Stepping out of radio’s dark ages: TRN rebrands Classic Hits and incorporates cross-channel content delivery

At an ad-hoc conference held this morning at Ponsonby Central, TRN announced several significant changes to its offering. The key announcements, delivered via TRN’s chief executive Jane Hastings, chief content officer Dean Buchanan and commercial director Laura Maxwell-Hansen, were presented as part of the overarching ‘Change is Now’ campaign, which will serve to promote all the updates over coming months. 

Hastings was the first to stand behind the lectern, and her speech was largely dedicated to the rebranding of Classic Hits.

Unveiling The Hits

“Classic Hits is the music you can sing along to, it’s fresh and local, it’s family-friendly… but there are a few issues with it, because it just does not represent that attitude of this target audience today,” says Hastings.

And this, she says, is why it has been necessary to update the branding of Classic Hits.

“27 April will be the last time you hear the name Classic Hits used, and we will be evolving this brand to The Hits. It’s an evolution, not a revolution. The reason for this is because the core aspects of Classic Hits are bang on: it does great content and it has great music. But while we may know all the words of songs from the ‘80s, we still want to feel that we’re living today.”

She says that consultation with the audience indicated that the word ‘classic’ has been a barrier to brand loyalty, in the sense that people don’t want to be associated with something that has such an antiquated feel.

“People know and enjoy what’s been put out on the station, but no one wanted to represent the brand, so we needed to address that. And there was no better way to address that than by bringing the number one breakfast show that relates to the 30-54 audience along with us.”

“So Polly [Gillespie], Grant [Kereama] and New Hot Guy [Marc Peard] will lead The Hits breakfast, kicking off on 28 April. They own entertainment, they own the interviews with the stars and they are truly mutli-brand. Polly has a Facebook following of 100,000 fans.”

The TRN chief executive then explained that The Hits would be placing emphasis on the entertainment aspect, with particular focus on Hollywood A-list stars. She says that the team has already lined up five celebrity interviews, the first of which will be Matthew McConaughey.


The Polly and Grant Show will air on Breakfast in 20 regions, nationwide on iHeartRadio and an hour of daily highlights will play from 6-7pm nationwide.

Interestingly, the Polly and Grant show will not be limited to these time slots, because Hastings has also announced that there would be move toward cross-brand collaboration.

“In traditional radio land, talent would stay on one station … [but]we don’t believe in that anymore. We think that if you own a piece of content, then why not leverage it. Because surprisingly enough, the Newstalk ZB audience are interested in entertainment. So Polly is going to be connecting with Jack Tame on a Saturday morning to keep everyone up to date. For ZM, Polly is also going to stay on at 4.55pm, keeping everyone up to date on that segment.”

Hastings also said that while The Hits would not become a network brand (beyond the breakfast show), TRN was doubling the local hours during the day. She says that radio is one of the few channels still capable of connecting on a local level and this is an option that they want to retain for advertisers.      

ZM changes

Given that Polly, Grant and the New Hot Guy would no longer be featuring on the ZM breakfast show, there was a lacuna that needed to be filled. And, according to Buchanan, Carl “Fletch” Fletcher, Vaughan Smith and Megan Sellers will be taking the trio of seats vacated by the previous hosts.

“ZM was originally designed to be a challenger brand: it was about breaking the rules, taking risks with music and being funny, irreverent and risky. Over the years, it’s drifted just a little bit. So what we want to do with ZM is take it back to its roots to be an under-40 challenger brand that’s exciting,” says Buchanan.

Buchanan says that it has become increasingly difficult for radio to serve as a platform by which new talent is exposed, because most stations are playing the same music, which just happens to be popular at the time. He says that through ZM, TRN aims to address this problem.

“We will play and risk new songs to expose local and international talent, rather than being worried about what other stations are playing … So you’ll hear a combination of new talent and the hits you love.”

In order to launch the arrival of Fletch, Vaughan and Megan, TRN has arranged for the trio to take a countrywide trip in an ice-cream van. And this move has undoubtedly been made to tap into the huge Twitter following that Fletch and Vaughan have at their disposal. 

Studio updates

In addition to rebranding and staff shuffles, TRN has also invested in a new multimedia studio that will enable the network to deliver content across all channels.

“The studio has incredible video and camera equipment that can stream live and HD quality videos that can go live to mobile devices. We don’t believe the target audience goes home and waits for a TV show to start at 8.30. They want content now, when they want it, where they want it and they want to watch it on what they have in their hands,” says Buchanan. 

What this means for advertisers

Maxwell-Hansen says that this transition has created a range of new content-based opportunities that previously hadn’t existed in radio. 

“Content is at the core of everything we do. This content can be generated purely for an audience or it could be content generated for advertisers.”

And a corollary of this increased emphasis on content delivery is that traditional lines between media channels have also started to fade away.

“We’ve got no brand boundaries. As you saw on the Polly show, we are putting that content wherever an audience wants to be. So no longer do you need to buy a breakfast show or a drive show. You can sponsor Polly and you could be on ZM, Newstalk ZB and you could be on iHeart Radio, whenever and wherever.”

The impact of iHeart Radio is particularly important, because it means that radio brands that were previously terrestrial can now reach audiences regardless of their location. Maxwell-Hansen says that this means that advertisers could potentially target audiences that were previously inaccessible via the traditional mediums.

But to deliver content that is both effective from an advertising perspective and entertaining for audiences it needs to be well executed. And in order to achieve this, TRN has also established an ongoing partnership with Mike Lane—who helped found the Beige Brigade and conceptualised the Alternative Commentary Collective—and he will head a branding engagement team that develops creative content to deliver branded messages across all of TRN’s available channels.

The visual element also opens the door to additional marketing options in the sense that brand logos and insignia can be seen in the studio. And Buchanan says that this approach has already been used for Kiss in Australia, where the entire studio has been wrapped in Coca-Cola branding.

Given that branding makeover for The Hits was done in-house under the guidance of TRN’s marketing director Tracey Fox, it appears that the network is equal to the task of providing relevant cross-channel marketing messages for its advertisers. (The in-house team collaborated with Satellite Media to produce ZM brand and mood videos as well as a mood video for The Hits.)        

All these changes when combined with last week’s announcement from MediaWorks Radio that the Edge brand was extending onto TV indicate that radio is stepping out of the darkness to embrace a more visual means of content delivery. 

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