In the second part of this case study, we see how Australia’s smoothfm managed to serve advertisers better while pleasing listeners more.

Part 1 covered how smoothfm became the #1 music station in Australia’s #1 radio market by being different and consistent. We’ll now summarise what marketing director Tony Thomas shared at Radiodays Europe 2017 on looking beyond radio to create 360° brand experiences, and generate additional revenue streams. How did they get so many female listeners and media buyers on their side in just five years time? Answer: chocolate and neuroscience.



“The smooth Angels are not just driving around in cars”



smoothfm’s promotion team also has a coffee annex ice cream truck (image: NOVA Entertainment)



Televise your music playlist

Together with Australian subscription-TV provider Foxtel, smoothfm has launched a music TV channel, featuring both music videos and station events. “It gives people a visual experience, which we thought was really important to give them another dimension of what we’re playing on air.” Thomas states that their channel is regularly number 1 on the Foxtel music platform. “It’s become a station that people put on, and just leave on. It’s developed a really good audience, and it’s been running now for almost three years.”



Integrate your on-air & online

Different from other radio sites, has the look & feel of a lifestyle magazine. Although ‘radio’ is the first menu item, the site features entertainment news, lifestyle tips, relation topics, and more. “We use on-air talent to film content that becomes native content for advertising partners, so there’s a lot of integration. It allows us to broaden the offering. This has quickly become one of the premier lifestyle destinations in Australia against dedicated lifestyle sites.”



Take your station outside

They have a street team to promote the brand via experiential marketing. But the smooth Angels are not just driving around in cars; they also move around in a coffee truck (which becomes an ice-cream truck in the summer) to drop by offices and events. A station-branded champagne bar is present at food & wine festivals. Fitting the brand promise of being a ‘place to relax’, the station has a massage team present at events, and a relaxation pod in shopping centres where people can have a break, listening to one of the music playlists that they’ve chosen based on their mood.



“It drives publicity for and understanding of the brand”



smoothfm offers brand experiences to media buyers & journalists (image: NOVA Entertainment)



Make your events profitable

In terms of outdoor events, Tony Thomas sees their smooth Festival of Chocolate as an annual highlight.“We take over a very prominent spot in Sydney, and we have a 135.000 people come to that over a weekend.” There are food stores, and a testing kitchen where meals are prepared in front of hundreds of people. “We own this event. It’s very profitable for us, because we take a cut out of the revenue from every store that’s at the event. We also sell sponsorship. Lindt is our major sponsor. It adds to the brand, and it’s become a very well known event in Australia.”



Brand your album releases

Another way of combining revenue and marketing are station-branded, sponsored music events around artists from the playlist. They also produce station-branded music compilation albums around speciality themes such as countdowns, Mother’s Day, and Christmas. “They regularly go to number 1 on compilation charts, so that’s another way of people taking the brand home and experiencing it outside of the broadcast.” But getting those advertising spots still is a significant part of the bottom line.



Make your trade creative

In the beginning, smoothfm was a bit worried that media agencies might not immediately get their proposition. “They’re generally younger; they love buying at CHR because it’s probably what they listen to. We had to ensure that we really cut through, and be top of mind amongst young media buyers.” Every year, the station will lease or hire a luxurious hotel suite or beach house, and allow them to experience the ‘smooth suite’ with champagne, comfort, and relaxation. “We also send the media and journalists there, so it drives publicity for and understanding of the brand.”



“We produced a lot of business off the back of it”



smoothfm’s creative challenge seems to turn prospects into clients (image: NOVA Entertainment)



Convince your advertising prospects

Hoping to show advertisers & agencies their ROI, smoothfm commissioned Neuro-Insight to measure ad engagement through neuroscience. “We had the hypothesis that when you’re relaxed, you generally take in messages better.” Thomas says that the study was successful, as it looked like the smoothfm’s audience was more engaged with their ad breaks (as well as programming content) than with those on other stations. “We presented this around the market, which produced a really strong response for us, and our sales uptick since this was significant.”



Educate your radio advertisers

“It’s great to put out a format that’s got a lot of consistency, but if you get to an ad break, and you hear a screechy, crazy ad, it’s going to stand out for the wrong reasons.” The station therefore went out to educate sponsors on which kind of audio production and ad creative works well with the brand expectation and tone of voice. The goal: make messages more effective, while protecting the station format. Another way to educate advertisers is the station’s annual contest for radio creative that even brings in additional business.



Get your prospects engaged

The annual smooth creative challenge invites advertisers & agencies to submit their campaign pitch. The station then makes a Top 10 of the best concepts, and choose one company that wins a complete radio advertising campaign in value of ‘$500,000’ AUD (around $380,000 USD) for free, plus a luxurious trip for the winning creatives. The contest seems to work well, because often not only the actual winner becomes a regular advertiser: “Another five actually said: we love our idea anyway; we’re going to pay for it. We produced a lot of business off the back of it.”



“We don’t want to clutter the station”



smoothfm’s on-air promotions are non-intrusive, and work long term (image: NOVA Entertainment)



Track your station images

While smoothfm now has a comfortable market position, they keep tracking how the audience thinks & feels about the brand in terms of music, format, talent, and more, in collaboration with Wayne Clouten of Broadcast Programming & Research. They also use the smoothfm Angels to talk with listeners, who used to be reluctant to share that they tuned in to smooth (in a market full of young-sounding CHR stations), but who are real ambassadors now. “The main thing that comes back is that ‘it’s my smooth’. People feel like it’s their ‘baby’. They’re proud to have found it, and they’re proud to tell their friends.”



Make your promotions endurable

Group PD Boguslaw Potoniec of Poland’s TIME Radio Group (operator of Radio ESKA) is asking about smoothfm’s on-air promotion strategy. “We don’t want to clutter the station”, Tony Thomas replies. “There’s a lot of promotion in Australia, so we pull it back on smooth.” Instead of many different ones, they have one long & consistent promotion running at the same times every day so listeners can get used to it, thus creating a tune-in appointment. They play short snippets of four different celebrity voices, and participants have to guess the names of the ‘smooth Stars’. The game may go on for weeks, with a cash prize increasing to up to $100,000 AUD ($76,000 USD). “It creates tension and anticipation, but it’s not shouty.” Since smoothfm’s launch in 2012, it runs two or three times a year. Listeners are expecting it to return.



Hold your steady course

PD Nessa McGann of CHR SPIN South West in Ireland is asking if (and how) other stations responded to smoothfm’s format launch. “We did a lot of potential competitive reaction work at the start”, Thomas answers. “We thought there could be a shift from one of our competitors to block the format.” But the competition didn’t believe in the success of the Soft AC formula, and even the smoothfm team had some thoughts. “We were sitting there after two duds [the two previous formats had failed], going: we’re putting our arses on the line here. It’s three strikes and you’re out.” He notes the recent movement at Australian Radio Network‘s WSFM. It used to be Rock and male oriented, and now shifted its playlist a bit towards smooth. “They’re doing a really good job; their playlist is really solid. But as far as our position, brand & feel: there’s nothing like it.”



Header images: NOVA Entertainment