Making Radio Tangible: Get Credit For Your Results


(By Barry Cohen) When I started selling radio (in the Pleistocene Era), we entered into daily battle with the dinosaurs known as newspapers. These monsters devoured the local clients’ ad budgets, breathing fire and scorching the earth. The number one client objection we faced on a daily basis: “When I advertise in the newspaper, I know it’s working because customers bring my ad in. I never know if radio is working for me or not.”

All too often, prospects resorted to tactics like forcing the radio salesperson to write copy saying, “Mention this ad and get blah, blah off.” What do you think happened then? “No one mentioned radio (or your station), so no one heard the ad,” asserted the advertiser, smugly.

Where’s the flaw in this, you ask? Well, the radio ad may very well have reminded them of other advertising they saw, heard, or read, but as an intangible, it didn’t receive credit for the sale. There’s the phenomenon of “last reference” — when you query the customer, they will most often cite the last place they recall an advertising message. Asking them where they heard about you is simply unreliable. So it’s not a matter of whether your advertising measures up, it’s a question of whether your measurement measures up.

Today, we face a similar challenge with Internet advertising. The client will insist that they can track their Internet response with online coupons, “cookies” and other analytics. What to do? Educate the client on how to accurately gauge the results of a radio campaign by making it more tangible.

Help them understand the need to have more than one indicator to measure response. Viewed together, they provide a more accurate picture.

Here are a few ways they can do just that.

  1. Use a dedicated phone number that does not appear in any other medium.
  2. Set up a dedicated URL or landing page advertised only on your station.
  3. Make a special offer that does not appear in any other advertising.

Years ago, stations had loyalty club cards. When listeners flashed them, advertisers knew where the response came from, without question. They functioned as “radio coupons.” In addition, advertisers should look for changes in the geographic and demographic profile reflected in their traffic. Advertising on a 50,000-watt flamethrower for the first time may in fact bring in people from outlying areas that never patronized them before, so check those ZIP codes.

Similarly, if the advertiser sees a different age, gender, or ethnic mix that corresponds to your station’s audience profile, it also serves as a strong indicator that their radio buys are in fact generating traffic.

Free Lunches With Big Paybacks

Sometimes you have to ask the audience to do some of the work — but not too much heavy lifting. We did a restaurant promotion where we told the listeners of the Rock station to bring in a ticket stub from a Springsteen concert and get one absolutely free entree. The result? With only one week of advertising on one suburban station, we generated 856 documented responses (guest checks with ticket stubs attached).

How smart was that? Well, the restaurant owners understood that those patrons would also buy drinks and desserts, bring friends — and return to become regular patrons. We created customers, not just sales, and we got full credit for our results.

Should you tell people to show up at the retailer’s location wearing a station T-shirt? Ask them to write their own coupon? To e-mail in a selfie holding up your call letters? Yes, if the incentive is motivating enough. I’ll talk more about offers in my next article.

Barry Cohen is the managing member of AdLab Media Communications, LLC ( He’s sold both suburban and major-market radio, served as a station manager, and has presented RAB workshops and webinars. He is the author of the book 10 Ways to Screw Up an Ad Campaign and co-author of Startup Smarts.


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