(By Radio Ink Chairman Eric Rhoads) A couple of decades ago I wrote a story about what the radio industry would look like in 20 or 30 years. We were beginning the process of local marketing agreements, which soon led to companies consolidating and buying up everything in sight. The article discussed advantages and disadvantages. Yet the biggest takeaway was that once radio owned most of its competition, it would significantly reduce its level of promotion — and that would have a devastating impact on the industry overall.
Why would you need to promote to get listeners if you own all the stations that matter in your market? Why would you possibly need to do billboards, TV, and other outside promotion?
My premise was that most would conclude they didn’t need to do any outside advertising anymore. Most in radio assumed those campaigns only took business from competitors, but I felt that not promoting ourselves would result in declining revenues and listening shares.
The reality, I believe, is that without constant reminders to the outside world that radio exists, and that we’re doing exciting things, listeners will be seduced by other media. “But wait, Eric! Nielsen says listening levels are up.” True, but that is primarily because Nielsen started adding younger listeners to the total numbers. Where would overall radio listening be without that change?
And the effect on radio listening isn’t the only issue. When radio fails to practice what we preach, we fall off advertisers’ radar. Do you think advertisers pay attention to who is everywhere, who is out promoting themselves? You bet they do. When radio stations are out of sight, they are out of mind. Though you can say that’s the job of your ad salespeople, there is no way they can touch everyone who might be considering starting a business, or who might be visiting town to launch a new franchise or invest in a business.
When I owned stations, I always kept a few key billboards even when I wasn’t doing a regular campaign. I had the first billboards people saw when leaving and returning to the airport, along with two key billboards going into and out of the downtown area, and boards strategically placed right next to major concert venues.
Why? Because business owners and agencies are in and out of the airport and in and out of downtown, and concert planners visit venues when they’re considering bringing a band to town. I received calls from new businesses coming into the market who told us they liked that we were everywhere. We weren’t, but it felt to them like we were.
Recently when I flew in to the UK, I noticed that a station there had a major presence, dominating every luggage turnstyle. It showed who owned London. Do you think that would impact advertising?
I travel the U.S. about 30 weeks a year, and I rarely see any visuals for radio stations. I’m not hearing much about radio spots on TV these days (even though TV is in decline). Occasionally I’ll see a tiny station logo on a board for a concert or other event, along with its sister stations or even competitors. I doubt those are much noticed, though there are a few exceptions.
I applaud the efforts Entercom is making to promote radio on a national level through the advertising trades. It’s important and well thought out. I also think the iHeart music festivals are bringing in advertisers who want to be a part of the magic.
Yet if radio wants to see a resurgence in listening levels and advertising revenue, perhaps we should consider the benefits of being visible in the marketplace. I’ve seen visibility in major markets for Spotify and Pandora, and I guarantee you it’s helping them with more than in-car listening.
One of radio’s most valuable assets in the past was its ability to promote heavily, be out at every event in the community, and just be visible. We used to own it. Though budgets are slashed and outside promotion is mostly a thing of the past, if there were hard evidence that it would impact advertising levels, would we do it? It’s hard to know for sure, but it makes sense to me.
Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org