‘I’ll take any type of audience I can get’: Ben Fordham on radio’s ‘sticky’ fans and working with brands

New 2GB breakfast host and successor to radio stalwart Alan Jones, Ben Fordham, says his Drive shift fans followed him to Breakfast because radio creates loyal fans and ‘sticky’ listeners.

“I’ve got a loyal group of listeners who’ve been with me for 10 years on the Drive show and they’re a very loyal audience in radio. They’re sticky. Once they connect with you and once they get you, I think they tend to stay around. Even though you’ll have disagreements on some topics, or many topics, once that relationship is formed, thankfully, it tends to last,” said Fordham.

Nine’s Liana Dubois, Allison Langdon and Ben Fordham at the Big Ideas Store session

Speaking to advertisers and marketers at Nine’s Big Ideas Store, which is now being held digitally due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Fordham said he doesn’t like to think in terms of demographics, and instead tries to gather as many fans as possible.

“I’ll take any type of audience I can get. I’m a bit like advertisers. People say to me, ‘Who’s your demographic and how’s your demographic different to others on 2GB?’, because I’m probably the youngest announcer on 2GB,” said Fordham.

“I’ve never really focused too much on that, I’ve been conscious of doing the show that I want to do, the topics and issues that I think my audience is interested in and whether they happen to be 10 years of age or 110 years of age, I want every single one of them.”

Fordham’s views on audiences were supported by Today host Allison Langdon who said she feels the breakfast TV show speaks to a wide audience because of its timeslot and subject matter.

“On our show I try to be centrist. It’s a platform for diverse views and our audience is not left-leaning, it’s not right-leaning, it’s pretty much everyone. We’re talking to young families, we’re talking to an older generation and I think it’s important to give all views a platform,” she said.

Langdon’s comments come as Today broadcaster Nine made a decision to separate from its regular contributor Pauline Hanson over her comments about the COVID-19 impacted high-rise public housing towers in Melbourne. Langdon said that while she disagrees with what Hanson says “100% of the time”, she still believes it’s important that all views are reflected.

“Obviously yesterday we had an incident with Pauline and I think we were all shocked by what she said,” said Langdon, before she was quickly interrupted by fellow panellist and Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons.

FitzSimons at the event

“Shock horror, she said something racist, who would have thought it?” quipped FitzSimons. Nine has come under fire for its previous support of Hanson, with some arguing that Hanson’s views are in no way new. Speaking Monday on ABC’s Q+A, environment and water shadow minister Terri Butler pointed out Hanson’s views have been controversial, and known, since the 1990s, and questioned why she had ever been given a platform. Hanson was a regular commentator for Seven’s Sunrise before she joined Today.

“She crossed a line. Yes she’s divisive but she is an elected official, she represents us in parliament, so it’s not like you’re just giving some right or left-wing commentator a voice. But yesterday that crossed a line and that was hate speech we saw yesterday. We were all shocked, we were all disgraced, I was shocked. I know that Pauline is shocking, but I sat there and couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Langdon.

Langdon said the role of morning television was to show a variety of views and that as a host it wasn’t always Langdon or co-host Karl Stefanovic’s job to show their opinions, but rather just to moderate the conversation.

The panel also tackled the idea of brand-safe environments. Fordham was quick to point out that he’s very ‘brand friendly’.

“If there are any brands watching come and talk to me, because I love working with brands. My mum and dad started a small business when I was growing up so I’ve been acutely aware of people having a go and getting amongst it, risking everything to start a business. I’m really aware that when people are spending money with me on my radio show I want it to win. When it works, and when you see someone selling their product and I think it’s a great product, there’s nothing better than watching someone kick a goal and feeling like you’ve played a part in it. So brands, come at me,” said Fordham.

Nine struggled in 2019 when controversial comments from Jones made on 2GB created an advertiser boycott. Nine CEO Hugh Marks admitted the comments hurt Nine financially. There has been speculation this factored into Jones’ eventual departure from Nine this year. Jones has since gone on to expand his role with News Corp’s Sky News which itself is no stranger to advertising boycotts.

While Fordham was a strong supporter of working closely with brands, Langdon and FitzSimons were a lot more cautious. Langdon said she would never allow a brand partnership to interfere with a news story, and said she was “slightly uncomfortable” with the idea of brand safety. FitzSimons said advertisers who chose to work with Nine’s papers were doing so knowing they would be partnering with an unbiased publication.

“The Sydney Morning Herald has been around for about 190 years and we’ve had separation of church and state and the advertising department, they’re somewhere over there, or they’re somewhere upstairs, I don’t know, I don’t deal with them, and it has to be like that. When I’m writing in my column I don’t know who appears in the ad next to me or below me. I don’t know, I don’t care. When advertisers buy space in The Sydney Morning Herald what they’re getting is 190 years of journalistic integrity. If you head down the path of looking after your sponsors as a newspaper you are lost,” he said.

The Age recently lost its longtime editor Alex Lavelle who exited shortly after almost 70 staff signed a petition calling for improved racial diversity at the paper and demanding editorial choices for the paper be moved back to Melbourne, not Sydney.

“We believe there is a growing public perception that we have become politicised, a perception that is damaging the reputation of the Age and, potentially, the viability of the business,” wrote the journalists.

There was also backlash in 2019 when Nine CEO Marks hosted a Liberal fundraiser at the media business’ Willoughby offices. Marks said after that the event could have been handled better, but denied there was any political influence on the company and its publications.

“Brand safety isn’t about doing the job of the advertiser, brand safety is making sure you have a platform that is speaking the truth and reporting the stories,” said Nine’s Liana Dubois, director of Powered and host of the panel.

FitzSimons summed the views of the panel up in his final comment about brand safety.

“The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the formerly Fairfax titles, are a very powerful force in this country for good. Support us, sponsor us, give us advertising. Thank you,” he quipped.


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