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The delicate art of stealing talent
Welcome to the latest edition of RAudio… In this week’s newsletter, I want to have a chat about poaching radio presenters and ask some questions about where the advertising market is going next…
When the UK Rajar figures come out, which is usually at midnight, there are two places I always head to, Matt Deegan’s blog (http://www.mattdeegan.com/2023/08/03/and-hes-just-ken/) and Adam Bowie’s (https://www.adambowie.com/blog/2023/08/rajar-q2-2023/)
Both provide excellent analysis and great context for the multitude of press releases that follow… I always keep an eye out to see how Magic did and of course Virgin Radio.
The latest numbers though got me thinking about the delicate art of poaching. Poaching a presenter, is actually a lot like poaching an egg, harder than it looks and with a significantly higher fail rate than you might expect.
Bauer’s delicate operation to poach Ken Bruce has been a masterclass in how to do it. They identified a presenter who was a central part of BBC Radio 2’s music output and a main plank of their daytime share. They extricated him without a major public row and managed to bring PopMaster too. So far, so good.
The Bauer Strategy
Perhaps more importantly, this was clearly part of a well worked out long term plan, that shows Bauer building a really solid strategy to finally tackle the giant that is Radio 2.
The roll out of The Greatest Hits brand and the co-ordination behind the scenes to deliver an FM slot in London and then roll in all of the older local brands, has worked very well.
When I was at Bauer, back in 2014, the initial phase of the so called 1,2,3 strategy got under way – that was intended to give each local station in the network, three distinct offerings. That got refined as these things do, into the more practical and commercially sensible Hits Network and Greatest Hits Network.
It gives Bauer a real chance to face up to the BBC stations and puts them in a slightly different position then the classic station vs station brand battle that’s been going on with Global for years.
Heart, Capital, Smooth are well put together networks and they tend to outperform Magic, Kiss and Absolute, so the purer national network opportunity with the Hits and Greatest Hits feels like it has a pretty good chance of delivering real impact for Bauer.
But, back to the Ken Bruce poaching…
So, from the beginning, the Bauer social media and presenter strategy was open and welcoming to Ken, featuring him on their shows and on their social, making it clear that the station was delighted to have him. This kind of positive and friendly landing worked well, as it matches Ken’s own persona and gives the audience reassurance that “if Ken likes these people and gets on with them, then maybe I will too”.
That’s one of the most important parts of stealing a presenter, what is the environment you’re placing them in? You need to explain to their current audience that they’ll find all the things they liked on their current station, on your new station and then give them something extra to help them make the switch.
It’s a big decision for a listener to abandon their core station, in pursuit of a single presenter and that’s probably one of the reasons that poaching a presenter rarely has the transformative effect that the PowerPoint you present to the Board suggests.
Poaching Chris Evans
Take for example one of the other big moves for a BBC presenter, taking Chris Evans from Radio 2 to Virgin.
Looking at the latest Rajar figures for Virgin, it’s hard to argue this has been a seamless success. In fact if the aim was to damage Radio 2 and shift the breakfast market in Virgin’s favour, well, it really hasn’t worked at all.
That highlights one of the important questions you need to ask yourself before you embark on a spot of presenter poaching… What will their current station do?
I’ve been through this a few times, on both sides, as the poacher and the I guess, farmer? I’m not sure the metaphor extends that far…
The first question I ask myself when I think about taking a presenter from their current station, is “Who will replace them?”. If you can immediately identify a strong replacement then you have a problem.
In the case of Chris Evans, Zoe Ball was established as the primary cover presenter, had TV profile, was well liked and familiar to the station. Arguably, being able to put a female presenter on Breakfast was a strong positive for a station that could feel too male for long stretches of the day.
So, if you’re poaching Chris Evans, what do you do about Zoe Ball?
The Wireless / News UK plan wasn’t a bad one, they hired Chris, they hired almost his full team, they negotiated with Sky to ensure that the show was commercial free. All important elements, all delivered well.
The timing? Well, the move was announced in September 2018, with Chris’s last show on Christmas Eve on Radio 2, he then started on Virgin at the end of January 2019.
So, not a long gardening leave gap, but Radio 2 moved quickly to announce that Zoe Ball would replace him and provided instant security and comfort to their audience.
While Chris had a significant impact on Virgin’s figures immediately, the show has not grown in the way that I’d imagine Wireless / News UK hoped and it just doesn’t seem to have had any significant impact on Radio 2’s breakfast at all.
In contrast, if you asked the question, who will replace Ken Bruce? There’s no immediate clear answer, Gary Davies has filled in, Vernon Kay is now in the slot, but neither of them have anything like the presence and familiarity that Ken had for the Radio 2 audience.
Testing your strategy
We’re still in the early days of the poaching too, and Bauer have been clever about timing the addition of new stations to the Greatest Hits network to maximise the audience size and provide a good solid PR story about how well the move has worked.
They also picked the absolute best moment to make someone called Ken a hero.
So, I would say, before you launch a grand plan to poach a presenter, consider what the station you’re poaching them from will do next, then consider how you’re landing that presenter into your station and what the message for fans of the presenter is? You need to provide reassurance and a warm friendly tone to make sure that the deal lands.
Podcasting and the Advertising Market
I didn’t really have space to discuss this in detail, but I’d love to hear your opinions on what is going on in the world of podcast advertising?
ITV has described the current ad market as being in the worst recession since 2008, and I know from both radio and podcast, that this summer has been a very quiet one for ad spend.
Do you think it’s a temporary issue? A summer pause?
Will we see a flood of spend in the final quarter as the global economy finally stabilises after a pandemic, a war and a borderline recession?
Now that the “dumb” money has left podcasting, in terms of big tech audio budgets, I’m not sure how the industry is going to look… Less new shows, less big splash launches may well lead to a gradual decline in audience interest…
Am I being too pessimistic?
This has been the 7th official edition of the RAudio Newsletter
Just to recap, each week I’ll be taking a look at big stories in radio, podcasting and audio.
Any feedback, questions or potential topics are welcome – you can get me on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/liamthompsonconsulting/ or on Twitter @Maxliam