RTÉ 2fm rebrands for era of ‘visual’ radio

‘We may be at that 1979 moment again,’ says the head of RTÉ station, Dan Healy

2fm and Image Now, the design consultants that won a public tender to devise the station’s branding strategy, insist there are no quick fixes.

2fm and Image Now, the design consultants that won a public tender to devise the station’s branding strategy, insist there are no quick fixes.

 

When Dan Healy, head of 2fm, first saw the station’s new logo he thought of a Brigid’s cross - a symbol RTÉ used prominently in decades past.

“We were looking for something that had a design language for today but recognised where we have come from. I saw the logo and I saw the future and the past simultaneously,” says Healy.

“It depends who you are, what you see in it,”clarifies RTÉ Radio marketing manager Laura Beatty. “People of a certain vintage – no offence, Dan – might see a Brigid’s cross. And if people see the legacy of 2fm in our logo, that’s not a bad thing.”

The 15-34-year-old audience 2fm is chasing is unlikely to make same conscious connections as Healy, who is in his early 50s. And the logo, a curvy “2” in double-white stripes wrapped around a cloud of flames, was designed with modern needs in mind: it can be animated, lending itself for use across digital platforms.

It’s just one element of an all-encompassing rebranding of 2fm that began when Healy made sweeping schedule changes in February 2014. The project took another step forward last month when 2fm “soft-launched” a suite of new presenter visuals and began a digital-focused advertising campaign in a bid to recruit more young listeners.

Both 2fm and Image Now, the design consultants that won a public tender to devise the branding strategy, insist there are no quick fixes.

“This isn’t about a 2fm car sticker,” says Image Now managing director Darrell Kavanagh.

The starting point was that the radio business today “isn’t just what it sounds like, it’s what it looks like”, says Kavanagh. The mission was to help 2fm future-proof itself beyond FM radio in this visual world, while claiming territory it describes as “nourishing entertainment”.

Nourishing entertainment, according to Image Now, is radio that is hunger-satiating, “morphic”, unexpected and smart. The idea should be to trigger reactions all the way from “like”, “I didn’t know that” or “Oh, that’s new”, to “I can’t believe 2fm did that” and “Clever f***ers”.

“I want a 22-year-old to say: ‘2fm are clever f***ers.’ Then we’ve won,” concludes Kavanagh.

For Healy it was important to make the changes to the station line-up first. When he joined RTÉ in June 2013 he was given a mandate by director-general Noel Curran to do whatever he had to do to make 2fm turn a profit – while also lowering the average age of its listenership. It’s a work in progress.

“The first thing we had to do was take our money back,” he says. But as the audience had aged well beyond the 15-34- year-olds it was meant to be targeting, his remit included “shagging out” the older listeners – losing them, in other words. A raft of presenters with the wrong kind of following were dispatched.

Several of the new intake are namechecked. Breakfast Republic co-host Bernard O’Shea has, as Kavanagh puts it, “a darkness and a lightness to him”, while in the evening slot, Louise McSharry is the knowledgeable, enthusiastic voice of new music.

The two most recent Monday-Friday signings are Eoghan McDermott, who has been delving into political topics of late and will moderate 2fm’s general election debate, and former Spin 1038 breakfast co-presenter Tracy Clifford, whom Healy describes as multitalented.

Bláthnaid Treacy’s bilingual National Chart Show, meanwhile, will eventually feature less and less “Béarla” in its Friday evening slot, he says.

While the presenters may have their own individual styles, the overall feel and attitude of the brand seems cohesive for the first time in a long time.

“We didn’t have that core sense of brand before, that one sense of stationality,” says Beatty. Muscling itself into the daily routines of the teenage and twentysomething audience will still be difficult, however.

“Chopped up” Soundcloud clips from its shows, promoted via social media, are “important” to 2fm, she says. Cameras will be put into its studios, with the station intending to “clip and cut” funny moments. It also hopes to install a green screen for Breakfast Republic sketches and would like to put its special election programme on the RTÉ Player.

It’s all part of the “visualisation of radio” trend that is so well advanced in the oft-cited BBC Radio 1, there are reports that the station will eventually be housed in the same division as the online-only remnants of youth television channel BBC Three.

RTÉ Radio 2, as it was then, first went on air in May 1979. “We may be at that 1979 moment again,” says Healy.

“That was when RTÉ started repatriating younger people from the offshore pirates.” Now, as a result of emigration and music market trends, “we have to repatriate the audience again”, he says.

“This isn’t just 2fm’s challenge, it is the challenge for the entire radio sector. I just think it’s a cracking opportunity for us.”