By Chris Miller
Chris Miller Digital
SHAKER HEIGHTS — As you read here in TALKERS, Boston Herald Radio debuted on Monday 8/5. The internet-only radio station plans to draw on talent and content from their print and online editions to create a new Boston-based news/talk outlet.
A newspaper used to be just something you held and read. TV news was what everyone sat down and watched a half-hour of on the tube back in the day. Radio news was the immediate one, the one that could go with you. Those days are gone. We’re no longer defined by our method of distribution.
We know the print industry has major structural issues they’re dealing with. Just in the last week, Gannett parted company with journalists all over the country. Here in the Cleveland area, the Plain Dealer iced a large portion of their newsroom. It was also announced that the Boston Globe and Newsweek magazine were both changing hands.
So it’s safe to say that there is something about that inexorable move online that is driving the debut of Boston Herald Radio. It might be basic competition for ad dollars. About a year ago, the Boston Globe picked up some well-known Boston jocks after heritage WFNX changed format, and started RadioBDC, which is streamed at the Globe’s Boston.com site. That stream gives the Globe some radio inventory to sell. It’s hard to imagine how that inventory is priced anywhere close to what broadcast air time in Boston will cost you. On the other hand, it might be helping the Globe stay attractive as a brand worth advertising with, when you consider the whole package of inventory they have to sell. If that’s the case, the folks at the Herald might already be very pleased with the debut of their new service, even if it doesn’t steal one single listener away from existing news, talk and sports choices on Boston terrestrial radio. On the list of goals the Herald has for this project, the word “Arbitron” is probably nowhere to be seen. They’ve evened the inventory playing field with the Globe; they can even sell the sizzle of Boston Herald Radio for a while … bragging that unlike the Globe, the Herald has an audio service that fits their overall news brand.
What About the Brand?
Here is where they get an argument from me. They may have the words right, but they don’t have the melody.
The Boston Herald is one of those unique newspapers, one that most markets don’t have. They’re an outrageous tabloid, not unlike the New York Post, and one that is more about stirring things up and getting a reaction than sticking to strict journalistic principles. You could say they’re like Fox News with a nervy Boston attitude.
What I heard today was a lot of Herald staffers talking on my TuneIn app. I also heard a pretty standard conservative talk show host, the sort you might hear anywhere. I didn’t hear a radio station that mirrored what you expect when you pick up a copy of the Herald. Local reporters and conservative talk show hosts are not in short supply. What can the Boston Herald do to make their audio stream uniquely Herald-esque?
Most terrestrial radio stations struggle with this, too. What do you do with your website and Facebook page so they match the intangible feel of your radio station?
Bigger than the Sum of Your Parts
Find Starbucks, Coke or McDonalds online. It’s clear they’re putting a lot of resources into creating an online experience to match what their customers already know and feel about their product. Meanwhile, most of us get caught up in the technological nuts and bolts instead of managing our brands across all our platforms. The Boston Herald falls in this category, like lots and lots of radio stations. “Video is hot! Let’s use more video!” “We need more blogging!” “People will love it if they can hear our reporters talk about stuff!”
If only it were that easy. I heard the Herald’s political reporter ramble on about a lot of different stuff for three hours Monday morning. I already forget what most of it was about. I guarantee it was not the same experience as reading one hard-hitting, polarizing, memorable article about Boston politics that same reporter wrote.
The Boston Herald’s challenge is the same as yours. Your radio station probably has a certain feel or attitude that your fans look forward to, even if it’s just based on the music you play or the syndicated shows you air. You’ve created that brand essence. Now that you’ve created it on the air, how do you bring it to your social media, your website, or your database emails?
If you and the Boston Herald want to be the equal of Coke online, you can’t just think about the elements of your product. What’s the nonverbal experience of listening to your station? Is that available when I log on to your website or follow you on Facebook?
The Boston Herald might just be happy to have more inventory to sell. However, for most of us in competitive battles for ears and eyeballs, the big brand management challenge is to create an experience on all our platforms that’s equivalent to what it feels like to listen to our broadcasts. Solve that, start moving more of your big fans from one platform to another, and you’ll be way ahead of the curve.
Chris Miller, owner of Chris Miller Digital, is a leading radio consultant specializing in research-based strategic planning and smart use of digital media. He can be phoned at 216-236-3955 or emailed at email@example.com.