Teach Your Advertisers Why They Should Buy Radio


I had the good fortune of spending a considerable amount of time over the years with a giant in the advertising business, Erwin Ephron. You don’t get named by American Demographics magazine as one of the five most influential media people in the past 25 years (2003) by not being pretty good. Erwin’s gifts were many but one of his most notable was being able to make the complicated, simple.

His writings are as relevant today as they ever were. The paragraphs below were taken from an article published in the July/August 1997 Journal of Advertising Research that focused on recency planning, a media planning philosophy which he conceived and championed.

Being familiar with recency’s principles and being able to discuss them with clients, while recommending schedules upon which they are based, will get us closer to a couple of goals – a successful campaign and a renewal – as well as being perceived to be a partner and not simply another vendor.

Here’s Ephron:

Recency planning is based on the idea that most advertising works by influencing the brand choice of consumers when they are ready to buy. Delivering a commercial message in a key window of opportunity — when the message will be most relevant, i.e. when the consumer needs to buy the category. It’s usually events in the consumer’s life — the empty cereal box, the broken dishwasher, that get consumers to consider making a purchase, not the repetition of advertising messages.

Note: When a commercial’s message is relevant, it becomes really interesting. It’s usually relevance and not frequency that gets a consumer to act.

Recency planning starts with the idea that “when” is more important than “how many.” There is a window of advertising opportunity preceding each purchase.

Note: Radio does a terrific job of delivering messaging within this key “window,” as an advertiser can effectively target in time while also delivering a message when the consumer can physically act upon it as much listening occurs in-car.

We now understand that advertising largely works due to a chance encounter with a willing consumer who needs what we’re selling.

Note: This is true even in 2016 and is why “reach” is so important in today’s fragmented media landscape. As Ephron once stated, “Speaking to many is more effective than preaching to a few.” Radio is the #1 reach medium in the U.S., and in our respective markets we can facilitate advertisers “speaking” to tens of thousands.

Since purchases are made each week and planners don’t know who will make them, the media goal is to reach as many different consumers as possible in as many different weeks as possible in order to reach the few that are in the market at any time. Not being there with a message for consumers who are ready to buy is like being off the supermarket shelf.

Note: This is an important point to highlight particularly to auto dealers. Being “out of mind” means being largely “out of luck.” Radio’s affordability enables an advertiser to maintain “visibility,” which is a requirement for “consideration,” which is a requirement for purchase.

Recency planning never claims one exposure is enough. It argues that, in the short term, additional exposures are more often wasteful, because the recipient is not likely to be in the market. The scanner panel evidence bears this out. It shows reaching three consumers once will result in more sales than reaching one consumer three times — and the costs are about the same. Certainly sales are lost because of too little frequency, but more sales are lost because of no frequency at all.

Note: This plays to one of radio’s key benefits, affordable impressions, of which frequency is a by-product. While there’s clearly a correlation between “frequency” and a successful radio campaign, “correlation” does not imply “causation.” Campaigns succeed primarily due to reaching the most people who are in the market for what’s being sold and it’s radio’s affordability, ability to target-in-time, and popularity (reach) that makes it such an effective advertising vehicle.

Being familiar with these and other key planning principles will assist us in transitioning from simply being radio salespeople to media strategists who sell radio. There is a big difference.

Bob McCurdy is the Vice President of Sales for the Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Joe Miller makes the most important point: “…radio – when ‘done’ properly – works.”
    Even terrific placements and a great schedule may falter unless the messaging is a.) appropriate to and consistent with the advertisers’ offers. and, b.) at least tolerable to an audience.
    Otherwise, “the best laid plans….”

  2. Radio is coming up on it’s 100th anniversary very soon. I am hopeful that on that day, those in the industry will finally acknowledge that ” Yes, indeed, it works.”
    The public has liked it all along.

  3. In addition to my work here, I also have taught psychology part-time. You are 100% correct with your thoughts on recency, frequency and exposure. These are principles that have been studies outside of the advertising and marketing communities, so there is no ‘bias’ here in saying that these show radio – when ‘done’ properly – works. Thank you for addressing these matters.

  4. This is a great article to make the case for annual contracts. However, it throws “radio people do it with frequency” under the bus. Of course the ultimate is to achieve both in my book!

    • Yes, Ginger. Even TV knows it now. That’s why you see the same Chevy truck ad 6 times during a 3 hour NFL Football game.
      I can list dozens of “a bad ad heard a lot works better than a great ad heard a little”

  5. I agree to a point, but let’s not sacrifice frequency for reach. I can get results with frequency where I could not with reach. Not every client in my market (227) can afford reach. As Jim Doyle says, “the more limited your resources, the more narrow should be your focus”.

  6. I agree to a point, but let’s not sacrifice frequency for reach. I can get results with frequency where I could not with reach. Not every client in my market (227) can afford reach. As Jim Doyle says, the more limited your resources, the more narrow should be your focus”.

  7. If reaching three people with ad was as good as reaching one person with three ads, God would have never created nagging wives.

  8. I have met several “radio sales” people in charge who had NO clue on their station’s current programming distinctiveness factors [shame on sales talent management – among others]. Typically they used listenership figures to argue with and sold pre-created packages – if the figures went down everything lost. Conversation with Advertisers, listening, help / support them to reach their goals were out of scope…
    Hopefully this kind of sales staff will read this article and improve their knowledge / technique pretty soon.


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