Promoting in a pandemic: How the networks approached marketing throughout COVID
How do you promote your talent, your shows, your network at a time when budgets are disappearing, and consumers have potentially reached peak distraction?
Plus, throw in the fact that every metro market across the country is running at a different speed and facing varied consequences of the COVID-19 and economic crisis, and it’s hard to know where to start.
It’s unlikely you’d pursue an outdoor campaign in Melbourne. Indeed for the period of January to July, the outdoor ad market fell 40.9%, beaten only by cinema (down 57.3%) in terms of its catastrophic fall. For the month of July 2020, compared to 2019, outdoor ad dollars were down 65.7%, while radio itself suffered a 29.0% decline.
These figures are from SMI, or the Standard Media Index, which measures bookings via major media agencies. So, depending on how your direct bookings are tracking, the situation could be better – or, perhaps, worse – than these figures indicate.
In the absence of outdoor, the radio networks could turn to television, with many TV shows benefiting from a renaissance in viewership as people look for certainty, familiarity, and, of course, are trapped indoors.
Nightly news bulletins are flying in terms of ratings, but other shows, previously almost guaranteed to reach a certain demographic, have suffered from viewer fatigue and distraction. The Bachelor on Ten, for example, had just 694,000 overnight metro viewers for its final episode a few weeks ago – down 26% on last year’s pre-pandemic figures. The final declaration of love – a pivotal time for brands to reach the key advertising demographics of 16 to 39 year olds and 25 to 54 year olds – had 879,000 metro viewers, also down about 25% from last year’s 1.17 million.
So how did the networks reach consumers throughout the pandemic? And did it make a difference to Survey 6’s outcomes?
NOVA Entertainment’s chief programming and marketing officer Paul Jackson said his stations have enough people “coming through the door” – ie listening to his stations – that the network can use owned channels to promote its offerings while external budgets are tight.
“You can see with all our cumes, they’re extremely good, Melbourne aside. We’ve never really done a bad cume in Melbourne, today we’re obviously down significantly, but I think everyone can agree that all the radio stations are suffering there.
“It’s a moment in time. But you look over all our other cumes and they’re in rude health. We’ve got listeners coming through the door, as many as you can need coming through the door. So a lot of the marketing can be done on-air to our listeners – tell them about Joel Creasey. Tell them what’s happening in the Breakfast show, about our music and Smallzy’s Surgery, and so on.
“So we’ve got the audience circling around and using our radio stations more than anybody else has, and that goes for Nova and Smooth, so we’re in a great position there.
“Having said that, we’re currently running TV in Melbourne, that seems the obvious thing to do, and not outdoor, for Chrissie, Sam & Browny. Whereas in Sydney, we’ve just begun a campaign for Kate, Tim & Joel Cresey that’s all outdoor – a very striking campaign for them, and for Fitzy & Wippa as well.
“So I think we’re taking a different view in different markets, and we’ll reflect on the next couple of months what we want to do going into next year.”
Southern Cross Austereo’s (SCA) chief content officer Dave Cameron has faced the rebrand of the Hit Network throughout the pandemic – a new consumer-facing identity which has to be rolled out to market.
Is this really the time we should be forcing new branding on listeners? Will they see it? Will they care?
“We’ve taken the opportunity to make some pretty big moves in regards to pivoting our brands, or refreshing our brand, getting our product right for 2021. Anything we’ve done in the last few months has not been about delivering a Survey 6 result. It’s about positioning us for the future for where we think our audience will engage with us, the biggest audience that can engage with us with a changing product. And so, we’ve made those moves in setting up what I think will be a good starting position for us for 2021. And we are all looking forward to January 1 to be honest, and marketing will flow on from that. Obviously we would never launch new brands without having a strong marketing plan.
“Answering your question, obviously we’re not going to deliver all of our marketing spend through a time where we know there’s unsettled listening behaviours, but you can be sure that the appropriate marketing spend will be aligned to our rebrands for next year.”
Australian Radio Network’s (ARN) content director Duncan Campbell believes his brands got the balance right, and reached the right people without totally saturating the market.
“Well we managed to do some good marketing in some key markets in Survey 6. So Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in particular. I mean, the focus didn’t really shift, it was simply, the key job of marketing for us is to keep the stations’ brands and the shows top-of-mind for listeners and certainly for diary keepers.
“And I think the marketing’s done its job, and there’s obviously a look into the digital and social aspects of marketing in terms of digital channels and the opportunities that exist there. And we’re constantly reviewing that.
“But I think our share of voice has never been one that’s been dominant in a market place from a marketing perspective, but I think the marketing did its job and I think we’ll see when the surveys are dissected more, I think there will be a real shift in improving listening for the second half of Survey 6 as the other markets outside of Melbourne [where] those restrictions were eased a little bit. So that’s yet to come.”
Nine Radio’s MD Tom Malone acknowledged the media giant needed to start marketing its music stations to grow their cumes and their shares, but is clear on the strategy for his talk stations, and what people want to hear about them in market.
“Well I think there are two different things there. One is, how do you talk to consumers? Well I think you need to show them what your point of difference is… And I think the way that we do that is we say ‘We are and always will be the market leader when it comes to local news, sport, weather, traffic, information, opinion. You turn to talk radio’. And these figures reflect that.
“In terms of how we then manage internally from a budget point of view, that’s obviously part of our commercial operation. We think ‘Okay, we need to market these shifts, and this is how we’re going to go and do that. This is how we’re going to spend money doing that.’ And that forms part of any business case when it comes to a profit and loss scenario.”
For more of the inside scoop, including what’s keeping the content directors awake at night, listen to the Radio Today Tonight podcast.