Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?

By David Kidd, BPR

Ben Hunt-Davis, the captain of the British national men’s rowing team, faced consistent setbacks in 1998. To deal with the failures, Hunt-Davis came up with one simple rule. With every decision or activity, the team asked a brilliant question, “Will it make the boat go faster?”

When facing the dreaded morning run, they asked, “Will it make the boat go faster?” When the team discussed going to the pub, they asked, “Will it make the boat go faster?”

The focus of the team quickly moved to a single-minded objective. Yes, making the boat go faster.

The result was the British men’s rowing team won the Olympic gold in Sydney, Australia in 2000. The first team to win gold for Great Britain since 1912.

Turning to radio, as a programmer everything you do on your station should be processed through the filter “Will it make the boat go faster?” In other words, “Will it improve or maintain our market position?” …. “Will it improve our brand image?” …..”Will it be entertaining enough to generate word of mouth?”.

Otherwise, you are wasting precious time and resources. It’s as if you are treading water……. you’re busy down below but in reality going nowhere.

A million dollar contest with a lame mechanic on a perennial cellar dweller station with a lack-lustre morning show (I’m being kind here) and an unfocussed music position……why waste your time (this is a statement….not a question).

Seth Resler from Jacobs Media recently penned an article titled “It’s Time for Radio to Rethink Contesting”. I agree with is comments. As Seth mentions:

“The rationale for hosting contests is to drive listenership. Unfortunately, contests are not particularly effective at this. For starters, few listeners tune into radio stations primarily for contests.”

He also refers to a 2021 US study about what matters to listeners most when choosing a favourite station. The study shows that contests “are at the bottom of the list”. While this was a US study, I can assure you from firsthand experience these results are replicated in countries all over the world.

In an article titled When was the last time you wore THAT!!! The Art of Decluttering”, I said:

“Tactics often take up a large amount of airtime both in promotion and execution, however as we have seen around the world contesting in itself ranks very low in importance for listeners.  Make sure your tactics are as entertaining as possible for those listeners who do not want to take part in the contest…the passives.  Can they play along at home or in the car? Does the tactic support the overall music position? Or are you simply giving something away (yawn)?”

In his article, Seth said much the same thing:

“I had a rule for every contest we aired: It had to have a Play-Along-At-Home factor. In other words, the contest had to be compelling for people who heard it even if they did not participate. In this sense, I thought of my station’s contests in the same way that I think of Wheel of Fortune: Most people will never play the game themselves, but they’ll still tune in to watch.”

Contesting is part of the content on every radio station around the world but like every other piece of the content it MUST be entertaining. If it isn’t, the contest runs the risk of being clutter. Just giving away a prize in 2021 simply isn’t enough (unless the goal is merely to generate revenue i.e. a sales promotion). The mechanic is the key…. makes it compelling, interesting, entertaining (for your entire audience including the passives) and easy to understand. Cue the intro to Secret Sound or Beat the Bomb.

This is just one example of the importance of examining everything that happens on your radio station and how best to deploy time and resources. When you are in the next planning or strategy meeting and the room is buzzing with ideas, always pose the question “Will it make the boat go faster?”




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