Feature InterviewInterviews

John Long Interview 3-20-17

John Long
Director of Promotions & Engagement
Editor for Dear Christian Radio, PAR

Career Capsule: My official baptism into radio began at East Carolina University’s campus station, WZMB. I served as the station’s news director and later as its promotions director.  I was also host and co-host of 91.3’s weekly news/talk program, Insight.

Career highlights include stints with notable ad agencies Long Haymes Carr (now Mullen) and McKinney/Silver (now McKinney) where I worked in various account service roles. LHC gave me my first big break into creative writing—a foundational opportunity I have built upon ever since. I also spent four years as Director of Communications for Centenary United Methodist Church of Winston-Salem.

Today, I head Joy FM’s Promotions Department and share The Afternoon Drive with my amazingly talented co-host Luann Prater. In addition to my work with Joy FM, I proudly serve as a member of Positive Alternative Radio’s (PAR) Creative Services Team. Being a part of PAR—Joy FM’s parent company—is a blessing from God. This unique opportunity has allowed me to merge my passions of ministry, marketing, radio, and writing.

John, tell us what’s new at Joy FM/PAR, with you etc…?

PAR kicked off 2017 in a big way with the unveiling of the “#ENCW Way.” The #ENCW Way began with a simple belief, “We will change the world.” This is more than just a call to action for PAR and its family of stations; it is also a call to arms for an industry that must commit itself to winning in the name of Jesus. Such audacious endeavors require a defined purpose. In the words of the Executive Vice President of PAR, Brian Sanders, “Believing we can change the world and knowing how we will do it is the #ENCW Way.” Anyone interested in learning more about the #ENCW Way can follow PAR’s Dear Christian Radio blog at www.parfm.com.

What are the three (3) main ingredients to make a promotion successful?

The advertising world has taught me a great deal about winning promotions. Much of what I have learned from my agency experience has influenced how I approach radio promotions today.  Three areas that are critical to success are:

  • Campaign Strategy – Every promotion—big or small—should start with a campaign strategy. The purpose of the strategy is to clearly detail what is needed so a promotion can be properly executed. Important elements include: Purpose, Target Audience, Key Messaging, Desired Outcomes, Budget, and Timeline. A clear and concise campaign strategy improves team efficiency and reduces opportunities for miscommunication.
  • Clear Communication – Project management tools, apps, and software are no longer an option, but rather, an invaluable resource for any successful organization. Products such as Asana and Basecamp provide a level of organizational connectivity that email simply can’t. Promotions directors, managers, and coordinators generally begin planning months in advance in preparation for their promotions—and if they aren’t they should start…immediately.  Each new promotion becomes its own juggling act with a multitude of subtasks that range from artwork, copy, and legal to equally important items such as transportation, prizes and volunteer assignments.  This level of coordination requires clear communication with direct channels to key participants and decision makers. 
  • Defined Goals/Focus – If Christian radio planned a road trip in the same way it plans some of its promotions, it would end up in Nebraska on its way to the beach. Promotions must have a purpose. They require defined goals and a clear, shared focus. Think of the goal as the fuel that gets you to your intended destination, while the focus is the road map that shows you the way…say campaign strategy! When combined, you have a reason to move forward; otherwise, you may just be spinning your wheels.

 What is the best promotion advice you’ve been given? The worst?

I discovered famed direct marketing guru Denny Hatch in my 20s. He was a frequent contributor to Target Marketing Magazine and a guy who just always seemed to make perfect sense. His online newsletter was one of the first to which I subscribed. Of the many perspectives he shared, there was one tip that I never forgot. Hatch said, (and I’m paraphrasing) when it comes to direct mail, the envelope is the most important part of your campaign. This is still among the most compelling pieces of advice I ever received. His point was simple…if your envelope doesn’t inspire someone to open it, what’s inside no longer matters. Think about it—you can create the greatest promotion of all time, one that no reasonable person would dare resist. Yet, if it ends up in the trash, unopened and unread, your efforts were all for naught…all because you cut corners on the envelope.

Every day Christian organizations send out electronic communications to donors, listeners, and/or members and never think twice about what’s written in the subject line. They blindly hang their hopes on critical messages that could make or break their ministries and never care to consider things like, Is the font readable? or Does the design support my message or speak well of my organizations? The same is true for other promotional materials. When it comes to promotions, every touch point matters. Each one should be its own experience and should reinforce the others in theme, look, and feel. So, if you have the big glossy poster that is shouting fun and excitement, your webpage should do the same.  What’s more, when someone calls for information or tickets, that same excitement should be communicated over the phone—it is an equally important part of the experience that makes for a complete promotion. Failure to pay attention to each detail creates a disconnect for your user, robbing them of the intended experience.

In consideration of bad advice, I don’t know that I’ve encountered a lot of it; however, it’s always concerning when someone asks for a quick turnaround on a major promotion. This may seem counterintuitive in an industry that prides itself on the quick turnaround, but effective, artful promotions take planning and an appropriate amount of lead time…some semblance of a budget doesn’t hurt either.

Regarding your career, what are you most proud of?

I can say without hesitation that I am proudest of my passion and commitment to what I do. I get the privilege of living my faith through my career every single day. I believe in the #ENCW Way and I am committed to changing the world for Christ.  God has made a path for me and it has led me to this place with the skills needed to make a real difference. This is my purpose.

Joy FM has accomplished so much in the past two years.  From a promotions perspective, we have strengthen relationships with key ministry partners, while adding new ones; established our own Joy FM donor banquet and concert—a huge success; facilitated an arrangement between our station, a valued underwriter, and our local fairgrounds that resulted in the construction of a permanent Joy FM structure on the premises; held a profitable marriage event for listeners, featuring marriage edutainers Jay and Laura Laffoon, honored our men and women of law enforcement with a benefit concert; and watched our Facebook account approach 600,000 likes.

What is the one thing YOU must have to do your job every day?

I’m going to assume coffee doesn’t count as an answer, so…details. Details are the life’s blood of promotions work. While promotions get labeled as creative endeavors—and they certainly are—great promotions are the byproduct of people who are obsessed with the details. Promotions people must know the who, what, when, where, why and how much to sleep at night.  We’re, at times, a bit neurotic—checking messages, rereading copy, and verifying electronic mailing confirmations at 3:30 A.M.—but it’s all part of doing the hard things that lead to excellence. Oh, we’re creative too…those zany contests and campaigns don’t create themselves, ya know.

In your opinion, what makes the ideal station promotion?

One word: Purpose. The ideal station promotion must have purpose.  The need to do something shouldn’t be the reason for doing something the wrong way. Without purpose, your promotion lacks direction.  No amount of free t-shirts or concert tickets will make up for a promotion that can’t justify its own existence. What’s more, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Those called to ministry sometimes rationalize that because it’s ministry, somehow listeners and donors don’t notice or care when we mail it in. However, it is the opposite that is true; listeners do notice and when they do, they slowly begin to reevaluate why they support you. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”

Too many times we feel the need to do something when doing nothing would be more beneficial. Stations need to know why they are doing a promotion before they launch prematurely.  They need to know their expected return on investment and they need to know how to get there as a team. Executing four well-planned, purpose-driven promotions in a year, will net stations better results than 50 space fillers that have no point.

Regarding social networking and promotion, what have you had the most success with?

Both PAR and Joy FM are on a winning streak in the areas of social networking and promotions, but Joy FM’s Facebook is a success story all its own. When I took over the social media duties for the station in January 2015, we had roughly 38,000 likes—not bad for a Southern Gospel station.  But there was an opportunity to do more and to do it better.

We began with a defined purpose, goal, and strategy. Our purpose was to create a space where Facebook users could find daily encouragement and Biblical truth. Our goal was to reach 50,000 likes by the end of 2015, while our strategy focused on three things:

  • Quality content that speaks to our audience
  • A consistent and well-planned posting schedule
  • A daily deconstruction of what Facebook’s Insights page could tell us about our users

By mid-October of 2015 Joy FM had broken through 100,000 likes. Now, in 2017, we have nearly 600,000 likes worldwide. Again, not bad for a Southern Gospel station.  

How do you measure the success of a great promotion?

Our promotions are built to succeed. In some cases, we will use a “crawl, walk, run” method to keep us from getting to far ahead of our sizeable ambitions. We always want to meet our goals, but the real vindication of our process comes when we exceed our goals. It all starts with a commitment to achieving excellence.

For large promotions and events, we don’t stop tweaking things or asking questions just because we had a victory. We often follow up these happenings with a S.W.O.T. analysis. The letters in S.W.O.T. stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. We use these categories to help us evaluate what worked, what didn’t, what’s possible, and what to look at/for in the future. The entire team contributes to this process in an open forum. This high-level of constructive candor helps our promotions go from good to great.

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