2021 Outlook

Technology became radio’s best friend in 2020, making it possible to keep the content rolling, ideas flowing, teams interacting, and sales closing. But don’t expect it all to go back to pre-pandemic mode even after the coronavirus is under control, say industry leaders contacted by Inside Radio for our annual Outlook series. “Technology kept us all connected one way or another [last] year and the role it plays in our everyday lives will only increase in 2021,” predicts Entercom Chief Revenue Officer Bob Philips.

Teams, Zoom, cloud-based technologies, remote voice tracking software and more sophisticated automation systems are here to stay, according to these execs. “Increased reliance on technology is a trend that I expect will continue once the pandemic is over,” says David Kantor, CEO of Urban One’s Radio Division.

Tina Murley, VP of Sales at Beasley Media Group, sees four tech trends gaining momentum in the year ahead. These include integrated reporting platforms, smart speakers and “visual radio” systems like Quu, which Beasley is an investor in, which syncs advertisers’ audio message visually on car dashboards. “Advertisers should expect to see digital offerings continue to evolve, allowing us to create sophisticated omni-channel solutions that target consumers on a macro and micro level,” Murley predicts.

More Sophisticated Attribution

Perhaps no technology has had a more positive impact on radio ad sales during the past few years than attribution services, which help gauge the impact of on-air campaigns. This technology is expected to become more prevalent – and sophisticated – in 2021. “As collected data totals continue to grow, radio is able to offer quality insights to its advertisers not only on a national scale, but on a localized scale, as well,” Murley says. “With increasing attribution data, radio has the ability to make campaign recommendations and optimizations to both new and existing advertisers through leveraging data that has already been collected.”

After using technology and case studies to prove its impact to network clients, Cumulus Media intends to expand this to its local markets this year. “We will have more detailed dashboards and new ways of showing radio's impact on digital,” says CEO Mary Berner.

Attribution methodologies will layer in new datasets, like foot traffic and client sales data, along with additional media channels such as podcasting and streaming, says Erik Hellum, COO, Local Media at Townsquare Media Group. “We also expect to see attributed response metrics used to predict and inform campaign planning and implementation,” he says. “Broadcasters who leverage this valuable data will win new business, retain existing clients, and grow wallet share in 2021.”

But it’s still early days for radio in the attribution space and operators need to convince more advertisers to opt into using their systems. “Only a fraction of advertisers capitalize on these capabilities, and many are leaving their shot at ‘better results’ on the table,” Philips says. “As we aggregate more first party data on our own audiences as well as radio advertising category performance benchmarks, our clients will have a wealth of data to pull from to help inform their marketing decision making.”

Moving beyond just tracking website visitation and search traffic, attribution metrics have expanded to encompass foot traffic attribution, multi-touch attribution, and national industry benchmarks. Such analytics will become more effective and more sophisticated in 2021 and beyond, broadcasters say. “Radio is still in its infancy when it comes to attribution technologies,” Murley says. “These analytics are only going to continue to prove how effective the medium is at delivering advertiser’s messaging to our listeners.”

Yet for all of its promise, attribution can be a slippery slope because all marketing doesn’t work the same way. Different channels require different metrics to measure their efficacy. “Upper-funnel tactics—such as radio, TV, and outdoor—by definition aren’t meant to produce an immediate result, particularly when it comes to brand building. While lower-funnel tactics—like paid search, paid social and SEO—can be measured more directly against return on ad spend,” says Steve Goldstein, Senior VP of Digital Sales Strategy at Hubbard Radio. “Where Hubbard continues to evolve is in helping our clients understand how all tactics work together to deliver their desired business results.”