“Everything we are doing is so deliberate, so well planned – nothing is left to chance”

Staff Writer

Lou Higgins is Nova Entertainment’s Chief Operating Officer. Apart from being part of the exec team nationwide for the network, she is also about to call Melbourne home and will be looking after both NOVA 100 and Smooth FM for 2015.

We caught up with Lou for a look at Survey #8 for the group and apart from talking the year and survey that was, we’ll also talk about Jay Walkerden, who’s not only the PD but also the GM of Nova Brisbane.

What are NE’s plans in 2015 for the Smooth Brand and is Chrissie Swan on their radar? Plus a whole lot more.

Blair Sullivan: So survey 8 wraps up the year – but has the year ended or just started for you as well?

Lou Higgins: What a fabulous question.  I like that because it does feel like we are all gearing up for next year.  I think that’s absolutely true and when we look at today’s Nova Entertainment results, we’re really pleased with the way the year’s ended.

You’re right, we kind of look at them through not just 2014  but the set-up for 2015, and if I go to the highlight for me about setting up for has it just begun, is drive has just finished so strong for us and that was so important as we head into next year.

Smooth as well, I mean Smooth for us is so important in 2015.  To have another 7 share in Melbourne and to have record cume in Sydney as we enter next year we couldn’t be happier.  What a great question, because you are right it is all about next year not this year.

BS: With Hughesy and Kate on drive, obviously on KIIS in the New Year, Melbourne’s their home turf.  Are you expecting some sampling from nova 100 listeners in Melbourne to swing across to KIIS?

LH:  I’m compelled by data, it’s quite a sentiment driven business, so what can I go to here that’s going to give me any indication of how this will play out? 

Survey 8 it wasn’t the case but if you look at survey 4 through to survey 7 and you look at Meshel and Tommy’s cume, it was actually higher than that at which Hughesy and Kate finished last year.

So it wasn’t like they exited the market in Melbourne and a massive vacuum was created.   In fact a new show was able to come in and build on that. 

Now so I’m clear, I’ve got a lot of respect for Hughesy and Kate.  I think they’re wonderful radio personalities and a great brand, but in terms of  being concerned about what it means to Nova, looking at something as compelling as Tommy and Meshel being able to build on their numbers consistently throughout this year, that tells me that there might be some sampling, but I really do back our product, both in Breakfast and in Drive.


BS:  It’s actually been a really successful year for Meshel and Tommy  in the market, they’re #1 under 40.  They’ve done very well, and it’s been a very competitive space in Melbourne.

LH:  Melbourne will be the most exciting and dynamic radio markets in Australia next year.  So it’s of utmost importance to us and I think it is fantastic.  That it is that vibrant, that dynamic, and there are wonderful brand and talent line-ups across the space. 

So 2014 for us, we could not be happier with Tommy and Meshel because we put them in with the knowledge that they were replacing a heritage brand, they were new to each other, new to the market, albeit Meshel had some wonderful brand awareness through Drive, so we could not be happier that they have actually improved and increased on the numbers they inherited.  And if that’s what they can do in year one, then I am really excited about what they can do in 2015.

BS:  Smooth?  There has been speculation that with Chrissie Swans axing from ARN that Smooth is a logical home for her on Brekky. Any interest on that front?

LH: All I would say is that I think Chrissie is outstanding talent, and I am sure that wherever she ends up that she will be an outstanding asset to that network.


BS: For Adelaide… while you lost some ground 10 plus you’re #3 in the market – but you appear to dominate all people under 40 which is good.  All shifts on the station seemed to take a bit of a hit, not even Kate, Tim and Marty on Drive could recover some losses there, what do you think is actually happening in Adelaide at the moment?

LH: I’m not reading too much into it, in all honesty.

We’re really delighted with FIVEaa, it equalled the #1 Breakfast Show so we’re very happy with that. Nova 919 is #1 under 50, so in terms of results that’s outstanding.

So whilst there’s bouncing around a bit, I look at the FIVEaa Breakfast result, I look at the overall Nova 919 result with them being #1 under 50 as a station, #1 under 50 as a Breakfast Show with Lewis and Lowe and I again think that they are both brands perfectly set-up for next year. 

I didn’t look at the Adelaide market and get terribly concerned by it.  I think that’s also another trend we see in the Australian Radio landscape, and you would have seen yourself across 2014, numbers jump around now far more than they ever did before.  I’m sure there would be compelling data that would underpin that, that’s my observation without the facts behind it.  But I do think you have to be more calm and resilient to the movement and look at the longer term trends and if that station Nova 919 is holding itself and its Breakfast show under 50, I’m over the moon.

BS:  SCA have made it quite clear that hit107 Adelaide is a direct attack on nova. Will it have an impact in your view?

LH: I think it’s too early to tell.  I think a danger that we run in radio is we’re all too close to it.  And quite often when changes are made we’re all across it, but it does actually take time for the wider public to understand what has actually occurred.  And so I think it’s far too early to tell. 

I’m sure that Southern Cross would have a better understanding around the hit awareness in the market, but I think it will take some time for audiences to understand that SAFM has actually gone and it’s been replaced by hit.  So we watch everything with interest, and as is sensible to do but no, I think it’s far too early to be making any comments or conclusions around that. 


BS:  So let’s swing up to Sydney. Fitzy and Wippa down a little bit on Survey 7 – all other day parts down a little, but Kate Tim and Marty had an absolute blinder there.

LH:  Yes they did, didn’t they but they had a blinder everywhere.  They are a very compelling, very strong brand and I think there’s consistency across all of our stations in that regard. Drive did a 17.7 in Brisbane.  That is just phenomenal, but the fact that that they are getting a 17 in Brisbane, I think they were getting a 13 or something like that in Perth, they got in the 10’s in Melbourne, we’ve always been strong in Adelaide, they’re over 10’s there as well, everywhere is just so strong. 

BS: Smooth in Sydney, a nice increase to wrap up the year there as well.

LH:  Oh Smooth have done so well.  To finish the year on its highest cume we couldn’t be happier.  I think you’ve got to look at both Smooth brands in Sydney and Melbourne, with Melbourne ending the year on its highest share and Sydney ending the year on its highest cume, and you would be absolutely delighted with the performance of both. 

I think it’s so important to remind ourselves that Smooth’s only two and a half years old.  And it’s doing a consistent 7 in Melbourne, that’s just fantastic, and that’s before we enter 2015 and have a large marketing campaign and media plan behind it, particularly in the Melbourne market and I think it’s got a lot more in it.


BS: So what are the next steps for the Smooth brand in both markets, are you going to ramp up the marketing?

LH: We’re going to have a lot of market activity with Smooth in Sydney and Melbourne.  We’re going to come out in the beginning of February with a very strong trade marketing campaign. 

We’ve been doing some research into the Smooth brand and we’re going to really come out in both of those cities.  I can’t talk about it in detail, but there will be further information that will come out in January. 

So we have a big trade activation happening in the beginning of February in both markets, we have outdoor campaigns and we have a TVC with Smooth. 

We’ll also continue to have a number of Marquee events which we will own throughout the first quarter or the first half of the year.  Smooth as a lifestyle brand has so much available to it, you just have to look at the Smooth Festival of Chocolate in Sydney in October to see how much this brand can do for us in  the market. 


BS:  We touched briefly on Brisbane before, but I guess the guys up there would be pretty happy knocking off 973 with their aim to do 8 surveys in a row.  You guys took it.

LH: Yes, my commiserations to ARN, who no doubt were getting ready to celebrate that 8th victory in a row, but we could not be happier. 

Jay Walkerden, and those three boys Ash, Kip and Luttsy are one of the hardest working Breakfast teams in radio. 

I think that because they come across as so casual and three guys having fun, people forget the work that goes on behind the scenes and they’re incredibly hard workers and Jay Walkerden, as well as being GM of Brisbane is also the PD and he is incredibly strategic in delivering planning to ensure this success. 

So this is by no means an accident.  This is hard work, good planning, and consistency.

The boys are in different parts of the world and I have heard from all of them and they are all equally having a good time.

BS:  So with Jay’s role, how is he juggling doing a GM gig and a PD gig at the same time?  That’s an interesting one, I can’t think of another station in Australia right now where that actually happens, cap city wise at least.

LH:  Yeah, good people are good people.  We invest a lot in learning and development at Nova, it’s very important to us and if you think about the skills required to be a good PD, knowing your market, knowing your audience, working with talent, having good planning, high integration with your sales teams, with your marketing teams.  All of those skills are not dissimilar to the skills one has to execute as a GM.  Again, knowing your market, understanding the context, getting teams to collaborate, having impact, making sure you are reflecting the tone of that city.

So in many ways whilst it’s not a common or well-worn path from PD to GM, in my mind it makes complete sense.  And that’s exactly what makes it successful, the leadership, the people, the hard work, the planning and execution.  They are really a very extraordinary, hard working team.


BS:  I guess the final lap of the country, Nova Perth.  I’m pretty sure it had one of its best survey 8 results ever?

LH: You have to hand it to Gary Roberts, Dan Underhill and the rest of that team for again, consistency and hard work.  They might have come back slightly in survey 8 but as I joked with someone, if you’re overall 10+ with a 12.6 and you’re a 12.8 in Breakfast, wouldn’t it be amazing for everyone to have those numbers.  So, we’ve got to put things in context , they are a sensational team that have broken records throughout the year and it just really demonstrates in Nathan, Nat & Shaun that there’s not necessarily a time limit on a brand. 

There’s this ideal that at some point one needs to refresh or think differently.  Those guys have produced their best numbers in what is, from memory their 11th year On-Air.  I know it’s over 10 and they are producing their best results.  So that is fantastic.


BS: It’s the first 12 months since we have moved to GfK for handling the surveys? How has it been for you guys?

LH:  I think I have to hand it to GfK and CRA for what has been a rather seamless transition.  When I reflect on it, it’s no small feat changing provider, changing systems, training your staff up and so forth.  Actually, it has been seamless and I think longer term it’s the right platform to move to and I think we will see future benefits, but I would reflect on 2014 being seamless and I think that itself is a great success.


BS:  Best moment of 2014?

LH: If I was going to pick one, the rebrand for NE.   

That was a really defining moment for Nova Entertainment.  We really came of age, came into our own and there was this moment when we said to our staff and we said to the market  “We are going from DMG Radio to Nova Entertainment”, and everyone said “Well, of course.” 

There was just this natural acceptance.  Now I can’t think of too many companies that have rebranded completely and not gone through some level of transition, yet we flicked the switch and here we were. 

And I think it was much more than just a name change or changing the label on a tin, it said something to ourselves, said something to the market.

That we really had bigger aspirations for our brand, that radio remained very important to us, but were more about audiences in general, we were much more about content, we had a broader agenda here and we really looked for this name to take us into the future.  And so on reflection, that was an amazing moment for me and for us in 2014. 


BS: The Shittiest Moment, or the Worst Moment of 2014?

LH:  We weren’t trying to do anything new this year. With Tommy & Meshel and and  David Penberthy on FIVEaa Breakfast and Kate on Nova Drive, we were bringing in proven performers.

There was no kind of angst moments or we need to improve on that moments. I am genuinely really fortunate in this job but it doesn’t happen overnight.

I’ve been with Nova Entertainment now for four years, as have the other key executive team members with Paul Jackson and Tony, led by Cath O’Connor (pictured).

Now when you get that level of stability with an exec team, you have over time really bedded in your people, your processes, and your strategy. I feel where we are now, everything we are doing is so deliberate, so well planned – nothing is left to chance.

So I don’t get the calls one might expect or the ones you might have got in earlier years in 2014, because we were so clear on what we were doing.

If you asked me that in any other year, I probably could have given you a few.

I am working for a great CEO and with an amazing exec team and we have really got our shit together.

BS:  What are you looking forward to in 2015?

LH: I’m excited by Melbourne in 2015. And I am really excited about the next phase of Nova Entertainment.

2014 was really bedding in where we were at and 2015 I think you will see some new things for us. 2015 will be an exciting market and Nova Entertainment is well placed both within radio and the broader media. 

Comment Form

Your email address will not be published.

Recent comments (0)
Post new comment


See all