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  • Writer's pictureMatt Cundill

Radio Lessons from the Canadian Election

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

There's a lot of similarities between running a political campaign and programming a radio station. Let's assume your station is a political party and your lead personality is the party leader. Behaviours such as interpreting polls, choosing words carefully, and acknowledging the gap between perception and reality can lead to victory or disappointment.

Here are some lessons for radio station programmers and on airs from the 42nd Canadian general election:

If you want to know why your lead personality is not resonating with the audience, ask yourself: "Would they want to go to lunch with them? Have a beer with them?" Or would they rather do that with another radio show in the market? I know I would have a good time having a beer with Justin Trudeau. Not sure I would have fun with Thomas Mulcair or Stephen Harper. My time is valuable so Justin and I will have a round of Molson Ex.

Cundill Harper Trudeau

What tone is your lead personality setting and how is it affecting the rest of the station? Stephen Harper operated in a tone that left many negative perceptions. Choose your word: Mean, underhanded, uncooperative, xenophobic, and controlling. Normally, we evaluate: At the end of each break on the radio, what feeling does the listener experience? However consider the tone of each break and listen from that perspective. Do Your Research on an ongoing basis! You know that Niqab issue? The Conservatives did a fair amount of research asking Canadians what they thought about the issue and found a range between 72 and 93 percent respondents would be in favour of removing it before a citizenship ceremony. You know what turns people off? The tone it brought to the election campaign.

Speaking of research, stop researching the audience on what they think about, and ask them what they think about your station and your morning show. If the Conservatives had polled the question: "What do you think of Stephen Harper?" - and acted upon the answers properly, they probably would not be looking for a new leader. For those who have been on the air or in a market for a long time: You are who you are, and your reputation precedes you. So if you are repeatedly known for something questionable, perception can be a hard thing to change. Stephen Harper accumulated a fair amount of baggage over the last 10 years. Ongoing research on people's perceptions of him and keeping a consistant image should have been a top priority.

Harper Cundill Robb

If your audience embraces social media, you should too: In 2011 at the Winnipeg Jets first home game, the world's biggest Jets' fan Lauren Robb saw the Prime Minister and wanted to take a picture with his phone. The PM's rep offered to take their own picture and e-mail it to him. The reasons rank anywhere between safety and media control.

Cundill Dimonte Trudeau

Now that the selfie generation has come of age, we are beyond the idea of controlling what the image looks like and letting the selfie be what it is: Today's Poloroid. Embrace it along with InstaFace and TwitterSnap. (This photo was posted on Terry Dimonte's Facebook page about an hour before the election result was declared.)

Looks and Experience do not matter: Making mention of it makes you look desperate and petty. By extension, do not underestimate your direct competition. They have plenty of time to fix it.

Getting out and meeting people is as important on day 1 of your job as it is on day 1000.

Do not disenfranchise the people who got you where you are. Ten years ago, Stephen Harper won by engaging 30-40 year old suburban families. Those people are now 40-50 and felt disposed and that they no longer fit into the Conservative Party any longer. The erosion of the "blue" vote in cities where those people live speaks to that. In short, no radio station that targets families ever achieves a top ranking by upsetting either parent.

Do not overserve the core. Those issues of taxes, and the economy that were repeated over and over were targeted at an audience that was going to vote for them anyway. Target the listener who has choices at their fingertips; not the listener who is already committed to your station/show, bought the shirt and has been caller 9 three times this week.

Do not use the same strategy that you used 10 years ago to win, that you used 7 years ago to win, that you used again 4 years ago to win. Times change. People evolve. You should too.


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