Confident ARN plans major marketing push; part of new 'transformative' strategy

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 19 December 2017
Rob Atkinson

Australian Radio Network (ARN) is gearing up for a big marketing push in 2018 as it plans to ramp up show awareness, boost commercialisation of its digital assets and zone in on the “light that's been hiding under a bushel” - its podcasting platform iHeartRadio.

In order to ensure its new shows and various audio offerings are communicated clearly, HT&E-owned ARN’s major marketing drive also includes an increase in TV ad spend and different targeting tactics. 

Speaking to AdNews about next year's plans, ARN's national content director Duncan Campbell says there will be new TV ads for certain shows, particularly in Melbourne, and it will also roll out TV ads in markets it hasn't done TV for some time.

ARN has undergone some major network talent shuffles, such as the arrival of the Jase & PJ breakfast show on Kiis 101.1 Melbourne and Will & Woody's new national drive show on Kiis Network.

“In terms of the new shows, the one ingredient you can't buy is the chemistry. So, these shows have that because they're established but what we need to do is create a level of some of the familiar avenues,” Campbell says.

“In order to do that, we need to market and marketing is a big part of what will roll out next year, particularly in the markets where there are the new shows, as well as maintaining the public mind awareness of the existing shows as well.

“There will be a strong level of marketing associated with strategy next year.”

Strengthening commercial pillars

ARN CEO Rob Atkinson, who took over from former ARN CEO Tony Kendall in March having spent five years as boss of out of home company Adshel, says ARN recognised the shift away from seeing radio in isolation to seeing radio as part of a whole audio ecosystem. 

He says upping its value proposition for 2018 means focusing a lot of its attention on its digital properties; with extensive work going on between the content and in commercial, to ensure they're fully aligned and “building a proposition that makes sense in the digital arena”.

“What we want to do is keep all our values within our own ecosystem,” Atkinson explains.

“So, in 2018 we'll look to re-launch our websites with more engaging user-experience; make more interactive content, better personalisation and we'll look to generate more engagement with content - relating to more sharability.

“We're going to create content aligned to very strong commercial pillars around music, entertainment, lifestyle - all the areas that you would expect are the sweet spots of our business - all from the show content, that we can the push out as we go.”

As well as “supercharging” its digital assets, Atkinson says the “light that's been hiding under a bushel” is its iHeartRadio podcast platform.

“When you think about iHeartRadio, the clear purpose of that product is to really support the transition of ARN audiences and different revenue to the digital audio world,” he says.

Campbell, who describes iHeart as a “juggernaut”, says while podcasting has been the subject of “a lot of noise” recently, the boost in commercialisation of podcasting won’t fully kick off until 12-18 months’ time.

“It's developed into a substantial marketplace and advertisers and media agencies are definitely keen to know more,” Campbell says.

More confidence

Walking into 2018, Campbell says he’s never felt more confident of ARN’s offering, with Atkinson adding that the big network changes are all part of its rejuvenation strategy; which has been in the works since 2016.

“You don't put a new roof on a house when it's pouring with rain, you do it when the sun's shining,” Atkinson tells AdNews.

He said when you see the types of changes the network has made, regardless of industry scuttlebutt suggesting things have been knee-jerk reactions, ARN's shake-up has been in the works for more than a year – with the final talent changes slipping into place more recently.

This month ARN today hired the former commercial director at The Daily Mail, Mason Rook, to the role of commercial director. Responsible for leading the Sydney and Brisbane commercial teams, he reports to chief commercial officer, Emma-Jayne Owens.

In another new appointment, Justin Stone joined the newly created business development team in the role of director, research and insights. He had been with Bauer Media since 2005.

Atkinson said bolstering its talent in the data stakes is also high on the agenda with more new hires in this area expected to be announced early 2018.

Kiis' new line-up for 2018:

The revamp trend

A year ago ARN rival Southern Cross Austereo completed its biggest rebrand since it was formed by the merger of Southern Cross Media Group and Austereo Group in 2011. It rebranded its local radio stations either under its TripleM or Hit Network brands.

Then in February this year Nova Entertainment overhauled its website, apps, mobile and social assets and kicked off a major marketing campaign as part of a new “revitalised” and refined business strategy.

Now it's clearly ARN's turn for a revamp.

As to why 2018 is the right time to amp up, Campbell says the network had a situation where it wasn't getting the traction it wanted in Melbourne with the breakfast show on Kiis; as well as other outstanding issues with Sydney and Perth - which had initially launched successfully.

So, based on research it conducted, the network built a “transformative strategy” designed to re-energise the business from a content perspective. This was put in front of a board back in November 2016.

Campbell says firstly, ARN knew it needed to approach the creation of breakfast shows in a different way than it had done before and secondly, it had to address awareness issues with some of the stations - which is where marketing had to come into play.

“There's been a lot of change, but it's backed up by very solid research and that's probably the reason why there's a fair degree of confidence about what's going to happen for us, from a revenue perspective,” Campbell says.

“It's a well thought out strategy and every move that we've made has been thought out and has been part of that strategy.

“It's been an exhaustive year for all of us, but it's set us up for hopefully a much better, brighter 2018 - even though this has been a pretty good year anyway, but it's all about future-proofing the business.”

Campbell says “the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result”, which is why it had to change its strategic approach to on-air talent and the way it markets stations.

The first radio ratings are due out in March 2018.

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