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On the air: PJA and an unconventional strategy

PJA Advertising+Marketing released the final segment of its audio pilot program The Unconventionals last week, introducing listeners to Rubber Tracks recording studio in Brooklyn. Converse, maker of the iconic Chuck Taylor All Star shoe brand, operates the studio and invites up-and-coming musicians to use it for free.

The bill lands on the desk of Converse CMO Geoff Cottrill.

“It’s such an interesting way to think about making a marketing investment,” says Mike O’Toole, president-PJA and host of the show. “They don’t ask for anything in return and just hope it generates good will. And I think that has been the case.”

The Unconventionals features half-hour audio segments focused on companies that have made novel approaches to their markets. The pilot launched in October and included five episodes. The agency already has plans to continue the programming, shopping the show to public radio stations around the country. The Unconventionals platform will expand to include not only audio, but also blog posts, event panels and social media outreach.

“A content marketing platform around The Unconventionals, which features companies that have taken a different path to success — it’s just a good way to highlight the core value of our agency,” O’Toole says. “We try to help our clients stand out by doing the unexpected.”

The agency always had its eye on radio distribution and hired a producer with a public radio background to work with the in-house development team. Segments devoted to companies like Big Ass Fans and Dollar Shave Club wrap marketing case studies in all of the whimsy that listeners might associate with National Public Radio’s This American Life.

“If we can do good stuff for ourselves, it’s a suggestion to our clients that content marketing done right can help you stand out,” O’Toole says. “It can help you connect to an audience. It doesn’t have to be promotional or sales-y. If you are providing something valuable, that will provide some dividends.”

The Columbia University Center on Global Branding sponsored the pilot. “We are in conversations about bringing an Unconventionals panel to the [school’s] BRITE Conference in March,” O’Toole says.

The agency is reviewing the pilot performance and working to optimize content and determine frequency before initiating a full launch later this year. The full season could include short recordings to tease longer segments, as well as contributed segments that fit the format.

The pilot segments attracted hundreds of listeners, despite very little promotional effort, O’Toole says. “It was a dark launch to figure out what worked best. [But] the goal is broad distribution.”

Listen to The Unconventionals.

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