Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 1
What is radio marketing? sections 2-3

1.2 For radio, marketing is different

For many industries, it's obvious who the buyers and sellers are. The exchange model (explained above) fits well. The buyers and sellers are clearly identified, and they trade with each other. And for most products and services, the buyers and sellers seldom communicate, except when they are about to make a transaction.

Radio is different, in several ways. Listeners to a radio station often tune in for hours each day, so the relationship is a continuing one. That's not so unusual: a lot of products have continuing buyers. What's more unusual for radio is that, since it's a communication medium, if all communication about an activity is marketing, does it follow that all radio programs are marketing? (Are you thinking that surely not even the author of a book on marketing would make such a wild claim?)

In my view, some types of broadcast are always marketing: station promos and broadcast call signs, for example. But any program content might be understood as marketing by listeners, even if it's not intended as marketing by the broadcaster. If, by listening to the program, the listener forms an impression of the station, I'd regard this as marketing. For example, if the sound quality seems poorer than usual, and the listener blames the station, it becomes a marketing problem for the station. But if in the listener's opinion the problem is the radio itself, that's a marketing problem for that brand of radio.

At this point you may be objecting: "but the station has no control over that, so it can't be marketing." My response: you should take a broader view. Such problems affect audience size, and eventually station revenue. Just because you can't control it, that doesn't mean it's not marketing.

Another difference between radio marketing and other marketing is that with radio (as in fact with many government services), there's a problem of working out who are the buyers, who are the sellers, and where the listeners fit into the diagram.

One way of answering this question is that the seller is the one who provides Stuff and gets money. So for radio, the seller is the station, and the Stuff is its programs.

Who is the buyer? That depends on what type of radio station it is.

For a commercial station (which gets all its income from advertising) the buyers are the advertisers. Where, you might wonder, do the listeners come into the diagram?

Answer: they are the Stuff being sold. They are merely a commodity. The only reason why a commercial station needs an audience is to have something to sell to advertisers: the attention of their listeners. (The listeners, of course, may have a different view.)

For a government radio station, without advertising, there's only one "buyer" and that's the government. To survive, the station's management has to keep the government happy. Whether anybody listens to the program is irrelevant. In fact, it's better if there are no listeners, because then there will be few complaints.

A community station is funded by the community, whether in small amounts from individual listeners, or large amounts from organizations, or some mixture of these. If it can gain most of its income from its own listeners, there will be less of the distorting pressures that apply to commercial or government-funded stations. This makes it possible (in theory) for community stations to provide a better service to listeners than any other type of radio station can.

But who's the buyer, and who's the seller, for a community station? you might ask.

Now this is where it begins to get interesting. The complicating factor is that many people are involved, in various roles. These roles are often known as stakeholders: all the types of people who have an interest in an organization, because it affects them in some way.

1.3 Stakeholders in radio

The stakeholders normally fall into four main groups: suppliers, customers, internal, and external. For a radio station the stakeholder groups can include these...

In other words, almost everybody in the community holds some sort of stake, whether they deal directly with the station or not. So maybe we should extend that two-party diagram into a multi-party one. But if you drew that diagram, it would look like a mess, with lines connecting every stakeholder group to every other. All these groups have expectations about each other, and make demands on each other.

Though the above diagram makes the marketing process clear, it's oversimplified, because it takes no account of roles. As the list of stakeholders showed, one stakeholder group can have multiple roles.

When you consider all the stakeholders involved, you soon realize that a radio station - specially a community station - is part of a complex web of social and financial obligations and the exchanges that go with them. The entire cobweb-like network becomes what's sometimes called an "imaginary organization:" a far broader cross-section of people than simply the staff and the listeners. All communication between stakeholders about the station comprises the station's marketing.

Organizations with marketing departments often assume that all their marketing is done by that department. In reality, most marketing is done by others - particularly by consumers, because there are so many of them.

Don't think, therefore, that you can control all your marketing: but if the station is well managed, communication about the station between stakeholders is more likely to be favourable.

Of course, it's not only radio stations that have stakeholders. All organizations have them. In the last few years, the success of a business is coming to be measured not only by the value of its shares, but by broader concepts such as the Triple Bottom Line and the Balanced Scorecard. The advocates of these concepts say that a business does not exist solely to make a profit, but has social obligations to all its stakeholders. Recent research has been finding that businesses which take this very broad view of their objectives tend to be more successful, in the long term, than those that try only to make a profit. There's a lesson for radio here.


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