Winning The War For Attention With Verbal Combat

Winning The War For Attention With Verbal Combat

by Tracy Johnson

Radio stations are at war, and enemies are everywhere. They surround you, all competing for the attention of the same audience you’re hoping to attract. To win the war, radio stations must engage in verbal combat.

And promos are the weapon that can turn you into a lean, clean fighting machine.

Promos can make a big difference in the battle for listener attention. In fact, a strategy to create commercials for the radio station is more effective than any external marketing.

Here’s why:

Advertisers pay a lot of money to deliver messages to your audience, and many (probably most) of those listeners have no interest in their brand or product.

But ALL listeners tuned in have at least SOME interest in what you’re doing. 100% of the audience hearing a promo is a candidate to be affected positively by the promo.

And, most of the audience tuned in at any given time does not listen in other time slots. That seems shocking at first, doesn’t it. But it’s true.

Check it out.

The Ratings Get the current ratings for the radio station, and gather the following information:

  • Station’s weekly cume
  • Station’s daily cume (if a PPM market).
  • Weekly and daily cume of each daypart.

Now calculate the percentage of cume for each daypart compared to the overall station cume.

At most stations, less than 50% of the total audience tunes in a specific daypart at all. It’s usually around 35-40%. On great stations with high profile personalities, it sometimes approaches 60%.The above chart is typical. Only 37% of the station’s total audience tunes in to the individual time period. That means 63% do not tune in to the daypart-ever!

What if you were able to convince the current cume to spend just a few more quarter hours with the station each week? Ratings would explode.

Here’s the exciting part: It’s free! There’s no huge marketing budget required. You just need great content, great execution and an exciting promo strategy.

Promos: Verbal Combat

That’s where promos come into play. Radio stations can turn promos into tune in with the right message. But we’re also at a terrible disadvantage because listeners have a big wall of defense protecting them from messages.

They have been trained to resist hype. They ignore commercials. And yes, radio promos are commercials. And many of those commercials  are just ignored.

To a listener, here’s what many radio promos sound like:

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But maybe not by that much.

Long promos that go into detail explaining what to do and when to do it with facts just aren’t heard.

Listeners tune out. And there’s no impact.

Here’s how to create more more attention and higher ratings with promos.

Understand Your Listeners

All decisions are emotional decisions. Nothing human beings do is based on logic. Yet listen to most promos on the radio.

So many of them try to reason with listeners. We have all the arguments to support our claims. The promo says “We play the most music.” Then we support that with 50 minute music sweeps, commercial free hours to kick off the workday and claims of being the “10 in a row hit music station”. And all of those things are fine.

But promos that make those claims don’t work because they’re just not heard.

There’s a book by book neuroscientist Antonio Damasio called, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. It explains a groundbreaking discovery.

Studying people who had damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated, Damasio found that they all had something in common: They couldn’t make decisions. The patients could describe what they should do in logical terms, but they found it impossible to make even simple choices.

In other words, while we use logic to justify a decision, actual decision=making is governed by emotion.

Promos that try to explain why we’re better won’t appeal to that animal instinct. The emotional part of the human brain that drives response is unaffected by explanations that try to reason.

No matter how many times we explain advantages and list why we are a better choice, it will not cause a response.

And promos are ineffective if they don’t cause a response.

Know What You Want: Trial!

A fundamental key to promo success is to know what you want. What is the goal of the promo campaign? What are you trying to get?

You get what you ask for if you ask the right way.

Don’t even start writing promos without first identifying the desired outcome. And that desired outcome should always be to encourage increased trial, not awareness. And most radio promos target the opposite.

Awareness messaging focuses primarily on brand values in the message. It’s more about image than anything else. And image is important, for sure. But awareness campaigns rarely cause action.

Trial Messaging is about causing response. The goal is to inspire the listener to take an action. it might be to tune-in, enter to win or show up at an event. In other words, trial promos give listeners something to do.

Listeners are far too distracted for us to assume that they’ll hear our messages and eventually change their habits. They need specific reasons to tune in at specific times for specific benefits.

That’s why I am such an advocate of audio on demand for the station’s most popular features. Here’s an example of a promo from Z90 in San Diego for their morning show feature The Phone Jibba:

This promo is entertaining, makes a statement about the morning show (funny), demonstrates what the feature is all about (a phone prank) and gives the audience something to do (listen tomorrow morning for the new episode).

Combine a great feature with exciting messaging (on the air and off), and there’s a good chance of attracting trial for a specific purpose. That will increase the percentage of cume for each daypart.


Promos are a powerful weapon, but everyone fighting in verbal combat to win the battle for attention must consider how promos are heard, and how decisions are made.

Awareness is great. Stations need brand awareness. But remember where these commercials for the station (promos) are airing. On your station…playing to people who already listen. They already know about you..

Stop trying to tell them how great you are, and invest time and energy on motivating them to USE it more.

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