Promotions 101: back to basics

Sally Dobson is best-known for her work with ESP, initially with Greg Smith, and later with Brian Ford. Sally left ESP in 2011 and, with her partners, owns three radio stations in Australia through their company Resonate Broadcasting.

When I was asked to write an article on Promotions, it struck me that I wasn’t perhaps the most qualified person to do so.  After all, I haven’t actually worked in a physical promotions department for at least a gazillion years.

The Fun and Games Department as I knew it, is now extinct. It’s all shiny and Gen Y and is called the Marketing, Tactics, Multi- Media and Integration Department or something like that.

I have probably forgotten a number of other buzz words that should be included in the title, but hey, I only have so many words to play with.

I should also point out that I have failed you in marketing 101 because I haven’t come up with a clever acronym, so for the sake of an argument let’s call it the MD, Marketing Department.

Now I know you radio peeps are a hard core bunch in your opinions and judgements, and right about now you’re thinking, ‘aw, she’s a bit bitter and twisted’. Au contraire my friends, my opening dialogue was designed to illustrate a point which I will get to eventually, I promise.

For the drivers amongst you, the cliff notes will read “You can put a goat in a tuxedo, but it’s still a goat”.

In truth, I have never been more excited about the possibilities that exist for the MD today. The opportunities are boundless and the ways to deliver a message are endless. There is no denying the fact that a big budget can buy you a presence. But, even those without a budget can play in the same multi-media spectrum and be heard.

However, increased opportunity also presents new challenges. And as big as the opportunities are, so are the challenges.

There are messages everywhere we turn. Entertainment, news and culture is now so prolific and prevalent that we are, in a literary sense, drowning in a sea of our own words.

Not only do we have unlimited entertainment choices, but we also have multiple ways in which to receive it. We all like the idea of so much choice, but the reality is we are narrow in our selection.  We have to be: time is limited, we go with what we know and trust.  So vying for consumers by underwhelming them with volume has to be a flawed practice. Surely overwhelming consumers with quality product is the key to cutting through every time.

I believe Radio has been the biggest benefactor of all the media’s in this tech explosion.  It has given us colour, pictures and a level of interaction that we didn’t previously have.  It has given us the opportunity to provide our listeners with even more entertainment and quality programming.

We have been on a massive learning curve and now the challenge is how we continue to harness this beast and make it work effectively for us.

If we come back to the fundamental basic truths, its glaringly obvious.

  • If you have a great product and the marketing doesn’t support the product it will fail or take    forever to cut through.
  • If you have a bad product no amount of marketing or dressing up is going to fix it. (Insert Goat analogy here).

So what are the basics?

Let’s look at the process for an on air promotion. For those of you who have been around for a long time, apologies for stating the obvious, for those that are new to the marketing arena here goes: –

It all begins with the idea and the purpose of the idea.  We can all sit around and brainstorm and think we have come up with the greatest promotion that ever was. Perhaps it is?  But the two most important questions that must be asked are: –

Does it serve the strategic needs of the station? 

The two most common reasons for promotional activity are either to build your cume or, increase your TSL. As we are dealing with basics let us leave it at that for now.

Does it connect with the target audience and the personality of the station?

It doesn’t matter how brilliant the concept, if it doesn’t fit the target and engage the target, what’s the point?

If an idea fails when filtered through these two critical benchmarks then it would be foolish to proceed however good you think the idea might be.

Not to say that the promotion cannot be adapted to fit the criteria, but will it compromise the entertainment integrity if it is adapted?  If so, then perhaps it should be shelved.  Every situation is unique.

The starting process should be kept as simple as possible and built on from there. I always liked to start with ‘the money is no object scenario’ and work back from there, especially for those who have little or no budget at all.  The reason for this is to start big and work your way back to what can be achieved, rather than thinking small and losing out on opportunities that were always there after the fact.

Brainstorm the promotion, even if you think you have all the magic, you never know what will come out of left field and add value to the overall quality of your product.

Mindmap the construction of your promotion, try and identify every single element that needs to be accomplished.  From Production to prizes to scripts to clients to website to on-air etc.

The Blue Print and Gate Keeper.  Who is driving the promotion and who is responsible for the plan?  The plan is critical, it should outline every detail of the promotion with timelines and who is responsible for what.

Catch up meetings to check progress and make sure everyone is on track for launch and to tackle any problem areas.  Meetings shouldn’t need to be long if the plan has been well executed.

Once you have got to this stage and your promotion is in control then you can delve further into what will enhance the promotion and ultimately give it life.

One word of caution and this is particularly for smaller markets with more limited resources.  Don’t over complicate your promotion.  You want to be able execute every element perfectly, to get maximum return and buy in.  If you run yourself ragged with two many bells and whistles, it will sound sloppy on air and you won’t have enough time to do the daily updates properly, that are key to a successful promotion.

The best promotions that I have heard and seen, focus on:

  • Great production and great scripting.  This is pre, during and post. How did you introduce your promotion, how did you sell your promotion on air and how did you engage your listeners with updates?  Production is the most powerful tool to keep your promotion entertaining.  Use it to keep building daily.  But, keep it simple, messages need to be clear, and easy to understand, nobody wants to have to jump through hoops to understand or participate.
  • Buy in from your on air talent, if they don’t know about it or don’t get it, how can you expect them to love it?
  • Element of surprise – building in activities you just weren’t expecting that support the tactic.
  • Focussed multi -media tie ins.  Photos, videos, website activity, TV cross promotes etc.  Be careful with social media, Twitter, Facebook etc.  Don’t use it as a call to action, no one takes any notice of that crap, because that is what everyone does.  Be clever, be engaging, be funny or don’t.
  • Street talk – everyone knows about it and they are talking about it.

There will be a million other things and I am sure you will all happily remind me of the things I have forgotten but for now I have rambled on for quite long enough.

Basically, its about the basics and doing them really well.  If you want to cut through and be heard, be clear, be concise, be focussed and they will listen.

Sally started as a breakfast producer for B105, (ok it might still have been known as 4BK back then, but she’s trying not to give her age away!) and went on to work in various roles including panelling, on-air, more breakfast producing and promotions. 

In 1995 Sally joined Greg Smiths’ newly formed consultancy ESP, where she took up residence in the back room.  She was finally released by Brian Ford late last year. During this residency, she learned many skills and also indulged in her passion for music and shared this on a weekly basis via music calls with the then Southern Cross regional stations.  Highlights of her time with ESP included consultancy trips to Sweden and China, developing talent, market visits to many regional locations and all the fantastic people she met along the way.

In 2008, Sally along with her partners, bought three radio stations and Resonate Broadcasting Pty Ltd was established. Now she has her very own back room and works from there, Greg and Fordy, are of course, welcome to visit any time.

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