Can radio do the business?

Business people may be notoriously difficult to reach, but radio is providing an increasingly useful alternative to the usual routes. Neil Webster is head of national sales at News Direct.

The newly published British Business Survey reveals a business community in the UK which is somewhat at odds with the popular stereotype of the cigar-puffing company chairman. For example, the average age is only 42.

They are also avid consumers of all sorts of media, which would seem to contradict the way that we in the marketing business tend to see them as hard to reach.

But the reality is that, while they are not hard to reach in statistical terms, making meaningful contact is an increasingly difficult challenge. Business people are often busy, and they are obliged to edit material ruthlessly in order to manage the amount of messages which surround them.

It’s hardly surprising that they are so besieged with advertising and promotions, as they are a key target, not only for the obvious categories such as business equipment, courier services or air travel, but also for related sectors such as cars, mobile communications and financial investments.

The result of this increasingly ruthless editing is that the effectiveness of the traditional channels for reaching business people is now in question. It used to be that presence in the quality press was the natural choice for business brands. But now, the amount of clutter in them, together with the business reader’s very selective attention, means that, to be noticed, press campaigns have to be significantly more expensive or more imaginative than used to be required.

The challenge for the marketer in this sector is how to reach this business audience.

Radio offers a potentially interesting alternative (or indeed addition). As can be seen in chart one, commercial radio’s coverage of the business audience has grown to a level which surprises many people – its reach even exceeds that of the quality press.

This is partly down to the development of new stations such as Classic FM, but much of the growth in listenership is attributable to conventional local FM and AM stations.

But, if much of the coverage is accounted for by pop music services, does this mean that radio reaches a less powerful type of business person? The suspicion in media departments might perhaps be that they would fall in the bottom end of the survey’s definition – people “of middle or higher management status whose occupation implies the exercise of significant business responsibilities”.

Far from it. As chart two shows, the seniority of the business people who listen to commercial radio is exactly the same as that of the business community in general This is no marginal media consumption either. Chart three uses the shorthand of broadsheet newspaper readers to demonstrate the point that people like Telegraph and Sunday Times readers spend a significant amount of time with the medium every week.

This extended listening time makes sense when taking into consideration the fact that these people are disproportionately likely to be listening in the car, not just at drive times but also during the day when they are travelling between appointments.

The key point perhaps is that radio, as a secondary or accompaniment medium, has a unique ability to reach business people by “going in under the radar” – it has a voice within their daily world, rather than being one of the many jostling brands competing in the business pages.

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