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Posted by Alan Burns on February 28, 2009 at 13:04:20:

Twenty-three years ago when I first began consulting radio stations, I came up with a 12-item strategic checklist for radio stations and printed it on credit card-sized plastic cards. Happily, the relevance of the checklist has proven as durable as the plastic, and I know of quite a few successful people who still carry that card in their wallet. We still get requests for the checklist, and I recently noticed a consultant who had posted the list as his own on his company's website.

Much has changed since we created that checklist. I'm talking about seriously big things --consolidation, the Internet, PPM, multi-year revenue declines, and even radio usage decreases. I thought it might be fun to visit a few of the items on the list with an eye toward whether they're still important ... or perhaps even more important than they were 23 years ago.

For example, #7 - re: the use of outside media. Are you kidding? There's so little use of outside media lately that radio has virtually disappeared. I used to see billboards for at least six radio stations on the way into San Francisco from SFO. Last month ... none. Times are tough, but the operators who are still promoting their brand off the air tend to be the ones with the best ratings ... and not coincidentally, the best revenue. Think of the long-term impact on the industry as a whole: When an entire consumer product category essentially stops advertising, consumption tends to drop. What subtle message are we sending advertisers when we stop advertising? Are we less important, less vital, less top of mind, and seen as less successful when we stop being seen?

#8 - Seize the Moment. Still extremely current: Few things are as compelling as being on top of events and doing something entertaining with them. Some organizations seem wired to instinctively be more current and more creative than others, but it's actually a process that can be taught. The key elements are:

- Make it a priority
- Spend time on it
- Focus on creating a lot of ideas, and then execute the best ones

#9 - Are we thinking "inside" like radio geeks or "outside" ... the way listeners think about radio? The more you understand radio consumption and perception from the listener point of view, the more successful you'll tend to be. Ironically, PPM data, which will tell us more than ever about listener consumption, will tend to make our focus even more inside. The best way to avoid that trap is to continue to (or resume) regularly updating our knowledge of what listeners want, what they expect, and how well they feel you're delivering. That effort is one of the expenses that have been pruned to near-extinction at many organizations.

#10 - What are we doing to be local? A public Internet did not exist when we created the checklist, and that item is more important than ever as we all compete against the Internet, satellite radio, WiMax (soon), etc. The closer you can get to your target emotionally and physically, the greater your advantage over competing media (and competing stations). Radio is the most personal and intimate of all media when used properly.

#11 - What are we doing to be different? No, I mean really different? Like most human endeavors, radio follows formulas, develops habits, and often continues the habitual behavior long after it's outdated. Different is distinctive, novel, and interesting. Different is good.

#12 - What are we doing to learn? PPM data has a lot to teach us. Read the studies being published by research companies, Arbitron and marketers like DMR, whose project with the University of Wisconsin produced some outstanding information. If you have access to PPM data directly, and/or the work being done by Media Monitors, study it. But be careful of people who state "facts" about how to program to PPM ... much of those are unfounded opinions. And, as I said above, don't forget to step back and try to see and hear with the audience's perspective. We don't need to become more inside than ever ... just more informed than ever.

If you would like a copy of the entire checklist, or would like to add your thoughts to those above, e-mail me:

Alan Burns and Associates has advised great CHR and AC stations for over two decades. You can reach them at or (850)407-2346.

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