With ad spend retracting across the board, radio is determined to retain its partners says Katie Bowden, the commercial agency director at Global – the UK’s largest commercial radio company.
“Initially, there was shock and uncertainty,“ she says of the pandemic rendering many campaigns obsolete and pushing Global and other major players, such as Bauer Media, into rapid response mode. “Nearly all of our meetings were just advertisers trying to work out whether they should be on air or not.”
Tesco, Barclays, Aldi and Lloyds all stuck with it, the government injected some PSA spend and even new partner Bumble spotted an opportunity on Capital FM to talk about virtual dating. “After about two weeks, conversations flipped from panic to normalisation,” explains Bowden. ”Then brands started to come back.”
Some of them did anyway. Travel spend fell in line with consumer demand. Automotive, for which radio has long driven footfall to local dealerships, weighed up “pushing a broader brand message or waiting out the lockdown”. Supermarkets were quick to act, but the rest of retail didn’t quite show up.
“As soon as someone in a category starts to spend, the rest need to follow,“ she says, otherwise they risk ceding channels to rivals.
Amid all this, the medium is in high demand from listeners. Commercial radio industry body Radiocentre found that 38% of commercial radio listeners are tuning in for an extra hour and 45 minutes each day, hitting an average of 26 hours a week compared with 14 hours a week prior. As Radiocentre’s chief exec Siobhan Kenny puts it: “In these strangest of times, we are all finding our own ways to cope and I am grateful that radio is proving such a consistent source of comfort and trusted news to so many.”
Global’s own research found that daily reach via connected devices was up by a quarter, while daily hours spent listening was up a fifth. But these larger audience numbers are just part of its pitch, with ease and agility of production the real selling points right now.
On radio, creative and messaging can be altered with relatively short notice, Bowden explains – with an almost apologetic acknowledgment to the scheduling team delivering this. “The main thing is how flexible we are. We can change messaging with little notice.”
Clients record as many as 20 spots at a time, testing and learning as they go. ”Things move quickly and that could mean the message you’ve got suddenly being no longer relevant.”
But radio is not alone in making this pitch for the ad pot. TV spots have never been cheaper to buy – although it has perhaps never been more difficult to produce for, hence why in-house teams ITV Creative and 4Creative are putting in the hours to help clients. But from that production perspective, Bowden says radio is ”so much easier”.
”You haven’t got all those hurdles to overcome. Right now, many brands are leaning on user-generated content or loads of really expensive animation. But audio production is completely doable and possible – you sign off a script and then listen to the recordings and can make amends quickly.”
Meanwhile, rival Bauer Media’s creative department Bauer Adventure has assembled a ‘tone’ team from content, creative and commercial, with Lucie Cave, its creative editorial director, guiding brands through pandemic comms.
Like Global, Bauer’s radio network’s average reach also up a quarter and listening hours up by almost a fifth. And as part of its new tone offering, it has been conducting listener research to gauge the emotions of these larger audiences.
It found that 85% of listeners expect ads not to “exploit” the current situation, while 91% of respondents have shifted their preferred brands these last few weeks. Ads addressing Covid-19, meanwhile, are found to garner 15% more attention than those that do not, so there’s an opportunity – a balance to be struck.
Cave says: “We had a number of key partnerships that were running as we went into lockdown and we helped those clients to change their messaging to be more sensitive and relatable to our audiences. It’s about finding that balance between the right tone of our station and the appropriate tone for the client.”
Some clients, she says, were worried that their “creative may seem out of place,” adding: “Consumers are more critical and judgemental of brands than ever before, so most of them are moving into different messages than heritage brand messaging. This needs to land right and sensitively to ensure they have more resonance.”
Client Benson for Beds, for example, had to adapt its Magic Radio breakfast partnership to move away from sales (production and deliveries were frozen) and so repositioned its spots around sleep wellness, offering advice and tips. Listeners were asked to text in the relaxing sound that sends them off to sleep.
Meanwhile, the messaging of DIY retailer Wickes on the Absolute Radio breakfast show shifted from product range and promotions to at-home DIY inspiration. There’s also ‘Good Deed Register’, with which Wickes partnered so listeners can shout out those who are having a positive impact, “positioning Wickes as a brand that contributes and cares about the community”.
Like Bowden, Cave also concludes that this is where advertisers should be taking their spend: “The creation of ads for radio is a lot more accessible and easier than other mediums, and our presenters have all set up home studios so live-reads can continue, business as usual.”
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