Service Element Do’s and Don’ts

For years we’ve been telling radio that their big advantage over digital competitors is their ability to be live and local. I’ve made that statement myself quite a few times. As the major groups continue to scale back their local presence, it’s also becoming a huge advantage for independent broadcasters. But that advantage can quickly turn into a disadvantage if we’re not strategic about how we flex that live and local muscle. One mistake a lot of stations make is overdoing the service elements in an attempt to be hyperlocal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing service elements on the radio, but like everything else we air, we have to be strategic about how and where we do them. Here are some service element do’s and don’ts.

DO local weather reports throughout the day. DON’T include thirty to forty-five seconds of details for today, tonight, tomorrow (and please don’t read a whole week’s worth!) We all get the weather on our phones now, as well as our watches and the bottom right-hand side of any computer we’re using. Unless there’s something out of the ordinary happening, severe weather or unseasonably high or low temperatures, there’s no reason to turn into a meteorologist and tell listeners about the 5 mph east winds or the tenth of an inch of new rainfall accumulation. Here’s an example report for a typical weather day: ‘Sunny and 95 today, down to 72 tonight’. The same goes for talking about the weather outside of those weather reports. Unless it’s something that’s going to drastically impact the listener’s day, there’s no need to reiterate what the weather report already said.

DON’T do traffic reports unless you’re in a market where the traffic is such an issue that it’s likely to change daily. I’ve audited and worked with some markets where 90% of the traffic reports are ‘all clear’ today or they just mention the same one or two roads that every local knows are congested during drive-time and some construction that’s been happening for a year.

DON’T do two minute or longer local newscasts. DO thirty seconds of local news headlines and then push them to the station website for all the details. If a station is lucky enough to have a local newsperson, or an on-air personality that’s tied in and has an aptitude for news, then that person is more than capable of writing a single blog post with all the details they can pull together for the day’s top local stories, or multiple blogs with individual stories. Another option is to record a longer form video hitting the day’s top stories and using the on-air headlines to point to that video on the station website. Outside of news talk stations I see no reason to do state and national newscasts on the radio, especially because most of them run way too long. But, it doesn’t hurt to include a major state or national headline in the local newscast when necessary.

DO local ag reports on formats and markets where it makes sense. DON’T read a long list that includes the sale price of every single commodity. Believe it or not, ranchers and farmers have the internet. I grew up in small town Texas working at my family-owned country station. I still live in this great state and will likely never leave. Plus, my wife’s family has a large active ranch outside of Victoria, Texas. I can tell you from experience that the level of detail included in most ag reports only appeals to a very small percentage of any station’s demo. Therefore, they are a tune out factor for the vast majority of that demo. Ag reports should be done very early, because that audience is up before anyone, and just like weather and news they should hit the highlights with the details on the station or a partner’s website.

There’s a good reason why we all do service elements on the radio. As a general rule they’re typically easy to sell because everyone understands what they are, they tie in well with certain categories and advertisers like owning something. But those advertisers are going to pay the same amount for a mention within a ten second weather report as they do for a mention within a thirty second report. Plus, there’s no shortage of things to sell on a radio station. To date I’ve never replaced a service element on a station without being able to slide an existing sponsor into something else. It typically just takes a conversation explaining the benefit of the new thing we’re attaching their name to.

For those of you reading this thinking, this advice makes perfect sense in a large market but doesn’t apply to a small or medium market station, I understand where you’re coming from but I disagree. The fastest way to dominate and succeed in a small or medium market is to sound like a big market station that just happens to be located in a smaller city. Do localized versions of big market things and no one will be able to compete with you.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or email me at Andy@RadioStationConsultant.com.

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