Production 212: She Who Laughs Last

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

As I tend to do after the beginning of a new year, I try to evaluate where I am personally with this business and figure out how I can improve. Well, that process is still going on for 2011, but I got a feeling this week that I need to bring up a few salient points here, just to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. As part of this process, I had a long conversation with my Program Director about who our target audience is and how best to image Z100 to appeal to that audience. It was one of those conversations that came out of something entirely unrelated, so it obviously was something we were both thinking about. It also occurred to me that I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about my ‘secret’ ingredient to Z100’s imaging that makes it all hang together. Are you ready?

Humor.

Before you react, let me set everything up for you so you understand what I mean with that simple word. It goes way beyond telling jokes. Anyone who has heard my work can tell you that I’m not about scenarios or story lines. I’m really not about telling a joke, although I don’t rule anything out. In fact, this might even be a real life eye opener for guys. This is a fundamental I think almost every female producer understands on a visceral level. (Ladies, try not to yawn.)

If you’ve never sat down and decided exactly who your target is, you are starting with a distinct disadvantage. Before you can reasonably talk to your audience, you probably should know a lot more about them other than some nebulous generalities. Otherwise, your work will sound like nebulous generalities, rather than laser-sharp observations.

For Z100, it’s a single 26-year-old white female, living in the suburbs of New York City, with some college education and a decent job, earning a medium income. The reasons we picked this particular person, (always think of her as a person, not a prototype or model) are pretty far ranging and backed up by a LOT of research. Suffice it to say that we didn’t decide on her for any arbitrary reasons. This is where market research is paramount, so don’t think you can adopt our target for yours. You honestly need to do the relevant research because, in spite of what some people will tell you, every market is unique. Plus, there is a lot more to our target than what I’ve outlined here.

Having selected our target, it is incumbent on me to do some research of my own. I certainly don’t fit the profile, so I need to find out what makes our target tick. What does she like? What does she hate? What does she do for fun? Fun is a key fundamental for CHR radio in my opinion. I want my radio station to be a focal point for our target. CHR is an active format, so I want her to listen regularly and attentively. I am not concerned with passive listeners at all. If I were working on an AC format, I might give more thought to the passive listener, although I also doubt that should be a main criterion for Adult Contemporary radio.

Any commercial market analyst can tell you that women in committed relationships always control the purse strings, particularly on big ticket items like a home or car. (Yeah, you guys might think you do… you might even take care of the books, but trust me on this – if you want to buy a car, she is going to have a major say in the matter.) The reason I bring this up is there is a strange parallel in radio listening. The radio station our target listens to becomes not only her favorite, but the favorites of just about everyone else, including those pesky passive listeners. Older women wish they were 26 again, still finding life a bit of a struggle. Younger women (all the way down to the tweens) wish they were 26 already because a 26-year-old has so much freedom – from school, from parents, from… well, you get the idea.

Right away, IF we are successfully targeting the right audience, we are getting a LOT of listeners on either side of her, out to quite a range. (You really should see our 35-54 numbers! They are nothing short of amazing.)

The basic premise here is simple. Narrow the focus to broaden the appeal. This is a basic marketing concept that we’ve been following for years because, quite simply, it works. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Your product becomes so watered down and vanilla, nobody can stand it for more than a few minutes. I’ve heard so-called radio gurus espouse just the opposite. “Don’t offend the soccer moms,” “Be inclusive in your verbiage,” and “By all means, be politically correct,” are all bad advice that I’ve heard in radio forums all over the world. I’m not calling for anyone to purposely offend soccer moms, but if your focus is narrow-beamed at your target, you will have to say and do some things that will upset a few soccer moms. According to my experience, most 26-year-olds are not big fans of politically correct speech. I would avoid, as much as I can, using any kind of polarizing speech, but saying “dining establishment for the socially indigent” when you can say “soup kitchen” is just stupid… again, according to my experience with my target.

To research my target, I spend time reading the same magazines, blogs, newspapers and books as my target does. I watch the same TV shows (I personally don’t care for American Idol, but my target does.) As much as I can, I try to see the movies they’re seeing. (Sex In The City 2 was just dreadful in my opinion, but my target ate it up.) Whoever your target is, you need to do the same research or you will constantly miss your target. Perhaps I should clarify; you do NOT have to do it all the time, but for the research, you need to immerse yourself in it occasionally so you have a basis from which to speak.

Doing this research is how I came across my secret imaging ingredient. In magazine after blog after opinion poll after newspaper article, the single most attractive part of men (and, I would surmise, women), according to my target, is a sense of humor. The one thing that makes girlfriends out of two women of any age is a sense of humor. Women love to laugh. So-called “chick flicks” are always comedies. By far, the biggest audience for television sit-coms is younger women.

I said before that it’s not about telling jokes, setting up scenarios or anything like that. This is a much more subtle thing. As a producer, it is not my goal to make people fall over laughing. My goal is much simpler and very direct. Get them to smile. No big belly laughs. No spewing milk through your nose – just a simple smile.

Just to keep sharp, I DO spend time telling jokes, especially to young women who are at least close in age to my target, so I can personally gauge their reactions. Not jokes I want to use in a promo necessarily as they almost never fit what I’m doing at the moment. Most of my jokes are one-line, sometimes a half-a-line. If they smile, it’s a win. If they laugh, it’s still a win. There are a few women here in the station that I tend to hit up all the time (not hit on!) for this very reason. There are two of them in our on-line division who tell me all the time how much they need a smile and to please come by more often. They eagerly wave whenever I walk by now, smiling and almost flirting. THAT is the reaction I want from my target.

I also try to drop a one-liner on my Facebook account every day. After Christmas, I posted that I got a sweater, but that I had been hoping for a screamer or moaner. I recently asked why Kamikaze pilots wore helmets. Once I wondered whether a legal proceeding for a deaf person was still called a “hearing.” Every time I post something like this, I casually look at who responds with a ‘like’ or even a comment. So far, my target has responded… a lot.

For me, in my situation, humor is the lynchpin of successful imaging. If you’re at a news operation, or playing classic rock or even classical music, your target will be different and humor may not be the key. That’s something you really need to research carefully, leaving all your pre-conceived notions about what turns your target on behind. Once you have a bead on your target, a lot of other puzzles begin to solve themselves and your job becomes immeasurably simpler.

Let me wrap this up with a warning. I once wrote that humor is a power tool in the imaging producer’s arsenal. Always wear safety goggles. Test your humor before applying it to your work. Be very, very careful with words. You can be sexy, but not salacious. You can be slightly risqué, but not dirty. If you’re not afraid to look the fool, my target will eat you up. My target will flirt with you, laugh with you, smile when they think of you, but most of all, my target will listen to you.

For my audio on this month’s CD, I pulled up one of my favorites from 2010. The track from Ke$ha was actually recorded for another radio station. Because she was on a heavy tour schedule, we were having issues getting her to sit still long enough to do our session. Once I got the track, I decided to have some real fun, especially at the end, where I lifted her end line from Your Love Is My Drug. Fall down on the floor laughing funny? No. But I know, with a lot of certainty, I got a smile from you know who.

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