Every year on 9/1 I get a few automated emails from companies I’ve done business with over the years. It’s jarring at first until I realize the date. You see my birthday is actually 1/9.
My next thought is how they must’ve tasked data entry with a part-timer, an intern or someone who was too busy to be careful. Shame. A small gesture to build a relationship with the customer has actually done quite the opposite. One slip-up of a 1 and a 9 is an eternal reminder that you’re just pretending to care about me, my birthday, our “relationship.” And each year as I shake my head a little stronger I am reminder how very fragile consumer or listener relations really are.
The lesson here is be mindful of your listener’s information. Treat it like diamonds. It is extremely valuable and you likely only get one shot to mine for it. And unlike real gems, if you’re not careful with this it can turn to coal in an instant.
I attended my first Canadian Football League game last week and not that it didn’t fully engage my attention, but my focus at times ended up on the end zone and sideline advertising. I was there with a season ticket holder and Canadian native and we ended up playing a game, “Hey Larry, based on that logo what do you think that company does?”
Purolator. I guessed gas or petrol station. Maybe coffee.
Wrong. It’s the Fed-Ex of Canada.
Smithrite. I guessed a lock smith. A special kind of pen?
Wrong. Waste and Recycling company.
Fisherman’s Friend. This one is easy, right? It must be a bait and tackle shop. A liquor store? Outdoor clothing!
Wrong. It’s a throat lozenge.
The exercise got me thinking about radio logos. Often times we use our logo for marketing and promotion campaigns with a focus on growing CUME. While WE totally get our logos and it’s “obvious” what it is, who you are and what you do – what if you’d never had listened to the radio station would you still “get it?”
As an industry we’ve shied away from using “radio,” “FM” and “AM” and maybe to our detriment. If you weren’t in the radio industry would you “get” these radio station logos?
Food for thought.
We humans love a good story. Always have. One reason is that when you listen to a great story it triggers the imagination and empowers each of us to personally become involved in the story by privately conjuring up images, emotions, smells, noises and more in our head. Stories ensnare us by making us work to create the final product. Suddenly, we’re “personally” involved.
On the radio, there are several ways to harness the power of storytelling. For the sake of this blog let’s keep it planning, performance and use of audio.
Those three elements are also how I would I describe why I enjoy certain podcasts (Serial, Mystery Show, and Radio Lab to name a few) and certain radio shows and hosts (All Things Considered, Brandmeier, Ron & Don, Kevin & Bean, Scott Simon, and more.)
Planning. Planning includes actual planning. Having listened to the radio for three hours in morning drive the other day heading to the airport, I am sad to report that “planning” and “prep” are endangered species. Planning doesn’t mean you have to write out every word and reaction, but that each segment has an intention and a payoff. More often than not what I hear is a couple hosts and a producer throwing out punchlines or inadvertently going in opposite directions. There’s no narrative to a segment of the show. Don’t “save it all for the air,” plan it out and make sure everyone knows where it’s going. I mentioned it doesn’t mean writing out every word, but it may mean just that in certain situations. Remarkable writing is powerful. (Listen to Scott Simon’s tribute to Will Rogers)
Performance. We are in show business. That doesn’t mean we have to act goofy, juvenile or over the top. We still want and need authenticity, but when you are on the radio remember that no one can see you point, roll your eyes, put your hands on your hips, put a finger to your lips or see your crazy shoes. Your words and how you perform them will greatly impact the listener’s ability to “get” you. Whatever your personality is, because the listener only has the ability to hear you, amplify it by 5% or 10%, 20% if you need it. I call it vocal animation. It means consciously and effectively using the full range of vocal attributes — intonation, pace, tone, volume, etc. A little vocal showmanship is imperative to actually being heard and received the way you intend. (See: Rush, Beck, Howard, Radio Lab, and the list goes on.)
Audio. Podcasts are kicking radio’s backside as it pertains to effectively using image inducing, transportive audio. I’m not sure why… other than it takes more time. Not all stories and topics lend themselves to great natural, ambient audio or story-advancing sound clips, but we need to do a better job of seeking them out instead of assuming it doesn’t work or presuming you don’t need it. Audio is your paint. Great audio blended well creates remarkable images in the mind. Bad audio poorly placed results in a muddled mess. (Great example of good audio incorporation: The podcast Mystery Show)
Planning, performance and audio. Three ways radio shows and hosts can grab the attention of the listener and trigger their imagination.
Radio is a business. I know it’s our passion, our love, our siren song and our muse, but it’s also a business, which is why ESPN did the right thing in jettisoning Colin Cowherd. It’s not what they would have always done. However, when media companies know a talent is a “short timer,” they are much less risk adverse. What’s in it for ESPN to protect Cowherd now when they know he’s out-the-door and off to the competition in 30 days? Nothing, but a damaged relationship with MLB, MLBPA and every Dominican everywhere.
I was Colin’s manager for a spell. Blogs and fan sites weren’t well respected back then and Cowherd directed his listeners to flood several sites with the intention of shutting it down. It was petty retribution for a stories that criticized The Herd for stealing angles without attribution. The backlash was severe from internal and external fans of these sites and sites like them. Cowherd offered a Mia culpa, learned a tough lesson and it was behind us. He had full support of the network, because he was new and seen as future star. Without the promise of what may come, there’s no real reason for ESPN to shield him now.
As a former manager and colleague it disheartens me to see Cowherd and ESPN part ways so abruptly and on bad terms. He did great work. He made most fans forget Kornheiser ever had a show on ESPN Radio, which seemed an impossible feat when he started. And he is a great talent. Love him or hate him he stirs something inside you which is the goal of any talk personality