The importance of radio in your marketing

Never before have we had so many channels to communicate, market and spread our message as we do today, and the drive over the past few decades has been too digital – forever new and launching platforms and frontiers, each then developing their own experts as to how to use that platform and how it’s best for XYZ industry and ABC customers (and of course using their expertise to help deliver it).

However, in this drive to digital quite often the old ways can be forgotten, especially for new businesses, enterprises and new marketers, I want to remind and maybe even introduce you to the power and importance of making sure radio is in your marketing plan, from free media to paid for promotion.

Radio isn’t dead!

Whenever I speak to marketers, or to school, college or university students about radio, as part of the introduction I normally ask them how many listen to radio each week, normally with varied results based on age and other factors (such as car ownership), but I normally then go on to ask how many adults nationally as a percentage they think listen to radio each week with a ‘price is right’ style higher or lower game.

Why not take a moment to consider this yourself…. 50%, 60%, 70%, higher, lower?

It might surprise you to know that around 90% of adults (15+) tune in to the radio every week and that the average listener tunes in for over 20 hours per week (Rajar 2020). Now radio in the UK comes in many different forms, platforms and formats which are useful to know and understand especially depending on your target market.

National Radio – These can be your national BBC brands such as Radio 1 – 6, and national commercial brands such as Absolute Radio, Capital, LBC, Heart, Smooth, etc.

Regional/Quasi-national radio – Over the past 15 years we’ve seen an amalgamation of what were the old local radio stations, first by renaming them all (in the main part to Hearts, but most recently Greatest Hits), and then sacking off local presenters / stations so now we end up with national stations with super region opt-outs – Heart as an example as a regional drive show and the rest all comes from London.

Local Radio – The new local radio was born over 15 years ago in its current form as “Community Radio” which means it’s a not-for-profit station, for a town or small area of a county, and normally passionately covers and engages with its community. This could be a community of location or a community of interest. (As a side note, there are still a handful of older local commercial stations that are still broadcasting).

In addition, you have the Local BBC stations, which depending on where you are covering the whole county or several counties together.

Each of these stations, regardless of size will normally still have a target market, for local radio the BBC stations are normally for over 50’s or those with a keen interest in their area, and even community of location stations normally have a core audience.

So, the key, like any platform, is to understand your radio outlets and who their audience is, how you tailor your approach to that station and what you can get out of it.

The approaches – how to get the most out of your message

Free media – Content is king! Great content makes great radio!

Most radio stations are crying out for local content and local people to talk to, you should never underestimate the power of a good press release to the radio station, listening to the station for their interests, engaging with journalists, producers and presenters over email, social media or face to face.

You might get a few lines in a news story, a short clip in a bulletin or invited in for an interview.

With free media and pitching.

  1. It has to be interesting, current or newsworthy to their audience or the presenter, there is always a way to take any story and make it work.
  1. Forward planning, most radio shows and stations are planned days and weeks ahead, so there is no point sending an embargoed press release the day before and hope it gets covered. Especially if you want to get more air time, guests on air or even get the station to an event, activity or even to your business or company.

Be a voice – Have something to say about everything or pivot off something quirky!

Local radio stations, and especially local BBC’s are always looking for go to ‘experts’ about all sorts of topics and interests, so if you are well-spoken on a certain topic make sure you are known to producers and presenters, but also follow current news and offer to speak. You see something in the national or international news or current affairs that might be of interest to their audience, offer to talk about it. But also, be creative, is there an ‘international day of XYZ’ that you can pivot as a talking point for your brand, business or organisation. But also, don’t be afraid to show other areas and interests, do you have a niche that you can speak on, but be created as ‘local businesses person from ABC who also happens to be an expert / has experience in random/obscure or niche interests’

Paying for it – Sometimes paying for your message can be the best way (and doesn’t apply to the BBC)

In radio there are lots of ways to pay to get your message out there, from traditional spot adverts (those 30 – 40 second catchy adverts that people say they hate but can’t help singing the theme or slogan all day), to sponsoring shows, features or branded promotions, competitions and deals – this could be ‘Win XYZ products’ ‘Traffic and travel brought to you by XYZ’ or however creative you can be!

Radio advertising works, you just need to check out the Radiocentre’s research which shows an average £7.70 ROI on radio for every £1 spent.

Remember to keep it simple, radio ads work best to promote a brand, goods or service, not always a direct sell, it’s about raising or sustaining awareness. Radio is a passive medium, so it’s not about people rushing out to get that product now but knowing you’re out there when they need it. Also, the longer on-air the better, sometimes it’s better to have a few adverts every day for a few months than loads of adverts for a few weeks.

Radio advertising doesn’t always have to be expensive; you might expect to pay thousands a month on the big regional brands, but local stations would only be a couple of hundred. Also, never underestimate the power of the contra deal, can you offer goods and services (or promotion) in exchange for some advertising airtime!

Martin Steers
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Martin Steers

Martin has been the Station Manager of NLive Radio for 2 years, and prior to that has worked for BBC Oxford, Eagle Radio in Surrey as well as other community stations. He has also worked and consulted in the wider radio industry, and is one of the founders of the UK Community Radio Network; the organisation that develops, supports and represents Ofcom licensed Community Radio stations. Martin is the founder and Chair of the Community Radio Awards.