Expert Columns

The Antichrist's name is Larry. He is from rural Tennessee. And he has regular visions of Hell. I know this because I spent hours talking to him during my first paid radio gig. I was the late-night guy for the Moody Radio Network station in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I loved it. And I'd love to do late night radio again because that's when the real people call to talk. People like Larry.
Larry isn't really the Antichrist. He is actually a guy with some emotional problems. He really wants to love God, but he had heard some teaching about biblical prophecy and in his mixed-up mind began to think that maybe he was the cause of the world's problems. His fear grew until he had to talk to someone. And who better to talk to than the people at the radio station...right? They know the answers. He dialed the phone number and started me.
So...what do you say to a guy who thinks he is the embodiment of The Man of Sin Who Shall Be Revealed? Honestly, I still don't know the answer. But I knew enough to stop and listen – really listen – to his fear. Larry called back frequently. He talked about his life, his girlfriend, his home situation. I learned that he was just a lonely guy who needed someone to listen to him. And that became a part of my ministry: Listening.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because our job as Christian communicators is to connect with people. Real people. Sure, there's a lot of work to be done – Promotions, Branding, Scheduling Ads, Show Prep – but never forget that there is a real person on the other side of the speaker or computer screen. Lonely people with messy lives who need to know someone cares.
Not long ago I was going through some old files and came across a letter written by Larry. It began “Some days I have good days, some days I have bad....” Larry scrawled another half page of random thoughts, stuck a letter in an envelope, then mailed it to the station. The letter didn't really say much, yet it spoke volumes. The message was loud and clear: “Thank you for listening to me.”
Radio is all about listening. People listen to us. Do we listen to them? It may be there's someone who needs to know we care. But first, we have to listen.

Every now and then it's important to back to the basics, so if you're a seasoned promoter, you may already know this, but if you're new to media and promotions, here's a quick guide to promotions planning.
No matter the size of your marketing budget, you can get noticed in your community. There's no rule that says you have to have a massive amount of money to make an impact. Here's how to make the most of every opportunity.
1) Set ONE goal for your promotion. Keep your goal simple and clear. Can you explain it in one sentence? What is the ONE thing you want to accomplish? Don't try to get complicated, because that will water down your messaging.
2) Know your target listener and how your goal relates to them. This is the easy part. You already have a key listener, so take the time to ask how this promotion will help them. How will it add value to their life? If it doesn't add value to them, then the promotion does nothing for you.
3) Think about the QUALITY of the promotion...not the QUANTITY. In other words, pick a promotion that will have a lasting impact. Don't worry if you're only doing one promotion this summer. That's not what matters. What does matter is that you do the best promotion you can do that benefits your listeners. Better to have one solid connect than a dozen little ones that come across as “busy work.”
4) Determine your measure of success. How will you judge the success of your promotion? Names generated? Number of attendees? Financial gain for advertisers? Much like point #1, the key is to pick ONE thing and keep that as your measure of success.
5) Start planning the details. Now that you've set clear goals, you can decide how best to proceed. What channels will you use to promote your event? On-Air? Social Media? Newsletters? Will you hand out flyers to promote an event, or will you send invites to social media followers only? Where will your event be held? Set the big goals first, then get into the details.
Why start with all of these questions? Isn't promotions just going out and running an event? No. Promotions are an important way to increase your station's brand visibility. Everything you do in public builds an image in your audience's minds, so make sure your station creates a powerful image.

You've worked to develop a significant brand. You've put time into crafting imagers, creating an online presence, and reminding listeners about who you are.
Now, you want to know if all that work is paying off. How can you tell? It all comes down to this one simple question: What is the first thing listeners say about your station?
Listeners don't have to parrot your slogan/ID/imagers word-for-word. Nor do they have to know the font colors and graphics. But remember that a brand is a promise you make to your listeners. If you are keeping your promise to listeners, they'll know. And they'll be able to tell others about the promise you've made.
It really is that simple. But don't be fooled. It takes a lot of hard work.
Our job in media is to build people connections. To relate. And we relate to listeners when we make promises and keep them. That's why it's important to not just say that we're family friendly...we have to keep our word. Even when it's not convenient. Or easy. Your job is to always stick to your brand promise and put the family first.
Is your branding effective? Are you keeping your brand promises? You'll find out when you take time to listen to what people say about your station.

You've already put in the hard work required to build a brand. You've created your brand promise by telling listeners what to expect. And you deliver on that promise every day.

Now comes the next step: Use your brand to engage your audience.

How does brand engagement work? I recommend three steps: Learn, listen, and live.

LEARN: Radio does a good job at learning about their listeners. We pay attention to ratings, demographics, and market research. But don't just stop at the statistics. A good brand actively learns about its audience. But don't be content with surface info. Go deeper. It's what separates you from the competition. Learn about your users habits, her routines, her shopping preferences, her kids and what they like, and what everyday concerns she faces. Never stop learning about your listeners.

LISTEN: The next time you're out in the field, take time to listen to the conversations around you. When you're standing in a long line at the store, keep your ears open. What are people talking about? What's the topic of the day? What are they saying...and more importantly, HOW are they saying it? You may be surprised to find out that your brand is addressing the issues people are discussing, but they aren't hearing it because you're slightly off-key. Listening to others can teach your brand how to talk to others.

LIVE: Live where your listeners live. This step is, I think, the toughest for Christian radio broadcasters. Because we represent Jesus Christ, we are called to live differently than the guys over at the Top 40 station. But the truth is, we're called to minister to people who often live tough, messy lives. Your “Becky/Lisa/Sara” may be a classy mom who holds down a job, marriage and three kids...but her nephew just “came out,” her husband just lost his job because of budget cuts, and her mom has Stage 3 breast cancer. Oh, and kid #2 just got called to the principal's office for bullying. Can your brand get down on her level and walk with her through the messiness? Are you willing to live where she is and walk with her through those times?

Each step – Learn, Listen, and Live – requires us to take an active role in our listeners' lives. That's how brand engagement begins. And the ultimate goal of brand engagement is to create community – you and me, us and them. Your station, your brand, has this opportunity. Are you ready to engage?

Bill Arbuckle

Bill Arbuckle is a 25 year media veteran with a passion for helping radio stations tell their stories and strengthen their local brands.

Summer is a great time to strengthen your station brand. Your team is out and about in the community, you're running a number of promotions, and you're connecting one-on-one with listeners.
Before you head out to that next remote, take some time to assess your brand and ask if it is still connecting with your audience, on-air, online, and in-person. And here's the best place to start. Ask yourself, “What does my brand say about our station?
Stop just a second and take a look at your business card. Take a look at your program guide. Check your web site, Pinterest and Facebook pages to see what your brand says about you. Here are three things to look for:
1) Does my brand still connect with my audience? Branding is more than just a logo or an imager. It's a promise you make to your listeners. It covers everything that you do. So put it this way: Do listeners feel like I'm keeping my promise?
2) Does my brand image still look/sound relevant? Words and design change quickly. Are you still using the same words that you used in 2005? That's not a bad thing if listeners still connect with your promise to stay safe for little ears. But have you and your listeners outgrown that concept? Are you more than “safe” for families? Families may want more than safe. They may want shelter from life's storms.
3) Does my brand stay consistent across all media channels? You're more than just an on-air signal. You're also a web programmer, social media communicator, video producer, and in some cases, a publisher. Do all of your channels march in lock-step? Will someone know what to expect on air by reading your Twitter feed? Do your jocks reflect the messages on your Pinterest page?

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