A Radio Promotion Almost As Good As Free Money

Yesterday I mentioned that I'd share with you the radio promotion that costs next to nothing to do and offers the one thing listeners want most -- next to, say -- free money.

When you walk in and tell the general manager you want to do it, he or she won't kick you out because the station doesn't have to spend anything on it and yet it will receive all the dividends.

If you are the manager, and your PD walks in and says let's give it a go, you won't get fired by corporate. I promise.

I must confess that this is a promotion that I did when I was a major market program director.

And it was during a recession.

The owner was a cheapskate.

No personality on the station made more than $60,000!

Need I say more?

Well, maybe.

Like the station cume increased by several hundred thousand in the target Arbitron demo over the three months this promotion ran.

Did I say that the station was in the fourth largest market -- but was one of the worst facilities in the city? I used to kid the chief engineer, a genial man named Archie Sitchel, that I was leaving each night to rent a helicopter so I could hear the station's signal on the way home.

Now all of this occurred at a time when there was no such thing as a social network. Or, as I said yesterday, radio was the social network. Listeners looked to us for certain things on a local, news and musical basis and we delivered. We also asked for their support for the station, the personalities and our advertisers. God, imagine what I could have done with this promotion if the Internet was around then.

So, here it is -- the promotion that radio should do (and do fast, before a competitor does it).

Giveaway jobs on the air.

That's right -- nothing is more valuable today than employment (unfortunately, we know that all too well in the radio business).

Here's how I did it with some concessions to how I would adapt it to social networks and the Internet.

1. Use interns (that you are probably not paying anyway) to call local businesses and determine if they have hard to fill positions open. There's lots of jobs in nursing and in sales, for example, in Phoenix. What do they pay? What do they require? Benefits and restrictions? Now, if I'm your competitor, I am actually paying some part timers to work at home and put together this information for me and keep it coming.

2. Go and listen to Jack McCoy's version of KCBQ's "The Last Contest". You'll want to study his production techniques because the promos I am going to use against my competitors will not sound like the same mindless, meaningless, worthless promotions on lots of radio stations now. This is a big deal.

3. Speaking of production, I am assuming most stations don't have the kind of production I'm talking about here. I did back in Philly. A great voice and production tools. Get them ready to crank out the jobs (see below).

4. Once an hour on a rotating basis, a job opportunity will be offered. The temptation will be to go on the air and simply say what the job is. That's not what we did. Create the magic of the position so if it is for an administrative assistant to a travel agency and the job pays $30,000 a year -- you'll want to use the appropriate vacation Hawaiian music (and sound effects) in the background as you slowly -- I said slowly -- make the listener wait to hear what the job is. Fantasy of the mind -- kind of what I've done in this piece. Set it up, set it up again -- and reveal it -- except better.

5. There are many ways for people to call in (text in, email in) and win their job opportunity -- but they are going to get the first access to that job. The contacts. The interview. All of this is handled by the company but when the "winner" gets the "job" they are getting the opportunity to interview -- make sure to point that out for legal reasons. Don't feel like you have to be a recruiter here. Believe me, my experience indicates that people know which skills they have in applying for these jobs. In three months, my station never had even one problem with this promotion. All we had was listeners -- looking for work. In between, we entertained them and sold them products from our advertisers.

6. Run a job opportunity once an hour. Obviously, you can't re-run them so you'll need to get your production cranking. Hell, if you are typical of a lot of stations, may still have a few talented people hanging around or maybe you fired them already. Call them back in and put them to work.

7. Use liners to sell up to the promo that will reveal next hour's job and make it a point to get the "winner" recorded so you can play back lots of montages of grateful people.

8. We even called folks back -- seeking the ones who were actually hired (and, to quote Jack McCoy again "as incredible as it may seem" there were many) -- to build ongoing promos thanking us for helping them out. Their words.

9. Oh, I know -- you think I'm just a program director who doesn't know how to sell. Well, you would be wrong. We fired up the sales department to go out and sell ads to advertisers who wanted to reach the people most likely to be listening to the hottest station in town -- the one with the best prize of all -- a chance at a real job in tough times. Some sponsors even offered a few job opportunities for the job pool -- free publicity.

Keep in mind that we varied the jobs so not every one had to be an executive position paying lots of money. Many part time jobs were popular. But it was the way the production was done that made it work. We made the jobs sound great -- always a good thing. We never ran out of job opportunities even in a recession. We didn't play games. We played it straight. If I was smart, I would have continued the promotion for longer than three months.

If I'm in a major market and I wanted to actually invest in this promotion (like in money -- forgive me for saying that in a radio industry that only cuts back), the first call I'd make would be to Chuck Blore, the creative radio genius in LA. I'd wind up with the number one station and a tidal wave of advertisers who wanted to hitch themselves to the one thing people want the most (besides free money).

Who needs "one-day" sales fests and cheap, cheap ad blitzes?

And, lest I forget -- social networking.

Everybody who calls, writes, texts or emails becomes part of my social network -- one in which (if you remember what I said yesterday) the listener gets something back. Not direct mail. Not robo callers.

In three months I would build a base of active listeners -- not the ones hoping to win a cheap prize or unremarkable trip -- but the ones who would now see my local station as a local solution to problems and opportunities in their local lives (did you count the "locals" there?).

I'll be talking more about social networking -- the benefits and pitfalls in the months ahead.

One more thing.

Be cool.

Stop telling people to go to your website.

They know that already. Young people expect you to have a website. They just don't go there until they want to know more. No need to hit them over the head. They get it. We don't get it when we continually badger them to do what they already do intuitively.

So there it is.

Free jobs.

Almost as good as free money and a lot cheaper. Yes, it's work. Yes, it requires high creativity and 24/7 production. But you said you wanted to do good radio -- the kind that attracts people beyond their cell phones and websites. There you have a way.

Worked for me in Philly and it will work for you better in today's world of Internet, mobile and social networking.

By the way I have a related idea for morning shows-- 365 days a year -- but can't talk about it. I'm saving it for Jerry Lee because you need an owner like that to guarantee success in pioneering tomorrow's radio -- if there is to be a tomorrow.

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