These are reminders, thoughts, takeaways, interesting observations and things I want to remember from the national RTDNA Canada conference.
Great stories are built around moments, take the audience somewhere and decode jargon or spin. Those three areas are what have helped to make CBC journalist Susan Ormiston such an impactful international correspondent. She shared her secrets on storytelling with the crowd at the RTDNA Canada national convention.
Stories evolve around moments. Ormiston explains, “Creating environments for moments to happen or simply focusing on a moment” is what she attempts in her storytelling. There is a warning, “moments cannot be manufactured, but they can be managed.” For instance, building trust with an interview subject helps create an environment where vulnerable moments are more likely to take place. “Trust,” she says, “It’s a relationship. Never persuade yourself that someone won’t want to talk about something.”
REMINDER: Don’t Be A TV Anchor…
The TV news anchor is dying.
The head of CTV Wendy Freeman fired the first shot across the bow, “in 5 to 10 years will there even be TV anchors?” Corus/Global VP Troy Reeb added, “The asking price for a good anchor has been in decline and will continue to be, the asking price for a good reporter is expected to climb.” He also noted brands aren’t being built on the shoulders of anchors, but around the credibility of reporting. And then Ali Velshi hit it home, “I don’t think the highly paid TV anchor is a sustainable creature.”
Buzzwords – words and concepts that dominated discussions.
“Multi-platform” – I blogged about that here.
“Mobile” – 94% of millennials have smart phones, mobile first thinking, reporters using phones for everything…
“Monetization” – how do we make money with… native content, snapchat, etc…
“Change” – the industry is changing, technology is changing, audience expectations are changing and if you/we aren’t changing fast enough we will lose.
Apps and Devices Speakers Love…
Twitter – it’s changed the game for distributing and curating content and for live moment-by-moment coverage where microphones aren’t allowed like courtrooms.
iMovie – great for radio reporters also tasked with filming and editing video pieces on the run.
Voddio – Voddio, is a professional-grade video and audio editor App for mobile journalists and story tellers, that supports rich editing of two tracks of video and up to four tracks of audio.
Favorite Quotes of the Conference
“$150 million dollars is what’s going to go to the bureaucratic morass that is the CBC.” – Troy Reeb, Corus/Global
“I bemoan the day when we decide we don’t need context anymore.” – Susan Ormiston, CBC
“It’s Facebook and the 7 Dwarves.” – on Social Media platforms
“We need to start thinking about big stupid ideas. We’re not an industry that typically thinks up stupid ideas. We need more stupid ideas. Stupid ideas are stupid until they are breakthroughs.” – Ali Velshi, Multi-platform Content Creator
“I’ve never given up the thought of returning home to Canada , but it won’t because of a man named Donald Trump. He can’t bully me.” – Ashleigh Banfield, CNN. She dedicated her entire keynote address to the “human wrecking ball” Trump and trying to explain how he’s in the position he’s in.
Every day in radio we have a choice to make.
What is our show or station going to be about today?
What do you want to be “famous” for today? What do you want people talking about, reacting to, or sharing? What makes you different on this day from everyone else?
Depending on your format it could be something about Donald Trump or Lady Gaga. It could be the Oscars, Kobe’s farewell tour or a new release from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Consciously or not, decisions on what our show or station is or is not are made every day.
At the Oscars they had a choice to make – are we going to be about “celebrating cinema” or “racist Hollywood?” Host Chris Rock and presumably all involved in creating the awards show actually chose the latter.
I applaud them for tackling the elephant in the room head on from the start of the show. Rock’s 10-minute monologue/sermon/stand-up didn’t let up for an instant. It went on and on and on. And everything in the show seemed tied to that core concept.
Great. They chose to be about something big, bold, and important. But…
But, it’s not what the attendees or the TV audience signed up for. So millions fled.
What happened? Chris Rock was in a no-win situation. If you don’t address it you get criticized. If your skirt over it with a few jokes you get criticized. If you go full throttle you get criticized. And even now, everyone is talking about Rock’s words while skimming over the awards – many of which were upsets.
That doesn’t mean you stop taking chances.
I encourage all hosts and stations to take risks, be bold, try things and always be about something. But there is a trick to doing it effectively. The more that the “something” you are about on any given day matches the expectations of the fans, the better chance you have to keep them tuned in. It is less about being predictable and more about living up to your brand promise. It has to feel right and authentic in the moment for the audience. A rock station breaking down a GOP primary or a news station playing deep cuts off a Zeppelin album violate brand promises. Oscar watchers just wanted an awards show.
The news is devastating to the 13-year old boy inside us all: Playboy magazine will no longer print nude pictures. The magazine that coined the word “centerfold,” will no longer have a use for the word it originated.
Playboy without nudes? That’s like getting money from a bank without having to talk to a teller, filling your own gas tank at the service station or listening to radio that isn’t being transmitted through a frequency to your bedside alarm clock.
It is progress, evolution, and necessary for survival.
I recently finished the audio book “Team of Teams” by General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal rose through the ranks of an Army most of us recognize: order, discipline, structure, pictures of pin-up girls, top-down commands, and a clearly defined org chart. This is the Army depicted in movies, which won wars, and saved thousands of lives. This is the Army where if a commanding officer orders you to “jump” you ask “how high?”
As General of the Joint Special Operations Command in the mid-2000s, McChrystal quickly realized war was no longer like chess where one man was commanding all the troop movements of his enemy. Times had changed. Taliban and Isis were playing by different rules. The terrorists were recruited, trained, given the game plan and then empowered to make decisions in the moment. There was no way to keep up. As soon as JSOC thought they had a target in their sights, they had to wait to get the “go ahead” from McChrystal. Sometimes that meant waking him up and debriefing him, before he could make a decision. Each time, the targets vanished.
So they changed. McChrystal held a JSOC strategic meeting each day for everyone on the team. A video conference beamed to wherever his forces were stationed. Gone were the days where the General had a master plan and the forces were on a “need to know” basis. Now everyone knew everything. That created a shared consciousness. In addition, each unit was now empowered to execute in the moment based on collective intelligence, situational circumstances and timeliness. They became a team of teams.
It worked. The JSOC became more effective and agile. It morphed from a traditional org chart to an organizational web. McChrystal was hands off and eyes on. He was leading, not commanding. “Thank you” replaced the cold, directive language he was taught in the Army.
Adapting to technology.
Creating a collective intelligence and a shared consciousness.
Respecting and empowering your staff.
This isn’t Google or Apple or a quirky start-up in Silicon Valley, this is the Joint Special Operations Command.
And now it is apparently Playboy Magazine.
For radio it is time. Our enemy is no longer the station down the dial. It’s all around us and three steps ahead. We are battling for people’s time and attention on the device of their choosing, for on and off air talent, for digital solutions and distribution platforms, and for monetization. Frankly, a fifth front could be a public perception problem.
This is no longer a problem solved by a billboard campaign or a clever TV spot. To win we need to do what we do differently. “Team of Teams” may be a good place to start.
If a talent asks me, “Did we do too much on the breaking news story?” My answer will almost certainly be, “impossible.”
When a story warrants being called “breaking news” you have two effective options: mention it and let the newsroom update it in regular newscasts or dive head first in to it. The middle ground is the least desirable option. “Kinda” covering breaking news is as satisfying as eating something that “kinda” reminds you of gravy.
The Oregon High School shooting is a perfect example. If it’s not in your backyard, your state or even in your country can you do too much with it? I contend no, not when the story is still developing. If you make it important and urgent, keep resetting the facts, add new details and information as you can and then express emotions and explore questions and curiosities – no one is tuning out. Humans have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We all want to be the first to know and we want to know more than our friends, family members and peers.
On a strategic point, breaking news is an audience builder for news-talk and sports radio stations. It’s better than an outdoor billboard campaign. It instantly brings new ears to your station. That in-the-heat-of-the-moment sampling can be extremely rewarding if you are covering the story as described above and equally punishing if you are not.
When news breaks it is a nice, juicy sizzling steak dinner for spoken word radio, don’t let it become the lumpy gravy.
On Friday, after a day of travel I pulled into a Burger King drive-thru. I was 30 minutes into my 2 1/2 hour drive from the airport to home. I didn’t eat on the plane and needed a quick fueling. The man with the headset took my order and told me to pull up to the first window. I could see him in through the drive-thru window ahead. As always the speaker quality was questionable, but I know this routine.
It took 30 minutes to creep 20 feet from the speaker to the first window. The guy was racing around and explaining his cook ran out midway through his shift. He was by himself running drive-thru, front counter and grill.
The problem for me was that I was trapped. Everyone in the drive-thru was trapped. There was no warning of the issues inside the King’s castle: no sign, no notice, and no way out. Once I cued up there were high curbs and shrubbery on either side. Trust me, I contemplated an escape.
When I pulled up for my food, it had been 45 minutes since I ordered. I kindly suggested they might have warned us it would be that long before placing the order.
(wait for it…)
He suggested that wouldn’t be good for business.
Feel free to share your lessons from this story in the comments below.
I spent a good half-hour talking to a blueberry farmer the other day. He was passionate, knowledgeable, and eager to discuss the business. He talk about how blueberries are becoming more popular internationally in China and some countries in Africa in addition to North & South America and Australia. He knew all about his competitors both regionally and internationally. He was gracious towards them. He saw them as a teammate in the global distribution, promotion and consumption of blueberries — instead of an evil enemy.
Ever notice we don’t seek out varietals of blueberries? We go to the store and buy blueberries. In fact, there are several dozen popular kinds of blueberries. (I dare you to name two.) But the blueberry industry, the farmers and marketers, focus on getting blueberries in shopping carts and mouths. They aren’t pushing you to eat Bluegold, Chandler, Elliott or Legacy blueberries. Just Blueberries.
What if radio did that?
What if everyone who grew and sold radio was passionate, knowledgeable, and eager to discuss the business?
What if we talked about the growing appetite of radio around the world and the role is plays in people’s lives?
What if we really were knowledgeable about our radio competition home and abroad? And didn’t talk bad about them?
What if we just all came together and encouraged everyone to listen to radio?
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.