Learning Marketing at a Radio Station

01260010There’s the old quote and book, “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” and it’s a bit tempting to say “All I needed to know about marketing, I learned at a radio station.” But that’d be a bit of a stretch. I learned the heart and soul, but there were still some muscles to work out (and keep working out over time as the industry grows, new techniques and technologies are adopted, etc.)

But at the core, yes, just about everything I needed to know about marketing, I learned at a radio station. In the mid-to-late 90’s, I was lucky to score a role at Sinclair Radio St. Louis. At the time, the stations owned 105.7 The Point (St. Louis’ Alternative radio station), 101.1 The River (at the time, a modern adult alternative station), and later, during my time there, 97.1 The Rock (a classic rock station.) I worked in the marketing department during the week, including leading the early years of the stations’ websites and eventually turning into a full-time role focused just on the websites, and on-air on The Point on the weekends.

My day-to-day in the marketing department, though, was filled with street events (day and night), concert appearance coordination, press releases, giveaways – everything you associate with radio stations being out and about on the streets and in the venues where their listeners are.

Be Where Your Customers Are

Every moment of every day, we were doing all we could (given limited resources, of course) to determine where to go. Sometimes, on a slow day, it meant someone taking a station vehicle out with some interns to a busy gas station to give away water bottles and station bumper stickers. Other days, it meant a sunrise-to-sundown marathon of event to event to concert to after party.

But the core idea was: know your customers and be in the midst of them.

One way we knew where our customers were was by studying the ratings feedback. “P1” listeners were those who marked, adamantly, that our station was their favorite. We knew which zip codes in the region had the most P1 listeners, and we started there when we had to prioritize.

Another way we found our listeners was by going to the events tied to the artists that they were passionate about hearing on the station. Sure, it meant having somewhere to be almost every night, but that was part of the passion of the gig, and the drive to win.

Immersing in our customers kept us real, kept us relate-able, and kept us in the leadership slot in our format, in our demo, in our city. In short, it helped us win.

Today, for digital marketers, being where your customers are means carefully studying how they’re reaching your sites and experiences in the digital space and finding the right blend of creative ways of meeting them there.

Respect, but Don’t Talk About the Competition

We knew who the competition was. We respected them (although it seemed they didn’t often show respect for us on the streets). But we fought hard to win. We showed up as early as we could to a concert venue to get the prime spot right in front of the doors with our station vehicle. We took more t-shirts and stickers. We created better draws, better events, more memorable moments.

Above all, though, while competitors would occasionally mention us on the air, (as in, “have you heard what those guys on [station] are doing?…), we would never mention them. Why would you? For the slice of the audience that still hasn’t discovered them, you’re only opening the door for them to explore.

Know your competition, but when you’re talking with your customers and prospects, focus only on your own strengths and on the value that they get out of you and your products and solutions.

(This is part of, and tied to, Ries & Trout’s old “Be First in the Mind.” You don’t stay first in the mind by talking about the competitor.)

Win in the Details

I remember weeks when we had interns sitting in a room, monitoring every station that we considered even remotely a competitor, and marking exactly what times they stopped playing musics and started playing commercials (“stopsets”). From time to time, we would carefully re-engineer our broadcast schedule, mapping our own stopsets on the stations to begin just before the competitors’. That way, when our commercials would start, listeners might bail (hang on, don’t tell advertisers that listeners leave during the ads), but they’d soon run into commercials on the competing station, and we would keep the listener trained to know that we would be back into playing music earlier than the competitor as a result.

It was “101” – the basics – in the industry. But it was those types of details that helped the winners win.

One of my favorite quotes is the one that reads something like (paraphrasing), “Countless unseen details make the difference between excellence and mediocrity.”

Marketers who focus on the details – whether in the polish of the art of an ad, or in the care of attention to time of day that something reaches their audience, or in their partnership with their product teams on ensuring that they have the best possible product to market – win. Hands-down. I’ve seen it time and time again in my nearly 20 year career across media, marketing, analytics, and software.

Work Harder Than Anyone Else

A lot of people think marketing is a “fluff” field. It’s not. It’s hard work. It takes thought, care, passion, the attention to detail mentioned above, science, art. It’s hard work.

Yes, there are sunrise to sunset days.

Yes, at the stations, our operations manager pushed us each Рevery one of us in the marketing department Рto author a press release every single day. At the time, it was a killer assignment. But the discipline for the passion to win it instilled in me is still with me today.

Don’t stop, don’t give up, and tackle the big mountains of marketing, and you’ll win.

What would you add? What do you think I learned about marketing in radio that I forgot to include here? Or, what would you add?

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