Monday, 30 June 2008

Radio Festival - Glasgow 2008

So it’s time to head for Glasgow for another ‘festival of radio’… otherwise known as… er… "The Radio Festival". The programme of events looks like the usual mixed bag of ‘Must see’, ‘Might see’ and ‘Sorry I don’t think I can come to your session, I’ve got to check my emails!”

The media reporters will all be out there in force, writing up things as they happen, giving live blogs and up to the minute interviews etc. And I’m sure their coverage will be first rate as usual. I will try to take a more considered approach (!) and bring some of the highlights once all I’m safely back south of the border!!

If you’re not going, don't worry, I’ll bring you all the hot news and any interesting stories that are developing in my next blog. If you are going to Glasgow, I’ll see you at the bar where I'll be organising a whip round for GCap. We're looking to raise £1.1 Million so... as they say, please give generously!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Secret Scam

“Gross failure of senior management”… “Serious, repeated and deliberate breaches”… “Fundementally misleading and inaccurate”. These are not words you would wish to have used to describe your company, or the way it behaved regarding an Ofcom investigation.

The phrase ‘damning indictment’ hardly does justice to UK regulator Ofcom’s adjudication that’s just been released regarding the (almost defunct) radio group GCap Media, and its breaches of the Broadcasting Code in respect of their networked ‘Secret Sound’ competition.

I’ve read a few adjudications in my time (and been part of a few too!), but having just finished all 29 glorious pages of this particular one, I don’t even know where to start!! You can read it for yourself here… but be warned, this is like ‘hardcore regulator porn’. It’s dirty stuff and you may need a stiff drink and a lie down after reading it.

I’ll try not to recount the sordid tale in all its details, as I would need…well… 29 pages… but in essence GCap ran a Secret Sound competition across its One Network for 4 weeks. The problem was that the practise of deliberately putting callers to air with wrong answers to prolong the competition was agreed by a “Director” responsible for networked output. Basically listeners were paying on a premium line to enter a competition that they couldn’t win, and people within GCap knew this was going on. Oh dear…. Oh dear!

Some brave individual grassed GCap up and Ofcom launched an investigation. So did GCap. Only, apparently GCap's investigation wasn’t really very good and “… not thorough or extensive” with “… no formal or written report produced”. In fact, Ofcom thought that GCap didn’t take the matter seriously enough.

When they did finally issue a statement (4 months later!) on their corporate website, GCap said something like ‘Terribly sorry listeners... Didn’t mean any harm... No hard feelings?’ Actually what they really said was, that this was an “an isolated incident” and a “system error”, when actually they knew it was a little bit more than that. This part has really annoyed Ofcom .They said today in their ruling...

“For GCap to describe this deliberate and repeated unfair conduct as “an isolated incident” and a “system error” was fundamentally misleading and inaccurate and represented, in Ofcom’s view, an inept attempt at “news management” on GCap’s part. The fact that GCap’s Board had authorised the wording of this statement, and its publication on GCap’s corporate website, was a matter of serious concern to the Committee.”

Spin gone wrong! Very badly wrong.

There’s quite a comedic moment in this story which refers to the fact that listeners could get a refund if they wanted to... but as GCap only publicised this on their corporate website, and not on station websites... or on air, out of the 297,215 entries they received, they refunded... wait for it... a single listener the grand total of £2!

Ofcom’s tongue lashing didn’t stop there. They go on to say that they...

“... considered it wholly inadequate that GCap had demonstrated an unwillingness to disclose for several months the specific details and seniority of those responsible for the unfair conduct. This was the first case of its kind in which the behaviour of the licensee (or as in this case, the parent company acting on behalf of the licensees) had effectively hindered Ofcom’s investigation.”

Sweet Jesus!! Could this get any worse? Well yes actually. As a direct result of this hindrance, the fine was going be higher. Ouch. How high in total? Well how about £1.1 Million! There goes the Christmas Party... for the next 20 years!

The list of bad practice goes on and on... from allowing junior members of staff to run a huge network competition with no apparent managerial supervision, to no accurate record of entries, to lack of proper training, to the GCap board signing off on a statement that was ‘economical with the actuality’!

All of this resulted in a... “...significant breakdown of the fundamental relationship of trust between 30 local station and their audiences” which according to GCap is its “most valuable asset”. Funny way of showing it I guess!

So, as GCap is in its final throws as a company, with this rather ignominious end to its life, what can we learn?

Simple. Don’t con your listeners. In any way. It will come home to roost.

Meanwhile, new owners Global are having to get out their cheque book. And just in case there was any delay, on the front page of the ruling Ofcom have made it clear that cheques are “payable to HM Paymaster General”.

How very helpful.

Monday, 16 June 2008

"Money's Too Tight To Mention"

The Credit Crunch” has quickly been absorbed into the vernacular and barely a day goes by without me hearing it in a news report or reading the phrase in an article somewhere. High fuel and food prices, inflation rising, no sign of an interest rate cut and tumbling house prices all add up to an economy that experts call “Shrinking, High Inflation Turbulence”… or to give it’s proper acronym… S.H.I.T.

It was interesting therefore to hear the 'Credit Crunch' phrase used in a promo on Magic 105.4 for their current station-led share driver called “Magic’s Money Box”. The line went something like…

“The credit crunch is here and Magic 105.4 have been saving so that you can win some much needed money…”

Although sometimes I want a music radio station to ‘take me away from reality’ and not remind me that it now costs me £80 to fill up my gas-guzzling SUV, I thought that it was a rather good use of a very topical, very talkable issue within a promo to highlight the contest. Rather then just say “We’ve got loads of money to giveaway” they related it to the current economic situation in the UK, and to real people’s lives.

People in the UK are having to pay more for almost everything at the moment, so here’s your friendly radio station who feels your pain, understands your concerns, and in the ‘years of plenty, put some aside’ to give it to you when the going got tough.

Getting a level of topicality into production, whether it be for a promo for a contest, some general station production, or some music imaging is a great way of connecting your station to your audience. It shows that you don’t live in a virtual radio world where it’s all about ‘45 minute music sweeps’ and ‘more variety’, but you actually understand your listeners and their lives. It could be news based liked Magic did. It could be connected to the latest TV show, or movie release… or even the weather. Whatever the topic, if it’s current and it’s scripted well … get it on the air, even if it’s just for a few days. It’s amazing the difference that doing something so simple makes.

Monday, 2 June 2008

"What's Your Name Again?"

So Virgin Radio has been snapped up by Absolute Radio and their backers, The Times of India Group for £53.2 Million. First, congratulations to all the team at Absolute Radio International. Those who know them, or have worked with them, know what a first rate team they are both as owners and consultants. This particular UK national licence is safe in the hands of people who are passionate about radio. Good stuff.

The interesting thing about this deal is the decision to discontinue with the ‘Virgin Radio’ brand and launch a brand new radio brand. The BBC’s James Cridland has written a thoughtful article on his personal blog about the pros and cons of this decision, and comes to the conclusion that ditching the name is a good idea. Certainly, when I was Head of Music at Virgin in the late 90’s, the audience was over 4 Million and the Virgin brand had a lot more ‘media and consumer equity’ than it has now. So, with a war chest of £15 Million to re-launch this station… what’s this thing going to be called? How do you go about dreaming up a new name?

There are different tacks you can take. You can adopt the “Does What it Says on the Tin” approach, which delivers names like… Rock Radio, Classic FM, Planet Rock and The Jazz. You kind of know what you’re going to get even if you’d never listened to these before.

Then there’s the “Evokes a Mood” approach which gives us gems like… Smooth Radio, Easy, Chill, Beat and Vibe. This is more subtle, and yet nudges at expectation without being as direct. But you do have a hint at what you were going to get.

Then there’s the “Just Call It Something Cool” type of brand. For example… Kiss, Galaxy and Xfm. If you’d just touched down in the UK and had no prior knowledge of Galaxy, you’d have no reason to suspect it’s a Dance and RnB format aimed at under 30’s. But the name’s quite a good one nonetheless.

Of course the days of naming your station after a river are hopefully gone! Yes that’s right international readers… there are plenty of stations in the UK named after a local river!! As are the days of giving your station the Latin word for ‘undefeated’ which bore significance for William the Conqueror but isn’t that great as a radio brand. Come on down ‘Invicta FM’. We know who you are!

The only time I’ve been involved in naming a station was when I worked at Virgin Radio and we had been given a place on one of the London DAB multiplexes to fill with a ‘Soul and Disco’ station. The process involved the then Operations Director Andy Mollett saying “I’m going to toilet. When I come back I want you to have a name for this station”. And “The Groove” was born!! It has since died a death... but not, I believe, as a result of its name!

But the main point is this. In the long term, listeners won’t really care about what it’s called, as long as it delivers the content and music they want. Sure… some names are better than others, but we tend to only think a brand name is bad if the brand is bad. Bad brands make bad brand names. You can call a great brand whatever you want… people will still consume it.

Launching a new radio brand in the UK gives those who had lost faith with the old Virgin Radio a chance to reappraise the station under its new guise, and for those who love it as it is… it will be reinvented as perhaps something even better. I’ll bet you this though… It won’t be in Latin, named after a river, or decided upon during a toilet break!