So you want your business to be a radio hit?
successfully launched your business, probably with the help of print
advertising. Now you're looking to further build your brand and
boost your sales by more closely targeting your customer base.
Depending upon your business, radio can be the most
powerful, cost-effective way to reach broad numbers of potential
That's because radio stations are formatted into categories
based on the type of programming they offer: Top 40, easy listening,
golden oldies, country, all news, all talk, progressive rock and
so on. Stations and the industry authority Arbitron
take great pains to monitor the number and type of listeners who
tune in to each format during specific time blocks, or day-parts,
to determine the demographics of each.
Station demos are typically broken down by gender
and age group: 18-to-34, 18-to-49, 25-to-54 and 50-plus. Your advertising
agency and radio sales representative use these listener demographics
to place your advertising into the format and time of day that appeal
to your potential customers.
Timing is everything
Because the size of a station's audience changes dramatically throughout
the day, advertising rates vary, too. They depend upon which specific
time blocks, or day-parts, that the spot airs.
The most expensive day-part is morning drive time,
6 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday. That's followed in descending
- Evening drive time. 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through
- Midday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., weekdays
- Evening, 7 p.m. to midnight, weekdays
- Late night, midnight to 6 a.m., Monday through
Produce a radio spot of 15, 30 or 60 seconds with
the help of your ad agency or a station, select your day-part(s)
and frequency -- the number of times your spot will air during a
certain period -- and voilà! You're a radio star!
Not as easy as it sounds
Wrong, as approximately nine out of 10 of your fellow
business owners will readily attest.
"More than 90 percent of the people who
just buy radio and advertise without planning lose when they buy
it and they're unhappy with the results they get," says Michael
Corbett, author of The
33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising. "That's why
two-thirds of my book has to do with what you do before you advertise."
Corbett knows. As a businessman confronted with buying
radio time, he became frustrated with the dearth of practical information
available to help small businesses realize an impact from local
advertising, the only kind most of them can afford.
"There are all these books and they're fine if
you're Pepsi-Cola, but they don't help you at all if you're Joe's
Fish Market," he says.
So he wrote his own. In it, he explains the hidden
Catch-22 of buying radio: by and large, ad agencies and sales reps
can't help you succeed in radio advertising.
"The same people who populate the local
ad agency are the same people who used to sell for the local media
and they are not trained in advertising and marketing, they're trained
in selling," he says.
"Media sales people do not understand how their
own medium works. They do not get it, any of them. They are not
sitting there with marketing degrees, they're sitting there with
Use it effectively or lose it
Corbett paints an all-too-common scenario.
"Here's why people get sucked in and lose: they
get some creative idea from an ad agency, they like the way it sounds,
let's advertise. Do they know whether that piece of copy
is constructed in a way to produce a particular result? How would
they know? The agency doesn't know, so how would they know?"
What's more, advertising of any kind is risky business
if you're not prepared to use it effectively.
"Any car you buy is likely to run. It has a warranty;
you're taken care of," says Corbett. "With advertising,
you're on your own. No guarantees. Because there are no guarantees,
you had better know what you're doing before you start putting money
into it or you don't deserve to win."
Corbett contends the answers lie outside the advertising
field, in the statistical analyses and behavioral studies that inform
the marketing success of the corporate giants. Corbett says he's
captured the questions at least in his 33 "ruthless rules."
"Until you understand the basic principles of
human behavior and how people learn and how much it takes for them
to learn, you're not going to use any medium correctly," he
warns. "There is no shortcut to this. In the real world, you
lose if you're not educated."
Work with an agency and win
Kathy Kobliski agrees that most small businesses get burned buying
airtime. But the author of Advertising
Without an Agency and owner of Silent
Partner Advertising believes the fault often lies with the customer,
not with their ad agency.
"Some small-business owners just want
to stick their toe in and try it. That never works, ever, ever,
ever," she says. "It's like baking a cake and sticking
it in the oven and all of a sudden getting nervous and pulling the
cake out. You're never going to get cake that way."
Despite the title of her book, Kobliski recommends
working with an ad agency to build a radio campaign. She wrote her
book for people who simply can't afford to.
Agencies typically take a 15 percent commission on
all ad buys and charge an hourly rate for everything else. The latter
can vary widely; Kobliski charges $45 an hour, while major ad agencies
such as J. Walter Thompson will bill at more than $200 an hour.
Depending on your product and media market, Kobliski
estimates that $40,000 to $50,000 would be a rock-bottom minimum
you would need to spend each year for an effective local radio advertising
"Your message has to be clear and strong, you
have to advertising on the right radio station and you have to do
it enough -- you have to give it a chance," she says.
How many air times are enough?
There is considerable skill involved in determining the frequency
of a radio spot to assure that listeners will hear it, and eventually
act on it. Kobliski suggests that 24 spots a week may be the place
to start. Stations usually offer considerable rate breaks for 26-
and 52-week buys.
"You have some stations where people listen for
long, long amounts of time -- country, talk radio, easy listening,
even oldies. You need fewer commercials on one of those stations
to have people hear it, " she says. "On Top 40, hard rock
and younger types of stations, the kids channel surf and click through
those like crazy. You've got to put a lot of commercials on one
of those stations."
Are there some companies that shouldn't consider
radio? Not in Kobliski's opinion.
"No, radio can help anybody," she
says. "One of the beautiful things about radio is you can so
target your demographics by age and by gender that you can just
cherry-pick the stations. You just have to be sure you know how
to do that and that you're on the right stations so you're not ever
advertising to the wrong people.
"If you're advertising on the right stations,
you're never really losing money."
Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor
based in Florida.
-- Posted: June 1, 2001