Action Plan: 16 Things To Do This Year to Reach Millennials

Action Plan: 16 Things To Do This Year to Reach Millennials

by Tracy Johnson

It seems that the radio industry has awakened to the reality that the generation called millenials is substantial, valuable and mysterious. It’s true. They’re here to stay. But what can you do today to reach millenials?

Most of the studies tell you about this group of interesting folks. But if you dig deeper, it’s clear that the clock is ticking on our industry to make meaningful changes or risk losing anyone under 40! That’s right. Anyone under 40! In the next few years, millenials will make up the bulk of that 25-54 demographic radio managers hold so dear.

And they’re not going to change. Why would they? No generation before changed as they age. You didn’t start listening to AM radio for music when you got older. As the previous generation aged, they didn’t give up the choices of hundreds of TV channels for ABC, CBS and NBC. So why would millenials suddenly “discover” radio?

They won’t, unless we earn their trust and loyalty now.

It’s up to us to adjust. And the changes need to be bold and swift. Here are a few things you should be considering:

Reach Millennials: Authenticity

In my study of milllenials, I was blown away with their depth and interest in gaining a perspective that is beyond them. They’re passionate about brands that stand for something, are putting down roots and know who they are.

Here’s what you can do:

Put a historical context in what you play & why. The STORY is important to them. This is more important for some formats than others. Putting music into a context through production, personalities and stories they haven’t heard fascinates them. They have a deeper appreciation for the past than you think. But they don’t want to live there.

Start a cause and make a commitment to it. Brands that stand for something resonate with them, even if they don’t have a passion for that cause. It matters that you care.  There are a lot of ways to do this. It can be your own foundation or a theme that you promote, with the benefits going to existing organizations that are all unified under your umbrella. But stop wasting your time, money and spots on the fun runs and charity events that don’t tell your story.

To put an exclamation point on your commitment, how about creating one song an hour (or even one a day) that is sponsored? A listener can have anything they want played for a donation to the cause. But it has to be real. The song is literally chosen by donor. And introduced by them.

Tell Your Story

Tell your brand’s story on the air, on your website, in social media, and at events. The story should include what you stand for. Connect with the audience and create a reason to exist that’s beyond your on-air sound. When you take actual steps to make a difference and demonstrate it, they get it. And they give you credit.

Here’s something that will send shockwaves through board rooms and accounting departments of radio stations everywhere: What if you promise a percentage of ad revenue goes to your cause? They know you have to play commercials, and aren’t angry about that. But they think you play too many because you’re greedy. This would soften it. At least a little.

An option would be for the money from one commercial per hour going to the cause. Set it up before the spot airs, with an announcement that (sponsor) is proud to be a partner to support (cause) and all the revenue from this announcement will help (what the cause does).

At the very least, claim credit for the airtime you’re using to benefit a cause to make ________happen. Each promo and PSA has a value. Calculate it and promote it as your commitment to (cause).

And, be sure that everything you do externally ties into your story. That goes for thosefestivals, concerts and events. Make it part of your DNA.

Reach Millennial With Your Digital Strategy

When asked about radio station digital assets, there’s usually a chuckle. They think your digital strategy is a joke. So fix it.

Fix your apps. Make them simpler and easier to use. Make it one tap to get what they want (listen to your station, interact with personalities, win something). Your app and online stream has to work-every time. If it doesn’t work even once, they delete it or just ignore it in the future. There are plenty of other choices, and they know how to use them.

Update your website and get rid of all the junk. They don’t go there for blogs, entertainment information or to get your air talent’s bio. Make it big, bold and simple.

Air personalities are stars. They look up to them. Give them access. It’s a simple way to provide an experience. Let them watch your show in real time. Answer their questions. HOst a chat in real time. In other words, interact. Taking them behind the scenes isn’t difficult, and it’s meaningful

Content Ideas

Features work, big-time! They love special weekends and tune-in moments that are extra-ordinary. It could be a weekly feature or daily feature, but do something unique that truly stands out. Create more promotable, can’t-miss events. And promote it!

Re-think traditional radio features. Millenials aren’t out to accumulate massive amounts of money, but saving money is important to them. Take advantage of that! Maybe you can create features that show where to get a good deal.

You could create a weekly feature to show how to look great on a budget. Or bring on a credible, but relevant, financial expert to give contemporary advice on how to save and make money.

Or run promotions with geo-tagging to save money. You may even find a way to monetize it. But don’t turn this into a sales-driven initiative. It won’t work. They’ll see through it as inauthentic.

Stories about the music and what is happening behind the scenes are compelling. Maybe it’s time to bring back features like Behind the Music or stories about the artists and songs.Some even told us that they love hearing about air talent that has met performers and artists. Play that up on the air. Tell the stories!


Ahh. The big one. The category that makes all the managers shudder. We have to change the way we make money.

First, you have to reduce the commercial load. It’s just too much. While you’re at it, let’s get rid of the dated 30 and 60 second spots. If you can’t tell the story in 10-15 seconds, the story won’t be heard.

But here’s what’s really interesting. Non-profit stations, including those in the Christian format and NPR have relied on donations for years. It’s successful. And their model has merit, if adjusted.

Millenials tell me they would happily support a radio station that lines up with their world view, offers value, reduces commercials and provides benefits. A large percentage think nothing of paying a few dollars a month for a Spotify subscription and they’ll do the same to support your brand, if presented properly.

Provide Value

But it has to be a valid value exchange. If the value is there, they’ll pay for it, even  though they have little disposable money! This is a membership program, not a points or rewards promotion. And there has to be real benefits they can feel! For example:

  • Reduce commercials and explain why and how it’s possible.
  • Provide exclusive content to members only.
  • Let them pick the music – even just a song or two -once a year. And acknowledge them.
  • Tie in your cause. $1 per month from every membership goes to the cause. This is a big deal!
  • Thank them and make them feel special-on-air, on-line, on-social. By name, not as a group.
  • Provide exclusive benefits. Make your concerts a members-only event.
  • Turn every contest and promotion into a members only benefit.

And there is a lot more. I’m happy to share how to make it happen and do it without requiring a big staff if you want to contact me.


This interesting new generation has told us how to appeal to them, but they have little confidence you’ll actually do it. It’s scary. Your work is cut out for you.

They’re a very impressive, well-grounded generation. They’re different. And they think you don’t understand them.

But YOU have the power to engage them in a friend-like nature that authenticates your brand in a particularly effective way.

More than anything else, broadcasters must focus on talent. Personality is the future, because they know where to go for music. And information. If you want to truly reach millennials, the secret is on your station. Develop your talent.

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