Expat Files: Allan Cameron
With so many Australian and New Zealand radio professionals doing great work around the world, we like to get in touch and discover what they used to do here and what they are up to right now.
Allan Cameron is currently the Group Content Director in one of Asia’s most competitive markets – a market of just under 20 million people.
But before we find out where, let’s step back in time a little – Where did you get your start and where were you before heading overseas?
A little? A lot! I was always intrigued by how radio works. As a kid growing up in New Zealand I remember walking into the local radio station and found it amazing to “watch” radio in action. I ruined Mum and Dad’s Pye 3 in 1 system and numerous records pretending I was on air.
Still fascinated, I did work experience at 2GO, Gosford in 1987, moving from Panel operator, to cart boy and first on air job doing nights in 1989. It was a privilege to become Program Director of the station before I left for Malaysia.
Since then I worked as Music Director, announcer and Program Director on The Central Coast, Newcastle, Adelaide and Sydney.
How long have you called Malaysia home now for?
I have been here almost 4 years and loved every second of it.
You’re the Group Content Director of Star Radio Group – how big are these guys in media?
Star Radio Group is part of the Star Media Group, we own Malaysia’s biggest English newspaper, also have interest across other media and companies.
The radio group is the second largest commercial in terms of brands with a total of 5 stations.
So are your brands across the country or just in KL?
We have 3 brands broadcasting across Malaysia (988, REDFM and SURIA FM), a KL only female station (CAPITAL FM) and a localised content station in Sabah (SURIA SABAH)
What’s that make the total market size?
The market size is just under 20 million, with 88% consuming radio in some way. Including radio on different platforms, we are looking at 48 stations.
How competitive is it all?
Malaysia is highly competitive, due to the high percentage of radio listenership. Digital consumption is also high (on line consumption, whether it be apps or streaming), so the competition comes from all entertainment sources.
The market is divided into language, demographic, race, culture etc. So, while your station might be an English language station, your listeners may be tri-lingual and switch between many different stations.
How many surveys a year?
There are 2 surveys per year
So you’ve just moved to using GfK… what prompted that?
Obviously the change in the Australian markets to GFK prompted the initial process. We wanted research that took into account the changing patterns of radio listenership, in particular digital consumption, plus gain greater audience insight. The electronic diaries, mobile phone accessibility and recruitment process gives a robust approach and in the end, numbers that are truly reflective of the audience.
Is it the same methodology and gfK here in Australia?
The principle is the same, but the great thing about GFK is that it’s not a one size fits all mentality. They assess and customise the methodology based on habits and other psychographic details about the population. This is especially prevalent when it comes to on line versus paper distribution and the recruitment process.
Neilson is still in the picture, so the Star Group has gone alone on that one?
Yes. We chose GFK and it is the biggest and most comprehensive study done in the market. We wanted wider and deeper insights into our brands.
In Malaysia, you would be dealing with multiple groups – Malays, Chinese and Indians – how do you deal with all the languages?
The great thing is that English is so prominent as a language that communication is easy. The main areas to understand and respect are the cultural differences between the groups. Things that were great on air concepts in Australia, may not work or be accepted here.
Have you learnt any yourself?
Obviously, you learn how to swear first in all languages! I have learnt enough Bahasa to understand and respond, but only enough to get by! I think I have learnt more of what not to say!
What about Air-checking in another language?
As I have a Program Manager for each station and language, air checking is done a lot by translation of breaks. For the Malay station, because I at least understand, it’s easier. Mandarin and Cantonese are still a mystery! Most of my work involves training and development, so English is the language. The individual Program Managers then monitor and report progress and areas of need.
What’s the best thing about being in KL?
Cliched but true, it’s got to be the food. The great thing about such diversity in culture is the diversity in food and the availability of it. The place never closes, so any food any time!
I love the people and the lifestyle, it’s relaxed and such an open place, you really feel like you are truly living here, not just visiting.
What challenges did you face when you first arrived?
I think the first was actually getting here, we literally had 2 weeks to pack up and move and our daughter was only 3 weeks old at the time. Outside of that, the main challenges were gaining an understanding of the country and the people and culture. The one thing I have learned is not to come in thinking that you can replicate everything you have done. You need to ask questions, understand the way they think and work and adapt your thought process.
Radio has its core components in every market, it’s just a case of adapting knowledge and experience to how it can be applied specifically.
Malaysia has faced a few challenges in 2014 with2 airlines tragedies and even the recent Air Asia in 2015 – how did your brands reflect and more your team cope with it all?
These tragedies had an impact on everyone in this country. They were and still are heartbreaking times. It’s tough when you are working in the media covering the developments, but so hard personally, when your team members have lost relatives, friends and colleagues. Everyone knew someone.
On air and on line, we extended our bulletins on both occasions and broadcast press conferences live. There is no such thing as format during these times, we run a more subdued product and focus on information.
In a radio first, in support of being united in times of adversity, we conducted a joint breakfast broadcast, all 4 stations, in 3 languages across all our frequencies. It was logistically tough and emotionally draining, but it brought together race and culture and allowed people to grieve or pay their respects. It was a humbling experience.
What’s next for you?
I am here until the end of January, so at the moment I am setting up the brand strategies for 2015 and working on the forward plan for the group.
There may be opportunities in this region, which I would love, but I am really keen to come back to Australian radio. Being a heavily regulated country here when it comes to radio content, I do miss the freedom and creativity that Australian Radio offers. Working and living here for 4 years has given me a new perspective on content generation and execution. I'd like to move into a Content Director or consulting position, I love teaching,training and developing talent, so a role involving this I'd be keen to explore.
If want to catch up with Allan, you can email him here.