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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

World Wide radio summit

If you’ve not had time to check out the Hobsons voicesearch competition yet – then its definitely worth a look as there’s a chance to be part of a professional imaging package from ReelWorld. Talking of ReelWorld – we caught up with ReelWorld’s European Director, Anthony Gay, as he attended last week’s World Wide Radio Summit in Los Angeles. This is what he made of it…

‘What’s your favourite sort of tomato?’ That question was posed to me last week by an animated cab driver within a few minutes of arriving at Los Angeles LAX Airport en route to the second World Wide Radio Summit. He thrust a crumpled gardening brochure into the back of the taxi (enthusiastically describing it as vegetable porn) to help me with my answer.

Los Angeles is a strange place. Hollywood – the specific venue for the conference – stranger still and a somewhat unusual location to bring together a mix of the good, the great, and the keen from the world of radio.

As European Director of ReelWorld this is my first year on the ‘outside’ of a radio station and I was attending in order to catch up with my American colleagues as well as meet and hopefully be inspired by industry figures from across the globe.

The W Hotel, the conference venue, lived up to the Hollywood vibe creating a flamboyant and showbiz setting for the occasion (the hotel’s enormous lobby transforms itself into a night club when the sun goes down). Whilst checking into the hotel the man on the front desk apologised (in a completely deadpan way) that the rooftop pool would be closed all day Saturday due to a Desperate Housewives cast party. It was as if it happened every week. Maybe it does. Stephen Tyler was also caught on camera in the bar one night.

Unlike the beautiful people of tinsel town most of the radio folk were easily identifiable (we apparently appear to be the only people that sweat) and failed to fit into either the TV star category or the leather clad aging rocker camp.

The grandly titled conference is organised by Joel Denver from allaccess.com and Sat Bisla, the founder of A&R Worldwide, and is following up on its initial success from last year.

As well as sponsoring one of the sessions our company were also providing the soundtrack to the conference in the form of ReelWorld Radio – a chance for our jingles and imaging services to be constantly heard across the venue. Yes I would say so, but it sounded fantastic and hats off to Craig Wallace in the Seattle office for putting it all together so brilliantly. It’s an idea I’m sure we’ll be repeating at some point in the coming months.

I stopped attending radio conferences in order to experience light bulb moments of strategy a long time ago. For me they’re about catching up with colleagues (and clients in my new job), sharing challenges, getting the industry updates, hopefully being inspired, along with the occasional reassurance that even the biggest and the best don’t have it perfect.

I believe that most of us already know what needs to be done. We just need to prioritise the doing of the important stuff, do it better than we did yesterday, and stop getting side tracked by the trivial. It’s true to say that most ideas have been done and if anyone does get a brainwave why would you expect them to turn up on a conference panel and give it away to their main competitors?

This conference takes place on a Friday and Saturday and is tied into the to the more established MUSEXPO which immediately follows (and helps provide a series of artist showcases through the conference). It features a healthy mix of suits, programmers, and air talent providing a stimulating mix of enthusiasm and opinion. The panels were strong and in the main interesting and relevant.

The organisers have also done a great job bringing in some big hitters from the edges of our medium as well. Essential at events like these in order to offer a much needed reality check and perspective to the well meaning ‘anoraks’ that can populate our world.

I particularly enjoyed the flamboyant blogger Arjan Writes (@arjanwrites) who provided a great perspective on the need for delivering compelling content with passion and sticking to your brand values. He pissed all over Phil Dowse’s proverbial chips as the legendary Australian shared the importance of the 6.50am Facebook post as the biggest social media reach builder on the station (in reality neither of them was wrong but it still made me smile to see Phil’s face drop).

Having attended the Radio Days Festival in Barcelona last month as well as the UK’s Radio Festival last Autumn it once again struck me how similar radio’s challenges are (programming, sales and digital) in 2012 wherever you are in the world.

We’re all struggling with our social media strategies (the 25th hour in a programmers day – Phil Dowse), the vagaries of audience measurement (the people meters have their quirks much like RAJAR), and the importance of listener research (but not too much otherwise it might get in the way of actually doing anything).

It’s been heartening to see our industry come together to jointly fight off the threats and with that competition coming from all sorts of directions the need for quality, relevant, engaging content is more important than ever.

Audience reach (or cume as the Americans say) much like Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers is just ego unless you truly create a deep and authentic engagement with your audience. And can sell it. These days programmers who only obsess with reach figure are in danger of being disappointed more often than not (unless of course you’ve got the luxury of buying a few extra stations to bolster the Network figures).

‘Imagine what radio would be like if it was invented after the internet’ came up a few times and is a useful thought provoker when thinking about your big picture strategy in 2012 and is handy to flush out any laggards that might still be lurking in your station.

We’re at a unique point in the music cycle with the boundaries between CHR, HOT AC, and even AC becoming continually blurred even in America where formats have been historically far more defined than in the UK. In one of the sessions we were treated to the views of some big hitters from the music business and song writing scene in LA. They’re writing the hits of tomorrow. They sounded much like the hits of today to me. One thing is for certain, record company executives are a lot cooler than radio folk (and swear a lot more).

What always comes out strong at events like these is that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Friday’s lunchtime speaker was the always entertaining and larger than life Elvis Duran from Z100 breakfast show (‘Why bother with time checks when everyone’s clock a clock on their phone?’). He’s just signed for another 5 years and was on good form.

Unlike other conferences, this one runs across a Friday and Saturday with a Thursday night welcome party and music showcase at the Hard Rock Café featuring bands from across the globe. There were more music showcases on Friday and Saturday but I’ll own up now and admit we didn’t attend all of them. Whilst the music element fits neatly into the warm up for the MUSEXPO there are far more exciting things to do in Hollywood after almost 12 hours of talking radio (for total clarity, I’m referring to bowling with some of our American clients and adjusting sleep patterns).

My jet lag actually helped me attend the 9am Saturday session but it was disappointing, if somewhat predictable, to see so many empty seats. Maybe a rethink on the timings next year?

Once, UK programmers and presenters went to the States to steal ideas for promotions and content. Those days have long gone. Experiencing the One Direction hysteria at first hand and continually hearing Jessie J, Adele, Coldplay, etc I could have been back in London. Albeit a drier one.

Whilst predominantly attended by Americans this is a genuinely an international conference with attendees and panellists from Europe, Asia, Australia and even Africa. A session on the ‘Asian opportunity’ didn’t even scratch the surface.

I was humbled and inspired to spend some time with a guy called Mannie the breakfast show presenter at Cool FM in Lagos, Nigeria. He had put in over 4 months of overtime at the station in order to attend the festival. Mannie is regularly arrested and fined for reflecting public opinion in Lagos and is painfully self aware of the power of the medium. Last year he wrote a song (and sang it to me in the hotel lobby) in response to the death of hundreds of Nigerian troops involved in a recent war. His passion for radio was infectious and in the current climate of instant celebrity he was a refreshing reminder about the importance of old school graft and genuine passion.

Los Angeles was also the perfect opportunity to catch up with Andrew Jeffries, a former Emap colleague, who has taken his programming skills to LA where he oversees 8 stations as Operations Director with Clear Channel. He has done a fantastic job transforming 104.3 MY FM into a market leader inside its target demo. It’s worth checking out. He’s loving LA and is completely at home in the city.

I enjoyed the World Wide Radio Summit and I must commend the organisers on an extremely professional and well structured event. Some of the recent radio get togethers I’ve attended have been blighted by technical and audio niggles (embarrassing for any business but even more so for our medium) but the set up here was spot on.

As for the question of the tomato, after studying the brochure for a few moments I thoughtfully offered up the Black Krim. He seemed impressed and assured me that it would be growing in his garden this year.

As the song goes, we say ‘tomato’ whilst the Americans say ‘tomato’. However these days the challenges facing radio on either side of the Atlantic are as close as they’ve ever been. Even in Hollywood.