RAB’s message is loud and clear

The important thing, once you’ve got the initiative, is to keep the enemy on the run – as any Northern Alliance commander will happily tell you.

It’s a tactic well understood by the Radio Advertising Bureau, which has been putting real pressure on its rivals in other media recently. First it deployed some devastating (if taken at face value) research against the big TV battalions. Now it has opened up a second front against the more deeply entrenched positions of press advertising. Is this second offensive, in short order, wise?

The first thing to be noted is that RAB enjoys the advantage of high morale. It may be considerably smaller – as a six per cent medium – than its principal rivals, but the numbers are moving in the right direction. According to Advertising Association figures, radio advertising spend grew from £516m in 1999 to £595m in 2000. While no one can be said to be benefiting from the present media recession, radio is more combat-ready than any of its rivals, with the exception of direct marketing.

The second is that TV looks like a very soft target at the moment. The inherent advantage of TV as the key branding medium – moving pictures allied to sound – remains undiminished; but the same can’t be said for much else in the TV industry at the moment.

For sure, advertisers are always ready to lend an ear to anyone confirming their prejudices about the excesses of TV air-time trading – and in that sense RAB would always have found a receptive audience, whether its research is credible or not. But what made the timing of the TV offensive particularly interesting is the way it played on advertiser insecurity about the future. TV may have critical mass for now, but how long will that go on? If buying digital, multichannel TV airtime proves to be the nightmare many suspect, wouldn’t a pre-prepared strategy involving another, complementary, medium be a wise call?

Sadly for RAB, this approach will be less effective in taking on press advertising. Press may be in long-term decline, but major structural upheaval is unlikely, meaning RAB will be unable to trigger the same kind of advertiser anxieties it can invoke about TV. No brand manager ever got fired for keeping a national newspaper on the schedule. Nor is the complementary relationship between radio and press as immediately apparent as that between radio and TV.

Even so, RAB’s aggressive self-confidence deserves to win it friends. RAB has come up with a coherent, thought-out industry strategy where others seem to be flailing. Neither TV nor press have effective industry bodies marketing their cause: TV because it never felt it had to; and national press for fear of the leverage it might hand to Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, the best (and seemingly only) call to action by the press has come not from an industry body, but from Metro – which last week launched an appeal to advertisers through a series of ads created by Banc. Tendentious it may have been, but the campaign speaks volumes about the state of the national press.

If only radio could be more creative in other ways

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