have a 17% share increase.

I can remember when it was first conceived, working in the Clear Channel VP Programming world we had a gathering of the 20 or so 'minds' and the strategy idea came up to work with the AC stations to go all Christmas. It wasn't the company mandate at the time, in 2001, and we had to go out and try to introduce the idea to the fleet of AC Programmers and Market Managers.

The problem with AC at the time was a lot of pretty successful stations that required a lot of marketing. The format itself was also fairly slow moving in adapting anything. Great care, debate and thought went into any innovation from rotations to music breath to the style of the air staff. The environment of the station was the 'key to success' and any changes in it were often viewed as dangerous at best.

At that meeting there were only a few examples of stations that went all Christmas in November. St Louis had a classical station, Grand Rapids had the #3 AC station go all Christmas and maybe a few others scattered around the markets. While there were solid success stories many of the programmers and managers we presented the idea to thought 'this won't work here.'

The feeling from many was it will ruin the station and push off all the listeners who like the variety, tempo, era flow and music blend. We also didn't know what Christmas songs worked and in the end there are only 50-75 big hits here so the repetition could be grueling.

Even New York was not eager to use the strategy. The feeling was that New York had too many Jewish listeners and they don't celebrate the holiday in the same way most of the Christmas songs do. NYC also had tons of revenue and no one wanted to upset that apple cart.

We all know the story now. AC has made Christmas music a staple and it draws tons of cume to the stations without tons of marketing.

The lesson for all of us from this, regardless of your format, is to keep your mind open to new ideas. Jumping on any new idea, song, imaging style, marketing tactic, or jock could be the 'killer card' it could also be the 'big flop' and ruin the 'secret sauce' that's central to the station's success.

You have to evaluate the idea carefully, but don't be too careful and watch it beat you down the road. Yes, you have to 'know when to hold them and when to fold them' but don't make your first reaction always to 'fold.' Many of our formats need to invest in new ideas, strategies, and tactics. With all the new media competition standing on the past treasure chest won't cut it and we all know it. It's time to innovate and look at new ideas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The sight of Marc Chase in a Santa hat hopping on a board room table is etched in my memory.