When arriving in a large southern market six years ago my Program Director at the time decided it would be a great occasion to introduce me to the listeners in a more personal way. He suggested that we do this “Odd Jobs” promotion where I would go to listener’s homes and do random things like cleaning and other chores. We could even make this a video for social media, cute right? How is it in the back of my mind could I possibly feel any objection to this? The answer was I am a black man, who is going to be going to a large southern market and cleaning people’s homes on video. I should have objected, but I didn’t want to come across like a ‘no person’ my first week on the job (that is another blog altogether). I was mortified, but I went through with it determined to show that I was a team player, until a month later when a relative of mine saw it called me on it. I had to process the emotion I was feeling at the time as well as evaluate whether the stunt was truly worth it? Did it make listeners like the station or me more, did the video get an astronomical amount of views? No none of the above, it was just a radio stunt that fell flat and made me a cynic in the process.
Years after my time in that market was up I realized why my PD from that period didn’t understand what and how that promotion went wrong. The answer is, in radio, we are just taught to go out and do stunts to get people to notice us. Sometimes these stunts can come at the risk of damaging the station and connecting brands. Does “Wee for a Wii” ring a bell? We're told that we have to go out and make a spectacle of some sort for people to like us, and at one time it worked or at least we thought it did. When planning a stunt, we really should think about the following things.
1. Will this convert listeners and dollars?
2. Are people going to remember this two years from now?
3. Will this benefit anyone’s life long term?
4. Are we in front of the right people?
5. Is the primary product good enough to focus on stunts and make it successful?
6. Is this organic or contrived?
7. Do we have the people in our organization that could make this work?
8. Will this make anyone feel uncomfortable or be in poor taste?
9. Can this kill anyone?
When you look at the best stations across North America, you notice that there are very few if any stunts because the product speaks for itself. while their struggling competition is across the street is doing every wacky zany 90’s trick they can think of to get noticed, Z100 says “Hey we know you love us, so we are just going to throw a little concert with all of your favorite artists and give you front row seats.” Ray Charles could see the winner in that scenario. When we look at TV shows that are always trending, i.e., The Walking Dead, Scandal or Grey’s Anatomy, those 'oh crap' moments are planned at least a year out. Entire plots are written around them to set actions in motion, and if they get it wrong, it can kill a show i.e. Negan killing Glenn or Fonzy jumping the shark.
In this generation of youtube and On Demand, millennials and have seen everything at their fingertips so attempting to shock them will be a challenge. Maybe we should take time to re-evaluate what we consider good stunt content and plan it out with a story arc like our friends in television, to build a more significant ‘Aha’ moment. At the end of the day, every brand has a story; radio stations should be no different.
As for my Program Director from “Large Southern Market,” I realize now he did not mean any malice in those actions, and we have spoken since then. It just taught me early in my career to do every action in my personal and station branding process with purpose and meaning. When those two things are involved, that genuine interaction is what causes people to move.
Kwame Dankwa is a 12-year radio veteran with stops in
Boston MA &
He is currently Program Director of CHR WRTS Erie PA (Star 104). Follow him @TheKwameShow on Instagram and Twitter.