By Mike Henry, Paragon Media
I heard this lyric, “C’mon Now. Express Yourself!” in a song and thought about the article topic I was under deadline to write for FMQB. Plus, it’s a lot more interesting than “The Importance of Marketing Your Radio Station” or “Marketing is the Last Mile for Radio Station Success.” But, that’s exactly what this is about.
Before you turn the page or yawn, this is serious business folks. We spend so much time, money and energy making our art and very little selling it. We fall back on the crutch that our radio stations are 24/7 marketing vehicles, so what else do we need? Well the answer is a lot more, unless you like being at or under a .5 share for the rest of your career. In public radio, we fall back on the crutch that ratings aren’t as important as the mission, but what good is the mission if very few people are exposed to it? It’s incumbent upon every station to use its broadcast, digital and community events to develop a larger and more engaged audience for music discovery in order to elevate local music, musicians and experiences, and to connect audiences with artists. That includes external marketing, which for many radio stations is the last mile to success.
I’ve personally spent the past 30+ years of my career helping build and launch music discovery radio stations around America that are hyper-focused on the local audience. Most of these stations have long-passed the precaution to “never market yourself before the on-air product and branding are ready.” Precious few of these stations have taken that last step, which often should include conducting market research to verify and fortify the appeal and readiness of the station before marketing it. For those leaders who have done the research and external marketing, the results are positive, compelling and indicative of what happens when a station sprints down the last mile to success.
KUTX in Austin http://kutx.org/
KUTX-FM in Austin signed on in late 2012 and hovered in the 1 to 1.8 share range (12+) for five years until it conducted market research, refreshed its branding and launched an outdoor advertising campaign in the Spring of 2017. The results speak to the power of a strategic game plan. As soon as the billboard campaign went up KUTX immediately moved above a 2 share in March of 2017, and thanks to an ongoing marketing campaign that is still running, KUTX hit a 3.6 share (12+) by the end of 2018. KUTX scored a 4.5 share among 18-49 year-olds and remains very competitive in 2019. KUTX rotates their messages quarterly, and include the billboards shown here:
And my favorite:
KUTX also convinced the Austin International Airport to play KUTX throughout the airport and to display this digital ad right next to the central flight information display.
Talk about EXTERNAL marketing!
Radio Milwaukee in Milwaukee https://radiomilwaukee.org/
Radio Milwaukee has been on the air since 2007 and like most non-commercial Triple A stations had lived under a 1 share for its entire existence. In 2017 Radio Milwaukee celebrated their 10th anniversary by breaking out of the bubble of internal marketing with a Block Party on the streets of Milwaukee. The Block Party included NoName, Strand of Oaks and Field Report and was attended by over 10,000 people.
They ALSO created a new website for the entire year at https://radiomilwaukee.org/ten/ and rolled out three new programming initiatives: “88Nine After 9,” an Urban and Alternative nightly change of pace that immediately cranked up night ratings; “Listener Approved,” a new Top 10 Countdown, and; “414Music.com,” a new HD2 stream of all-Milwaukee music that airs 24/7. Radio Milwaukee cut a deal with the city that had the station played at all the city beer gardens that summer, and the mayor declared “Radio Milwaukee Day.”
The results were immediate. In June 2017, the month of the Block Party, Radio Milwaukee vaulted up to a 1.4 share 12+ and their cume rose to an all-time high of 103,100 cume by August 2017. Shares within their A18-49 target demo were even higher. Remarkably, their all-local music stream took off and hit a .5 share in the ratings by August 2018 while FM still had a 1.3 share and a cume of 93,200.
Paragon has several other clients now boldly marching down the last mile to success. These stations are conducting expensive market studies to prepare for significant external marketing to boost awareness, trial and eventually market share. This gives me hope that the format is maturing and that stations are realizing that sounding great is wonderful but no guarantee for success. Hopefully, more stations will realize that marketing isn’t a sidebar but a central theme. This requires an umbrella marketing strategy that includes many areas requiring synchronized execution, including marketing via the station website, social media, external marketing such as TV, billboards and bus boards, cause marketing and all with a built-in component of setting goals upfront and measuring media impact on the back end. This isn’t a one-time effort but rather an ongoing commitment to evangelizing your radio station to potential and new listeners forever.
I work with all Paragon clients to build an Action Plan that includes every possible aspect of creating the perfect radio station. The plan concludes with a “Marketing” section that includes the following components that may serve as a checklist for your station to consider:
- Database Building
- Database Marketing
- Member Communications (for public stations)
- SmartPhone App
- Smart Speakers
- Streaming Host
- Streaming Player
- Mass Media
- Member Events/Promotions (for public stations)
- Major Giver Events/Promotions Events/Promotions
- Major Station Events/Promotions
- Local Media Partners
- Sponsorship Partners
- Public Relations
Research is critical throughout the entire process, from research that stations can conduct themselves to probe and stay close to core listeners such as online listener studies and listener panels, to professionally-conducted external market studies that survey potential listeners and the whole marketplace. Following through with deeper introspection, whether it be music testing or focus groups or branding studies, help stations reach even higher ground. Other outside support from Paragon or other firms should include building a marketing strategy, conducting a digital audit on your website and social media platforms, investigating long-lasting cause marketing external promotions, and establishing measurable media impact metrics to obtain and track over time.
This seems like a lot for a radio station to accomplish while still producing the best possible hour of radio every hour, doesn’t it? That’s because it is! But nothing comes easy these days and all aspects of our jobs, career and life itself is more complicated than ever. Hell, I’m 57 years-old now and would much rather just listen to new music all day, but it’s just not about the music anymore. So you have a choice, continuing on the free ride of only relying on your radio station to market your radio station, or stepping up and building an ongoing marketing strategy. Are you guilty of the “definition of insanity” that the Urban Dictionary boldly defines as “doing the exact same f***king thing over and over again, expecting sh*t to change. That. Is. Crazy.” The last mile to success is in clear view. What are you going to do? C’mon now. Express yourself.