Radio Promotions: Why are we getting them so wrong?

Promotions and contests have been part of what radio has done since the beginning. But somewhere along the way we stopped thinking straight.  We forgot why we do contests and promotions.  We forgot what they were initially intended for.

These days we have radio promotions on a pedestal.  We seem to view promotions and contests as the secret weapons that can change the fortunes of our stations. How many times have you sat around a boardroom table or on a conference call to discuss ‘what promotions we’ll be doing for the ratings?’  I suspect the answer is a lot.  In fact during these calls we fixate on promotional spend for our radio stations.  But often we fail to address the product attributes that have a greater chance of altering our fortunes for the long term; the brand, the talent, the music.  Instead we are disproportionately fixated on whether we have a promotion for the 8 week ratings sweep.

I believe promotions can be part of what your radio station does, but we have to (a) understand the true purpose behind radio promotions and (b) address the disproportionate amount of importance we put on promotions and contesting.

I love the analogy that a radio station is a party. It’s a place where like minded people are excited to go. There’s music they like playing.  They are laughing and joking together.  It’s fun.  Your marketing is the invitation to the party.  Your promotions are party games; tricks to add to the party’s fun.  They are a small add on to the party, but not the centre of the party.  The important things are the people, the music, the fun feeling.

Radio promotions/contests really exist to:

  1. Enhance brand image. What is your station about? Promos should support that.
  2. Make you distinctive from the other stations. Help your station to stand out.
  3. Enhance the feeling of ‘fun’. To add a little texture or excitement to your station.

Any more than that is wishful thinking, surely? Do we really believe that promotions have the power to alter our listeners behaviour. Truly, do we believe this?  Do we think that offering big cash prizes at set contest times (e.g. 8, 11, 2 & 5) will make people want to spend more time with our brands.  Maybe in the short term but surely not in the long term.  This misplaced belief that promotions can change our fortunes is resulting in over complicated promotions designed to drive audience. We – as an industry – seem to be using promotions like they are magic wands able to make our under developed positions, imperfect music strategies and talent that are yet not able to compete appear invisibile.

The more we believe that promotions can change our fortunes the more damage we are doing to ourselves.  This is a genuine listener reaction (taken from social media) about a radio contest happening in a major market right now. “Lol you can win $100,000. Just listen to the radio constantly for the rest of your life for the possibility you might hear your name called. Maybe. At some point. But don’t work or sleep, you might miss it.” Clearly the audience isn’t falling for our tricks.

Audiences want to be entertained. They want to come to a party that is fun, plays great music and full of great company.  Promotions can offer variety, surprise and added fun to that party, but no promotion can make up for a party that isn’t enjoyable in the first place.

Maybe if we put our focus and resources on making the party the best it can be in the first place – the environment, the music, the people – and invite people to that party (marketing) often we have a better chance of winning in the long term. Surely the way we have chosen to think about the role of promotions now is not  serving us in our quest to create great content that connects with people.

Just a thought.

About: Paul Kaye

Originally from England, Paul spent nearly a decade programming radio stations in the UK before moving to Canada in 2012. 

While working for Newcap Radio, Paul programmed Classic Hits, Hot-AC and CHR formats in Vancouver & Calgary. Paul was also Newcap’s National Talent Development Director, tasked with improving performance across all content teams, overseeing syndication and leading talent acquisition. In 2016, he joined Rogers Media, as National Talent Coach and National Format Director (CHR). 

Paul was somehow named International PD of the year in 2016 (vote re-count pending) and is a certified coach.  Paul lives in Toronto and can be reached at kaye.paul@mail.com

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