by Tracy Johnson
What would happen if Santa Claus were an air talent, and a programmer were to review his performance? Here’s how it may go if a programmer air checks Santa.
It’s mostly a one-way discussion, because the PD has a lot on his mind:
PD: Okay, Santa, here’s the deal. We need to talk. It’s Christmas time, your biggest time of the year, and the ratings aren’t what they used to be. I know you’re doing fine with the younger demographics, but that’s not the money demo. We have to expand your appeal.
Now, we’ve done some research, and there’s a few things we have to fix right away. And if we don’t make some big adjustments, there’s going to be some serious issues.
SANTA: Okay, do you want me to take notes? I can make a list and check it twice.
The PD ignores the question and starts the critique.
PD: First, your credibility is shot with adults. You’re just not believable. They aren’t buying into your whole story, and it starts with your name.
Where’d you get Saint Nicholas? They don’t think you’re being “real” with them. We have to change it. Come up with some ideas and let’s discuss.
You need to spend more time talking about yourself and what your real life is like. None of this “North Pole” stuff. Peel back the curtain and be authentic.
SANTA: But, I actually live at the North Pole. I guess I don’t know how to be authentic, then. I thought I was just being myself.
PD: The last couple of years, you’ve been letting too many kids ask for toys that don’t test well with 35-44 year old women. Those are the moms. You now, the target?
There’s only about 5 real hits that everyone wants. Here’s a list. If little Lindsey asks for something that’s not on that list, ignore her and tell her that you know better.
She’ll take what you bring her. Don’t worry. She’ll adjust.
PD: Now: A couple of things about music. Our research found that most people like Christmas music in general, but there are 37 Christmas songs that nobody dislikes.
If you just play those songs and get rid of all that other polarizing crap, we’ll keep them in the mall for hours. That may not seem like enough variety, but we’ll be fine as long as you tell them that we play “A better mix of Christmas so you can listen longer.”
They’ll believe whatever you tell them. Research proves that this will make them like you.
SANTA: What about the true spirit of Christmas? And joy and family? And warm connections to better times?
PD: How about just play the hits, huh Santa? Which reminds me…
PD: Now that we have the definitive safe list of the right songs, I need you to start playing more of it.
We know that as soon as you start to talk, they tune out. So we’re replacing some of your act with “at least 10 Carols in a Row every hour” and a special “90 Minute Marathon to start the Shopping Day.”
You’ll just take a few longer breaks and hang out in the back room more. We’ll drop in some of your voice-tracks so you still have a presence.
SANTA: But I love Christmas music and I can make it a part of what I do. Why can’t we have big personality and music? My fans love both.
PD: Yeah, right. Okay, when you do say something, your primary job is to promote the music.
Nobody really cares about you. The Christmas songs are the star. That and the prizes….er, presents.
And be sure to back-announce Elmo and Patsy. They told us they hate it when we don’t identify every song and artist.
SANTA: But I get a ton of letters at the North Pole, and questions about the reindeer. I think they really do care about me.
PD: Well, they seem to like the music better. So…maybe you can keep that in mind? A little?
PD: It’s also important that we image our brand with Christmas, so starting now, every time you say anything, the first and last thing out of your mouth should be to remind them who plays the most Christmas songs. That’s how we’ll win Christmas.
Start with the positioning statement we talked about: A Better Mix of Christmas and more of it featuring 10 Carols in a row every hour and a 90-minute marathon to start your shopping day.
Then do your break with the kids, and wrap it with a quick testimonial that supports our position. You’ll ask, “Who plays the most Carols?” Get them to say “Santa.” You don’t need to ask all that other stuff, like if they’ve been naughty or nice. All that milk and cookies chatter was self-indulgent, anyway.
We’ve done some tests on this, and we think you can do a great break in 12-14 seconds, so tighten it up and use your skills to entertain and relate, baby!
SANTA: But that positioning line takes about 10 seconds to say…and that’s if I say it fast and don’t put any personality into it. Help me here.
PD: Just do it, please.
PD: With shorter breaks, there’s less time for talk, so we need to cut it down a bit, big fella.
There are several ways to do this. I noticed you’ve been saying “Ho, Ho, Ho” a lot. It seems repetitive. Do you really need three ho’s to get your point across? How about just one?
Less Ho – More Carols. Everyone wins.
And can we cut down the amount of time you chit-chat with the kids? We’ll have an intern screen them for their name….
SANTA: You mean an elf, right?
PD: Huh? Yes, an intern. The elves? Sorry, budget cut. The elves are out. But we have some 18-year-old kids from a Community college that get social media, so it’ll be an upgrade.
Now when little Jason sits on your lap, just say “Hi, Jason from Springfield, what do you want?” If they can’t tell you in the first few seconds, get them off and move on to the next kid. All that filler talk is killing forward momentum. Energy, Santa! Energy! The clock is ticking!
PD: This may not seem important to you, but in listening to some of the airchecks from last year, we noticed that you told the kids you’d “try” to get them the gift they want.
You need to promise them. No more being vague.
SANTA: But what if they don’t get it for Christmas? They’ll be disappointed and will stop believing in me.
PD: Yes, I know they may not actually get what they ask for, but we don’t really care about that. We just want to get them through this Christmas season. We’ll worry about next year when it comes. We need impact now.
PD: Back in August, we did some focus groups with 8 people in a hotel room.
They spent four hours telling us what Christmas means to them, and they don’t care about the sleigh bells. So get rid of them, and be sure to promote it.
We ran some slogans past them and they really got it when we asked if they understood “More Music, less Jingle.” It works. Let’s go with that.
SANTA: You tested this in August? Wasn’t it 95 degrees? In a hotel room? That doesn’t really feel like Christmas.
PD: Motel, actually. We had some trade. Listen, I know this seems extreme, but you have to trust that we know what we’re doing. We’re taking out all potential negatives, so we’ll definitely keep the audience from going off to the competition.
SANTA: The competition?
PD: We’ve been thinking about this, and are pretty sure this is what will put you over the top. Do this and I really think you’ll be famous.
SANTA: I’m pretty well known.
PD: Not according to research.
I want you to end each conversation with a kid by asking them, “Who just made you the happiest kid at Christmas?”. Get them to say, “Santa Claus at Springfield Mall”. It’ll make great promos.
SANTA: Can’t they just say Santa?
PD: What? No, they have to say Springfield Mall. And your full name: Santa Claus. Otherwise, we won’t get credit.
They HAVE to say it just like that.
SANTA: But what if they don’t?
PD: What do you mean, “What if they won’t say it?”. They have to say it just like that. Look…I don’t care how long it takes. I’m not going to do your job for you. Be creative and keep asking until they get it right.
Oh, and make sure they sound excited.
And if you can get them to tag it with “Your home for Christmas fun” it will be even better.
Think you can do that?
PD: Hey, I just had a great idea. On second thought…take out the part about you. Just ask, “Where’s your home for Christmas fun?” In fact, let’s open with that.
Start each conversation with a kid with that line. Say this:
“Welcome to Springfield mall, your home for Christmas fun. I’m Santa A Better Mix of Christmas and more of it featuring 10 Carols in a row every hour and a 90-minute marathon to start your shopping day. What’s your name?”
SANTA: Really? Every time?
PD: Huh? Yeah. Every time. Thanks.
PD: Now we need to talk about something you’re not going to like.
I need you to stop talking about yourself so much. Nobody cares about you or the elves or Mrs. Claus or Rudolph or what’s happening at the toy shop at the North Pole. Or that you like milk and cookies or that the reindeer love carrots.
Those stories just take too long to tell. Get to the point.
Ask them how old they are, what they want for Christmas, and wrap it up. Tight and bright. Don’t waste time. You’ll get to more kids that way.
Just cut out the stories, okay?
SANTA: (Head in hands)
PD: Finally, Santa…here’s an idea. Just for consideration. Since it seems kids want different things, we decided that the one thing every kid can use is money or a gift card from the Springfield Mall. The sponsor is going to love it.
That way they get whatever they want. It appeals to everyone and our client makes more money.
So no more train sets or video games or electronic gadgets, okay? When they ask for it, switch them to a gift card from the mall. Everyone can relate to that.
SANTA: But that’s not much fun.
PD: What? Not as interesting or personal? Yeah, maybe, but everyone will want it. It’s universal. Trust me. We tested it. And the sponsors want it. It was their idea…so yeah, we kind of need to do this.
And that’s what the Easter Bunny did this year. It killed in focus groups.
The programmer has now completed the meeting. After the aircheck, the PD takes a call just as Santa is about to ask another question. The PD waves him off and mouths “We’ll talk. Keep up the good work.”
With that, a dejected Santa slumped out of the office wondering why he ever decided it would be fun to be Santa in the first place.
Working with talent is a lot like raising a puppy. Learn the methods to train, coach, and inspire great performances from air personalities. Every programmer should adopt the principles in this book to help their station sparkle.
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