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 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 but it applies to radio.

The presentation had dozens of deep, far-reaching applications for radio, 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 memo, with comments on how they apply to your station today.

Powerful Communication & Consumer Connection

It’s no longer enough to buy a big TV – or external marketing – campaign and count on that to drive ratings.

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

The Future Brings Fleeting Loyalties

This is unavoidable of a consumer with 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. 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.

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Heritage Is A Two-Edged Sword

Changing consumption habits of younger generations: The longer your brand is on the air, the greater the brand presence.

But with the luxury of familiarity, stations tend to relax and rest on their image. But heritage brings a bigger challenge in recruiting and exciting a new generation of listener. 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 accepted that radio as a medium 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.

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 your footprint is greater than the sum of it’s parts, you’re 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 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, and along with it, baggage. As brands age, strive to be both classic and timeless, yet contemporary and now. That applies to music, promotions, personalities. Everything.

Only The Naive and Foolish Confuse Presence With Impact

Another great statement. Impact is hard. Presence can be achieved through activity and doing “stuff”. Impact is how we become remembered. Impact is not “big”. That’s presence. Impact is a fundamental building block to becoming legendary.

Use Celebrities

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

How many radio stations run TV campaigns with music hooks to demonstrate their music position? Most of them. How many websites do you visit that show off the latest video from the hottest new star? Or offer updates on music news about the artists stations play. They miss the point. This is equity that can only be borrowed. They 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 really lasts. And it can be stolen. Invest in your unique brand. This is a really hard thing, by the way.

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

Predictability Is No Longer Sustainable

We are in a hyper-fragmenting world.

Our business is full of some of the least creative, head-in-the-sand thinkers in the world. That’s your station’s supreme advantage. We have to constantly evaluate the audience, recognize the subtle changes in their mindset and what they truly respond to. What used to be entertaining just for the uniqueness of being outrageous is no longer so.

Think Outside The Box

Programming and promotional breakthroughs don’t happen when we create another in a series of the same. 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 insight in the presentation is timeless and applies to any brand, including your radio station. How does it affect how you program?


Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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