Radio marketing comes to the fore

More competition and flat audience figures is making marketing more vital for radio. But, as Richard Penty reports, the stations can be difficult to market

The radio audience results from Rajar for the final quarter of 1996 serve to underline the increasing need radio stations have for more and better marketing.

While there are now more commercial stations in the UK than ever before – over 160 – the total listening cake has hit a plateau. After five years of steady growth in listening, thanks to new stations increasing choice, the commercial sector took more than 50 per cent of all listening for the first time in 1995.

However after this peak, the BBC started to fight back, and for three quarters last year, the BBC was just ahead of commercial radio. For the final quarter last year, the BBC increased its share lead to 1.3 per cent. The two sectors are effectively stuck neck and neck.

More worrying is that total radio listening fell for a second quarter in succession – it lost almost 500,000 listeners a week between the final quarter of 1995 and the same period in 1996.

It is this combination of increased competition and flat audience that is making marketing so important for radio stations.

“This is an absolutely crucial time as far as the marketing of radio stations is concerned,” says Tim Schoonamaker, managing director of EMAP Radio, the parent of stations ranging from Kiss FM to Liverpool’s Radio City. “We all have to be really careful about what the positioning of our stations is now and what it will be in the future. There will be a lot more media coming at people, never mind a lot more radio stations.”

Radio presents a problem for a marketer. It doesn’t have any physical manifestation, there is no visual presence, no aroma or taste and no tactile qualities. The obvious focus for branding, the DJs, can have their own problems: “All too often they have great faces for radio,” says Carol Fisher, managing director of CLT UK Radio Sales which owns Atlantic 252 and Talk Radio.

Fisher believes there is only one brand in commercial radio famous enough to be recognised by its logo alone – the London dance music station Kiss FM.

Added to radio’s problem of a lack of physicality is the way it is consumed. It is an intensely personal medium and listeners don’t often wear the station’s badge on their sleeve in the same way they celebrate the consumption of other brands.

Given these problems, and the increasing competition, more and more station are coming to realise that the traditional dependence on jingles and prize give-aways do not create a brand.

“I think stations are moving away from using cash give-aways as a branding tool of themselves,” says Lizzie Palmer, Capital Radio’s head of marketing. “Our marketing now is like a supermarket doing brand work underpinned by a range of special offers.” Capital runs a Birthday Bonanza twice a year when it gives away 100,000 over three weeks. Palmer says:”But we always make sure that we support the promotion with above-the-line brand work. This time we ran TV and posters using Chris Tarrant.”

Cash giveaways have less impact than previously, because like bingo games in newspapers they are now an industry standard. The national lottery is also blamed for dampening enthusiasm in lower cash prizes.

“The problem with cash promotions is that they encourage trial indiscriminately,” says Rhidian Crighton-Stuart, Virgin Radio’s marketing director. “We are really trying to get more 20- to 44-year-olds, who make up the core of our listeners, to try the station.” Virgin tries to boost its ad spend by investing in PR-generating media such as radio-playing posters in bus shelters.”

“Posters are one way of creating a brand personality, but we try and carry that through with things like our station “idents” and little gimmicks like Virgin-branded scooters in London. Ultimately, though, we have to get the music right.” says Crighton-Stuart. If the music isn’t right, you can have the best brand personality in the world and no one will listen.”

Consistency of brand message can even run to the type of advertising a station airs. “It’s all very well making claims about your station targeting this particular group or having these particular brand values,” says Fisher, “but you sometimes have to support words with action.

If that means not running ads that don’t fit with the brand profile then that is what you have to do. If you look at the successful radio brands like Kiss and Classic, they are the ones who have the courage to present a unified message from all sides of the company – as a result you know within a minute of switching on who you are listening to.”

There is hope for radio in better marketing. In 1995 in London, Virgin Radio and Heart FM both launched soft-rock formats against Capital. Both used TV and posters to launch, while Capital has increased its ad spend.

Despite worries about cannibalisation of the market, last year the new stations and the increased marketing spend initially upped total commercial listening in London.

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