(By Barry Cohen) Take any medium you can name. It’s just a delivery system. It’s only as good as what you put on it. The Internet simply delivers your morning news to your phone instead of the kid on the bicycle throwing it on your front porch — and injuring the family cat.
While the consumer has more platforms than ever to choose from, the abundance of media channels has only minimally resulted in a dilution of each medium’s audience shares. Listening, viewing, and reading habits have changed, but old and new media platforms live side by side in our multi-platform world.
Let’s take an example. A young, urban male listens to his favorite AM Sports station for the scores of the game he missed while out the night before with his girlfriend, who just happens to hate sports. Then he switches over to his satellite radio for a music format nobody else plays. Then he starts to listen to a podcast, but bails out when he gets stuck in a traffic jam — and switches over to the all-News station for a traffic report so he can maneuver his way out of the mess. Sound familiar?
So how can we exploit these habits to our advantage? Well, some things haven’t changed in our multi-platform world. Wakeup call: you see, we’re not actually in the radio business. We’re in the business of providing unique, original, and compelling content — on demand, and across platforms. That is, if you want to stay in business. That said, if you have a city full of ears, it’s up to you to keep them glued to your speakers — or to their earbuds. Let’s look at how it’s been done and see if we can replicate some of the successes of the past.
Cool Case File 1: The Parade
While it’s a lot more innocuous than Orson Welles’ Halloween Martian invasion, a suburban station announced that there would be a parade at a designated time and place … and yes, the audience showed up looking for said (fictional) parade. All it takes is a brass band from your production library and a little enthusiasm. No floats, no uniforms, just ingenuity.
Hot Case File 2: The Barbecue on the Balcony
The morning team at New York’s heritage Talker WOR announced their annual barbecue would occur on the balcony outside of their 23rd-floor Manhattan studios. The host, John Gambling, the news man, and the traffic reporter all took turns tending to the sizzling sound effects. Alas, no meat on the grill, but a lot of tune-ins that heard sponsors’ messages.
Hotter Case File 3: Rockin’ the Restaurant
We helped a six-unit, casual-themed, locally owned restaurant chain fend off the intrusion of national chains into their marketplace. How did we do it? We had them tie in to Rock station WDHAFM’s live broadcasts from a Bruce Springsteen concert by offering to treat listeners to one absolutely free entrée if they presented a ticket stub from the concert. The result: 856 documented responses from promoting for just one week on only one station.
Still Hotter CaseFile 4: Break the Bed Contest
When a three-location waterbed store’s newspaper ads became tired and failed to pull their previous numbers, we turned up the volume. How? By placing a bed in the parking lot on one of America’s most heavily traveled routes during afternoon drive. A live broadcast with a DJ and a traffic reporter challenged people to try to break the bed by jumping on it. A $500 prize awaited them. Nobody could break the bed — overcoming the frequent fear and objection of first-time waterbed buyers. We backed up traffic with rubbernecking for miles — and we sold a lot of beds.
Hottest Case File 5: Nail the Door Shut
Afternoon DJ and Program Director Bo Weaver at WTTM-AM decided to protest the increased gas prices and limited supply resulting from an oil embargo. He nailed the studio door shut, played a protest song (“Cheaper Crude or No More Food”) back to back nonstop for hours, and refused to stop until the governor of his state did something about it. The stunt on his 1,000-watt AM station resulted in a tsunami of listener response, jamming the switchboard at the other stations in town — and national, no, make that international press coverage for his station. Now if you can’t figure out how to monetize that, sell your station to somebody else who can!
Barry Cohen is the managing member of AdLab Media Communications, LLC (firstname.lastname@example.org). He has sold both major-market and suburban radio, served as a station manager, and conducted RAB workshops and webinars.