Surprisingly, UK commercial radio seems to attract more sponsorship money than television. No industry figures are published, and current estimates vary, but probable value is between £35m to £45m, with perhaps £10m to £15m more being spent on associated promotions. Not bad for the “two per cent medium”, as it is frequently described.
Many UK commercial radio stations derive as much as 30 per cent of their revenue from sponsorship; in the early days of Classic FM, 50 per cent of their income came from this source.
Radio operators cite several reasons for their success. Regulation is less severe and allows for more sponsor exposure on-air. Programming is more flexible. And (according to radio marketers) radio is a more appropriate environment for sponsorship than TV.
The Radio Authority Code is generous, to say the least. A cross Michael Grade – angered by the freedom given to radio sponcors – once described it as “an abomination”.
Any programme other than the news can be sponsored. And even some aspects of news gathering are sponsorable, such as foreign reports, sports, weather and traffic reports.
Editorial control rests with the broadcaster, but the involvement of the sponsor is allowable – even when the programme is directly linked with the sponsor’s commercial interest. One example of this was the long-running LBC Fix-It Phone In, sponsored by Texas Homecare. While endorsement of the sponsor’s product or service is not supposedly allowed within the programme, it’s difficult to police.
Radio’s great strength must be in its suitability for promotional activity – such as creating awareness of sampling opportunities, door-drops, activity in shopping centres etc.
Major sponsorships have included The Network Chart Show – supported for eight years by NescafÃ©but now a Pepsi property. Kit-Kat had a very successful involvement with The Break – a deal which included a national search for new music talent in clubs and other live venues. At Home with Quickbrew was featured nationally on AM/Gold stations.
More recently, we have seen Rover’s sponsorship of the Wimbledon Reports, the Wella Shockwave (fashion, style, music and gossip), the Clover Taste Game – which combines an on-air competition with roadshow sampling, and The Kahlua Groove – music industry gossip combined with nightclub sampling. These four, plus deals with TSB, McDonald’s, Barclaycard and Daewoo, were all the work of Media Sales & Marketing. Media S&M has just set up a specialist sales team under Lesley Kerrell to service 44 stations.
Many stations have been successful in attracting sponsorship, but the leader must be Classic FM, with a long list of sponsors. Some people feel that the volume of sponsorship on Classic FM is becoming a turn-off – but their success continues.
Growth of sponsorship on radio will come from innovation in the way it is used, but also from the further expansion of the medium. There are now 177 stations with a further nine licences awarded but not yet on air.
Stations that have launched during the past 12 months include Talk Radio, Scot FM, Century, Heart FM, JFM, Galaxy and Kiss 102. Heart FM (London), London Christian Radio, and Viva are soon to launch, and five major regional licences are yet to be awarded.
But Andrew Oldham, sales director of Media S&M, says it is not just the quantity of stations that will expand radio sponsorship; there are now “more formats, offering different environments, different programming and new opportunities – on both music and speech-based stations”.