November 26, 2015

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2/18/02 Are You Listening?

Every 10 years or so, we see a shift in Radio formats as they lose their luster with listeners or their demographics no longer appeal to advertisers. Saying, “Goodbye, old friend,” to a timeworn format can be as difficult as having to shoot your own dog.
But sometimes it must be done.

WTMI Miami has dropped the Classical music format after 30 years. That’s almost like McDonalds’ dropping the Big Mac. Is it really possible that only the biggest, most upscale markets, such as Boston, San Francisco and New York, are capable of gathering enough advertising dollars to support Classical music when Classical music on the Internet is among the fastest-growing formats? (My guess is that, because the Internet stations reject the typical “highbrow” approach found on most Classical stations, they’re finding listeners who like the music but hate the classical arrogance often associated with it. Is Classical music dead as a format; or is it only the traditional, stuffy presentation that is dying? Hmm…) But I digress.

Most decisions to change format seem to happen in an instant — often because a handful of important local advertisers say they have “a strong feel” for their customers’ preferences and then make corresponding adjustments in their ad budgets. Thus, ad dollars dictate formats. It happens at every level.

During the past year and a half, I’ve attended gatherings of major agencies that make sweeping declarations and announce dramatic changes in strategy virtually overnight. Supported by research, these agencies will declare that certain media, formats, shows and publication types are “over” or that certain demographics or lifestyles are no longer important. At one recent agency event, two declarations were made: that this is the year of The Brand and the year of CRM (customer relationship management). Nothing else matters. If your presentations to this group revolve around Branding and CRM, I predict that you’ll do well. But what are the chances that you’ll make such a presentation? Slim to none, right?

Why is Radio, as an industry, not approaching major buyers to inquire about the trends they intend to support? Why are we always reactionary, rather than proactive?

Radio has always had a love/hate relationship with advertisers. We want their money, and we listen attentively to their business needs; but when it comes to listening to their suggestions for our programming, we politely don’t — because “everyone is a programmer.” What if we approached it scientifically? What if we monitored advertiser strategies and overlaid them onto current demographic trends and consumer spending patterns? It seems to me that truly listening to advertisers could teach us things we desperately need to hear.

Your advertisers are listening to you — but are you listening to them?

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