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So you want your business to be a radio hit? Listen up!

Radio advertisingYou've 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 customers.

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.

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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 order by:

  • Evening drive time. 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday
  • 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 Friday
  • Weekends

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
Simple, right?

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 sales courses."

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 presence.

"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


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PLUS: Tips for creating an effective radio ad


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