BROADCAST: Who's in control of radio promotions? - Media buyers have muscled in on radio promotions. PROs should try to claim them back as editorial placements, writes Chris Scott

The radio promotion continues to be something of an oddity in the marketing world. While the content is delivered as part of a presenter's broadcast, the positioning and content is paid for in advance by those marketing the product in question at a cost of several thousand pounds.

For this last reason, radio promos are often handled by media buyers, and few campaigns are handled by firms' PR function. But some argue that because radio promos are an editorial placement and can most benefit brands when they are supported by local print and TV PR campaigns, they are best handled as PR work. Who is right?

A recent example of a successful radio promotion handled by radio PR specialist Markettiers4DC was the Army's recruitment campaign on London's Kiss 100 station in September last year, which went ahead on one of the most sensitive days for any marketing campaign in memory - September 11 (see case study, p12).

The aim was to recruit 1,000 young Londoners using a fun promotion. By handling the promotion sensitively, the campaign managed to achieve good results.

But beyond the quasi-academic view that PR agencies should handle them as editorial placements, there is the enticing commercial argument that goes 'you could also make a killing'.

The most expensive medium for a radio promotion is Chris Tarrant's breakfast show on London station Capital FM (which Tarrant is rumoured to be quitting).

A two-week promotion on the show costs £120,000 plus prizes - more than many PR agencies' fees from a client, but small change in relation to the media-buying budgets of major brands.

It is for this reason that the radio promotion industry believes PR firms must compete for a share of the media buying budget and float ideas for promos.

'Because of the competitiveness in the marketing sector, another agency will put the idea to the company if the PR agency doesn't,' says Howard Kosky, MD of broadcast PR specialist Markettiers 4DC.

'The majority of money for these campaigns is with media buying agencies. Media buyers have a pot of money to distribute, whereas PR agencies have to go and claim it if they want to run a promotion. When the PR agency takes control of the campaign they tend to be better as they have to demonstrate why they need to run it and what can be achieved,' he says.

Justine Hendry, marketing director at radio promotions agency USP, agrees.

'Increasingly there is a trend towards using marketing budgets more creatively and taking them out of advertising and into editorial areas. The balance is very much in favour of PROs and sales promo companies at the moment,' she says.

But what are the arguments for companies asking their PR staff to take over a radio campaign?

Nicola Young, head of marketing at Jazz FM, the Manchester station recently acquired by the Guardian Media Group, insists that although the content of a promotion is subject to the veto of a station's programming department, it is clear that no single marketing discipline has seized responsibility for the running of radio promos.

The matter is not just one of cost, Kosky believes. He says that where a promotion is managed from a PR agency, other marketing efforts are tied in with the promotion more seamlessly.

'Even if all the different marketing sectors came up with the same idea, the PR agency should still be able to offer better value as it can run the campaign as a catalyst rather than as a complete campaign. It may use it to tie-in with club nights or sampling, and basically take it outside the radio station,' he says.

'Stand-alone promotions are still very strong but in reality they are best used when there is other promotional activity going on as well,' he adds.

A PR agency is better suited to the task, argues Nick Turner, MD of broadcast PR firm Phoenix Radio: 'I think generally, they (PR agencies) have a bit more flair and can often sell things in to stations better. Media buyers are a lot more black-and-white, whereas PR agencies can sit and chat and work things out.'

This is a view shared by Grant Levy, MD of rival Radio Results: 'Promotions shouldn't be dealt with by ad agencies as the content goes into the programming. PR companies have to get more involved as it's their remit. They should be getting those budgets and pitching the ideas to clients to secure them.'

However, if PR companies are to take the lead in managing radio promos, it begs the question: why should they need specialist radio promos agencies when they are sufficiently equipped to manage other areas of the media?

Not surprisingly, the radio promo specialists are quick to defend their role. Levy says: 'The main problem (for PR agencies) is a lack of knowledge. They know what the aim of the campaign and the target market is. The biggest fall down they have is understanding the different presenters and stations.

'A lot of agencies are now getting someone in-house who can book promotions and book the airtime - anyone can do it. Where it gets more difficult is when you want something more bespoke than an off-the-shelf product. That's where companies like us come in,' Levy adds.

Kosky agrees: 'Radio promotions require a high level of understanding of programming. PR agencies do adequate promotions when they work on their own, but as they are not experts they don't know what constitutes a bad radio promotion. Often they won't get results on the campaign back for two or three weeks after it has finished, whereas we can monitor and track the campaign live on a daily basis.'

Worse still, according to Hendry, is the wasted attempt to spend large budgets on a radio promotion without sufficient knowledge of the show on which the money is being spent: 'Often clients will look to run a promotion with the biggest presenter or the biggest station, some of whom will not devote themselves to the brand, particularly those who have been at the station for a long time. If you think laterally and use different presenters and styles you can do more for the brand,' she says.

Harrison Cowley account director Sarah Hughes concedes that, for many agencies, radio promos remain too specialised a field: 'If we are doing a promotion with a few radio stations then we tend to handle it ourselves. If we are looking for a national campaign or targeting a large number of stations then we tend to use a radio promotions agency. There's no way a PR person can know every station, and it's a case of using their expertise.'

Clearly, the targeting of the radio promotion is key, and it is the knowledge of presenters and stations - and their relationships with the listener - that agencies lack. This knowledge is key because the power of radio means that unless a promotion sits comfortably with the station's format, style and listenership, the campaign can flop.

Hendry says a correctly tailored campaign can tap into a very strong relationship between the presenter and the listener: 'With breakfast show presenters there are very intimate one-to-one relationships with the listener - people listen while they're getting dressed and so on. It's about tapping into that relationship.'

It isn't simply about targeting shows with the largest audience, either. Kosky suggests aiming for the biggest markets - drive-time and breakfast shows are the most listened-to shows on most stations - is not always best. Knowledge of idiosyncratic features of the station and the presenter's style may present arguments against certain ideas.

But nevertheless, Kosky says most firms want to run their campaigns at breakfast or drive-time.

'If the promotion is for something like, say, Gilette, which is a very macho brand and the breakfast show has a very camp presenter, then it is far better to trail it at breakfast then run the promotion in the afternoon or drive-time with a more "laddish presenter,' Kosky says.

Radio continues to be a specialised area for PR, and promos take advantage of the unique trust presenters and DJs have with their listeners that provides a powerful editorial environment for brands. These two factors alone would support an argument that radio promos are a PR tool and ought to enable agencies capable of coming up with ideas for radio promos to claim the right to manage them through to broadcast.

Yet, in the current dismal climate for marketing, PR firms will have to fight to win the budget for such campaigns, particularly if they continue to lack the know-how to make the best of a radio-based idea.

CASE STUDY - THE ARMY RECRUITS ON THE RADIO

The Army ran a two-week promotion with Markettiers4DC on London radio station Kiss 100 FM in September last year. Having been planned for 11 September, the Army decided to press ahead with the campaign despite the terrorist attacks in the US.

The promotion - likely to have cost in the region of £20,000, plus prizes to be placed - ran on the Bam Bam Breakfast Show, an attempt to use the popularity of the presenter to address the cynicism of the target market. The campaign sought to recruit 1,000 new soldiers from London.

Listeners were encouraged to register on the Kiss 100 website to register for Operation London Soldier for a chance to win a commando-style holiday and to be put forward for the Army Challenge Day (which consisted of challenges such as an assault course).

Markettiers4DC commercial services director Oliver Russell admitted that the decision to continue the campaign despite the US attacks was not the agency's: 'The Army wanted to increase recruitment and there was no change to that. When we spoke to the Ministry of Defence we were stunned that they came back within a few days and said they wanted to do it.'

However, the global diplomatic situation was sufficient cause for concern to alter the prize on offer.

An adventure holiday in Cyprus was substituted for a part in a training exercise that was to have taken place in the Middle East.

The Army is understood to have initially wanted to run Operation London Soldier on Capital Radio. It was dissuaded by the agency on the grounds that Kiss offered a more direct route to the 15 to 24-year-old male target group, and was significantly cheaper as a result of its smaller listener numbers.

Despite reporting a relatively low number of entrants to the competitions in the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy, particularly initially, the campaign reached 710,000 listeners delivering almost three million promotional messages. Interest in the campaign picked up later in the promotion, and was described overall by Kiss 100 as 'high'.

The Army will not report recruitment figures.

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