BBC Local Radio - August 18
I've blogged so often about BBC local radio that some might suggest I'm obsessive about it. I'm not, but I am interested in how they perform considering the amount of public money that goes into it.
Commercial radio is broadly on the up but they also have their challenges, the difference being that when they lose audience, they also lose money. Within BBCLR, they don't even lose face with many staff telling me they have no idea whatsoever how they are doing at an individual programme level. I've always found that to be rather dismissive and distructive for all.
In the latest audience figures, the network has once again seen a rather steep drop plunging by some 700,000 listeners year on year, the true measure of success and failure. It should be an alarming stat to anyone in senior management yet there is very little evidence of any concern. A few suggest it's unwise to focus on figures when they are carrying out a valued public service, which is laughable because if the audience is constantly falling away, then surely there is something to address.
Tony Hall made an announcement last year about his love and renewed investment in local radio that rightly cheered the troops but as I indicated at the time, it was just puffery. The output is still a mixture of those doing very well or very badly with the vast majority operating somewhere in the middle.
Having had time to listen far more than most over the past six months, I find the output on stations near me to be improving although here and elsewhere there are still many examples of questionable hires, poor presentation and strange production techniques that could so easily be improved with a little time and thought. The best management correct the bad with speed while taking time to move the good to great. You show people what to do more of while asking them to deliver less of the crap but you can't do that if you don't know how or your top creative people are stuck in meetings all day. The real killer to growth lies in an inconsistent output alongside a complete lack of marketing in real terms. On the latter, I see lots for the bigger BBC networks (Radio 1, 2 and 6music for example) but zip all for local radio.
"You can't get people to the party if you don't invite them in"
Once they are there, you can find numerous ways to keep them locked in for longer but marketing the network universally is difficult to do when the product is not right across all of the stations so you have to be selective on who, when and how. It also means spending real money.
How do listeners know that the output has changed? What is different and interesting enough to promote? Trails on the air are good but not good enough and preaching to the converted is a very bad place to be for long term success. The reality is that without marketing, the reach figure will simply decline.
If Tony Hall really believes in the future of local radio, he has to find cash to at least market those who have something good to offer. The best should not have to wait for the worst to catch up because they rarely do. Then, it's all about the message!