Despite the hype attached to the Internet, radio is fast gaining the attention of Wall Street. Brokers reaction to the recent spin-off of the CBS radio division, Infinity Broadcasting, is proof that radio is on the rebound, but are PR's catching on as fast?
For most outside the medium, radio is defined by two infamous names, Howard Stern and Don Imus, but the industry is working hard to change traditional perceptions.
PR's have certainly been guilty of favoring print and TV and are ready to admit it. Are PR's missing out at a time when radio stations are building higher profiles and reaching for a better class of interviewee?
Rene Cassis at the Radio Advertising Bureau, thinks they are. She says radio stations are always looking to book personalities for their shows.
'Producers have problems attracting people that are high profile enough.'
Eric Wright is client services manager at the North American Network, a Maryland-based PR firm that specializes exclusively in radio. He says radio has provided his clients with great coverage, which in some cases has had an immediate impact on sales.
Wright set up back to back interviews for rapper Can-I-Bus which lifted sales the following day. Wright says demand for entertainment guests during the sweeps was also high. He set up 3-4 different programs for various anchors to help them promote their shows. Entertainment is big growth area for North American Network.
Wright adds: 'The industry has changed. Stations at a local level have lost staff and people ask us to do more things. We are benefiting both clients and programmers.'
Wright adds that radio is one of the most underestimated forms of media and explains why PRs are reluctant to make the most of it.
'PRs find it very difficult to weigh the value of radio. You can get clips for print and it is possible to electronically tag TV. We follow up after interviews to find out what has run,' says Wright.
He says PRs are also put off by the speed of change in radio with executives moving between stations and changes in format, making it difficult to keep up with what's going on. Wright says where NAN has benefited is because it has a constant relationship with program directors.
Companies such as Chancellor Media, the country's biggest radio outfit which now incorporates Capstar and CBS' Infinity have been responsible for much of the consolidation activity along with third in the market Clear Channel, currently digesting Jacor Communications.
Media investment bank Veronis, Suhler, claims that the number of mergers in 1995 was 73, last year it was up to 177.
Managing director, Francis L'Esperance says that in terms of radio, the industry has only experienced one year when advertising revenue did not grow, 1991. Radio advertising saw double digit growth in 1997 and will rise at 9.3 % over the next five years, the company projects. It is figures like these that have boosted interest in the sector and helped CBS' Infinity raise so much cash.
'There has been plenty of capital available to fund consolidations. This business performs well in recession and has seen steady growth,' says L'Esperance.
Such is the current interest that CBS' Infinity took over Fox Entertainment Group's title as the third largest public offering of all time, raising $2.87 billion in the market.
Such activity is helping to change the perception of radio as a poorly resourced fragmented industry and turn it into one which brokers are happy to direct funds.
Veronis, Suhler says deregulation has helped the industry enhance demographics and diversify appeal with news, sports and talk formats seeing the biggest expansion. That can only be good news for PR's representing corporate and celebrity clients.
North American Networks supplies syndicators such as Westwood One, UPI and USA Networks, but Wright says there is a lot of interest in what PR's have to offer at a national level.
Veronis Suhler's L'Esperance says many of the newly expanded companies are looking to build their own networks to provide coverage for their station groups.
L'Esperance also quips that radio has the quickest strategic decision makers, given that program directors have to decide what's on next every three minutes - when a record ends.
With 3-4 dominant groups in each city, intense competition can only work to a PR's advantage.