Kiss embraces a future beyond radio

The Kiss FM network will undergo its biggest rejuvenation to date next week. Its analogue network is being enlarged with the rebranding of Vibe in Bristol and East Anglia. There will also be a new logo and “sonic branding” alongside changes to the schedule, which has already been tweaked following the return of programme director Andy Roberts in May.

During the 1990s, when dance music was at its height, London’s Kiss 100 was the station of choice for the clubbing generation. But as the popularity of dance and clubbing has declined, so Kiss’ audience has followed suit.

In the third quarter of 2002, the EMAP-owned station attracted an audience of 1.7 million across the capital, its highest reach to date. In the latest Rajar figures, it reported a reach of 1.49 million listeners, although this was up by 211,000 on the previous quarter and 6.8% on the year.

The station already has a new breakfast show, now presented by Robin Banks, but previously fronted by DJ Bam Bam. His departure followed a &£175,000 fine from Ofcom following lewd comments made on his show. High-profile DJs such as Carl Cox will also front programmes.

Beyond a radio brand

But for Kiss managing director Bill Griffin, who joined EMAP a year ago from Channel 4, the changes are about a lot more than a logo and a few new shows. He says the overhaul will move Kiss on from being just a radio brand. Besides extending the network and strengthening the London station, Griffin is particularly enthusiastic about “raising our game in digital media”.

He states: “We are going to focus on content, brand and communications, developing and improving across different platforms. We are aligning ourselves for a more fully converged era. Kiss is sufficiently elastic to stretch across new platforms, and radio is only one part of that.”

While the revamped brand will revolve around a totalkiss.com website, Griffin hints at plans that go much further than just podcasts and mobile content. The brand is already involved with social networking site MySpace, and Griffin is clearly excited by digital’s potential.

Industry sources expect Kiss to move even further into online social networking and point to the BBC’s concerts on virtual community site Second Life – a site where people develop a “second personality” in a virtual world. They say this is becoming a key way to engage youth audiences.

There will also be more interactive elements to shows, space for user-generated content and new elements such as blogs. Griffin describes the strategy as the “democratisation of Kiss”. While admitting this sounds rather pretentious, he believes it will create more opportunities to “hand the station over to listeners”.

His aim is for Kiss to become “the brand for the under-30s” and people who see themselves as “intelligent hedonists”. But to succeed, Griffin believes Kiss must adopt a challenger brand attitude. He adds: “I can’t believe that in a vibrant and cosmopolitan city like London, Magic, Heart and Capital are the top stations. I want Kiss to liberate itself and have a salient and distinct attitude for young Londoners.”

Finding a new direction

Griffin’s vision for the brand has received a warm reception from media agencies. Vizeum head of radio Zoe Schmid says that Kiss had “lost its way”. But she adds: “I feel more convinced about where Griffin wants to take it. He clearly knows what he wants to do.”

The target for the rejuvenation of Kiss, which will be supported by a significant marketing campaign through its creative agency Odd, is to grow to an audience of 1.7 million and increase the station’s average listening hours from six to seven.

Griffin is certain that the development of Kiss across new platforms will lead to “consumers” of the brand having a deeper relationship with it. In turn, that will offer advertisers new ways to engage with their valuable, young audience.

But he is adamant that the brand has to move with the times and have attitude. He explains: “If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.”

Caroline Parry

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