Aside from the disaster help most of these examples of being involved in the local community are not a big headline with the audience. We all know getting involved in some big fund raiser where we are begging the audience to contribute never builds much audience, in face it's almost always a BIG tune out. The marathons are only longer BIG tune outs. The long winded remotes we do from the local art fairs or music festivals are rarely entertaining enough on the air to help build audience. The off air meetings and organizations are probably better at getting us introduced to other local business people and community leaders than it is helping us build audience.
Yet, most of our market advantage in the new world of new media will probably come from how well we become ingrained into our communities. You can see it clearly in so many successful stations that seem to have audience all the time. Look at WCCO, WGN, WLW, and so many of the big AM talk stations. WGN eats, breathes, and sleeps Chicago. You also see it in music stations like WDVE, KQRS, WMMR and WFBQ in the rock world.
While it may be important to try and cure diseases and help the less fortunate in the community to really win the community involvement hill you have to really embrace the REAL community. That means relating to and including the listeners and community into the fiber of the programming and making it entertaining. Here are some tips and examples:
- Know the Area - We often think of show prep as hitting a bunch of news/gossip sites for the top pop stories of the day and hunting for a few angles or jokes on them. Perhaps we should be prepping by taking a close look at the local maps, newspapers, landmarks, hangouts, and special culture. Knowing that Topside is the hip area where all the cool young clubs are and that Northside is the blue collar/sports bar area may be more important than where Paris slept last night. You might want to have 'experts' in various areas on the staff. Have them report to everyone where the people who live on the east side hang out. Exchanging info here can help the whole team know the area.
- Be Visible - You don't need to do remotes from every local festival or high school event but you should try to be there somehow. How many nights did your van just stay at the station? I bet more nights than it went out and it could have been at the high school football game, the arts fair, the opening of the civic players show, or just parked at the mall in a obvious place. Could you have put up some banners or even just helped them with some need and get mentions in their programs or signage. It takes coordination, some staffers, and probably some gas and all that adds up but being visible in the community is key to being perceived as a big part of the area.
- Remotes - While they can be a tune out source you can also make them good for exposure, entertaining on site, and if you are careful they won't be any more of an intrusion than most commercial breaks. The key is planning ahead and making sure you have something entertaining going on at the event.
- Phones - Getting the audience on the phone and taking the few seconds to introduce them in a friendly and quick way is a great way to tap into the community. The key is using the phones the RIGHT way. If all you're getting is the quick answer to some trivia question there's little local or community involved but if you take a few seconds to pre answer the calls in spots and get everyone's name and community then fire through the calls the whole bit changes.
- News - Sports: What's more important - A Rod hits homer 502 or your Little League team goes to the LL World Series? Unless you are in NYC I'd go with the Little League team. What's more important - Florida's drought or local county board bans fireworks? Unless you live in Florida the fireworks is more important. Keeping the news tuned in to what is really effecting the local world is crucial.
- On Air: Take the time to talk about the local events, community, places and people. Sometimes you can't do it in 10 seconds. But, if you plan it out and work to make it entertaining you can get the audience to hang with your for 20 or even 40 seconds. But, you will need to prep and the whole stations needs to jump into the community.
This is not about begging or fundraising - it's about realizing from top to bottom that THE STATION is a cornerstone of the community and needs to constantly integrate that foundation into the on-air product and the off air image. When it works it's a NEVER ENDING commitment and after years and years it becomes a huge deal breaker for audience loyalty.
When I was at WDVE (over 20 years ago) we keyed in on the community in every way we could think of. Actually the effort was going on for 4-5 years already when I arrived and the PDs that followed kept it going. Now it's unstoppable - almost like a good habit you can't give up. At the time KDKA was the station DVE was chasing and they were the community in Pittsburgh, much like WGN is in Chicago. Little by little, event by event, DVE clawed away at the community image with a rock angle to it. Now the station on top for most of the last 4-5 years is usually DVE. Is their music any better than other rock stations? Probably not, but in the community they are legend and it's an advantage NO ONE ELSE can take away built on decades of effort. The same could be said for many stations - FBQ, KQRS, WMMR, and WRIF.