Home > Brand, Listeners, Playing The Hits, Producers, Programming, Talent > “Payoffs” – Defining Moments of Your Show

“Payoffs” – Defining Moments of Your Show

“Payoff” is quickly usurping “Play the Hits” as king of buzz words among news-talk and sports programmers and consultants. Both are important concepts for driving ratings, but the terms are used so frequently the meaning is becoming muddled.

I asked a handful of people — programmers, producers, and consultants — to help me define “payoff.”

Don Martin at Fox Sports Radio was quick to point out the first bit of confusion with the term.

“First blush when I hear the term ‘payoff’ in the radio vernacular, two definitions jump to the forefront and one is an FCC infraction.”

So let’s be clear. We are not talking payola. No money exchanges hands in the type of payoff we are talking about unless a listener wins a contest or your payoffs are so good your ratings go up and revenue flies through the door.

Martin continues,“My definition of a payoff from a programming stand point, is the call to action tease that your talent uses to keep your audience through commercial breaks.”

When I coach talent about payoffs, I describe it as something that prompts a response from a listener.  The goal is to take the listener somewhere they’ve never been so when they get to the destination they react unconsciously — audibly or internally. That very well could be the lack of action too or not changing the radio station for a commercial break, because you want to hear the story that was just teased. That’s the infamous “driveway moment.”

Pete Gianesini, a programmer at the ESPN Radio Network, defines payoff this way.

“A strong, genuine reaction from the listener… could be a belly laugh, could be anger, could be bewilderment, could be a piece of information that I now can’t wait to share with someone else (a real-life re-tweet).”

I love the idea of a real-life re-tweet. I also call it social currency. It’s what the listener earns in return for investing time into your show or station.

Rick Scott at Rick Scott & Associates adds, “A payoff is simply content that has value for the listener. It can be entertaining, informative, or insightful.”

The trick to this is that the value Rick talks about is perceived by the listener not the host or station. So it’s important to reinforce the value of your content to your listener through branding and positioning. Don’t be afraid to tell listeners that what they are hearing is special.

At 104.3FM The Fan in Denver, Programmer Nate Lundy adds another layer.

“Payoffs happen when the team has managed to achieve one of two goals.  Either building up the image and the brand of the station, or bringing a positive effect on the ratings.  The biggest and best payoffs accomplish both, but you don’t need to have both for it to be considered a success.”

Nate is right. The goal of payoffs is to increase listening to the station. Listening increases when people feel there is a value to spending more time with the station. So, as ratings increase it’s fair to assume revenue will increase and the brand of the station grows accordingly.

At 710 ESPN in Seattle, Brian Long expands the payoff to beyond the scope of the host.

“I would define a payoff when a promotion, tease, or on-air bit has the right amount of build-up creating interest and then is effectively paid off.”

This is an important point. Listeners don’t always discern the difference between payoffs. They don’t even know they are waiting for a payoff. We use that word; they don’t. So, a promotion can definitely provide a payoff. A station event or remote can also provide a payoff, as well as traffic reports, weather reports, and news or sports updates, but again only if the listener perceives it as a value.

So put all of that into a blender and here is the definition of a payoff as it relates to radio. 

One example of a payoff that stands out to Gianesini is how Colin Cowherd handled Aaron Rodgers following the Super Bowl.

“After not buying into Aaron Rodgers as an NFL superstar, Colin had him on the day after he won the Super Bowl. Aaron was very much aware of Colin’s position and put Colin on the spot during their piece. It was just the right mix of lighthearted, yet uncomfortable, to be very compelling. And completely unscripted. That’s the hard part. While I believe you have to plan your show and promote specific elements more than ever and further in advance than ever, you can’t be SO committed to the minute-by-minute that you don’t let spontaneity happen. That’s where the magic is.”

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  1. May 26, 2011 at 7:40 PM

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