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A Different Approach To Marketing Radio

Radio keeps doing the same thing expecting a different result. There is a general feeling that the value of radio is decreasing as both an entertainment and information medium.

There’s a lot of truth to that, especially in music radio given the growth of the audience’s use of DSPs. Streaming services are, for all intents and purposes, the music store of the digital era. The consumers decide what the hits will be by downloading or streaming a favorite song. 

A more youthful generation has never walked into a record store to buy a physical piece of music. Seldom have they heard about a new song or fresh artist on the radio. They hear about it on social media or from friends. Radio was once at the start of the lifecycle of a song, today it’s at the end of it.

When a song is proven on other platforms, then it goes to radio, and that is when it’s magnified. Few will challenge the fact that airplay still elevates a song to significant heights, but radio’s role in the introduction of a song is not what it once was. If it’s not music that makes radio attractive to the audience, then it has to be the personalities and connection to the audience.

Talent are one of the key differentiators for radio, but the expense of such talent often necessitates the use of syndication or personalities who work remotely. There is a track record for success with the outsourcing of content, but it requires a commitment to connecting the dots with your audience.

It is this reality that necessitates radio to consider a different approach to marketing. We need to be looking outside of our own universe to find new ways to rejuvenate radio and reattract listeners. How we’ve marketed radio in the past doesn’t need to be how we market it today. What radio has been doesn’t mean it is what radio must be.

Dead Horse Branding is one of those companies that can lead to a different approach and result. As a name alone they capture one’s attention. It’s a branding company that develops strategies for the entertainment & music industry. Melissa Core-Caballo and her husband Rick Caballo are Co-Founders and Partners of Dead Horse Branding. They tout a history of brand building, developing artists, creating content, and growing notoriety for their clients in management and entertainment.

They’re also a part of the Joel-Katz-led Music Program at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA, and ITech Wollongong, Australia. They are creating as well as teaching. 

I sat down with Mel to talk about radio and what she thinks radio can and should do differently to show success. Her perspective was fresh and came from a position of looking at the legacy medium from a higher level of what it could take on as a new approach. She brought with her the radio experience she has had from Australia to North America, as well as branding globally. All of that is combined with her and Rick’s experiences as marketers living in a rock-starworld.

We talked about the marketing strength of radio for music. Radio comes up every time they talk to an artist or their management. “Is radio still relevant?” is a question she often hears. She acknowledges that, “Not every artist needs radio, but those are generally newer artists who aren’t going to have the longevity needed for radio to take an interest in them.” Some artists throw a song “out there through social media to see if it’s going to work,” and then determine if they should take a song to radio.

The set-up for any music project is expensive. Looking to radio for exposure is valuable to an artist. It can also be valuable to radio if it’s for the right artist with the right song. Using radio as an introductory tool is valuable. It also brings positive freshness to radio. 

For example, artists being interviewed on the radio has value. “Radio doesn’t want to talk to newer unknown artists, but that’s where radio can be unique and capture the interest of an audience. Everyone wants to interview the biggest stars, but the connection to interesting content makes a station a destination.” Core-Caballo added, “If I was back in a radio station today, I would really be trying to change the focus of the radio programming. The thinking is … If you’re a signed act to a major label, you’re going to get radio airplay. That’s how it often works, but not always. So, there are many artists who don’t even bother.”

She suggests that this is a part of why radio is no longer known for music discovery. We lack a connection to the artists directly. 

Her assertion reminded me of the time when I was a Program Director at a Top 40 station. We often had artists serve as “Guest DJs” late at night. They played their own music along with others’ hit songs. We did it as much for the bragging rights and the perception of playing new music as we did to be able to create promos hyping variety. It also harkened back to a part of the reason I encourage syndicated weekend programs that I consult to showcase artists by interviewing them and playing their new music. It’s not going to hurt you to do something special inside of special programming. 

“If radio could change the narrative around artists, radio would win a lot of consumers back. You can’t get interviewed on Spotify. You can’t get interviewed on Apple Music.  You can’t have a conversation, or get your brand message out there, and you can’t connect to the artist.”

She acknowledges that Apple Radio and other DSPs are creating their own radio channels, but that those entities are without a connection to a local community. There’s nothing nostalgic about it. Marketing radio has a hip, cool nostalgia about it that Melissa believes is desirable. 

She would try to, “Give the listeners a say in what’s programmed because to simply play the music, focusing on the most popular songs, takes away the uniqueness of a station and it takes away the voice of a community.” That harkens back to a day when radio proactively asked for the opinion of the audience, played their comments on-air, and then took real action. Today it is almost as if some in leadership roles could care less about what the consumer of radio thinks.

If radio does ask for an opinion, it’s hype and used to justify planned changes. We wonder why our credibility has been damaged. 

Core-Caballo points out that radio has marketing strength at its fingertips. Radio can create brands with repetition and be the voice of a community. She shared her belief that, “There is something homelike and hometown about radio. It’s about where you’re from. It’s the way we communicate our stories, our news, and it’s where you congregate.” She continued, “I’d have this approach play into my marketing plans, and I would try to attract the community back to radio.”

She believes that radio can’t lose with that mentality. “I care about what matters to you, and I care about what you’re doing on the street, but I also care about Taylor Swift’s new release.” 

Radio elevates stars, products, services, and brands. What we can do is bring the same elevation and connection to the community of the audience. That goes well beyond geography. Radio should have a strong connection to the artists it plays. That’s what we should be marketing. That’s what we should be presenting. Community matters and you’re a part of that community, so you matter. Artists. Community. That’s the message.

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