EMAP has not had much in the way of good news over the past few months. The media group, which spans magazines, television, radio and online, is going through a strategic review that is expected to see at least part of it sold off.
So last week’s radio audience figures must have provided some much-needed cheer. The Rajar figures for the second quarter of 2007 show that Magic has retained the number one spot in London and that Kiss has taken third place with a larger share of the London market than GCap-owned Capital 95.8.
EMAP has long trumpeted its multi-platform approach to its brands, which led to the creation of EMAP Advertising in 2000, and it has been applauded by radio buyers for helping to “migrate audiences” across its platforms.
Traditional radio tactics still work
But while observers agree that this will become increasingly important in the digital future, they add that EMAP’s success with stations such as Magic and Kiss is due to programming and format development rather than its brand strategy.
Initiative Media head of radio Jonathan Barrowman says: “The brand gets you there but listeners do not hang around if the product isn’t good enough. It is easier to look at where Capital has faltered. It does not stand for anything as a brand – London is not a USP – and it has taken too long for the product to be tweaked. In two years, people drift away.”
Something similar could begin to happen to EMAP’s analogue brands, says Paul Chanter, radio consultant at United Radio, if the company continues to focus on music rather than personality DJs.
He adds: “Brands are personified by music, image and, more than ever, personalities. If radio only plays music then it will lose the battle with the iPod. They need to invest in talent and there is going to come a time when they will need to push that more.”
Away from Kiss and Magic, EMAP’s digital radio brands, which include Smash Hits!, Q and Mojo Radio, all put in solid performances this quarter. Rock music station Kerrang!, which is available on digital and on analogue in the West Midlands, reported an increase in reach from 1.2 million in the second quarter last year to 1.4 million this year.
But it is having a more torrid time in the regions: The Big City Network, which includes analogue local stations in Sheffield and Manchester, saw its reach fall from 4,805,000 listeners for the second quarter last year to 4,673,000 this time.
Andria Vidler, managing director of Magic 105.4 and National Digital Brands, disagrees that format and programming is the key. “My background is in marketing so I look at the audience insight rather than the format.”
She points to Heat Radio, which is being relaunched from being a jukebox-style station to the UK’s first celebrity radio station based around the magazine. Vidler and EMAP believe that the hourly celebrity news and shows, which will be broadcast from the Heat office, is missing from commercial radio at the moment.
Heat’s new ad model
Key to the relaunch of Heat is its new ad model, which has been welcomed – albeit cautiously – by agencies, and aims to bring advertisers and radio brands closer together. It will see spot ads scrapped and will invite just five advertisers to work with the station to create content and sponsorship and promotions.
EMAP head of broadcast advertising Karen Stacey, who has developed the strategy with Vidler, says the strategy offers something new from a commercial point of view: “If things start to fade or it doesn’t work we can change it. In traditional radio, you make an ad, put it on and it runs for four weeks.”
She says that Heat is the test and if it works then it may use the same strategy for Closer Radio, which launches on the second national digital multiplex next year. But she admits: “The danger is if you find a winning formula for one, you think it fits them all. It has to start with the brand and understanding it.”
EMAP is convinced its brand-led approach is key to future success in media but with a potential break-up of the group looming the future of this strategy – even with licensing deals in place – looks decidedly uncertain.