I have often complained about station debuts that weren’t ready for prime time. Management rushed them to market, and they simply weren’t good enough to compete on Day One.
In many ways, launching a new format should be like opening night for a musical on Broadway. Unfortunately, new station kickoffs often lack the necessary rehearsal, preparation, marketing, and attention to the details that are critical to getting something new and exciting off the ground.
(Plus, these pre-format-change-goofy-stunts with sound effects or "deft" format dekes ought to go the way of cart machines. Only a handful of radio guys even pay attention, while a bewildered, often aggravated audience rolls their eyes or is just indifferent.)
But then, there’s the opposite problem. A great format launch that is in-sync and well-crafted. There’s a staff in place, a great logo, researched music, marketing ready to go, the big press conference, and maybe even a party or event that coincides with the debut to get the advertisers all warmed up for something exciting.
And the results? Right out of the box – spectacular.
The phones are hot, the station is getting positive emails, and maybe even the local newspaper is writing about the station. Listeners rush to join the email club or becomes fans, friends, and followers.
And the company starts believing the numbers, and perhaps reforecasts – maybe +20% - because the station will obviously keep growing, right?
And then, like many hot debuts, there’s a pullback on support for the station based on the mistaken belief that the debut numbers will simply sustain themselves. The station’s “fixed” and it’s time to turn the attention to the next SIT – station in trouble.
Which is precisely when things start going wrong, the station begins to edge down, the momentum and buzz wane, and a couple of years later, the format may be gone.
Well, that just doesn’t happen in radio.
It's the story of Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, chapter and verse.
Last month, the very last PT Cruiser rolled off the assembly line in Toluca, Mexico, ending a short, bittersweet story about what shoulda-coulda-woulda been for this once hot and cool Motor City vehicle.
The Cruiser debuted in 2000, and out of the box, it was a smash. It was supported by fan clubs and customizers, and even started winning automotive awards. Had there been social media a decade ago, this vehicle would have had a life of its own. It had hundreds of thousands of followers before there were “followers.”
So despite an incredible debut for a car that looked like nothing else on the road, Chrysler rested on its laurels. At first, they kept the Cruiser fresh with a woody version, new colors, a turbo engine, and even a convertible.
But then they pulled back on everything, cheapening the vehicle’s interior, and relegating it to the fleet market. At one point or another, you may have ended up renting one while you were on vacation or visiting mom. What started as a good deal and an oh-wow head turner simply ended up being a cheap American car.
David Zatz, one of the guys who started a PT Cruiser fan site, told USA Today: “It really was a great car when it came out, and if they had put money in, instead of taking it out, they’d still be selling a hundred thousand a year.”
An editor-at-large at Edmunds.com, Karl Brauer, agrees: “Their pattern of behavior was introducing vehicles that managed to resonate with the market initially, and then doing almost nothing to maintain the brand.”
Like a Roman candle. An exciting start that wows the masses. But a quick flame out because of lack of support for the brand.
Radio veterans are nodding their heads because many of us have been there. An exciting debut that took a market by storm, ending just a couple of years later in mediocrity because of lack of support, research, marketing, and being in touch with consumers.
When you launch a winner – something new and exciting – one of the primary tasks is working hard to get the necessary corporate support and attention.
Every business model needs sustainability. And a second act.
Just ask Chrysler.