Tracy Johnson, founder of Tracy Johnson Media Group, former VP/General Manager and Program Director of KFMB-FM in San Diego, author of what some consider to be the Bible of personality radio, and executive producer of Phone Jibba, a new feature from Z90’s Rick Morton, Tracy knows what it takes to create a lasting show brand. We asked him for some insights on the importance of personality in stations’ branding, and how to work benchmark features into your programmatic lineup in a way that feels organic to your branding.
Q: When you talk about “personality” as a brand, what do you mean by that?
Just as every human being has a personality, so does every radio station. The difference is whether or not that personality is compelling, attractive, interesting and entertaining or boring! Every single thing a station does adds to the personality brand, and the most important of all those ingredients is what comes between the songs.
A radio station’s personality is the impression left on a listener by the sum of the parts. When we think of familiar brands, we get an immediate image of that brand. We have a lasting impression of the Yankees, Patriots, Apple and Starbucks. Similarly, audiences form an impression of every radio brand. Some are generic, like Corn Flakes. Others are alive and filled with meaning, like Harley Davidson or Warby Parker.
Q: You emphasize the importance of radio being a blend of both art and science. What’s a key factor to be successful at it?
Science is like building a house. It’s important to create a blueprint, prepare the property, pour the foundation and take great care to run the plumbing and electricity, then put up the walls, windows, doors and roof. But a house is not a home. Houses are homogeneous and functional. It becomes a home when art is applied.
The interior designer comes in to choose colors, paint, wall coverings, furnishings and decide where to hang the television. Homes on the same block are fundamentally similar (the science), yet each stands out on their own because it’s injected with personality (the art). Nobody wants to live in a house. They want to live in a home. But if the home isn’t built on solid fundamentals, it’ll never last. Both are critically important. Stations that are too heavy on one at the expense of the other are vulnerable.
Q: What avenues should programmers take to market their personalities?
Promotion should focus on the things that make their house (station) a home (personality).
That means focusing on the emotional value of listening. Yet most marketing campaigns for radio are filled with facts and details. We promote the type or amount of music we play. We promote the things we do, rather than the feeling listeners get from listening.
Imagine if Coca Cola advertised their soft drink by describing the ingredients in a can of Coke. It would be insane to run a campaign promoting “Just the right amount of vanilla extract so it tastes just right … with a little jolt of caffeine to get you up and going in the morning.” But Coca Cola focuses their marketing on the personality of their brand, associating their product with positive feelings. We need more of that in radio.
Q: How can a show work benchmark features into their lineup and make it must-hear daily radio?
Locked in features are critical to provide appointments for listeners to remember to tune in at a specific time each day. There is so much competition for attention, and so many distractions, it’s the only way to insure we keep the audience coming back.
I hear it in research over and over that “I tune out when the commercials come on, and many times I get distracted and forget to come back.” Great features at specific times provide structure and memorable moments that trigger reminders to come back at a specific time for a specific reason. Knowing that this radio show does this thing that I like at this time is the first, and most important, step in building a fan base.
Q: What’s one way that programming and personalities at a station can work together so it feels organic to their branding campaigns?
Everyone must first understand that every piece of programming on the air is part of your station, show and personality brand. It doesn’t matter whether that content is created in-house or externally.
There are dozens of ways to integrate special features like Phone Jibba into your unique personality brand. The most successful stations establish the host, Rick, as a cast member. On some stations, he’s a janitor. On others, he’s a listener who started pranking the morning show. Other set him up as an old college buddy. The worst thing you can do is just introduce it as “Here’s another episode of a phone prank”. Think of it as a piece of furniture you’ve brought into your home. You didn’t build it, but you picked it out, chose where to place it and made it part of your home. You have to embrace it and own it as part of your station’s personality brand. We offer a lot of ideas, advice, support and recommendations to help make that happen for each station.
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