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ON-AIR PROMOS: WHAT'S REALLY "OFFICIAL?"

by Holland Cooke

Everything yo say about your sta tion on-air is intended to:

1. Cause listeners to listen more. Promos don't bring in new cume. They can't. The only people who hear them are al ready listening. Promos should stretch existing cume into longer time-spent-listening, by telling people why and when they should listen.

2. Cause listeners to notice that they're listening in the first place! After all, Arbitron doesn't measure what people listen to. Its "unaided recall" methodology measures what they remember. So your on-air marketing also has to cut through all the mental clutter that crowds a listener's head during the course of a day.

Therefore, whatever you tell your listeners about your station has to:

Make sense. Too often, promo copy speaks in radio-ese, rather than plain English. Instead, you should be selling benefits, by telling people why you should be one of their buttons. Tell them how to use the sta tion by telling them why they'd want to. Ready for a consul tant buzzword? Promo copy should give listeners "take- home pay."

Stick out. Promos are com mercials for your station. Like a commercial for any product, you want your promo to grab attention, not just blend into all the other blah blah blah that goes in one ear and out the other. So, as with copy you write for your advertisers, avoid cliches when writing station promos.

I urge commercial copywriters to avoid no-payoff phrases such as "FOR ALL YOUR [product cate gory] NEEDS." Similarly, I cau tion promo writers not to abuse the term "OFFICIAL."

I hear lots of radio in my travels. And I keep hearing stations pro nounce themselves the "OFFI CIAL" station of something, when they're not; or when there's a bet ter way to state the claim they're making. Example: weather, ra dio's #1 information element:

In fact, the only official weather forecast comes from the National Weather Ser vice. Who says there's no more free lunch? The only of ficial forecast is the one you get for free! Tip: If - rather than paying someone to dupli cate what you can rip-n-read from Uncle Sam - you just rip-n-read, tout that! Introduce and promote yours as "THE OFFICIAL FORECAST, DI RECT FROM THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE."

Yet many stations who use commercial weather services, local TV meteorologist, or don't identify NWS as their source pronounce themselves listeners' "OFFICIAL WEATHER STATION."

Says who? It sounds like just another inflated product claim, the kind of hollow BS that causes consumers to be skepti cal. And the focus is inside- out. Instead, craft promo lan guage that emphasizes what your audience gets from the station, rather than simply talk ing about what the station does.

If you're got a popular TV face doing your forecast, tell listen ers that they can hear his/her latest forecast "FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, AND THROUGHOUT THE DAY." That's a benefit, since other wise the only time they could get the forecast from him/her is by watching TV in the evening.

I even hear stations calling them selves "YOUR OFFICIAL TRAF FIC STATION." Who confers that certification? It just doesn't ring true.

In the case of sports:

If you carry the play-by-play, you're the official station of that team, and you should say so. If another team claims to be, sic the team on 'em. You own that franchise.

If you're not the play-by-play station, but you still want to get in on the fun, you might hire the coach to voice an on-air feature, or you could stage a tailgate party, or give away game tickets. Promos should emphasize what you're doing for listeners.

As for events: Negotiate to become "THE OFFI CIAL RADIO STATION OF" a prestigious golf tournament, concert, festival, or some other event in your area. Acquire that designation in exchange for on-air promotion, etc.

Bottom line:

Unless you are actually and specifically the "official" station of something, don't say you are. You risk sounding bellicose and unqualified, or not being heard above the din of other radio hype.

Even if you are "THE OFFICIAL STATION OF" something, is that the best way to describe your association with it?

Holland Cooke is News/Talk Specialist for Mc Vay Media and B/D&A through its Advisor's Al liance. A 26-year radio veteran, Cooke has performed, programmed, and consulted a variety of formats, and he is best known as Operations Man ager of News/Talk/Sports WTOP/Washington, DC. http://users.aol.com/cookeh

© 1997 by Holland Cooke

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