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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

Is the Fugitive a Renegade or a Shadow of its former self?

We present a first in our ‘Guest Blog’ from John Myers – Chief Executive Officer of the Radio Academy.

This month BRMB is running ‘The Shadow’, a competition originally launched in the US as ‘The Fugitive’, first used in the UK by GWR, but finely tuned in Australia. Real Radio picked it up, but due to a row over naming rights, changed the name to ‘The Real Radio Renegade”. It has been big around the world for years and it’s big because it works at so many levels. As competitions go, it is one of the best, inviting many thousands of listeners to stampede across various landmarks in each respective area searching for a mysterious person with a large cash bounty on their head.

Its success, like all good comps, is the mechanic and the brilliant imaging. In summary, you have to ask everyone you meet a certain phrase that includes your station name in the sentence. Listeners have to ask it correctly, word for word, or they lose out. The Shadow cannot tell a lie, so if you get it right, you win. Simples! You believe that everywhere you go, people are talking about your station and there is no nicer feeling than that.

In reality, it is not so much a competition as a total take over. It just works on so many levels including marketing, promotion, loyalty, fun, listener interaction, staff involvement and a real belief that everyone everywhere is tuning in and taking part. However, where the real value of this competition comes into play is in the world of social media. When Real Radio launched this competition in the North West, page impressions on their Facebook site increased by a staggering 5 million over a two-week period. Real Scotland would claim it was part of the reason they hit 30% reach, BRMB themselves are witnessing enormous growth in statistics online and on Facebook, due in no small part to the way in which they run it. John Simons, Group PD at GMG Radio, says: “It’s a tough one to do well and an easy one to do badly”.

This competition is difficult to run well for a small station as scale is essential to make it work. But when it does, it is a hugely powerful promotion alongside it being a wonderful sponsorship opportunity. The effect increases when you do it again and again over a couple of years, if only for a couple of weeks at a time.

Competitions are an everyday event in commercial radio. They are run for cash, for fun or as a client promotion. There is a difference between a competition on air that is there to enhance the overall enjoyment of a show, such as guess the year, win albums, meet and greet etc to one that is designed to generate a reaction that might be turned into new listeners. Some stations spend their on air marketing budgets on big holiday giveaways, a car a day in May, thousands of pounds in cash, fiver fever, mystery voices – the list is endless – all in an effort to invite you to sample the station. But in reality, in all my years as PD, MD and CEO, I have never come across one single competition that I can honestly say has been the sole reason for an increase in audience.

What good competitions do is raise awareness of your radio station. It might even enhance trial if it is a great one. But the truth is this: it will never turn a bad station around. It might turn a good one into a better one and at best it might just give you more hours. Even then, I wonder about that particular aspect.

The problem of running a big station promotion is that to do it well, you have to change the whole sound of the station to get everyone behind it otherwise the talk up will simply not generate the desired result. This is the conundrum because all stations have many thousands of listeners who tune in each day because of what that particular station does each day. ‘Listeners don’t like change’, they say. They want the same competition at the same time and done in the same way. When you do change the imaging, promotion, scripts and tell the jocks to promote nothing else but a competition such as The Shadow, you run the risk of alienating many of your regular listeners. What has happened to my station they cry? This loyal bunch of listeners are then tempted to tune into another station along the dial and you hope they will return when all the nonsense is over. Sometimes I think these big competitions go on for too long, when the trick is to keep them on for just long enough. Radio 2 tried something different last month with their 2DAY idea. For me it worked because it was for just one day, but I bet a few listeners would rather they had not done it.

This dilemma would never stop me running a big competition if I thought it was right, radio cannot be run risk free. It is supposed to be fun, it is meant to be different and, as a PD, it is your job to bring something new to air sometimes. Change is good, competitions can be great and, to some extent, it is part of the mix. A station has to run a competition for all the right reasons, it has to be well thought through and you need to be reasonable about expectations.

It’s a tough life being a PD. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t, but beware, you cannot fool your listener.

‘A turd is a turd’, even though you might occasionally wrap it in glitter!

Read more from John at his blog at