Three Ways to Lose a Programming Battle

There’s a new competitor in town. They’ve challenged your position and are attacking your brand. Uh oh. Now what? Hopefully, you’ll follow these six ways to win the battle. But even if you execute your strategy flawlessly, things can go wrong. Something unexpected always happens. You can’t win immediately, but there are three ways to quickly lose a programming battle with a direct competitor.

Three Ways To Lose a Programming Battle

When a station’s position is attacked, it’s natural to be concerned. This is healthy as long as you keep it in perspective. A new competitor puts stations on heightened alert and is often the stimulus to be sharper, tighter, and more focused.

But new competition can also cause stations to make decisions that cause more damage to their brands than any competitive attack could. Those mistakes must be avoided at all costs.

Just as there are best practices, there are worst practices as well. When attacked by a new station, keep a clear head and follow three principles.

Respond, But Don’t Over-React

Knee-jerk responses to market changes are almost always a bad idea, yet programmers still rush to try to “cover” changes in their market. When a competitor makes a move, most broadcasters want to take action. It’s natural to want to do something. But most listeners are not affected by everything that happens on the radio dial, and your audience probably isn’t thinking about changing stations. Then, you make adjustments and risk pushing satisfied listeners away.

The audience almost always reacts negatively to a significant change, and it takes time to turn to new stations. It’s okay to adjust with small tweaks, but don’t overreact to a new attack. Doing so can be an invitation for listeners to leave!

Instead, focus on the audience, which is always good advice. Respond to your audience if and when a new station affects listener perceptions and behavior. A new competitor may eventually have an impact, but that doesn’t happen immediately. Focus on your audience, not the competitor.

This discipline is easy to agree with but challenging to implement in the heat of the moment. When under attack, exercise patience and make strategic, calculated decisions.

Resist The Urge For Immediate Marketing 

If the new station comes on with guns blazing and a heavy marketing campaign, what will you do about it? Whether you spend marketing dollars or not, they will create attention and noise.

You could throw your budget at it and battle them to a promotional draw. But probably not, because they have the advantage of being new! That can be a strong message. As a result, you will have blown through your budget but still lost the marketing and awareness war.

Let the dust settle, and plan your marketing response. Once their initial campaign runs its course, promote aggressively when you can win the share of voice. Create a campaign that reinforces your position, excites the audience with a new message, and offers at a time that the message won’t be blunted.

There are exceptions:

Timing: If a new station represents a threat to your position but is not marketing, it may be wise to launch a campaign before it gains traction, as long as you don’t spend the entire budget at once.

One-to-one marketing: A direct campaign (direct mail, email, database, contesting, social media) to current listeners can protect the most critical listeners (fans).

Contesting: Contests are tactical and can be a terrific way to retain listeners and seduce them to return regularly when they may be lured to the new station.

Delay Major Research Projects

Managers are tempted to press the research button as soon as they’re under attack. Ideally, you are armed with fresh information as part of a perceptual research strategy, and a recent music test has kept your station on target. If so, there’s little reason to worry about a new threat. But what if that was cut out of your operating budget or delayed?

First, wait a few weeks until the changes affect the market. If you rush into a project, you will gather information that will soon be invalid. It’s better to get a complete picture of a new competitor’s impact. The most common result is a false sense of security, especially if the direct competitor successfully repositions your brand, but research has not yet measured it.

In the interim, consider an inexpensive series of online surveys to get an immediate snapshot of listener perceptions. Follow up every 4-6 weeks to measure how tastes may be changing. This is not a replacement for strategic (perceptual) research but will give you early indications of a station’s influence.


With a solid strategy, there’s no reason to fear new competition. Smart programmers should always attack themselves anyway, constantly searching for and fixing areas where the station is vulnerable. If you’re doing that already, just keep doing it.

When faced with a new competitor, communicate with your team, focus on your brand (not theirs), and avoid these three mistakes. That’s always the best weapon to help you win, not lose a programming battle.

Pic designed by wirestock 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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