Finding a competitive advantage

It’s quite ironic that in an industry well known for creating individuals who relish being in the public eye, those same people are often reluctant to take an honest look at themselves.

One question I regularly ask of on-air professionals is possibly one of the most uncomfortable they will ever face: “What is it that makes you so special?” I’m not being nasty when I ask this. Like a therapist helping a patient confront important issues in their life, I think it’s essential if a radio professional is to grow that they regularly, and honestly, assess themselves. It’s also critical if they are to protect their career. They must examine themselves in terms of where they were, say, three or five years ago, compared to where they are now, and where they are now relative to their colleagues and competitors. The is one of the reasons why when I train on-air talent, the first thing I do is a psychometric evaluation of them.

I also ask on-air talent what makes them so special is because if an on-air radio professional has no distinctive competency, then they are easily replaceable

The radio industry is fluid; constantly changing according to developments in technology, and trends and shifts in public taste and opinion. This means that it is often subject to fluctuations and experimentation with the ‘next great thing’, i.e. whoever has captured the imagination of your core audience (you can thank TV’s relentless search for the ‘next great reality show idea’ for that). 

So this means that if you’re not great at something you will soon be replaced by someone who is. Besides, only a handful of people should ever make it onto professional radio, so if there’s nothing special about you, what are you doing on air? You should be on the other side of the radio.

Hence the need for the question: “What is it that makes you so special?” If your show consists of you back-announcing songs, teasing to something happening in your show and announcing events happening in your broadcast footprint, what’s so special about that? You’re just part of a glorified jukebox. Those are the very basic requirements for an on-air radio professional. Anyone can do that. The ‘next great thing’ can do that, and with more impact

So you have to identify what it is that makes you special; what it is that gives you a competitive advantage over everyone else. What is it that earns you the right to be on air? What it is that, if you were a product, could be packaged and marketed as an integral part of your brand? This could be, for example:

  • a detailed knowledge of sports,
  • a terrier-like approach to chasing a news story,
  • an irrepressible wit,
  • the ability to weave a magic story,
  • a tremendous energy on air,
  • a natural talent for interacting with studio gusts,
  • the ability to empathize with the plights of callers,
  • a sharp ear for mixing music,
  • a warm, affectionate and engaging on-air persona,
  • the respect of local business leaders and decision-makers,
  • an intimate knowledge of the fashion world,
  • a keen sense of trends,
  • etc…

So how do you discover what makes you special as a radio professional? Here’s an exercise that will help, and it’s something you should do soon:

  1. Honestly assess yourself and write down what it is, generally speaking, that you are really good at (not necessarily just on-air). This can include things such as ‘getting on with people’, ‘interest in current affairs’, etc;
  2. Speak to those closest to you (friends and family) and ask them the same question (ignore the snide remarks such as ‘farting in the bath’);
  3. Then write down what you are passionate about.

Hopefully there should be a high degree of correlation between what was contained in lists 1 and 2 above. If not, there is a serious disconnect between what you are trying to convey and what is being interpreted. If this is happening on air, it needs to be addressed urgently. Ideally there should be a series of qualities in list 1 that can be grouped together (such as ‘energy and the ability to make people laugh’ or ‘engaging personality and empathy with others’). If you were doing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on yourself, this would be your strength. Ideally it should be something that could be packaged into a single, marketable phrase that you want people to repeat, e.g. ‘I love listening to Nimrod van Tonder on Braai FM because he really makes me laugh in the mornings’. Remember: if it can be packaged it can be marketed and then drilled into people.

Now that you know what it is, you can develop it to become your distinctive competency i.e. that which is so integrated into your show and style of presentation that you establish yourself as someone who excels in that respect. Exactly how you do this requires one-on-one interaction, something I could help you with, but unfortunately not in this medium. If you have identified your strength and wish to integrate it into your show and develop into a distinctive competency, it’s a good idea to approach your PD with your insight and ask him or her to help. They should be in the position to do so.

List 2 may contain qualities that are missing in list 1. If they are good things they represent avenues of growth for you; and that’s good thing. They should be investigated and developed to expand your distinctive competency.

List 3 is what drives you. It is your energy supply. If it is not reflected in any way in list 1 and, especially, on your show, then you run the risk of running out of energy on air and being replaced by the ‘next great thing’. I’d worry if I were you.

Too many radio professionals find themselves a slot on air then just sit back, relax and get comfortable. ‘Complacent’ is the word most PDs use. This then becomes a rut from which they rarely emerge. Unfortunately that just makes them easy to find and therefore easy to replace.

A true radio professional constantly evaluates themselves, especially in terms of where they used to be, where they are now, who else is around and what those people are doing. They bob and weave to avoid getting bogged down. Furthermore, by identifying what it is they excel in and then integrating it into their work, they make themselves stronger, more valuable and thereby distinct from their colleagues and their opposition. It means they are harder to replace because they continually strive for ‘the edge’.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

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