Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The 10 year AQH Rating Trend

This chart is through Spring '07. Source : Arbitron 10 year National AQH rating trend 12-17, 18-24, and 25-34 are all in significant decline while 35+ is down but not quite as much.

I can't get this chart out of my mind because there is so much work to do to arrest the declines and still far too many distractions slowing things down. And that brings me to this...

One of the blogs I like to read is Dave Martin's N=1. It's not the same old, same old. This morning Dave had a guest blogger, Kelly O'Keefe who was on the design team of the Radio 2020 initiative and Radio Heard Here campaign. I have been critical of both, publicly in this space and privately, and have serious doubts that either will be the catalytic to get the radio industry moving in the right direction. I want to like and support these initiatives but it is not easy.

Here's what Mr. O'Keefe had to say--it's thoughtful and well written. You can make up your own mind"

At the NAB convention in Las Vegas, an announcement was made about the first stage of a multifaceted campaign aimed at contributing to the vibrancy of the radio industry. A lofty goal, to be sure, but a worthy cause.

The radio industry is home to some of the most passionate professionals I’ve met in any industry. Radio is important to Americans and important to America. It provides the most convenient, portable and easy-to-use way to engage with fresh entertainment and information content of every description.

When I was approached to help with this effort, I was honored to play a role. The folks I’ve encountered in the radio industry are smart people. They see the opportunity to make radio better, and they recognize the need to communicate more frequently, with greater transparency. They are listening, acting and investing to ensure that radio’s future is just as storied as its past.

The recommendations we made to the NAB and RAB are more oriented to behavior than marketing. The plan entails four initiatives that have been published broadly:

  • Accelerating technology integration
  • Improving playlist diversity
  • Educating the next generation of broadcasters and advertisers
  • Engaging consumers through broader communications

Three out of four of the objectives involved tangible actions aimed at enhancing the brand. This won’t surprise any reader of my writings, or any of my clients or students. For over 15 years I’ve been writing, speaking and teaching about the fact that in terms of brands, actions speak louder than words.

There is a clear call for increased innovation in content and more support for new technology. I find it disconcerting that many of those who call for technology innovation from the industry also attack virtually any new technology introduced. Any technology investor will tell you that the road to adoption is full of bumps. There is a reason the books on this subject bear titles like Inside the Tornado.

The fact that it is difficult to develop and market new technology is no reason to stop developing it. Every effort that brings new thinking to the radio industry should be celebrated and every innovator supported. Standing still is not an acceptable strategy for this industry, and this brings me to my comments on the marketing campaign.

There are a number of goals for the marketing campaign; they include:

  • Encouraging users to fully explore the variety of content available to them
  • Stimulating usage in new ways and places
  • Generating positive discussion about radio - particularly among young listeners
  • Communicating progress in content, technology and education
  • Developing and supporting a growing community of radio evangelists

The Radio Heard Here advertising is only one of the elements developed to help achieve these goals. We’ve launched blogs that report on industry innovation, online communities aimed at encouraging creatives who work in the radio medium, and influencer outreach efforts to ease communications across the spectrum of broadcasters and support companies.

We are also engaging people within the industry, by preparing electronic and physical mailings to provide tools to thousands of radio stations, and asking them to play a role in the campaign.

So far, we’ve heard far more praise than criticism from broadcasters. The campaign is being developed by some of the most talented people business, and with the rollout taking place over the summer and fall, there is much more to see and hear. As we move forward to contextualize the words “Radio Heard Here” I’m confident that the work will win over fair-minded observers. Of course we will continue to listen, learn and adapt.

One thing we shouldn’t listen to are the comments from those critics who believe the radio brand is irreparably damaged, and therefore any campaign that leverages past equity is doomed. One such commentator says, “Radio has become a negative word.” This is simply not true!

Both the research and the listening data suggest otherwise. The only group that thinks “radio has become a negative word” are people within the industry who read too much from these critics.

Like anything, radio can be better, and the industry should be tireless in its efforts to make it so, but there is a great pool of positive equity that should not be squandered based on the rantings of a few critics.

The risk of moving away from a trusted brand is significant. Just this year, NASCAR admitted that its attempt to move away from its core loyalists was a costly mistake. They are refocusing on their historic strengths. Sound familiar? We heard the same thing after Wal-Mart fired the marketing department that tried to take them away from their core focus. They believed (rightly) that the brand needed freshening, but their actions (wrongly) involved trying to move away from any familiar imagery. Even Coke once gave in to the cynics who thought the brand had no relevance to young people, only to launch New Coke with tragic consequences. They have now returned to the shapely logos and bottles that customers of all ages love.

No less respected brands than Starbucks, Budweiser and Apple have ventured away from their core equity, only to steer back to familiar imagery. (Yes, they all have their critical blogs, too.)

Rather than reinvent radio's brand, in the true spirit of radio, we are engaging in storytelling, through visuals, video and most importantly, the spoken word. And we’ll be inviting broadcasters and listeners to participate.

A simple example of the power of these stories can be found in words on Michael Castner’s blog. He comments on a video interview we produced about Dick Lewis and his work during Hurricane Katrina, saying: “It was an amazing education of what can happen when companies come together for the good of the community. It is a story that very few have heard.”

So I’ll close with one last thought inspired by Michael Castner’s words. Every day, radio stations come together to make great things happen for their communities; imagine what can happen if they come together to tell their own stories? If any of us can play a small role in making that happen, it’s worth the thick skin we will have to grow to get there.

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