Return to radio ratings: SCA’s Dave Cameron and Nikki Clarkson talk rebrands, COVID-19 and the power of nostalgia

With GfK radio ratings paused during COVID-19 and reporting set to return at the end of September, the industry has faced a rare period without constant reporting. Is that a chance to take the foot off the pedal, make big changes or continue with business as normal? Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston spoke with SCA’s Dave Cameron and Nikki Clarkson to find out.

The radio industry is usually under constant review through the GfK radio ratings measurement system, but as the model is based on a paper diary and in person interviews it was ceased during COVID-19. Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) took this chance to build up to a big reveal – it planned a rebrand for its Hit Network, returning to nostalgic brands in Adelaide and Brisbane.

“We took the opportunity over the last three or four months to have a look at what we do strategically, without the ratings coming thick and fast every six weeks,” says SCA content boss Dave Cameron.

“We really took that opportunity to do a bunch of stuff under the radar. Obviously the biggest one was the relaunch and the return to legacy brands so we can launch back into survey again with what we think is the right, refreshed, resurrected, rebranded and repositioned product.”

Cameron, who moved into the role in December 2019 from his position as Melbourne general manager, said that while it’s been a strange intro to the role, the rebrand has been on the cards since March and the discussions were only enhanced by the COVID-19 uncertainty.

Adelaide has returned to the SAFM branding

“As we moved through March, April, things started to snowball and we started to really think deeply about what it looks like to return nostalgic brands. It actually matched people’s feeling in terms of needing that confidence, familiarity and nostalgia.”

Nikki Clarkson has also had an interesting start to a role – she stepped into the CMO position at SCA in November. Launching a rebrand during a global pandemic might pose some problems when it comes to budgets and marketing, but Clarkson says at the end of the day it’s important to believe enough in your company to be willing to make those important investments.

“We’ve always believed in the benefit of investing in our brand – even if we hadn’t rebranded we would still have prepared a strong multichannel national campaign to support all the brands after being under the cover of COVID,” she says.

The time to plan a rebrand while in the cover of no ratings also gave SCA the opportunity to build even closer relationships with its media partners and ensure as much value as possible, says Clarkson, which helped position it strongly for a national push when the time was right.

Alongside planning for a rebrand, COVID-19 has provided SCA with time to monitor audience behaviour and react to that. Cameron says the business has seen an explosion in the popularity of its podcasts – which is luckily an area where the business already has a strong presence in Podcast One.

“We’ve seen it in download numbers, in streaming numbers, audience engagement is through the roof, listening time has gone through the roof. While we don’t yet know how the GfK methodology will reflect this particularly point in time, we’ve still got data around digital and that gives us a huge vote of confidence and confirmation that the audience is loving what we’re doing,” says Cameron.

Brisbane also saw a return to legacy

While the industry has acknowledged how much audience behaviour has changed over the COVID-19 lockdowns, the GfK surveys will provide a crystal clear view of how much habits are transforming. Cameron thinks it’s likely people will be listening to more radio now, but more of that listening could be through catch up as routines change. He predicts downloads across SCA’s flagship shows will continue to grow and is confident that audiences are as strong, if not stronger, than they have been before.

Radio audiences are famous for being ‘sticky’. They’ll find a show, or talent, that they love and follow it wherever, or whenever, it goes. Right now, says Cameron, the business is relying on that loyalty and SCA is confident that the ratings will reflect that come September.

For Clarkson, the hard work has been done in the launch and the rebrand and now it’s about replicating that unified positioning in the marketing.

“The Hit Network has a fresh, contemporary feel to take it to its next iteration and you can hear it integrated beautifully on air as well. We’ve laid the foundation for that new positioning and it’s just about carrying it through to 2021 when we can get back to doing some decent filming and decent production,” she said – as all the work SCA has done for its marketing so far has had to be completed with COVID-19 restrictions.

As for what’s to come – Cameron’s eyes are firmly focused on the horizon and like much of the industry, he can’t wait for 2020 to finish.

“All I think about right now is 2021. We’re all focused on 2021. We’ve completed the rebrand, we’ve got a consistent look and feel across the whole Hit Network now which we haven’t necessarily had before. We know we need to tackle this year and the logistical challenges, as every outlet does, including working from home and producing shows from home and all those sorts of things, but we’re pretty excited for 2021.”


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