Perhaps you've seen both John McCain and Barack Obama in their tuxedos at the Alfred E. Smith dinner that took place in NYC last week (if not, you can see them in the videos below). Both candidates were loose, out of the grind of the campaign, and hilarious. (It makes you wonder why we don't have political races where the candidates are forced to do standup!)
In determining how each Presidential aspirant was able to come up with these great one-liners, the New York Times poked around both campaigns. They concluded that while no one revealed precisely who wrote McCain and Obama's material, the comedy was very likely the outgrowth of brainstorming sessions among campaign speech writers and aides. Who else knows these guys as intimately as this group, and the results of these efforts gave the public a rare and positive view of each one.
Stations should pursue this same line of creativity - on at least a weekly basis. That's how we do it in our company, and the results come from brief email chains where everyone contributes ideas. It is then synthesized by a designated go-to person. It's how our "Joe the Rocker" memo was swiftly created last week, and it's something that every station could do themselves.
Given all the material that's floating around in the news - the economy, Sarah Palin on "SNL," the baseball playoffs, the election - there's no reason why this "currency" shouldn't be a part of radio's creative production. How long can you talk about your music quantity policy or your format slogan before it becomes wallpaper? But by integrating "what's going on" into the fabric of the creative process, stations can freshen themselves, sound plugged in, and become more immediate and compelling.
In the "old days" of the diary, there was a lot to be said for sounding the same - day in and day out. With the advent of PPM, we're seeing that shaking things up (for a day), adding new elements, and giving listeners an incentive to tune in actually prints with the meters. The timing couldn't be better, because we cannot compete with the convenience and control of an iPod, for example, by sounding exactly like we did yesterday, last week, or last year. Stations that are mechanically scheduling the same production in October that they ran back in February are inviting audience boredom and tuneout.
Brainstorming is easy, and something that every station can do. Many of us learned it from the master, Gerry Tabio, whose pleasant and engaging style can bring out the best in a room full of managers. But you don't need Gerry to summon your "Buzz Council" together every week (or more often than that). Who are the "creatives" at your station? Whether they're on the airstaff, stuck in a cubicle, or handling the billing, there's always a group that is funny, plugged in, and dying to share their wit. Bring them together with a little coffee and snacks, and spend a half hour riffing on the news, what's happening in your market, and on your station. It will improve your production, your contests, and your promotions without costing you a dime.
You don't need a budget to brainstorm. And it will keep your station engaged and upbeat during these challenging times.