As someone involved in community radio 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 like most community radio, 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 is 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 we'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, with more depth further down) which can be much more detailed, as it is 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...
Your inputs and resources: staff numbers, money earned and spent, facilities.
Your outputs: program content, audience size, and actions people take as a result of listening to your station.
Your environment, and how it affects the way in which your inputs are transformed into outputs. consider local developments, other media, and audience trends.
Your stakeholders. For each stakeholder group (and powerful individuals separately), consider ways in which they might help your station, and ways in which they might oppose it.
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?
Special programs that you are planning.
Clear description of the target audience, and which types of new listeners you want most.
Special events you will organize - and how these will be used to attract new listeners, new sponsors etc.
Your audience goals - how you plan to achieve them, and how that achievement will be measured.
Revenue goals - and the means that will be used to achieve them.
Staff, skills, and work relationships.
Development of new systems (clerical, computer, etc.).
Your plans for spending on marketing: how much money needs to be spent to achieve each goal.
How staff time will be spent on marketing.
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 in a participatory way.
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.
In the case of a community radio, obtaining a large share of the potential audience in a rural-based community is often very achievable.
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:
Number of visitors to the station.
Number of phone calls, letters, faxes, and emails received.
Number of inquiries from prospective staff and volunteers.
Audience data, specially the size and satisfaction of the audience (from surveys).
Advertising revenue received each month.
Number of inquiries from prospective advertisers
...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 we can offer suggestions on reducing its cost, included also in our book.
When a radio station has been going for several years it has probably created a number of marketing initiatives. It is 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.
Situation Analysis (method)
What are your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (or Limitations) - called SWOT?
A SWOT Analysis is a simple and powerful business technique that has been around for over 40 years. Whilst ideal for a radio station, you can also do it for a specific radio program or even yourself as an individual, to map your career development. The idea is to be realistic about the situation and environment, whether you are a new station in Bangladesh or a long established one in the USA. The goal is to have a cool clear-headed base for next steps.
Very important to use a variety of sources of information for a reasonably factual, multi-dimensional view of your world as a broadcaster. You can also make assumptions if they are specific and more or less common-knowledge (or reasonably acceptable). The idea is to start with something to work with, and refine later as situations become clearer. For a community radio station every form of research (or data, evidence) you can get can support the process. Whether it is feedback from listeners or group discussions, regional economic forecasts, social studies by an NGO, all of this is useful. What does a SWOT look like? It's a simple 4 box chart, see the example below, where you list your points under each heading.
Let's review these elements.
Strengths (or assets)
Are owned by your station and under your control.
For a community radio they could include your mix of programs, community-association, strong image, distinctive personalities with a strong audience, measurable listener engagement, research/feedback systems, type of advertisers and NGO partnerships.
Station assets could include team spirit, volunteer numbers (and ease to recruit) and positive culture, as they all make a difference.
Owned by your station (mainly under your control) and opposite to strengths. The areas where your station is weak / has problems, this can include financial resources, unreliable power, low-skilled journalists, old broadcasting equipment and lack of IT.
This can be uncomfortable, but the idea is to fix things, and not dwelling on history and finger-pointing. Negative energies have no place in this exercise.
Also important to prioritise (see below) so you are not wasting time on issues of low importance.
Are external factors, what is happening in your environment that you could capitalise on.
An example is a problem with another radio station or media, such as upheaval during ownership difficulties or changes.
Beyond media look for changing demographics in your area, lifestyle trends, seasonal influences, new technologies being adopted, and new politics, regulations and economics.
Think about the impact and timing of any trends.
The reverse of opportunities - what in the environment could impact negatively on your station, what you are trying to do? Think of it in terms of size of impact and timing, when it may occur.
For a community radio station this could include television, Korean dramas on television, the internet and new FM commercial radios. Think of developments that may affect your audience, staff and support base including advertisers.
How do we use this data?
Firstly go through the 4 lists and prioritise (define what is more important), even just a rough sort of the most important to least important. In a meeting you might ask your colleagues at the station to nominate their top 3 in each area (box) and then you concentrate on the most voted items.
It is vital to carefully consider what you have collected about your situation, and discuss as a group the following:
Strengths: that you need to maintain and grow.
Weaknesses: which fixes will have the most impact, short and long-term?
Opportunities: which have the most potential, and are practical to exploit? As example, for a community radio the advent of Facebook is one such opportunity that can be useful.
Threats: which are the most immediate, and which are just over the horizon?
The next task is where you look for actionable relationships between items in the 4 boxes. As example,
Which opportunities best match your strengths? High priority for action to remain a leader or strong in your area.
If there's a great opportunity which fits your direction, but you're weak in that area, as example say folk music, then you need to re-think about your resources.
A threat (or external limitation) is best addressed with a strength but if it's directly linked to a weakness (as example, if you are a shortwave broadcaster facing new FM licencees) then you have a major problem to address.
In the minds of your listeners do your strong points (ideally tested as important to them) outweigh your weak points?
Many community radios do not have a marketing plan and do not conduct and act on regular (and honest) situation analyses.
That largely explains why many radios struggle to deliver consistently for the communities they serve. But these tools can help them overcome and improve their situation.
What questions and issues do you have about analysing or marketing planning for your community station? Simply email your story (or question) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Station format and positioning
If your station is a brand new one, you have the luxury of being able to choose a program format.
Radio programs have two main components: talk and music. Throughout the world, the most popular stations are the ones that play music the majority of the time. But listeners want more than just music, and a station that has no news will get a smaller audience (other things being equal) than a station with short news bulletins every hour. The most popular stations have either "mostly talk" or "mostly music" - but not a 50-50 mixture (which produces very small audiences), nor 90-10.
If you want to maximize your audience share, I suggest playing music about 80% of the time, 10% news/information, and 10% commercials.
That's OK for a commercial station, but maybe not desirable for a community station, on which listeners will expect to hear local issues discussed. A mostly-music community station would probably have several half-hour programs a day that are mostly talk, but interspersed with music.
A good format for a mostly-talk station is to broadcast lots of news, current affairs, fiction, and short documentaries - but never talk for more than about 15 minutes, and intersperse each spoken segment with popular music, with clear lyrics. (People who like talk programs on radio also seem to like to listen to the words of songs, rather than the musical qualities.)
Before deciding on a station format, you should be aware of the potential audience it will attract. Any radio station format will have an audience ceiling, because some people will not be interested in some types of program. In most parts of the developed world, a "foreground radio" station that specializes in produced talk programs will do very well to get an audience share of 10% - but it will often have a high reach, because its listeners won't spend much time with it: not because they don't want to, but because they can't spare the time to fully concentrate. A station that broadcasts mostly classical music will do well to get a 3% share, or about 10% weekly reach.
Bearing in mind the size of a station's potential audience, there's not necessarily an inverse correlation between purity and popularity. "Talking down" to your audience doesn't necessarily increase it size, nor does broadcasting complex ideas necessarily result in a tiny audience. The better you know your audience (from formal or informal audience research) the better knowledge you will have of the most acceptable forms of presentation.
Setting your target audience will also, to a large extent, set your station format. It's no use aiming for a target audience of people aged 60 and over, and choosing to play techno dance music constantly.
To link the proposed format with the proposed target audience, you need some current audience research data. You'll probably need to commission a survey. To learn how to do that check our website starting from here.
Which comes first: the target audience, or the format?
Well-trained marketers will advise you to set the target audience first, then find out what type of programs they like.
Experienced radio programmers will know the format they want, and try to find a target audience for it.
In practice, you need to work from both ends at once, juggling formats and target audiences (based on survey data) till you have both a viable-sized potential audience, and a format that you think you can deliver better than any competing station.
The more competing stations in your market, the harder the decision will be. If yours is the first radio station ever, it's easy: have a program for everybody, and they'll all listen. But there can't be many parts of the world still in that position.
Our book Participative Marketing for Local Radio has more information about all the topics above so click here to learn more and check out the book, available for just $20.