Radio 2018

What can radio do differently in 2018 to garner a larger share of total ad dollars? Inside Radio posed that question to a group of industry leaders. Among their suggestions: market radio better to advertising decision makers, rely more on audience data, exploit new content delivery platforms and reduce spotloads to more listener-friendly levels.

You would be hard-pressed to find any radio group exec who doesn’t believe the industry needs to tell its story more convincingly to those who control ad budgets. “We need to tell our story better to local, regional and national advertising decision-makers,” says Cox Media Group executive VP Bill Hendrich. “Through the RAB, our own individual efforts, and the collective efforts of broadcast groups, we need to get in front of these decision-makers and help them see radio’s true value in these times and show them ways to make it work for their products.”

For the past two years, Nielsen’s Comparable Metrics report has shown that no media delivers greater reach than radio. But there’s more to the story than that. And Hendrich believes if the industry doesn’t tell its story, someone else will – and it may not be favorable.

That stance gets a loud “Amen!” from Beasley Media Group CEO Caroline Beasley. “We need to toot our own horn and focus on the positives of radio and what the client’s needs are,” she says. “Every advertiser is different. Let’s go back to Radio 101 and wrap our arms around the areas where we can help our advertisers – and get more creative. It’s all about providing an experience.”

For Hartley Adkins, president of Integrated Revenue Strategy at iHeartMedia, it’s a matter of generating the same fervor among advertisers that listeners have for radio. “Radio must generate the same level of enthusiasm that it has with its listeners, amongst the marketing community,” Adkins says. He adds, “93% of the population is highly engaged with our music, personalities and talk products, yet our share of the marketing budget is wildly disproportionate.”

In today’s digital-centric advertising world, big data increasingly informs decision making. Everything from the creative to audience targets and post-campaign attribution are increasingly rooted in data. Radio needs to up its data game, broadcasters say, to more precisely target ad campaigns and to quantify their impact for advertisers. “Quality data is going to be critical,” says Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan. “We have got to provide the same things that the people that are getting all the dollars have.”

And that could help the industry go beyond the radio buyer and get into marketers’ data-rich revenue pools. “The pool of dollars is stunningly large, and radio often doesn't get more than a ladle dip in the shallow end,” says Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell. “With a spate of digital products now at a station's disposal, they can dip deeper into those budgets. The smartest groups I know have adopted a ‘share of wallet’ approach, going after more and more business from their core customers while leveraging digital assets to pursue a new set of customers.”

But it will take more than big data and stellar salesmanship for 2018 to be a turnaround year for radio. There also needs to be more investment in programming and improving the user experience. “I believe that radio in general needs to finally deal with the inventory issue,” NRG Media CEO Mary Quass says. “We have been trying to rationalize that the quantity of ads is not a deterrent to the audio experience.” She notes that broadcasters have danced around the edges of this issue, altering spot lengths and experimenting with different approaches to stop sets, even as streaming competitors run far fewer commercials. “I sometimes marvel at the way we in radio think we are used differently,” Quass says.

For Hubbard Broadcasting president and COO Drew Horowitz, radio must play to its strengths, such as popular personalities, one-of-a kind events and razzmatazz promotions. “We’re still a great aggregator of people, but how do we take that and deliver it to other platforms for the client?” He believes that 2018’s big opportunity is focusing on must-listen programming. “We have to continue to make sure we have compelling content and that we’re continuing to develop those content platforms that are critical to the health of radio.”