by Tracy Johnson
Everyone on the planet is a sucker for new. Yet if you constantly present what you think is “new”, you’ll probably fail. That’s because, while we desire new, we respond to familiar. In music programming, the concept is that listeners don’t know what they like-they like what they know. But radio personalities can have it both ways by presenting familiar content in new ways. After all, old is not outdated. They’re very different terms.
Understand the art of recycling content and ideas and you’ll discover a secret that can feed your career for decades. This one thing can keep you moving forward, yet comfortable and stable with your core audience.
Look a little closer and you’ll realize that, not only is reusing content a smart idea, it’s actually providing a service to customers.
We can’t wait for the new Justin Timberlake song, but when it comes out with a different, new sound, we cringe with, “That’s not what I expected. That’s weird”. Yes, it was new, but we respond positively to familiar. When the artist brings out a new hit with a familiar sound, they succeed.
Go to a concert and watch what happens when the band plays something from their new album that you haven’t heard before. Fans head for the bathroom and concession stands. They want to hear the hits.
Star Wars VII is basically a remake of Star Wars IV. The public loved it. It was familiar. Critics weren’t crazy about it, but they don’t understand that old is not outdated.
Every Shakespeare play has been restated for hundreds of years with a new cast and setting. People still pack the theater.
It doesn’t matter that something is old. Or rather, that it isn’t completely new. However, it must be presented in a new, interesting way. If the content is still relevant, your audience will lap it up!
Many times, personalities and programmers tire of a feature long before the audience. Maybe you’re burned out on an “old” feature. But your audience? They still can’t get enough.
When I started working with one show, they had been executing War of the Roses for about 5 years. They were convinced the audience was “over it”. They wanted something new. Before making the change, we looked into the feature’s results and found that the quarter hour attracted more than twice the ratings of any other quarter hour on their show.
We didn’t drop the feature. Instead, we researched it and found that it was the second most popular thing on the radio station. The only thing more popular was the station’s mix of music. Many years later, the feature lives on. It’s a familiar content container the audience loves and looks forward to.
Our job is to fill the familiar (old) container with fresh (new) stories each day.
Recycling and repeating great content isn’t just a way to reduce your workload. It’s a good idea in general. Most of your audience doesn’t hear your best material. Playing your hits more often will increase your show’s popularity and expose your truly “A” content more often.
A recycling strategy can provide the fastest way to increased popularity and familiarity. Recycling includes several components, but one of the most overlooked is recycling past ideas into fresh episodes.
Sitcom writers will tell you there are only about 50 storylines. They simply rewrite the same plots.
So what makes one episode different? It’s how the story is developed and how the characters cause the stories to take on a freshness.
You see, old is not outdated. It’s tested, proven and experienced.
As your show develops, it will find a rhythm. Some things you’ll do well, while you’ll struggle in other areas. Along the way, you’ll find a formula that works you. When you find that formula, use it to your advantage and become great at it.
The ingredients in the formula may change, but the formula itself will be constant. That’s how sitcoms succeed by recycling the same storylines over and over in new, interesting ways. It works for them, and it will work for you.
In working with a new client that had been successful over a long period, we started talking about a losing streak in the ratings. I questioned them on a few things that had made them famous and learned they had stopped doing those things several years ago.
“Why?”, I asked. They didn’t really know, but thought that they just got tired of it and assumed the listener did, too. We talked about how to gradually retire old elements to make room for new ideas, the way Disney manages rides.
But the problem with this show is that they retired old features but didn’t add any new attractions. They were left with a boring new show that lacked the familiar appeal and had nothing new and exciting for a new generation.
We started over, but it was hard because they didn’t have a history of their best benchmarks, features and go-to content. It would have been great to revisit the past success to find the nuggets that could be recreated for a new, exciting future.
That’s why it’s a good idea to save every segment of every show, with notes on each segment. Set up a system to save the show prep in digital form so it can be accessed at any time.
That old, 5-star bit you performed five years ago? Bring it back, with a contemporary new treatment.
Every time something happens in your world, you can search the archives and find material that can be recycled. Dust it off, recreate it and you’re good to go. The original performance may be from the past, but old is not outdated if you bring it back the right way.
It’s hard to find hits. When you have one, cherish it. Keep it. Constantly evaluate and update to keep all of your content fresh, but don’t get rid of your best material just because you’re bored with it. Keep your focus on the audience. And remember: Led Zeppelin probably got tired of playing Stairway to Heaven at every concert. But don’t play Stairway, and there wouldn’t be more concerts.
Your show has to be contemporary. It should sound like today. It has to be now. Everything should be fresh, but it doesn’t have to be new. Because the best ideas have probably been done before. Cherish the great ideas from the past. Because old is not outdated. Outdated is outdated.
Photo Credit: Freepik.com
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