One of the greatest strengths that you and I bring to the media world is our creativity. Creativity is a key element to standing out, planning good promotions, and keeping our audiences coming back for more. But how do you keep that creative fountain flowing? How do you generate new ideas on demand? Here are seven tips I've picked up over the years that I hope will help.
1) Remember that creativity is a gift. God made each of us in His image and likeness. One dimension of His likeness is the ability to think creatively. Since creativity comes from Him, we always need to turn to Him as the source for all creative endeavors, whether we're writing, producing, or talking.
2) Creativity needs constant feeding. Do you actively feed your creativity? Do you take time to explore something new? Do you learn about things that are outside of your field? When was the last time you read a book just for fun? Our creative output is the direct result of the experiences and learning that we feed into it, so make sure you take time every day to take in some good “mind food.”
3) Creativity needs training and discipline. Creativity and discipline seem to contradict each other. After all, creativity is a free-flow of ideas, while discipline deals with control. But combine the two and you will find that you come up with even better ideas and solutions because you took the time to hone your natural skills.
4) Creativity needs a place to run. It's easy to look at our jobs as the be-all/end-all place for creativity. But don't let your creative juices dry up at 5 o'clock. Take them home and keep them flowing. Make a place where your creativity can run wild. Several years ago I made a promise to write a book. I couldn't do it all at once, so I committed to writing two sentences a day. Some days I write much more, other days I struggle to write the minimum. But the point is that I've created a place where my creativity can run free. The benefit is that I am a more disciplined writer and have grown in my skill.
5) Creativity needs to fail. Not every creative idea is a successful idea. Not all ideas make money or earn awards. Some bad ideas are just bad ideas, and we hurt when those ideas don't succeed. But that's ok. It's better than ok. Because we learn from our failures. We learn how to better tell our story. How to pitch ideas. How to approach people. In short, failures can be the back door to success. Don't get discouraged when you fail. Creativity often scrapes its knees as it learns to run.
6) Sometimes people just don't get it. Not everyone understands your creativity. And that's not your fault. It's how we're wired. An engineer might not get my creative ideas, but I don't understand wire diagrams and tech specs. This is where we both grow as co-workers and friends. We realize that we don't understand each other's world, but we do understand the importance each one brings to the job. It's easy to get discouraged when someone turns down your ideas, but don't give up. Your ideas matter.
7) Sometimes creativity needs to rest. Creativity can be exhausting. We're always pulling ideas out of our head, or feelings out of our soul. That's why we need to schedule time to rest and let our creativity recharge. This is my greatest area of struggle. I like to be on the move...crank out ideas...and come up with the next big thing. But I'm learning that rest is as important as growth. Creativity is a gift...and I must treat it as such. Sometimes that means stepping away so that God can restore my soul.
Life always demands more. Especially life in the media world. We're always looking for fresh, new, and unusual ideas to get people's attention. It we are to meet that demand, we should learn how to live and function as creative people. These are ways that I've learned to manage my creativity. How do you do it?
You know the ones I'm talking about, don't you? The local car dealerships ads that sound like a promo for a Monster Truck rally. The announcer doesn't just speak...he pukes out the news that “Godzilla is making an appearance this weekend to crush three cars and a salesman. And YOU can get such a deal on a used car that our sales manager will go home in tears. No money down. No payments until the Apocalypse. AND ONLY THIS FRIDAY, SATURDAY, AND SUNDAY!”
I thought those kind of ads went out of style with bell bottom pants and easy-listening music. And I hate them because no matter how much 70's nostalgia those ads fuel, I know that I'll never be able to go back in time and eat an oven-baked TV dinner while watching the latest episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Well...OK...nostalgia aside, I just think they sound obnoxious.
But there is one thing that annoying car dealer commercials get right...and it's something you can use in all of your ads and promotions. “This Weekend Only” ads do a great job at conveying a sense of urgency.
Why does “urgency” matter? It moves a listener to take action. The majority of people live in little daily ruts – drive the kids to school, go to work, eat lunch at the same time, pick up the kids, watch TV, go to bed and start all over the next day. It takes a lot of effort to get people to do something out of the ordinary. By conveying a sense of urgency - “Do it now” or “Limited time only” - we give people a reason to break out of their daily routine. After all, I'd better get this special offer because it's only available right now.
Urgency also creates a sense of scarcity. Act now or miss it forever. You can't get this deal anywhere else. This price is only good until a certain date. A sense of scarcity triggers an emotional response in people that says, “I don't want to be left out.”
How can you use urgency in your ads and promotions? Learn from those used car dealers. They offer a limited product for a limited time and at a limited price. This type of ad pitch can be used to fund a special project. (Think of fundraisers and sponsorship events), to promote a special program on your station (We're only airing this interview at this time and will not offer it online for later downloads), or for event promotions (Get the WXYZ shirt from 10 – to -2 on Thursday only. Leftover shirts will be publicly burned and shredded at 2:01 pm).
A word of caution: Urgency is great to motivate people for short term projects...but if you use it too often, people will tune it out and ignore your promotions. Save urgency for those big, must-have type of promotions that people absolutely cannot ignore. Otherwise, you run the risk of sounding like one of “those” kind of used car ads.
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.
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 talking...to 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.
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 is a 25 year media veteran with a passion for helping radio stations tell their stories and strengthen their local brands.