Nova Entertainment’s smoothfm proposition to its audience has always been simple. A mix of favourite songs presented in a low-key hype-free environment.
And it has worked. The Melbourne and Sydney FM stations originally launched with a commercial featuring Michael Bublé endorsing the brand. The ratings climbed steadily and soon passed the expectations from then marketing chief Tony Thomas and programming boss Paul Jackson.
Last year smoothfm ranked #1 for the whole year in Sydney and was one of the stations sharing top spot across 2019 in Melbourne and ended the year #2 FM.
Thomas has since left the company and Jackson now runs marketing and programming. The company doesn’t spend continually on marketing smoothfm, it hasn’t had too, but Nova Entertainment CEO Cathy O’Connor has greenlit a brand overhaul and Jackson and his team have engaged with another major star to help market the stations.
Robbie Williams now joins Bublé as the new smoothfm brand ambassador at the start of a year that will be big for Williams. Off the back of a recent album he is touring the world including dates in Australia and a residency in Las Vegas. Nova Entertainment has managed to have Williams endorse the brand without any cash changing hands. It is a win-win for both parties.
The new smoothfm marketing campaign spend helps promote Williams as much as it markets the smoothfm brand.
While Michael Bublé and his music are still integral to the smoothfm brand, Jackson said they didn’t want to go to market again with the same campaign and same smoothfm logo.
Williams will initially be featured in four different TVCs as the campaign launches – a 30 second version and then three 15 second edits.
“The commercials were filmed in October 2019,” Jackson told Mediaweek. “Over the years we have featured a number of different artists in smooth marketing campaigns. We started with Michael Bublé and later used Spandau Ballet and then Sam Smith. We then went back to Bublé again.”
Jackson added that Nova Entertainment made the initial approach to Williams’ management.
“Things moved very quickly and from initially having the idea to the shoot was only about three or four weeks.”
Jackson said the smoothfm creative execution is something of a hybrid of where the station once was. “We started the station with the original proposition which was an easy place to relax with ballads. Over the years we became more bright and breezy as we upped the tempo a bit. Now it’s about a feel-good radio station which we unashamedly are.
“We have all been guilty in radio of muddled thinking sometimes, but with smooth we want to be clear and concise about what it really is. It is fun, upbeat and will put a smile on your face.”
Jackson agreed the musical space that smoothfm now occupies is super crowded. “You can now go up and down the dial in Sydney and here stations playing music they would never have played in a million years. Lots of people talk about variety, but we are not a variety format. All of the music on smooth fits together really well. It’s unlikely the audience is going to hear many songs they don’t like across the course of a day.
“One misnomer about the brand is that ‘it is all just slow music’. It was never all just slow music.”
Jackson is very hands on, along with music director Kate Mason and the smooth team, about what goes to air. “It is important to change the catalogue of music frequently. We have been pretty good at keeping things fresh for the audience. We tweak it weekly and then do a big refresh every month.”
All of the team go into the music meeting armed with tunes they think could be added to the playlist. “We rely on both gut instinct and audience research.”
Jackson used as an example Take That, an artist that didn’t always research well because people didn’t know them, but one listeners liked when they heard it on air. “Because listeners trust the radio stations, they tend to like what we play.”
smoothfm has been successful without adding “celebrities” to their breakfast shows. Breakfast ratings are competitive, and Jackson said they don’t lose revenue from advertisers wanting celebrity integration.
“We do integrations, but just different types. The beauty of smooth is that the messages are still there and cut through, but they are not in your face.”
smooth runs most of its commercial load at the top of the hour or on the half hour to give it a good flow of music in between. “We try to stay true to the ‘more music, less talk’ promise,” said Jackson.
“We are probably the only stations in the country that have never talked over the music. We announce at the end of the music, and talk to the audience, not at them.”
The FM stations that now offer a wide variety of tunes across the day are keen to lure away some of smoothfm listeners. Does Jackson have a message for them?
“Please don’t!” [Laughs]
That plea is unlikely to make competitors back off, but having Robbie Williams on side is a persuasive weapon to have in a marketing battle.
Behind the scenes of smooth’s marketing campaign
smoothfm’s refreshed brand will be supported by a marketing and media campaign in Sydney and Melbourne across TV, OOH, cinema, digital and socials from February 16. The TVC was shot in London and was directed by Vaughan Arnell, a British music videos and television commercials director. The creative features Robbie Williams enjoying the feel-good sounds of smoothfm and is set to three iconic tracks, Williams’ Feel, September by Earth, Wind & Fire and Billy Ocean’s Get Out of my Dreams.
Robbie Williams will take the stage later this year for smoothfm’s Feel Good Night With.
smoothfm’s revenue success story
Peter Charlton, Nova Entertainment’s chief commercial officer, said: “smooth is one of the most uniquely effective FM offerings out there, in terms of both its ‘feel good’ format and its landmark success to date. Last year, we saw double-digit revenue growth in an undeniably tough market and spent a year as Sydney’s #1 FM station and secured consistently strong results in Melbourne. That kind of success comes down to being able to connect with and engage listeners in a way no other station can, in turn, opening the door for advertisers to do the same. We’re incredibly proud of what smooth represents, both commercially and creatively, and recognise its enormous potential into the future.”
Top photo: smoothfm announcers Richard Wilkins, Mel Doyle, David Campbell & Cameron Daddo