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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

P&M Awards preview 2009

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If the UK radio industry was sufficiently well organised to have such a thing as a “Radio Promotions and Marketing Calendar” then the Radio Academy’s Promotions and Marketing Awards would be the biggest thing in it. What’s more, it’s only hours away.

Ahead of the ceremony, the Radio Academy’s Director, Trevor Dann, shares his perspective on this year’s entries in this Earshot audio exclusive.

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Trevor: I think the first thing to say is, quite simply, that we had more entries than we did last year, which at a time of recession, at a time when it is difficult to get people to come to events at all, where the whole conference and awards business is showing 25%, 30% fall across most sectors, isn’t it fantastic that people are interested in this?

My other feeling is that increasingly, across not just commercial radio but even the BBC, people who make programmes are more interested in this stuff. I think if you went back 10 years, certainly 20 years, people who make programmes like me were a bit kind of luvvie about people who made trails, or people who did promotions or marketing or did sponsorship deals, they were kind of salesmen and business people and we were a bit sniffy about them, to be honest. Nowadays the two sides, if they are two sides, which they are not really, are very much working together. A lot of the best ideas that were submitted are good programming ideas as well as good marketing, sponsorship, promotional ideas.

Steve: Ok. Give me an example of one that attracted your attention that falls into that area.

Trevor: Well I will just pick one, and it is always unfair because you will think “oh if I have picked this one, they must have won” and this may or may not be true, but Absolute Radio did a promotion for the Benjamin Button movie, which you remember is about a guy who is born aged 80 something and then dies ages nought, and to kind of celebrate, commemorate the fact that this guy’s life goes backwards, they turned their schedules on their head, so they put their breakfast presenter, Christian O’Connell on Drivetime, and they put Geoff Lloyd from Drivetime on breakfast, and so on. They ran that as a promotion for the day. What I liked about that idea was as well as drawing attention to the sponsor and their product, which it clearly did, it also was a very good idea in terms of aiding trial for the listener, because maybe, like many radio stations, only the breakfast show gets listened to, well now they had an idea of what was on Drive and in the rest of the day’s schedule. So I think that was an idea where the commercial side and the programming side worked hand in hand and both got something out of it.

Steve: And if you are a presenter on that station, running that format for the day, then you have got to – virtually every link – explain what is going on, so the promotion is going to be unmissable.

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Trevor: I was really impressed actually with that particular one. It does not go for all the entries I have to say, but the presenters were clearly really well briefed and they had bought into it. You can tell anybody listening to the radio who has ever dealt with turns, knows that that reluctance shines through. If they are not committed, if they have to read something, you know you get that.. *rustling of paper* “Well it says here..” kind of sound… and there was no sense of that in Absolute’s entry, and I think because they as a radio station are so good at recognising the multi-platform nature of their business, I think the jocks, the presenters, everybody has bought into that.

Steve: So how would you tell Christian O’Connell that he is off breakfast for a day?


Trevor: Well I would probably say, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea Christian, you get a lie in”.

Steve: *drinks coffee* Excellent, sell the benefit. So that is about promotion and programming overlapping really. I like to test, I did this when I was judging this year, the quality of some of the entries on what I think of as “The Golden Triangle” of radio promotions, that “Does it touch all of those three corners”. Is it great for the listeners? Is it great for the sponsor? And is it congruent with the radio station brand? And I agree with that one, certainly. The other one that I think worked in a public service way was Chris Moyles up Kilimanjaro, which generated a huge amount of publicity and television spin-off.

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Trevor: Sometimes you have to be really careful that that stuff does not work the other way, and there is no doubt that some people thought, not in the judging process I am sure, but thought there is something not quite right about the way in which the radio station is using the television, and the television is using the radio star, and to what extent were they actually doing this for charity, and to what extent were they doing it for their own profile. Now I would not want to
comment about that, but you do have to be really careful that you get that kind of thing right, and that the listener does feel that they have got a benefit, and that it is not just a benefit for the people who are advertising or promoting their goods at you.

Steve: One that caught my ear which fits into that category very strongly is GMG’s “Kids out for Summer” promotion. Again I understand it was nominated.

Trevor: “Kids out for Summer” is a really good idea because it is not expensive and nobody is going to disagree with it. It is just saying “It’s the Summer holidays, far too many kids just play with their computer games, or whatever, and they are not fit enough, there is a serious obesity problem, let’s get kids out for Summer”, and they went to schools and they, you know, so it was a kind of health message but done in such a way that it was just fun.

Steve: And they made some great radio out of it.

Trevor: They made some very good radio. Quite a lot of.. There is another entry from, I think, Radio City, that is called “Make my day” where of course in a sense it is just a very simple ‘here is a way in which you can make somebody happy’ but the way that they use the audio from the people who won it, on air, was just really heart-warming and a really great listen, and I would venture to say that some years ago the.. as we were saying earlier, the two sides of that deal might not have been on the same wavelength, but they absolutely were in that example.

Steve: The promotion and marketing awards, it is a very broad Church isn’t it, because you are judging and trying to celebrate everything from promotional strategy to interlock with programming, to results, and to production and craft skills. So thinking about the promotional production and craft skills and maybe the imaging category, or some of the production work that has gone into the on-air work, what has caught your ear this year?

Trevor: Some of the imaging entries were sensational, and to be frank they usually are these days. People who make what folks of my age call “Jingles”.

Steve: Mmhm.

Trevor: .. are very clever at it. I wish I had had them when I was commissioning jingle packages in the 80s and even the early 90s. I think all that’s good. I think generally, as a kind of theme now, virtually all pre-recorded manufactured audio is pretty good quality actually, but what is most impressive is that so much of it is now multi-platform, so the audio fits the pictures and the pictures and the stills and the text and the tweets and.. you know, everything is now a ‘big picture’, and I am getting the impression that just as for the consumer, radio is now a component of a bigger multi-platform, multimedia message, so it is for those that work in radio. I think the idea that we can work in radio and think we don’t need to have those broader skills is.. that is the thinking of the past isn’t it?

Steve: I have judged the imaging award in previous years and various other promotions categories, and I agree with you entirely that high production standards are pretty universal these days, but what really does make the difference often is the quality of the writing, I think Jack FM their imaging is very simple in terms of production, but the quality of their writing is just stunning, very sharp, they clearly think a lot about every word.

Trevor: It is very easy to concentrate on hours with the Mac or with the SADiE and just think “Oh and I’ll just write a few lines for somebody to say” half heartedly.

Steve: There is one promotion I heard this year in the National Promotion category which was the television licence fee, another BBC production, and I think Neil Cowling at Fresh Air had a significant hand in this one, and it was Horne and Corden, if not entirely adlibbed, largely adlibbed, and it was a beautiful piece of work, and I remember when I used to run what is now Gordon Fudge’s department at the BBC…

Trevor: BBC Cross Trails

Steve: Cross Trails, exactly, back then it was part of what is now Red Bee Media, but we would always know that if one of the BBC radio presenters picked up on one of the promos we made then it would virtually double in awareness when we conducted research. So if we made a promo for the Today Programme and John Humphries would say “Oh well that’s a rather good programme isn’t it? I think I might watch that” we would just go “Yes! Result!”.

Trevor: Yeah, I am sure that’s right.

Steve: And the TV licensing promo, there is a lovely bit in the entry for that promo where they have played the promo and Chris Moyle’s reaction to it, and it makes, you know, as only Chris can do, five or six or seven minutes of great radio, but clearly that is adding to the promotional value of the piece throughout.

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Trevor: I think it is interesting how in many of these entries you feel as though the audio for the promotion, which perhaps in another age might have been a separate piece of audio, is now incorporated into the programme, and there is something from Radio Trent about.. basically they call it “Credit Crunch Parking” and it is about a deal they did in Christmas week to get lots of car parks in the town they broadcast in, which is Nottingham, to be free for a night. And it is just the way that it is incorporated into the programming, you do not think of it really as a piece of marketing or promotions, you just think of it as being a good piece of programming and a good turn being done to the listener by the station, and that is clever I think. That is cleverer than “and now I am going to pause while someone else reads something out, or advertises at you”.

Steve: So are you able to identify some big trends, having been through all the entries this year?

Trevor: Well I think the only trend that I really would want to talk about is what we touched on earlier, which is the fact that almost all of them are multimedia. We have an online category, but virtually all of them.. and there is a fantastic entry from the BBC World Service which you may have something to do with, and I do not even want to know whether you do, but the BBC’s ‘Save our Sounds’, it is a very simple idea which is “Hey, send us a sound recorded by you through Audioboo, or whatever, and not only might we keep it and play it, but we might also put it on our map of the world” and you can see where these sounds come from, and you could click on the map and you can hear a train in India or a crocodile snapping in South America, whatever it is. That, as an idea, could not, would not, have existed in anyone’s head a few years ago, because if you went to radio with that idea they would have said “No, no, we’re just radio”. Nowadays nobody thinks like that, thank goodness, and so that idea that radio is a component in a bigger offer is the trend of the moment, and I think it is a very good one.

Steve: In the interests of disclosure and transparency, I did have a hand on the tiller…

Trevor: *imitates siren sounds* I don’t want to know, I am not listening, and I am not going to tell you if you won either.

Steve: No, no, no, no, certainly not, no. Other people had a much bigger hand in it, Kate Arkless Gray, certainly… she had a hand in that like Matthew Corbett had a hand in Sooty. She was fairly fundamental to the operation.

Trevor: *laughter* Horrible thought.

Steve: So I picked up three trends. One is ‘big statement’, so huge events, and I think Absolute Radio’s turning the radio station on it’s head, turning the whole thing upside down, is a good example of that. The second one, and you touched on this, is tight integration between programming and promotion, so that you can’t see the join really. And the third one, I am so delighted, there was not one entry I heard where a presenter came on and said “Here is a promotion. We’ve got together with our friends from ‘dot dot dot’” and the death of that I think is a joyous moment in the history of radio.

Trevor: Yes, well.. quite right, let’s consign that along with “Join me as I tell the story…” *laughter*

Steve: Trevor it is great to talk to you, thank you very much for your time today.

Trevor: Thank you Steve, see you at the awards.

Good luck to you if you’re nominated, and see you at the ceremony if you’re just going along for the drinks nobly representing your station.

Transcription by Good to Go Transcription of Richmond, Surrey.

Audio and graphic kindly provided by The Radio Academy. Audio copyright BBC, Fresh Air Productions, Absolute Radio. All rights of the original artists, publishers and performers acknowledged.

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