The Only Four Reasons for a Station Promotion

Many broadcasters can’t identify strategic objectives for a promotional campaign. Typical reasons for a station promotion include, “To raise awareness for our station and stay top of mind,” “Drive ratings,” and “Because that’s what we do.” In reality, most ideas are evaluated based on how a manager or stakeholder feels. But there’s a deeper level of thinking that can make every contest and promotion more successful. There are four reasons for a radio station promotion. If your campaign doesn’t fit one of them, rethink it.

A great promotion can succeed in all four areas. Tick all four boxes and the promotion is a total winner. Achieve three of the four and you can start your application for a Marconi Award. Accomplish two and it’s a better-than-average idea. But if the idea doesn’t accomplish at least one of these four, don’t do it. At the very least, reconfigure the idea until it addresses a specific objective.

But how can you know for sure if the promotion is worthwhile or just something that keeps the staff busy? Here’s a breakdown of all four reasons to serve as your guide:

Reason 1: Positioning, Branding & Image

A strong promotion supports the station’s strategic position and enhances the brand. This should be an unbreakable rule. If a promotion or contest does not support the brand, it’s a waste of time and may even damage the station.

Design every promotion to contribute to the desired brand image, station benefit, or values represented by the station. Here are three examples:

At-Work Listening Position The popular Put You On the Payroll promotion is on-brand for an AC station focused on at-work listening. This contest pays a winner for listening at work until another winner bumps them off the payroll, solidifying the station’s position as an at-work station. But it isn’t a great fit for an Active Rock station.

Music Quantity Benefit: Some stations play long commercial-free music sweeps. A promotion that promises xx songs in a row or the winner wins cash supports the music strategy by asking listeners to count the songs, which reinforces a “more continuous music” benefit.

Trustworthy Information Values: News stations building a reputation for accurate and convenient weather forecasts often run a Weather Guarantee contest. They pay cash if the weather forecast is inaccurate. Most days, there is no winner, which reinforces the station’s reliable weather.

Reason 2 Marketing Buzz

Great promotions cause talk. Will your campaign generate free publicity in traditional media? Is it newsworthy? Does it stand out enough for listeners to talk about it with their friends and spread it on social media?

Increasing top-of-mind awareness and brand recall is worthwhile, but make sure it supports the brand (see point #1 above). Some stations have been burned by launching an attention-getting stunt only to find that it doesn’t really fit the market position.

Here are a few examples:

Online Campaigns: Many online photo contests reach beyond a station’s cume and spread actively through social media channels. Smart stations cycle the engagement back to on-air appointments.

Stunt-Based Promotions: Major promotions with a large cash prize attract attention from the station’s audience, but how can it spread to the community? Study the success of campaigns like The Fugitive to get beyond your cume.

Mystery: Some stations are great with creative promotions like The Black Box. Install a gigantic black box in a very public location. Using clues announced on-air, a winner gets the contents of the box when they guess it correctly.

Reason 3: Increase Ratings

The obvious objective for contests should be to cause existing listeners to listen more. Every PD launches a campaign hoping to move the needle, but how will this campaign actually influence ratings? This is usually achieved by adding tune-in appointment times that bring listeners back to participate.

But be careful. Big-money contests are fine, but if the mechanics are call-in to win, it’s probably a waste of time. Be creative by building layers of engagement that reward more listening.

Here are some examples of contests that drive participation and directly impact ratings:

High-Low: The classic High-Low promotion is timeless. It’s easy to play and addictive, which drives ratings. Listeners guess the amount of money in the High-Low Jackpot and are told if their guess is too high or too low. The more they listen, the better their chance to win.

Beat the BankBeat the Bank drives ratings and creates anticipation. Contestants open virtual bank vaults to win more money. The more they open, the more they can win. However, some vaults are losers and they could lose all their money. It’s a great example of a contest that attracts contestants and listeners.

Reason 4: The DOS Made Me

Sadly, this has become the primary reason for a promotion. If it can’t be a source of revenue, most stations won’t launch a promotion. That’s usually okay because most promotions can accommodate sponsors.

But when money is attached to an advertiser’s (or sales executive’s) idea, it can find its way on the air even if the promotion could damage the brand. Sales departments should not force client promotions on programming. This is a problem, but one that can turn into an opportunity.

Instead, work together to design promotions that accommodate advertisers. Response rates are always higher for contests when the programming team is enthusiastic about it. Brainstorm to find the best promotion partner fits and turn it into a sales marketing gold mine.


When launching a promotion, consider the 4 reasons for a promotion carefully. Analyze it honestly and objectively.

If the answers are vague or lack conviction, go back to the drawing board. Figure out how to revise the plan and see if you can make your concept tick at least two of the four boxes with a little extra creativity.

Pic designed by LightFieldStudios for Envato Elements.

Tracy Johnson is a talent coach and programming consultant. He’s the President/CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group. His book Morning Radio has been described as The Bible of Personality Radio and has been used by personalities worldwide.

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