One of the things I like to ask people I’m interviewing for a position at 5FM is, “What is the aim of a radio business?” It’s not very nice of me because it’s a very unsettling and unexpected question for a lot of people, writes Justine Cullinan.
The first thing people say is something along the lines of informing and entertaining people. Well yes, that’s true, but anyone with a Twitter handle or a vid on YouTube could say that. Very few people say, “To make money,” which is strange because a primary aim of all business, whether we like it or not, is to make money. But what confounds me the most is how few people say, “To build communities and to bring people together.” That truly is what any media business is about… apart from making money, which they have to do, because building communities and bringing people together costs money.
The media has a unique role to play in the landscape of human life. A magazine, a TV show or a radio station can change lives. It fundamentally informs tastes, trends and trajectories and its messages are adopted, adapted and advocated by millions of people who all have that platform in common.
The media provides at most a voice for people and at the very least something they can have in common and share in together. No matter how cool Apple’s gadgets are, no matter how sexy a pair of Jimmy Choos can make you look, neither of those spectacular brands do more than invest in their brands which is investing in making them money. At 5FM we like to say we are in the business of shaping people’s lives and therefore their memories going back and their choices going forward. That’s pretty cool.
So after that World Peace speech, why is it that media brands seem to behave as though they are being reluctantly dragged into a digital era. I think we can safely say that digital is here to stay (actually ‘stay’ is probably not the right word because it implies sameness and if there is anything that digital isn’t, it’s static). And if the job of a media business is to build communities and bring people together, surely that is enhanced by digital media rather than competing with it? Let’s take a look at four ways that the advent of digital can drive the media goal.
Firstly, digital technology allows you to distribute content differently and, if you’re smart about it, more prolifically. Though TV shows are measured in terms of ratings and radio stations are measured in terms of RAMS and magazines and newspapers are measured in terms of circulation and readership, those shows and stations and publications have all got digital communities. There are some people who literally only engage with the media via an online touch-point. And yet these communities aren’t ‘measured’ as part of the whole. Usually media platforms report their digital stats separately, as a kind of footnote to their marketing goals.
The number of followers, likes, friends, shares, Klouts or subscribers reported by marketers are mostly seen as ‘nice-to-haves’ by the top chiefs or accountants. This is strange because unlike brands that have a product on a shelf in a supermarket, media brands are measured on the size of their communities. So surely their digital statistics are AS important as their regular measurement numbers?
Secondly digital platforms allow you to extend the life of content already being created for the primary platform. This is especially valuable in the radio context where the medium is live so time is eroding constantly. Taking on-air content and offering it online for download gives a better chance of expanding the size of the community that consumes it. There is also what I call great ‘build-out’ potential. So if you can only fit an interview into a four minute link but there’s a lot more you want to talk about, you can continue your interview online in any number of formats from periscope to podcast. That makes the money spent on content return a lot more to the money men than it used to. To accountants that’s called ‘sweating the assets’.
Thirdly digital platforms deliver quality and reliability of dissemination. Don’t ask me how it technically works but somehow content coded in 1’s and 0’s is more stable, and more accessible to more people who live behind an inconvenient mountain pass, than analogue waves. That means the media voice can be heard clearly and practically by more people who share more with more people, so really we are just looking at a whole lot more of more.
Finally, and most obviously, more platforms that share content equates to more platforms that advertisers can utilise to push their message. Ergo more revenue.
Instead of trying to hold their digital platforms back as supporting actors and actresses to their primary platforms, it would be useful for media brands to look at how digital platforms can enhance the existing product. In my opinion digital is the best thing to happen to media brands in the history of the media. Analogue and digital is a match made in heaven. It’s time to fall in love.