Digital strategy and improving the bottom line at WGN-AM Chicago


In 2005, Tom Langmyer joined Tribune Company as VP/General Manager of WGN Radio. We asked Tom how WGN has monetized digital at the station, beginning with how the digital strategy has evolved over the years. During his time there, he has made numerous changes to Chicago’s top-rated talker, including changing the host line-up, bringing back the historic “Noon Show” for a time, instituting formatics and thematic sound, hiring new managers, adding news series, demanding a more aggressive news approach, adding the slogan “The Voice of Chicago” and in 2008, taking the Chicago Blackhawks play-by-play rights away from CBS’s WSCR-AM. He also removed what little syndicated programming that was on the station, making it live and local, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

WGN’s digital efforts work in concert with the assets of Tribune. “Tribune Digital created the infrastructure which allows us to create and share content with any of our broadcast and or newspaper partners,” Tom explained. “That makes our content more robust and increases our visibility in order to grow traffic. We are also active with Facebook and Twitter, helping us with story referrals, engagement and promotions.”

For sales, WGN personalities and their connection to core listeners drive the success of ad campaigns both on air and online. Breaking news, sports and weather – and WGN’s sports products allow for much greater reach with their impression-based business.

The game changers
What was the game changer that “clicked” and started bringing in digital revenue? Tom says there were really two for their sales organization: First was buy-in from AEs that this was not only an important part of their portfolio, but it can be an effective part of an advertiser’s campaign with WGN Radio. “By showing our AE’s successful ways to incorporate our digital products into an on-air campaign, they understand the benefits for our clients and are confident in selling our digital products.”

The second “game changer” is e-commerce. Success there shows everyone the power of both WGN’s on-air and online products to drive revenue. The mix of in-house digital management/technology and outside partnerships currently leans mostly in-house, as they create content and use systems developed by Tribune Digital. Outside partnerships for streaming include StreamtheWorld and some phone apps.

WGN’s mobile site, Android and iPhone apps were created by Tribune Digital.

Social media
Social Media is a vital part of the station’s promotional and digital strategy. They update their Facebook constantly and promote through their fan page. “WGN’s Twitter and Facebook are connected so we’re up to date in both mediums. For example, a fire destroyed a bridal shop in Suburban Chicago which meant many brides were left without gowns.”

WGN morning host Greg Jarrett used Facebook in doing a “dress swap.” Listeners posted their wedding dresses on WGN’s page in the hopes that the brides would be able to find a last-minute match. Over 175 dresses were posted and they made hundreds of new Facebook friends. To date the story has been shared and tweeted hundreds of times created a grassroots promotion for WGN –

“We didn’t just cover the unfortunate story of the fire, but did something about it – and then did a broadcast from the town,” attests Langmyer. “Through Facebook, we were able to connect with current listeners and create new listenership in a very positive way.”

Selling integrated packages
How does WGN sell integrated on-air and digital advertising packages? We asked Langmyer for a good success story example. He told us WGN worked with a home improvement company to give away a $25,000 home makeover. This program involved a significant on-air schedule and digital exposure that drove listeners to a micro site created by WGN. “The site gathered specific info about the entrant and gave the client immediate notification when a listener stated that they needed certain home improvement products. Our client was able to contact the consumers to answer their questions. The program generated solid leads for our partner.”

To see more in-depth content for media managers, opt-in to receive the new, interactive MBR. Opt-in link for Manager’s Business Report  

If you missed the 1st MBR, just click here to opt-in to receive the debut issue and be set to receive the upcoming May issue …it’s quick and it’s free!

In the first MBR you missed:
1. Paul Weyland, “How to maximize sales effectiveness with clients”
2. Tom Langmyer, VP/General Manager of WGN Radio
3. Mel Taylor on remnant ad networks being a deadly revenue stream
4. How the industry has moved to digital in EAS alerting
5. 2011 is a whole new financial world for broadcasting 
6. Bubba talks Internet Radio with Jim Carnegie