Next Radio Conference 2018: 5 takeaways

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Next Radio Conference is an annual event that gathers radio practitioners from around the world who come and talk about what’s the latest in the world of audio. It’s a cool and rather informal atmosphere where people exchange ideas, have the chance to network and attend sessions on topics of all sorts, some less conventional such as selling radio ads in sub-Saharan Africa or how to get life stories from complete strangers.

As a journalism student, I found myself quite lucky and grateful at the same time to be part of the event and for that, I have to thank my lecturer and mentor, David Spencer (you can find him @themediamentor on Twitter doing exactly what his Twitter handle says , among other things — offering advice, training and guidance for those who are looking to develop and advance their media career), who was also one of the key speakers discussing the radio news bulletin landscape. This day also coincided with a significant personal milestone — it’s been two years since I decided to take life in my own hands, follow a new path and move to London to pursue a career in the media industry. What better way to celebrate it than in such an inspirational setting? So I felt it’s a good idea to do a little bit of a wrap-up and sum up all the takeaways that I’ve learned during the presentations.

1. Radio is not dead

For those who were wondering if radio is still alive, the answer is yes — perhaps more than ever. In fact, 82% of people in the UK tune in radio. Live radio is dominant of UK morning and afternoon audio listening. And according to John Carroll, Global Director Business Development and Media Measurement at GfK, at age 59 we’ve only listened to half the radio we’ll ever listen to in our life.

That seems like a big turnaround from a medium most of us assumed at some point that is not going to last. The reason why radio is still in good health is because it succeeds in creating a connection with people. You can build a sense of trust, be bold, authentic, tell stories that listeners can identify with and react. The listeners’ ears are always on; people want to understand and be understood.

2. There are no boring stories, only boring storytellers

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To say that content is the most important, it’s an understatement. Stories are at the heart of radio and all the other creative industries. But the actual struggle is not coming up with the story itself, but making it count. Staying relevant and avoid being boring. When the usual attention span has gone to less than three seconds, the way we tell stories to our audience has also become more of a challenge.

However, there is no special ingredient, says Valerie Geller, author and media consultant. The same old, golden rules apply: flip the story around, find a different angle; instead of starting with the “who”, start with the “what”, put the attribution at the end; take risks and involve the listener in your story. What’s in it for him or her? What makes the story interesting? Why would someone want to hear this? Focus to what always works — include topics that still represent a major interest for people such as health or money, start with your best material and don’t let anything go too long.

3. Podcast lovers and creators, find your niche and be part of the Zeitgeist

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If you’re looking to start your own podcast or you’ve already started it and you want to do it right, make sure you spend on production. Normally you can get around with “done is better than perfect” says Valerie, “unless you’re podcasting. Then perfect is better than done.” The truth is, there are already over half a million podcasts on iTunes, so is quite unlikely that your podcast can stand out from the crowd without some good initial investment on the audio quality and production.

Susie Warhurst, Global Head of Content at Acast, advises to look for gaps and find a niche. Although she admits the latest stats show 76% of people who hear a brand message on a podcast take action, minimal branding should be part of the promotional strategy. Don’t overdo it. Stop micro managing. Collaborate and trust other creative people to help you make an engaging piece of audio.

From the host of the Black Mirror Cracked podcast, Suchandrika Chakrabarti shared that in order to make a hit podcast people should find a community for their subject and think ahead of time whether the podcast can be sustainable (do you still have something to talk about in episode 25?). Social media is also a vital part in this process of growing your audience and communication needs to be done efficiently, paying attention to headliners and not underestimating the power of SEO.

4. Brainstorming is bullshit

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And yet it is the most used method in the process of generating ideas, states Wade Kingsley, founder of Melbourne’s The Ideas Business. He believes that statements like “people get more creative when they are in a group” or “good ideas can come from anyone” are just myths.

Sometimes creating better ideas might just mean to be on our own, go for a drive or get in the shower. “These are the moments when our mind gets free,” says Wade. Instead of starting from the blank page and be frustrated, sitting in front of the PC for hours and waiting for the aha moment to come, Wade encourages people to start with the ingredients and find bits that relate: “It’s like in the kitchen, chefs don’t invent recipes from nothing. They take a carrot and mix it with something else, experiment and from this results a new recipe.”

If you want to nail the brief, connect the dots and execute on point, start asking questions rather than try to give answers. Use your critical thinking, don’t get annoyed with not knowing what the right response is. Get on the internet, do some research. Ignore the classic instruction of putting the phone away during a brainstorm. Again, you have to start with something. Close your eyes. Visualise. Use your sense of experience and don’t ignore your gut instincts. Change the scene. Work with a colleague. Two is better than one, after all.

5. Radio is also about having fun

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You can tell that this is one of the main reasons why radio people are working in this field. Yes, it might be stressful, not always a fixed schedule, but how cool it is be to be paid for staying in a studio, playing music and talk?

As long as you are empathetic, make your listeners contribute by signing up or join conversations, your message is consistent and reflects brand’s values, then what stops you from having a little bit of fun?