As radio audiences grow, so too has the cost of sponsorship
Radio PR received a boost this week with the announcement of the first
international radio service for the PR industry. Medialink’s decision to
join forces with Associated Press and ABC radio to provide satellite
distribution of audio news releases throughout North America, the UK and
eventually Australasia, Asia and South Africa, reaffirms the position of
radio as a valuable and increasingly sophisticated audience for client
Within the UK, leading commercial radio stations are in the happy
position of being able to confirm a basic law of economics: when demand
exceeds supply, prices rise. So it is with on-air promotions.
In the rough and ready early days of commercial radio, public relations
agencies could often negotiate promotions for their clients in exchange
for nothing more than some give-aways for listeners.
Flight tickets, T-shirts, board games, swizzle sticks, jellied eels,
whatever. Even the naffest prizes might have secured you a plug on the
Some misguided souls think this is still the case, but the hard truth is
that it isn’t; radio has come of age.
Research from RAJAR shows that 86 per cent of the UK population listen
to 20 hours of radio every week and the potential of commercial radio
gets serious consideration every time a media buying schedule is put
But advertising is just one option. In the last few years the
realisation has hit many companies that radio could prove to be a highly
effective medium for them to run promotions. Aware of this change in
attitude and upsurge in demand, broadcasters have inflated their prices
to ensure there is not an overabundance of on-air promotions and to
squeeze the maximum amount of revenue out the ones that go ahead.
‘If we don’t push the price up there’s a danger that the airwaves will
be swamped with sponsorships and promotions and they will become less
effective,’ says Capital London director of sponsorship Tim Smale. ‘The
worst thing we could have is our advertisers and listeners saying
Capital is full of promotions. We don’t want to hear that. We’re as full
as we want to be.’
Capital considers about 100 potential promotions or sponsorships every
year, about a fifth of which are programming-related ideas which it has
devised itself and for which it actively seeks commercial backers. The
rest are proposals that come from clients or agencies.
Money alone is not generally enough to secure a promotion. Commercial
radio stations have their listeners and advertisers to think of and are
not prepared to alienate them by transmitting anything that is out of
keeping with the station’s normal output. Consequently, many radio
stations like to be closely involved in the development of a promotion.
‘What we ask for is a thorough brief,’ says London Radio head of
promotions and sponsorship Alexis Thompson. ‘But we need the flexibility
to interpret it in a way that’s good for us, our audience and the
‘What annoys us is the attitude of some PR companies who think they’re
doing you a favour by offering a lousy prize. It’s simply not good
enough to expect stations to jump up and down in return for a packet of
With the music-dominated FM stations, it’s also unrealistic to think you
can circumvent the sponsorship department and set up a promotion with a
DJ. ‘At many radio stations DJs are on pain of instant dismissal if they
do something directly with a PR company,’ says USP Radio Projects
managing director Rob Jones.
Paid for promotions - which at the better stations often require a
budget running to the tens of thousands of pounds - are really the only
effective way of getting significant coverage at the FM music stations.
Fortunately the UK radio market is far more extensive than a handful of
pop broadcasters, with many speech-based stations receptive to PR-driven
ideas for their editorial slots.
According to broadcast consultancy Radio Lynx, there are 164 local
independent stations, five regional independents and four national
independents - Atlantic 252, Virgin 1215, Talk Radio and Classic FM.
Then there is the BBC which has 39 local stations, five regional
networks and its five national stations, Radio 1-5.
There are four main ways of generating editorial coverage on radio -
radio tours, telephone interviews down-the-line interviews and
syndicated tapes. The last rites have been administered to the latter
for quite some time, yet they doggedly refuse to perish.
Many of the larger stations simply won’t use syndicated tapes. They are
also hard to monitor and evaluate, and an agency and client lose all
editorial control once they have been sent out. In a worst case scenario
the tape can be cut in a way that distorts the intended meaning. Radio
Lynx, for one, advises its clients against using syndicated tapes.
‘Why should a station give airtime to your recorded commercial message
which has no relevance to their local audience,’ says Radio Lynx
associate director Claudia Downes. ‘Tapes played out as fillers at small
radio stations are quite simply not cost effective. Surely you want to
achieve the best radio coverage on the larger stations for your
Radio tours, where a spokesperson travels round the country to give
interviews at the studios of various broadcasters, are often popular
with stations and clients alike. But the big drawback is that they can
prove too time-consuming to be cost-effective.
Radio stations try to avoid telephone interviews if they can because of
the poor sound quality. The quality of a down-the-line interview on an
ISDN link is much preferred. Last year Radio Lynx alone produced 1,300
of these, and began this year by helping Cadbury’s gain over two and a
half hours of radio exposure on 27 stations by arranging down-the-line
interviews on the subject of its research into the UK’s chocolate buying
habits during 1995.
But isn’t arranging ISDN interviews something that PR companies and in-
house teams can do without specialist external help?
‘The question is should PR companies have their own ISDN link?’ says
Rowland Company business group director corporate, Aisling Mullen.
There wouldn’t be any insuperable technical barriers to such a set-up.
And indeed installing an ISDN link would make a lot of sense for some of
the bigger PR agencies. But that’s not to say that PRs should try to do
without the radio specialists.
As experts in the field, they have the sort of regular contact with
radio journalists, producers and programmers that can make the
difference between getting coverage and wasting your time.
‘Three years ago clients made the decision on what they wanted and used
us as a facility to do it,’ says Howard Kosky, managing director of the
Market Tiers. ‘Now the client will bring us on board before judging what
mechanics to use.
‘There’s a lot more consultancy and advising up front with the
campaigns, which is encouraging,’ he says.
Radio is now a far more sophisticated, market-driven affair than its
Nobel Prize-winning inventor Guglielmo Marconi could ever have
Retail radio: Turning off in-store muzak
What do the following DJs have in common? Pat Sharp of Capital, Kara
Noble of Heart and Mark Simpson of GLR. The answer is that in addition
to their work for the well-known radio stations mentioned above, they
ply their trade for Retail Broadcast Services.
RBS is unquestionably one of the radio success stories of the 90s,
blazing a trail for that nascent medium that is in-store radio. Just
three years ago it was approached by DIY chain Texas.
The retail giant had realised that consumers wanted to hear music in
its stores but were being poorly served by the tinny muzak tapes they
had been forced to put on in the past.
RBS, which was formed by ex-radio professionals, set about developing
Texas FM - the DIY chain’s very own radio station. Today Texas FM is
still going strong and RBS has added BhS and, more recently, Granada’s
service stations to its client roster. The company also provides
satellite and technical services to Virgin Megastore’s own radio
RBS claims its output reaches 3.8 million listeners a week, with another
million projected for when Granada has all its service stations taking
As with other radio broadcasters, each of the retail radio stations
requires a Radio Authority licence as they can be picked up by anyone
with a digital satellite dish, taking the retailers’ messages to
listeners outside the shops.
Although most of the spoken output refers to what the retailer has to
offer, there are some opportunities for other companies to get involved
with promotions or to get an editorial mention. There is, for example, a
morning business news slot on the Granada station.
RBS owns all the stations. Clients pay it a monthly fee which equates to
about pounds 200-250,000 per annum.
Although it is the main force in UK retail radio, RBS is by no means the
only player. Supermarket chain Asda pioneered the way with its own in-
store station and other companies are looking to exploit this market.
For Chrysalis, which owns regional radio stations Heart and Galaxy but
also supplies in-store audio/visual equipment and video walls, breaking
into retail radio is a logical step. Last October it relaunched part of
its business as Chrysalis Retail Entertainment to offer, inter alia, in-
store radio. ‘Retailers have to look at a way of offering their
customers a more attractive and informative environment,’ says Chrysalis
Radio director of strategy Trevor Morse
‘If you’ve got 200 outlets the cost of running a full service retail
radio operation would be reasonable. If you’ve only got 25 the cost may
not make it commer-cially viable.’
Expect to see more large retail chains embracing in-store radio.
Case study: TWA takes off in Europe
US airline TWA recently emerged from chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in
the States. With finances tight, it wasn’t in a position to lavish large
sums of money on an above-the-line campaign but still needed to find a
way of building its profile in Europe.
In September 1995 Elise Eberwein, head of TWA Promotions and Advertising
at the airline’s worldwide headquarters in St Louis, commissioned UK-
based USP Radio Projects to organise and manage a series of radio
promotions in key European markets. The objectives behind the promotions
were to raise and maintain awareness of the TWA brand and to point up
the wide range of destinations served by the airline.
USP worked with TWA’s ad agency DMB&B to select the most appropriate
European radio stations for the task. The stations picked - which were
all national broadcasters, except in the UK where two London-only
stations were chosen - were HR3 (Germany), RFM (France), Radio
Dimensione Suono (Italy), Radio Reshet Gimmel (Israel) Radio Energia
(Portugal) and London Radio 97.3FM and London News Talk 1152AM (UK).
The ‘Take Off With TWA’ promotion was the airline’s biggest promotion
ever and was unusual for radio in that it ran in half a dozen different
countries. The crux of the promotion was a competition asking radio
listeners to name destinations TWA flies to and from in Europe. In
addition, some airtime was given over to promoting the attractions of
The stations were given airline tickets to New Orleans to be used as
prizes for listeners. Five luxury hotels in the city offered free
accommodation to radio stations as part of the competition package in
return for which they were given on air credits.
The promotion lasted between two and six weeks, depending on the
station, with the exception of Germany where HR3 has been running it in
six separate bursts over a six-month period. In all, the cost of the
Take Off With TWA promotion was about pounds 150,000.
‘Take Off With TWA is the biggest single pan-European piece of radio
promotional activity that I’ve ever come across,’ says USP Radio
Projects managing director Rob Jones.
Case study: Doritos find the youth factor
Walkers’ Doritos brand has traditionally relied a great deal on TV
advertising. But for three weeks from November 6 last year it ran its
first ever radio promotion. What came to be known as Doritos Party Zone
was quite unusual in that it combined radio promotion with sales
Radio promotions specialist The Braben Company was briefed by Walkers to
devise a campaign that would target 18-30 year olds who felt ‘forever
18’. From scratch it came up with the concept: ‘Doritos Party Zone - the
snack that loves to party.’
Braben set about developing this concept with 26 music stations, making
sure that the promotion was tailor-made to suit each. Stations involved
included Clyde FM, Piccadilly, Invicta and Capital. Many of these came
up with their own party themes and sound effects to support the
On each of the 26 stations the promotion was booked to go into the
evening drive-time shows or later - shows which listeners heard after
work which would get them in a party mood. Braben deliberately picked
those shows with the most upbeat, fun-minded DJs to underscore the link
between Doritos and having fun at a party.
Each radio station was encouraged to develop the party theme in their
own way, but the core of the promotion was a competition with party-
related prizes such as CD players and flights to the capital of good
times, New York City.
Braben worked very closely with sales promotion agency The Marketing
Store. A week before the on air promotion began, bags of Doritos began
appearing in the shops flagging the competition and promoting the local
radio station on which it was taking place. Each flavour of the product
had a different competition answer on its bag, encouraging consumers to
sample them all. This was supported by point of sale material which also
plugged the local radio station running the promotion.
The marketing support Doritos was giving the broadcasters helped secure
favourable airtime rates. In all the radio campaign cost pounds 200,000,
exclusive of the sales promotion costs.
‘The more you tailor it to the local market, the stronger the messages
on the retail side,’ says Braben managing director Sarah Braben. ‘PR
firms could use our sort of agency a lot more than they do. Sales
promotion agencies seem more open-minded.’
The client was pleased with the promotion. Sales of the brand have risen
although the exact impact of Doritos Party Zone has yet to be