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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

Student Radio awards 2009: meet a winner

Smoke radio website

Last Tuesday night I was invited to attend the Student Radio Awards as a judge of the competition.

Student Radio delivered a well-produced and entertaining ceremony with evident backing from both the BBC and commercial radio. The organisers also made time for a considered and respectful tribute to the late Kevin Greening, led by Zoe Ball.

In the awards themselves, LSR fm was crowned overall winner while in marketing and branding (the focus of this blog) Smoke Radio picked up the top prize.

Just before the winners were announced I spoke to Dan of Smoke and Paul Plant of Wise Buddah who judged that category. Here’s what they said:

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INT: Dan Roberts from Smoke Radio, and just tell me a little bit about Smoke?

DAN ROBERTS: Smoke is Westminster’s student radio station, it has been around now not very long, about five, six years. This year we completely re-branded it, gave it a whole new on-air and off-air look, and I sort of saw it from the old brand right the way through now to an established brand, a new brand at the University, and seen our figures double, if not treble, on some of the online pages. So.. Yeah.

INT: So what are the big challenges about doing a re-brand for a station like Smoke?

DAN ROBERTS: Well I mean firstly you’ve got to sort of get rid of all the stereotypes people had of your old radio station, and some of them were not positive, so we thought ‘Give ourself a whole new look and sound really would benefit us in all aspects’ whether it be a whole.. You know, making sure that we’d reach our Central London campuses as well as just being in Harrow, because we’re spread across Central London. So we’re not on FM at all, we’re not on any other platform apart from online, and to try and get that across the Universities network is really difficult. So we thought with a whole new look, we’d start fresh, we’d start this radio station as we would any other radio station from the very beginning. New line up of presenters, whole new website, whole new station sound package. We started to trail shows in other shows, with trails.. and we really went full on in production and really sort of made ourselves, you know, a decent radio station, something which was professionally run and that people would want to listen to, ultimately.

INT: So there is an awful lot of work there across many different touch-points. What was the central core theme or idea that pulled it all together?

DAN ROBERTS: Oh goodness. Well the main changes that we wanted to make and the sort of the pulling force of all of our committee members.. I was managing marketing and branding, but all of us were working towards a station which really targeted our students. We didn’t feel that the old Smoke Radio targeted our students very well, it was sort of a radio station doing what it wanted and that’s sort of ‘it’. We really did some research and found out what our students wanted music wise, did various surveys and found out what exactly people wanted from their student radio station. How much news they wanted, what songs they wanted, and so gathering all this information about the ideal student radio station. All of us pulled together and set ourselves a more urban, more street sort of feel to a radio station, and have the production elements and really make a professional sounding station, but at the same time be on the same level as the students, and provide a service for them.

INT: And how did you measure the results and the effectiveness of that campaign?

DAN ROBERTS: Well we have lots of live events and we would run events and see thous.. not thousands, we haven’t got thousands, but hundreds more people turn up to the events. We saw listening figures improve, our interaction as well, all our competitions we saw many more people get involved. During our fresher’s fairs where we’d go out and we’d try and really promote the station and sort of give us that front, as it were, to the students. So many people signed up, we saw shows.. the amount of shows that people wanted to do went through the roof, and specialist music shows as well as daytime. I mean and this year we’ve.. the committee that ran it last year, myself, the year I was involved in, we had six of us with myself included. This year we have had to push the station to, I believe, twelve committee members. It is just the level of people that want to get involved, and it is great for the station, it means it will develop, more people will get involved and more stations and it grows and grows and grows and hopefully we sort of set the base work and the ground work for a station which really has potential and legs to grow.

INT: So you have entered the marketing and branding category in the student radio awards this year, you’ve been successful as a nominee. What are the highlights of your entry?

DAN ROBERTS: Our main selling point is the fact that we did it all in house, we used our student voices, we used two people who are with us tonight that did all our station branding. I edited them together, all of our station sounds, production elements, all done in-house. We improved them and added to them, brought in trails, sweepers, various promotional tools that we had run on air. We needed to try and really get that across, as well as all our other marketing tools, light boxes, the flier designs, the events that we ran, all of the little details that were sort of fundamental to Smoke Radio doing so well this year and hopefully it will be recognised this evening. Well yeah.. yeah.

INT: And you have been successful as a nominee. If other people are listening to this who perhaps are thinking about entering next year, what would be your advice to them?

DAN ROBERTS: Oh advice for entering a student radio award? Um, I would say really think about what your station has done and what you want to get across to the judges. Think really detailed and closely as to what you think really sums up your station and what represents it ultimately, and just be honest. Don’t try and cover your back and say “Oh we didn’t do this during the year but I really wanted it to be like this”. Be honest, and I mean really put effort into it, and time, and think about.. yeah just think about what makes a good radio station and how you’ve gone sort of part way to achieving that.

INT: You are clearly very proud, Dan, of what you’ve achieved. What radio stations do you listen to that you aspire to?

DAN ROBERTS: Well actually I’m a big fan of Radio 1, XFM. From a station sound point of view and marketing, I think Radio 1 do a fantastic job, their “1tro’s”, “On the Record’s”, and it flows seamlessly and beautifully and it just all fits so well together. XFM again, really good in terms of, again, of on-air production and marketing and staging all the events they do, all the live nights with XFM and how the DJ’s get involved, and it’s a really nice feel on those stations. But yeah I’d say they’re my two, Radio 1, XFM are my two biggest.. sort of favourite stations that I looked to when I was.. for creating Smoke.

INT: Well Andy and Ashley are both here tonight so you’ve covered your bases.

DAN ROBERTS: Thank you.

INT: Dan, thank you for your time.

DAN ROBERTS: Thank you very much.

INT: And good luck.

DAN ROBERTS: Thank you.

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PAUL PLANT: This is Paul Plant from Wise Buddah Jingles and Music Imaging London.

INT: Paul you were judging the Marketing and Branding Category at this year’s Student Radio Awards. Give me an overall impression of what you heard and saw.

PAUL PLANT: Very.. very strong entries. I mean they just get better and better every year, you know the quality, the thought that goes into it, the planning, there’s just the kind of across the range initiatives that they’re working on. It’s fantastic. What staggers me is how there’s increasingly so many talented people coming into this industry, and for anybody that’s employing people at the moment, I’d say a fantastic crop of people this year. I was really invigorated by what I heard and the freshness, the vitality and the energy that went into those submissions was fantastic.

INT: What stood out for you in particular?

PAUL PLANT: There’s a couple of things that stood out, but I think, you know, when you’re judging these things and when other people are judging in similar categories, you are probably coming at it from different angles, so from my background I am more of a kind of sonic person and I am listening to the way the voice is recorded, even if it’s a voiceover that’s presenting the demo, the way it’s cut together, the kind of technical side of it if you like, and the use of music and everything else. And then some people are looking at it and looking at their online proposition and their marketing proposition. Slightly different. So I think some stations can be very strong in one of those areas and stronger in others, you know. So I think if you’ve got two judges from different backgrounds then you might get a situation where one is stronger than the other but, you know, both of them are worthy of winning. So then you have to fight it out, which is what they do. *laughs*
INT: Well promotions and on-air identity and.. that world is your life in your part of Wise Buddah. What are the big trends in radio at this moment?

PAUL PLANT: Well I think in terms of what we do, I mean we.. we basically make sung jingles for radio stations, and we’ve just.. it’s been very interesting in the latter part of this year how many radio stations want sung jingles in the UK. I suppose our kind of broadest client base has been traditionally the BBC and.. and the rest of the world. I mean we have clients in Poland, in Germany, in Austria, in Switzerland..

INT: I heard some of your work in Joburg the other day on Highveld..

PAUL PLANT: On Highveld Stereo, yeah. So you know, it’s multinational. But yeah, in the last six months we have done more work in the UK than we have ever done, which is extraordinary. So I think.. yeah I mean there was a time.. I don’t know, 10 years ago, where everybody wanted sweepers, voice sweepers, nobody wanted jingles, and then that’s changed. And it will probably change again and we’ll have to change with that, and you know, we have to be chameleon-like and fleet of foot and.. just do good stuff and be inventive and creative.

INT: And having heard the entries from the student radio stations, to what extent are those stations falling in line with the overall trends towards sung musical jingles?

PAUL PLANT: Not so much that because I don’t think they have those kinds of resources, but I mean there are a couple of stations that are.. in the stuff that I heard, using professional voiceovers, and I kind of think that takes away from the spirit of the whole thing. It should be organic, it should be.. from the ground up.

INT: So you think the student radio stations should have amateur voices on air..

PAUL PLANT: Yes absolutely. And I think.. and obviously some stations are resourced better than others, and you can hear that on mic, you know, you can hear the room sound and everything else, you know where there has been more investment and.. but I think every year when I hear the submissions, the quality is just getting better and better and the ideas are getting fresher. The UK industry needs to harness that and just take on these people and nurture them and feed it back, and we’ll be in great shape.

INT: So finally three tips, from the top. Anyone who is thinking of entering the student radio awards, or indeed any competition in the next year which is about marketing, branding, promotions, imaging. What are the three big things to get right?

PAUL PLANT: I think read the script and just really understand what is being asked of you and deliver on that. Keep it brief and just make it really clear. I think the first 30 seconds are vital, just deliver that message in the first 30 seconds, it must be a no-brainer for anybody that’s listening, whether it is somebody in the radio industry or somebody not, you know, they should understand in that 30 seconds what your proposition is, what your brand values are, what you stand for, who your target audience is and your market is, and if you can do that then I think you will be in good shape.

INT: Paul, thank you.

PAUL PLANT: You’re welcome.

Transcription by Good to Go Transcription of Richmond, Surrey.

One Comment

  1. I was very impressed with Smoke Radio’s results this year in the Student Radio Awards. I was pleased to be asked to help with the station’s online re-branding back in 2008 when the 08/09 committee took over. I was able to help them change the branding from what I had put up on the previous year’s all-new website.

    Only 2 years later and Smoke have given themselves yet another brand-new website, looking even fresher than I remember mine being. It has lots of new features keeping it up to date with (and often better than) the technology of commercial stations. So far all the incarnations of Smoke Radio’s websites have been built using free open source software, but due to budget limitations all the web content is hosted by a third party which Smoke have to pay for out of their budget which seems to be getting smaller by the year.

    I’m sure Smoke Radio aren’t the first student radio station to have clashes of interest with their University and their Student’s Union. But some Universities and their students unions can fail to see the importance their student station plays in putting them on the map, not just in the eyes of the radio industry, but of their prospective students to.

    Anyway, I am beginning to ramble now, but I hope that comment has made your blog a slightly less lonely and a more interesting place!