Fairfax Radio’s new strategy

After clearing the decks of its more right leaning personalities over recent weeks, Fairfax Radio has gone public with its positioning strategy for next year. It is chasing the ABC talk audience.

A full page ad in Fairfax Media’s Australian Financial Review today announced the strategy with the message, ‘It’s like being able to advertise on the ABC.’

4BC Brisbane recently announced that Greg Cary and Gary Hardgrave would not be renewed, and in Sydney, Jason Morrison has not been renewed at 2UE. In Perth Gary Adshead moves into mornings, replacing WA’s Paul Murray, who will move to drive.

While it is a logical positioning strategy from an advertising point of view, it is unlikely that it will be successful from an audience point of view. It is well known that the ABC audience doesn’t like ads, and is unlikely to come over to Fairfax stations in enough numbers to affect its ratings, even with cricket coverage.

From a marketing point of view however, if Fairfax can sell the message that it has a more ‘enlightened’ audience than the conservative Macquarie Radio Network listeners, it may attract some advertisers. This is Fairfax’s position in print and it may give the company’s sales people an easier to understand cross-media sales proposition to pitch to agencies and advertisers. In Melbourne, 3AW has a rock solid position across all the psychographics and is the flagship of the network in terms of revenue, while other stations are struggling to return profits into the group’s coffers.

The strategy will be driven by Group Content Director Clarke Forbes, who, along with former CEO Graham Mott and previous program director Steve Price, took 3AW to its present success. In two other key network stations, 2UE and 4BC, other key appointments will assist Forbes to deliver the strategy in the northern states. Clinton Maynard is now Content Director at 2UE and Anthony Frangi is General Manager at 4BC. Frangi has an ABC background, and Maynard has a good track record or unbiased commercial news reporting. At 5AA, owned by DMG, but also a logical advertising buy for agencies wanting a talk network, ABC 891’s content director Criag Munn has jumped ship to join 5AA as Operations Manager.

The Fairfax Radio network will likely take the opportunity to put the boot into 2GB rivals Hadley and Jones, taking advantage of recent ACMA findings of inaccuracy against both broadcasters and stressing it’s aims for accuracy amongst other attributes.

The 3AW model works in Melbourne, but its audience is clearly not an ABC audience. ABC774 is also strong, second placed behind 3AW, and it has an audience profile quite different from 3AW. 3AW is also the only commercial talk station in Melbourne.

Sydney is a very different market, in Sydney there are two talk stations and it will be a much harder struggle. It took 3AW years to build up the audience trust that it enjoys today in Melbourne. If Fairfax has the will for a long game, perhaps it will carve out a niche that is different from 2GB and ABC702, but it will take patience.

The network is also pitching its music stations as part of the deal, including them in the ‘unreachable’ advertiser category.

The message at the bottom of the Fairfax ad says:

“How do you reach the unreachable? It’s simple. You think laterally. The Fairfax Radio Network has over two million influential listeners nationally who engage with us for over 14 hours per week on average, covering 2UE, 3AW, Magic, 4BC, 4BH, 6PR and 96fm. They are highly educated, motivated and high spenders. So get the ABCs without the ABC. Talk to us.”

At least one commentator is sceptical. Former 2UE/4BC presenter Michael Smith has let fly at the stratgey on his blog, saying:

This is the stupidest move by a publicly listed company you will see for a long, long time.    

It’s brought to you by the same team that delivered advertisers the lowest 2UE breakfast show ratings in 90 years…

It’s rare to see real life examples of corporate strategy this bad.   Profit-driven enterprises seldom decide to become the public service – only more irritating.

The Fairfax Radio Network ad is aimed at advertisers, not listeners, but it is hard to find a stakeholder group in the Fairfax Radio universe not insulted.

The message for Fairfax Radio listeners is “Our radio stations sound like the ABC with ads.   If you’d like to hear the ABC with ads, listen to us.   If you’d like to hear the ABC, well, listen to the ABC like we do.   We think they’re pretty good and we’d like to be like them.   That’s why we put them in this ad.   How good are we?   As good as the ABC with ads”.

Smith was sacked from 2UE after disagreements with management over coverage of Julia Gillard. Read his full commentary here.

See Peter Saxon’s commentary on the Fairfax Radio/MRN merger speculation here.

Your comments are welcome below.