Think the unthinkable
Shiny newness in Birmingham
The story of the week in UK radio circles has been Orion Media’s announcement that it plans to drop four heritage station names and replace them with one umbrella brand, Free Radio, that they can promote on regional tv.
This rings bells. Around ten years ago my team produced a positioning campaign for BBC Local Radio in England. The outdoor and radio spots were simple enough but there was a mighty hoo-ha about which station names would go on the telly.
The tv regions didn’t match those of the radio outlets so stations would have to be promoted outside their TSAs and valuable media would be wasted. Listeners to Radio Shropshire were divided across three tv regions, one of them Wales. When the message was one of localness we couldn’t reasonably promote Radio Shropshire in Cardiff.
In the end, we sidestepped this mess by simply branding the tv promos “BBC Local Radio”. Research showed it worked because people in the target demographic generally knew what their local BBC station was anyway, even if they didn’t always know what it stood for.
Another lesson I learned back then was that nobody understands the West Midlands radio market better than Phil Riley, nor the heritage value tied-up in the brands he’s planning to close. After all, goodwill would have been on the balance sheet when he bought them.
And Phil (being Phil) will have researched his group’s new plan to death and back.
Of course research is no guarantee of success. Respondents can say one thing and do another. The UK’s Labour party discovered this to their cost at the 1992 election. So my view is that there’s very good logic to what Orion plans but clear risks too.
I am also a little surprised that Phil says the only effective marketing platform for radio is television. Outdoor, press, cinema and DM and social media can all play their part as this blog demonstrates regularly.
But what interests me most about this story from a creative perspective is the size of the gesture required to make a meaningful difference.
Thanks to Einstein we know that to keep on doing the same thing while expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity.
What’s new is that if you want audiences to reappraise your station it’s no longer enough to announce an extra hour on the breakfast show, a star presenter signing or a sports commentary deal.
You have to make a big, clean, simple move: an action driven by a good thought, or what you might call ‘an idea’.
Getting cut-through was tough enough in traditional, shouting, hierarchical media but if your message was small or complicated you could always amplify and repeat it by outspending your competitors.
Today’s world operates through networks, not hierarchies. The spark of the idea ignites the conversation, not the money you throw at it.
Orion’s idea is certainly big enough to get noticed even before the group has spent a cent on advertising. Nobody saw it coming. For some it is shocking, for others it’s unthinkable, but it’s certainly brave and I believe in radio promotion we need to think the unthinkable more and more.
As creatives much of our work is about tiny incremental tweaks, holding the listener’s hand through change and managing detail but bold creative moves have never been more necessary.
Big, strong and surprising ideas fight their way into people’s minds. They’re what we need today to change perceptions and behaviour.
So if you’re charged with ideas generation in radio, work on thinking the unthinkable and never be afraid to pitch the unthinkable to your bosses.
As we’ve seen this week, they may have more guts than you think.