Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 12
Making it happen: section 2

12.2  You need a marketing plan

Perhaps you are wondering, "Why do we need a marketing plan? Why can't we just bumble along as we always have, fighting crises all the time, never sure what we're going to do next? After all, we've survived so far - haven't we?"

That question reveals its own answer: without a plan, you get trapped in a day-to-day existence, fighting the same crises over and over again, wasting a lot of time, but making no real progress.

A marketing plan doesn't need to be detailed, but it should be the result of a lot of careful thinking, contributed by as many people as possible. Large businesses have Marketing Departments and Strategic Planning Units. They write marketing plans as thick as books - then pass them on to other departments to implement. Strangely, the implementation often doesn't follow the plan!

A community organization, specially if it relies a lot on volunteers, needs to take a different approach. People are not going to wholeheartedly implement a plan if they've had no say in creating it.

It's possible for one person to produce an entire marketing plan - if that person is well-informed enough - maybe the general manager. Unfortunately, that type of marketing plan usually doesn't get implemented. The other staff don't understand it, or the reasons behind it.

These days, if you ask volunteers or well-educated employees to do something, they'll ask "Why?" If they don't believe the reasons, or don't understand the reasons, their co-operation will be weak. Therefore a marketing plan needs to be well-argued. If it is to be effective, everybody who will have a hand in implementing it must be involved. So, if you're the general manager, don't just sit down and write a plan - get everybody to contribute. The joint thinking process is often the most valuable part of the plan.

What should the marketing plan look like?

Many marketing plans are massive documents, hundreds of pages long: full of tables, projections, and impressive but meaningless diagrams. You don't need all that. The more detailed the plan, the less likely it is to be circulated among all the staff, and the less likely it is to be read.

Ten pages (as I've found) is about the limit of what most people will read. If a document has more than 10 pages, they say "I'm too busy now; I'll read it later" - but they don't, because they're just as busy later. That 10 pages is for the plan itself, not the situation analysis (described below) which can be much more detailed, as it's there mainly for reference.

A marketing plan won't work if it hides away in a filing cabinet or bookcase. It must somehow leap off the paper, into the heads of the people who carry it out. This usually happens only if it leaps out of their heads, onto paper, in the first place. But people forget what they've agreed; that's why you need a written plan.

It's a good idea to turn the marketing plan into a poster, and stick it on a wall in a public area. The more attractive it looks, the more people will read it. They can glance at it as they walk past or while they're waiting for something.

I suggest that you plan two years ahead, and update the plan several times a year. The further ahead, the less detail you need. So provide a lot of detail for the current quarter, less for next quarter, and so on.

What should a marketing plan contain?

A marketing plan should address these questions, including as much relevant numerical information as you can find:

1. Where have we come from?
2. Where are we now?
3. Where do we want to be?
4. How can we get there? How must we change?
5. How will we know if we're getting there?

Parts 1 and 2 are a review, while parts 3 and 4 are the main marketing plan. Part 5 is a marketing evaluation. The questions it asks, and the methods for answering them, are part of the marketing plan - but of course the questions can't be answered until the plan is under way.

1. Where have we come from?

The first section reviews the last few years. Consider how effective your marketing has been, and what evidence there is for this. It's essential to be candid, not to pretend an activity was a great success when in fact it may not have been. If this seems difficult, because it might hurt people's feelings, assign several people to the role of critic.

Compare past projections (of income, audience, etc) with actual outcomes. Did you forecast a 50% increase two years ago, and was the real increase only 10%? Why the difference?

Many marketing plans skip this step of the marketing plan, but if you don't review the past, you can't learn from it.

2. Where are we now?

This part of the marketing plan is often called a situation analysis, or environment analysis, or marketing audit, or situation assessment. Whatever you call it, you gather all the relevant information on your current situation, including...

When you've finished collecting this information, it's a good idea to make it widely accessible (such as a data room, described below) so that it can be corrected and updated.

3. Where do we want to be?

Describe the ideal situation for your station in a few years' time. What could your inputs, your outputs, and your environment be? This needs a reasonable amount of detail: several pages in writing. The typical "mission" or "vision" statement isn't specific enough.

The plan can include:

4. How can we get there? What needs to change?

Compare your present situation with your ideal. How many more staff and money will you need, to create your ideal station through your ideal marketing campaign? How many more listeners will you need to attract? How can you make best use of the "3 legs" of marketing?

A lot of marketing plans fail because they don't make a clear link between the current situation and the desired future. You have to create a feasible path between your present situation and your desired future.

There should be a strong reason for every marketing initiative you propose. Don't just write "we'll do X." Instead, write "We'll do X, because A and B and C." This will make the plan a little longer, but it will also give everybody a chance to become involved. The most effective plans are those developed participatively.

Here you list each stakeholder group, and how you will approach marketing with it.

To make it more likely that each task in the marketing plan will be implemented, it should be allocated a person to be responsible, some funding, and a target completion date. The people who will be responsible for implementation must be involved with the planning. Otherwise they're likely to say "It's impossible for this station to get 99% audience share by next week, with only a $1 budget. The management should have consulted us!"

It's important to set realistic goals. If a goal is too easy (1% share in ten years' time, with a million-dollar budget) staff won't try very hard. But if they see the goal as impossible, they also won't try. For maximum motivation (as research has found) you should set a goal which has an apparent 50% chance of success.

If the difference between the present and the ideal is huge (it often is) you can make it more realistic either by reducing your ideal, or lengthening the time frame. But if you compromise your ideal, people will lose their motivation, and if you extend your planning horizon from (say) 3 years to 20, it's hard to focus on the near future. Therefore, I recommend coming up with a short-term plan: how can you get some way towards achieving your ideal, in just a few years?

5. How will we know if we're getting there?

This process is called monitoring or evaluation. It's a review of the marketing you've been involved with, and how that fits in with your marketing plan. This process includes reviewing the station from the point of view of each type of stakeholder. Has the station been getting better for advertisers, but worse for the audience? (That's a real sign of danger.) Don't just guess - ask some listeners and advertisers, and other stakeholders.

For monitoring to be effective, it needs to happen constantly: an annual review is not enough. To set up a monitoring system, define some measures that will, taken together, inform you whether your plan is working. These measures, called indicators, might include:

...and so on. Any one of these measures, taken by itself, might be misleading, but if most of them are trending upwards, you'll know that your marketing is successful. Most of these involve some kind of audience research. Research is expensive, but the next section offers some suggestions on reducing its cost.

When a station has been going for several years, it has probably created a number of marketing initiatives. It's easy to lose track of these, and if the implicit messages change too quickly, audience and advertisers tend to be confused about what your station has to offer. So every now and again (perhaps annually) it's a good idea to step back from your involvement with the station, and try to see its image as (a) a new listener and (b) a new advertiser might.

The data room

An unusual but effective way to present a situation analysis is to devote a whole room to it: a "data room." This is an office whose walls are covered with charts, diagrams, and whiteboards, and other information relevant for marketing. Data rooms are most commonly found at mining companies and military headquarters, but there's no reason why a radio station shouldn't have one too. In fact, the best data room I've ever seen was at radio RRI in Banjarmasin, Indonesia.

A radio station's data room could have:

When you hold a meeting in a data room, everybody can see all the relevant information at the same time. The main advantages of having all the information in one room are:


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