Dirk Anthony talks radio consultancy

Staff Writer

An experienced international media consultant, Dirk has delivered strategic vision and created value for radio brands around the world, including the UK, Europe, UAE, and Australia.

He has been involved in developing and implementing organisational solutions and new cultures for high performance teams and people.

Asia Radio Today recently spoke to him about his insights and experiences of radio consultancy.

1. Start by telling us about your radio background in Australia and the UK.

I’ve been consulting international radio stations along side my corporate roles for 20 years. I have been fully focussed on building my media consulting practise since I arrived back into the UK 18 months ago.

Most recently, I was at Australia’s second public service broadcaster SBS Australia as Director, Audio and Languages. SBS’s funding model is similar to Channel 4 in the UK. It is state owned and funded with commercial advertising. At SBS my task was to reposition the speech based networks and develop new multi-platform services to attract a younger audiences. I was responsible for a team of 200 providing News, Information, Music and Audience engagement across two National Radio Networks, TV News, Music Channels, Online, Mobile & Social platforms – in over 60 languages.

Previously to SBS, I was in the UK as Group Content Director of GCap Media. In this role I was responsible for all broadcast and digital content across a portfolio of 45 stations at the UK’s largest commercial radio group. This included National, regional local markets and the London brands such as Capital fm Classic fm, Xfm and Planet Rock.

During my time in the UK I also led the integration of broadcast and digital Content teams in a number of mergers and acquisitions including the UK’s largest radio companies (Capital Radio Group Plc and GWR Group plc), contributing towards a £200 million GBP turnover, with 2,000 staff.

2. How do you ‘do’ radio consultancy? And how has this changed over the years?

It’s a great question. What is radio consulting in 2014? The fundamentals are still the same – being obsessed with satisfying the audience. In practical terms, it means identifying a hole in your market place. Assuming there is value (in that market hole) understanding the audiences in that hole. Design a differentiated brand offer and innovate your programming content. Then and only then communicating all this to your target market.

Plenty has changed over the last decade. We’ve seen major changes in Competition, Tools, Devices, and Talent performance. There is now so much more Competition for your audiences’ time and attention. While at a macro level radio around the world can boast impressive time spent with the medium there is work to do in the younger demos. Research tools are now more easily accessed. Don’t be fooled though, turning research data into insights to guide you to grow your audiences isn’t any easier! Today’s radio studios are built as TV sets so enable visuals as well as audio. There is a plethora of devices and platforms to engage your audiences.

Now more than ever you need great leadership talent to lead the stations content and sales talent to perform at the highest level during all this change.

The days of a consultant coming in with a bag of tricks from another market are long gone. Today it’s not about access to the ideas, that’s the easy part. It’s about the station’s market strategy and plan, and the ability to skilfully lead the talent to implement great ideas from concept to ratings results.

3. Which market(s) in Asia excite(s) you the most?

The diversity of Asia interests me. I’d have to say the Korean market. Firstly, because of the difference in how ‘radio’ is consumed because of the rapid technological advancement of devices and distribution. It would be interesting to understand more deeply how consumers use the tools for radio, EPG, on-demand, visual radio, and the “back channel” for consumers to engage with stations appears so much further advanced. Secondly, KPop. While envisioning an exciting new service for the Australian market, SBS Group PD Mark Cummins and I went to an Asian Broadcasting Union conference in Tokyo where Girls Generation played a set. From that moment we were hooked on bringing that energy and excitement to Asian Australians. That station became SBSPopAsia.

This experience reminded me again that people are people, and that while the Korean and other Asian markets have differences, people are people. Of course, how you communicate and engage them will be culturally nuanced, but for the most part audiences are the same.

4. To what extent do Western programming formats and rules work in Asian markets? How do you answer the question ‘But we’re different?’ or ‘That won’t work here?’

As a Group Programme Director and a consultant I’ve certainly come across “but it’s different here”. Whether comparing similar cities in the same country or similar formats in a different country.

It would be arrogant in the extreme to assume formats from Western markets will work. There are always differences in markets in market shape, for example; levels of competition, history, demographic shape, etc. The question is “to what degree are those differences?”

Critical to influencing people’s opinions is supporting evidence. The person making an argument that something can or can’t be done, should have data or evidence to support their claim. Good quality audience research and objective ‘insight’ provides supporting evidence, as can any data available to you.

To me this is a coaching opportunity; I deal with it by understanding the person’s reasoning behind that statement. What are their issues? What are the impacts of the change that frighten them? Is there a fear of failure? What can we do to mitigate the issue?

We’ll work to get to the better question; “what are the differences in the target market we want/need to win?” Then we can build a plan to super serve them. That approach focuses on the business objectives and opportunities, which is far more stimulating.

From my experience working with European audiences, African audiences, UK audiences and multicultural audiences across Australia, I have always been fascinated by how many more similarities there are than differences. As the digital world globalises and seeks out scale, this will only continue.

5. Which station are you most proud of turning around and which station in Asia would you most like to get your hands on?

Tough choice, we re-launched so many stations during GWR Group’s acquisition period in the UK. I am proud of the results the team of programmers in the company achieved in that growth phase.

In Africa, I have fond memories of helping owners William Pike and Patrick Quarcoo re-launch Uganda’s Capital FM and launch Nairobi’s Kiss FM.

I am most proud of building a brand new suite of services for SBS. Among them, a highlight was winning support to launch music stations targeting young multicultural Australia.

SBSPopAsia was the first of three SBSPop brands to launch to help the public sevice broadcaster (PSB) engage with young Australian’s with an Asian background. It is a sexy, sassy music radio brand available on radio, TV and of course uses social everywhere including on broadcast TV. Its obsession is to be part of its audiences live 24/7 whether they live in Darling Harbour, Sydney or Devonport, Tasmania.

SBSPopAsia is rooted in Asia; a Korean Pop band playing in Tokyo, Japan inspired it. It’s a station aimed at Australian Asians. It has gone on to be one of Australia’s most exciting young media brands. It is different but the same.

The original article appeared in Asia Radio Today.

Dirk Anthony is an internationally recognised radio consultant, and can be contacted here.

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