In Defence Of The Style Guide

A lot has been made of Bauer’s leaked Presentation Style Guide for BC1 stations this week. It’s been picked apart online, parodied on social media, and ridiculed by presenters on air.

Radio is a subjective medium and everybody has the right to disagree with some of the guidelines set out by Bauer; I don’t agree with every point they make, and I’m guilty of the odd sarcastic tweet myself. But what I do not agree with is the amount of vitriol and anger towards Bauer for producing this document, or to its authors for committing to paper a clear plan of how they want their stations to sound.

Firstly, to assume Bauer is the only company producing style guides with this level of precision or expectation is incredibly naive. The success of some of the UK’s biggest commercial brands is built on a level of precision and consistency that can only be achieved when everybody is singing from the same hymnsheet. Presenters, producers, and controllers from the South West of England to the North East of Scotland are all following guidelines set out by their superiors; and to much greater detail than the one-pager we’ve seen leaked this week.

Secondly, there’s the presumption that what they’re doing is wrong. Is every single one of Bauer’s BC1 stations number one in it’s TSA for reach, hours and share? Until they can say that, they’re right to change things and implement whatever they like in pursuit of that goal; on this occasion, tightening things up. (At the time of writing, Kiss is London’s biggest commercial radio station; one of the most tightly formatted stations in the world, with less speech, more stationality and more signposting than a lot of stations in this country. Over 1.8m listeners a week*)

The umbrage and offence that many have vocalised in response to this document boils down to a perception that the presenters on these stations have been stripped of any opportunity to be creative. Branding a station in every link is basic, as is the expectation of positivity towards the playlist. In 2017, the concept of word economy is as much a given as turning up in the first place and pressing play. A top class presenter can still be engaging, entertaining and informative in fifteen seconds. A time constraint isn’t a handicap, it’s a challenge. If you’d asked Tommy Cooper to get on stage, make people laugh, and get off again in fifteen seconds, you know he could. Listen to Ant Payne, Toni Phillips, or Michael and Andrea to hear presenters pack personality, stationality and a decent hook into three sentences.

There is a school of thought that a station style guide – and the tight format that this particular one calls for – is the antithesis of what makes good radio. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Successful radio depends on your audience and what they demand. It’s a hugely evolved medium, that needs to continually evolve to stay relevant. Millions of people listen to CHR radio in this country every week, where tight formats, minimal speech and excessive station branding are the key to getting your nose in front. If you object to sticking to a style guide – like the person who leaked this one in the first place clearly does – then go to a station that will give you the freedom to do what you want. I’ve listened to a few this week; traditional ILRs where presenters are given the freedom to execute benchmarks, play 80s TV themes under their links, and stopdown for five minutes to talk about their weekend or setup a phoner for the morning. These stations are out there, some of them are excellent, and a lot of them might jump at the chance to have an experienced Bauer City Network presenter join the team. Then there’s Facebook Live, YouTube, Mixcloud, and all the other mediums than enable you to do it your own way. Just like Bauer bought some radio station licenses, and have every right to do it their way. No-one is killing commercial radio; they’re doing it their way. And the whole time somebody else is doing it a different way, commercial radio can continue to thrive. Bauer have a plan, they committed it to paper, and the industry queued up to shout them down for it.

As radio is evolving, the people who are lucky enough to work in this brilliant industry have to evolve too. You don’t have to agree with everything, you certainly won’t like everything, but at least respect each other’s decisions on what they want coming out their speakers.

And if you think this is the only style guide, the strictest style guide, or the longest style guide, you should see the others…

*Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB Q4 2016
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