Harrison’s radio message

RadioCentre chief executive Andrew Harrison may no longer be at the marketing coalface but the job he faces getting radio back into growth and ready for the future will certainly make demands on his experience as a packaged goods marketer.

In his first speech to the radio industry since taking over at RadioCentre, the newly created industry trade body, Harrison last week vowed that this year radio will “change and fight back” and said it is “at the heart of convergence”.

Radio’s downturn
During the 1990s, radio was the “sexy” medium and the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) was celebrated for its role in raising its share of advertising from just 2% in the early part of the decade to 7% in 2004. But the tough trading environment and the resurgence of the internet has seen all media, including radio, suffer.

In his speech, Harrison acknowledged that industry revenues were down by 5% in 2006, with the final quarter down by 10%. He added that revenue had stalled at about a 6.1% share of total media spend – a long way from the 10% share that was once the RAB’s goal. Harrison admits that it was an important speech for him and for RadioCentre, which he says should act as a catalyst for change. Its role covers five key areas: revenue, audience, digital, influence (the future of the industry) and organisation – five priorities that handily spell out RADIO.

It is clear that growing revenue and audience are short-term objectives – he wants to increase revenue by £100m – and being ready for the shift to digital is a long-term strategy. The latter is part of a five-year programme that will cover spectrum allocation and developing a funding and financial plan to aid the migration of stations, particularly smaller stations and groups, to digital platforms.

Harrison is confident about radio’s place in the new digital landscape because it is “the only genuinely portable medium that is convertible in all devices” and because it is the only audio medium and as such can be consumed while people are doing other things, such as surfing the Net.

The latter point strikes a particular chord with industry experts. Mark Story, managing director of programming at EMAP Radio, says: “We have to get across just how important radio can be as a partner to the internet. Radio can signpost people to the Web and the Web can give a level of detail that you can’t in commercial programming.” The industry has welcomed Harrison’s speech and there is a general feeling that he covered the points that were necessary with just enough substance. It appears that after a couple of turbulent years, the industry is ready to unite behind RadioCentre in the same way it used to behind the RAB.

Harrison believes his role at RadioCentre is not that different from his previous roles as a marketer at Coca-Cola and Nestlé Rowntree or as managing director of Müller Dairies. He explains: “Radio is a great brand but like all great brands it has lost some of its lustre, so it is about remarketing the medium. It is really no different to turning around Marks & Spencer.”

Using experience
Ralph Bernard, chief executive of GCap Media, agrees that RadioCentre has to be marketing-led. He adds: “The purpose of merging them [the previous industry trade bodies] was to increase marketing as the lobbying role is no longer the central focus. Radio needs a new lease of life in the hearts and minds of advertisers.”

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