The Hit Network. Is it a Hit or is it a Dud? – Part 2


With Part 1 of The Hit Network, Is it a Hit or is it a Dud? –  Brad March explored and defined “What is a Brand”, including nine key points. You can catch up here.

In Part 2, we look at lessons learned from history that are highly relevant to the new Hit and Kiis radio brands…. “It’s the long game”.

Southern Cross Austereo’s Head of Programming, Craig Bruce, said “Hit’s a new brand Station and a new Breakfast Show and you don’t change a logo and expect a sudden stampede of audience to come to you, it just doesn’t work that way so all we can do is program to the best of our ability as we are and we think we’ve got the right position for the station in the long term.  It’s going to take a while”.

Paul Jackson, Nova’s Group Program Director, doesn’t view Hit as a threat saying “I’ve got no interest in this whatsoever.  We’ve been using Fresh Hits as a position for a long time, I imagine they’re trying to create a brand in people’s minds”.

Scott Muller was Program Director of Nova Sydney for five years, leading the station to a 12% share and throughout its era as Sydney’s #1 entertainment/ music station.  Scott said;

“Both Craig and Paul make valid points.  This is a long game.  And for now there is no reason for either network to worry about both using the word ‘hit’ – it’s a non-issue.” 

“What do I think about recent discussions around Southern Cross Austereo’s Hit stations?  The first thing is ignore the survey one result.  To paraphrase Australian Radio Network CEO, Ciaran Davis, on MediaWeek (Sky Business News) last week: expect these kinds of builds to take 2-3 years.  And you can’t even get an early read from survey data until you have about four or five full surveys under your belt.”

“From there, my thoughts go to the Content Directors and the Core Product Teams at the Hit stations.  Here is a valuable lesson I learned the hard way.  I personally screwed up for a very long time in my first 12 months leading Nova Sydney – by doing the following completely wrong…

“For a long while I kept the music sounding far too progressive, and not hit-focused enough.  And by ‘hit-focused’ I mean genuine, big, popular hits for the female target.  There were other, parallel issues holding the station back, but I’ll use music as being analogous to all elements of fixing a brand and station.  Rinse, repeat and apply to breakfast, marketing, promotions, etc.

“By keeping the bulk of the playlist and music far too progressive for so long, it put an upper-limit on how far Nova could climb in the ratings (not very far at all, as it turned out!).  Once that ‘self-inflicted upper limit to ratings growth’ was fixed, the ratings took off.  There’s a lesson in that for the Hit stations, or anyone doing a re-brand/turnaround any time soon.

“There are specific creative decision-making tools to help you avoid the same ratings-limiting pitfalls that I created for myself in my example, above.  I’ll write about those elsewhere on Radio Today.  In the meantime, the key observation about the Hit re-brands is … it’s far too early to be reading anything into the ratings, and remember: no plan, no matter how well thought-out, ever survives intact once it makes contact with the real world.  In other words: expect tweaks, changes, and evolution along the way – that’s just normal.”

As Austereo’s CEO at the time of the Nova Sydney launch we were faced with a brand new radio station competing with us. It was virtually commercial free, and had a seemingly endless marketing budget. These were significant competitive advantages that the newly launched Hits don’t have.

Nova was the hip, cool, new brand and it was a significant threat to Austereo’s ratings and therefore the business. 2Dayfm and Triple M Sydney defended the new entrant well for a long time with the all important breakfast shows (Wendy Harmer show on 2Day and Andrew Denton/Amanda Keller on Triple M), defensive (very expensive) marketing campaigns and well executed, well-defined music positions on both stations.

The programming team at Austereo held off the new entrant for quite some time. It took Nova over 2½ years before it eventually knocked 2Dayfm from the number 1 FM spot.  So a big takeaway for the SCA board might be “patience, patience, patience”.

In Part 3, The Hit Network. Is it a Hit or is it a Dud? – Brad explores further what defines being different. He will again seek perspective from industry experts who have been there and done that, including  Eric Stephens, former ARN Group Marketing Director and Brand & Creative Strategist at True Sydney.

Brad March is a Director of Radio Today and a former Group Program Director and CEO of Austereo. He is Director of Marchmedia and Pacific Retail Management.

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