When is an idea burnt out and when does it just need a new twist, or a little tweaking to reignite interest in it?
This week in the UK, Big Brother returns and it’s over a decade since it first hit our screens on Channel 4. After the ratings started to flag and the idea wore a bit thin, they dumped the show, for it then to be picked up by Channel 5.
They’re debuting with a series of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, and of course with different hosts and a different team working on the show, we can expect the show to have a somewhat ‘new’ feel.
But is the format worth hanging on to, or is it just a turn off?
In radio we face similar dilemmas on a regular basis. It may be related to a particular benchmark, or perhaps a Morning Show that has seen better days, or even the format for the whole radio station.
So, when is it best to add a twist or something different... and when is it best to just say goodbye?
Fans of Big Brother in the UK will no doubt remember that producers always liked to add a twist to each series to refresh audience interest. Viewers were treated to Live Tasks, Big Brother going ‘evil’, Secret Missions, an All Female House, Fake evictions, and even the public choosing the final housemate to enter the house.
Over time, our attention was kept by this simple process of keeping the basis of the format, but adding something fresh to it.
This can work in radio too. Take your biggest benchmark. Is it time for a twist to be added to it? How could an extra element be added to make it more entertaining? What could that twist be?
Think about the big station promotion that you’ve done for the last 5 years in exactly the same way. Sure... it works, but would the audience be more interested in it if you added a new surprise element to it? What would that be?
If we’re thinking about a programme, the twist may be something more permanent. Is the Morning Show getting a bit too ‘set in its ways’? Would a new character or person on the team add a different dynamic? Could it be a younger female added in to make an impact? Maybe a new travel person? Again, you don’t always need to throw the basics away if it’s not quite working. Adding or even taking away an element may do the trick.
But there are some occasions when something’s run its course. If your brand thrives from always bringing fresh ideas to the audience, hanging on to something ‘past its sell-by-date’ can do your brand image some serious damage.
It might be that old promotional idea you trot out every summer, or that benchmark you’ve had on air now for 4 years without it really making an impact. Be brave. Cast aside dead wood. Don’t carry a 'corpse' of an idea around with you.
There are plenty more great new ideas, formats, and promotions out there... so never feel like you’re committing a sin if you get rid of something. Even if the Sales team tell you that they can still get a sponsor for it!
The trick is, of course, to get rid of it before it becomes an ‘infected toe’ and starts to spread its rot through the body of your brand.
I think that's what Channel 4 did when they axed Big Brother in 2010. Yes, it was still pulling in 3 Million viewers and had a lucrative sponsor, but it had become a tired format that was symptomatic of a channel that was in danger of losing its way. They jettisoned it; just in time in my view.
So, as the new series debuts this week on a new channel, it will no doubt get some 'half-decent' viewing figures, and generate some sponsorship revenue for the broadcaster, but I’d rather be in Channel 4’s place... of working on the next new idea, the next creative moment that can shape the brand for the decade to come.
So – remember to regularly add a twist to keep your ideas fresh. But also know when you should move on.
With the publication tonight of the latest RAJAR results for Q2 2011, there will no doubt be a flurry of activity and the ‘in house’ radio station Alastair Campbell’s will be doing their best to spin the results one way or another. If your results are great, that’s perfect... you can let your figures do the talking and can quite rightly shout out loud. All power to you and your message.
If however, you get a tricky book, (as we all do from time to time) then here are some firmly ‘tongue in cheek’ methods you can use when putting your press release together to send off to the local paper.
If you’re not Number 1 overall, just find a demo you’re number 1 in...
E.g. “We’re the Number 1 station for in our area (Men 50-59)” And be a bit generic about it all too. Paint the impression of success without quantifying it too much.
Confuse people with terminology...
Some journalists at local newspapers aren’t that clear on the difference between reach and share, so use the words ‘listeners’ and ‘listening’ quite liberally over your press release just to confuse them a little, and again create that sense of ‘victory’! E.g. “Listening at key times has increased once again, with even more listeners tuning in every week too.”
Find an increase that sounds better when expressed as a percentage...
For example, if you’re share in a particular demo has gone up from 5% to 8%, then you can quite rightly claim that “We’ve increased listening by 60% with women aged 30-39”. Sounds impressive, though in reality it may mean very little, and your overall share may gone down.
Change the range...
If you’re down quarter on quarter, then take a look at the year on year figures, and see if there’s an increase there. Then talk about the important long term growth of the brand. Or just mix it up a little! E.g. “More people are tuning in to XYZ-FM than this time last year, with an impressive increase in listening over the last 3 months to Freddie and Barbara in the Morning”.
Compare Apples with Apples...
If you’re a commercial station, make your station sound even better by just forgetting the BBC! After all, they’re a “different animal” aren’t they? In some markets, the BBC are clear market leaders with BBC Radio 2, or in London with BBC Radio 4. If that’s the case, just use the phrase “We’re the Number 1 commercial station in the area”, which for many will be perfectly true.
If your station has more listeners at breakfast time than say Chris Moyles, or Chris Evans... stick that in your press release, as comparisons with national personalities always make great copy for local newspapers. Plus, the local papers don’t really get stuck in to TSA size that much. You’re judged by the company you keep! E.g. “Debbie and Dave at Breakfast now bigger than Chris Evans”.
Include a quote...
Detract attention from generally bad figures by making up an anodyne quote from the breakfast show team. E.g. “Phil from Phil and Morning Crew said ‘I love getting up at 3am every day to entertain the people of Scunthorpe. It’s the best job in the world. We’re delighted that even more people are hearing about our show and we’re making it more successful every day. And don’t forget, the Mystery Word jackpot is at £63 tomorrow morning!’... etc...”
Ultimately, these kind of press releases are really designed for non-industry types, with the hope that people outside the sector will get the impression that your station is successful. What is it they say about perception being reality? And why not. All brands need to paint the picture of success to a certain degree. Consumers like to be associated with winning brands that are going somewhere. It confirms they are making the right choices in life.
Those in the radio industry know the tricks, so can spot them when a rival station uses them. We all know if a station is doing well or not. And as long as everything written is within the rules, and you’re not making stuff up... that’s kind of OK in my book. It’s the game we all play and will continue to play. Spin is nothing new.
If you spot any great examples, do let me know by posting a comment below!
So good luck to all UK stations today. I look forward to reading later that “more people than ever before are tuning in!”
Nik is a UK based media consultant who works with brands around the world, advising them on creativity in music, sound and content. He is Director of the creative production company Bounce
Contact Nik by email: nik at thisisbounce.com