How To Win in Radio…or Any Business

How To Win in Radio…or Any Business

by Tracy Johnson

The director of Marketing at Coca Cola delivered an amazing speech to advertising executives. This was back in the dark ages, a time before Facebook, smartphones and personalized music choices. It included a 10-point checklist on how to win in radio. Well, he was talking about business in general, but it applies to radio.

The presentation had dozens of deep, far-reaching applications for the radio industry, and it changed the way I approach radio forever.

It’s just as relevant now as it was then.

Here are 10 highlights of the key points from that presentation and the memo that followed, with comments on how they apply to radio stations today.

Powerful Communication & Consumer Connection

It’s no longer enough to buy a big TV ad budget. In fact, all external marketing isn’t as effective as it once was. You can’t just run an ad campaign and count on that to drive your business.

At the time, my station was faced with a direct format competitor that had just dumped over $1.5 million into television marketing, attempting to buy a market position.

But we stayed focused on our listeners. They may be able to buy impressions, but they can’t buy a position. The ad spend means nothing unless the product connects with listeners on an emotional level that’s deeper than the collection of music that is played.

A big ad buy on it’s own won’t cut through the clutter by itself.

The Future Brings Fleeting Loyalties

Isn’t it amazing that this insight was delivered before the deluge of competition from social media? Less loyalty is unavoidable because consumers have fickle tendencies, and an explosion of choice.

Choice is our biggest challenge. A decade ago, our medium was being rendered less relevant. Hundreds of entertainment options presented compelling alternatives for listener attention. Then, and still today, radio in general has refused to adapt, evolve and create new, contemporary programming approaches.

Broadcasters must innovate and refuse to fall into a trap of complacency. The phrase, “That’s how we have always done it, and that’s how we’ve been successful” should be eliminated from discussions, meetings and thinking. Search for what’s next. What was good enough in the past is not good enough in the future, or for that matter, the present.

Heritage Is A Two-Edged Sword

Changing consumption habits of younger generations won’t happen with the same tactics used on previous generations. The longer a brand is established, the greater the brand presence.

But with the luxury of familiarity, stations tend to relax and rest on their image.

Heritage brings a bigger challenge in recruiting and exciting a new generation of listeners. This is particularly true with high profile personalities who have been in the market for a long time.

Understand that listener interests constantly change, and accept that radio is not nearly as important to younger generations. That should not scare us. It should motivate us.

Coca Cola Isn’t a Drink: It’s a Feeling

I love this more than any other point in the presentation.

Your brand should be more than a collection of songs, DJs and promotions. There should be an essence to it. This is the secret sauce in your brand.

When a radio station’s footprint is greater than the sum of it’s parts, it becomes bullet-proof. This allows you to expand the appeal and “get away with” ideas and programming elements that, logically, should not work.

Is your station a format or is it a feeling?

What’s Timeless Must Also Be Timely

Wow. What a powerful statement. This has far-reaching implications. Stations with history, legacy and long-term equity listeners have tremendous leverage. But along with it, baggage.

As brands age, we should strive to be both classic and timeless. Yet we should always be contemporary and today. That applies to music, promotions and personalities. Everything.

Only The Naive and Foolish Confuse Presence With Impact

This is another great statement. In the ever-increasing competition for attention, radio has to do more to be prominent.

Impact is hard. Presence can be achieved through activity and doing “stuff”. But impact is how we become remembered.

Impact is not “big”. That’s presence. Impact is a fundamental emotional building block to becoming legendary.

Use Celebrities

Tie in well-known figures to enhance or extend the values that underpin brands.

How many radio stations run TV campaigns with music hooks to demonstrate a music position? Most of them. How many radio websites do you visit that show off the latest video from the hottest new star? Most of them. Or offer updates on music news about the artists stations play? Almost all of them.

These brands are missing the point. This is investing resources in equity that can only be borrowed. Those stations are building a brand around the image of other entities (the artists/songs). That’s weak, and while it may work short-term, it never lasts.

Invest in your unique brand. Put your time and resources into building your own celebrities.

This is a very hard thing, but very important.

Break Into Hearts and Minds

This principle should be fundamental to your station. Identify the key emotions you represent, and weave it into the fabric of the audience’s lives in small ways.

Strive to become a vibrant, meaningful part of the audience’s community. And do it all around the authentic reach of your personalities.

Predictability Is No Longer Sustainable

We are in a hyper-fragmenting world. Just being consistent won’t earn rewards. Yes, consistency and dependability are important qualities, but listeners demand more.

Knowing the audience and creatively engaging them is a radio station’s supreme advantage. We have to constantly evaluate the audience, recognize subtle changes and provide what they will truly respond to.

Programming and promotional breakthroughs don’t happen when we create another element in a series of the same things over and over.

Breakthroughs take place when someone steps back and creates entertainment with a whole new concept. Copying other formulas is a certain path to irrelevance.

The art of creativity is surprising the audience in new ways, but wrapped in familiarity.


The insight in the marketing presentation is timeless and it applies to all brands, including your radio station.

How will it affect the way you program and promote your station?

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