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Ask most any network radio executive today about the state of their business and they’ll tell you the same thing: Network radio is on fire. The return to the medium last year of Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser, has had a ripple effect, bringing other billion dollar marketers to the airwaves. With P&G, it’s like a reflection of the iconic slogan, “When EF Hutton Talks, People Listen.”

P&G hasn’t just made a return to peddling its wares on radio, it upped its commitment in 2018 over 2017, bringing additional brands to radio, an Inside Radio analysis of Media Monitors data shows. Fabreze, which ran only a few thousand spots on AM/FM in all of 2017, is now a heavy radio user with 84,000 detections in Q1 2018, 87,000 in Q2 and 91,000 in Q3. Gillette’s Venus line of razors and shaving products for women ran no radio in 2017 before suddenly adding AM/FM to the mix in Q3 2018 to the tune of 59,000 spots. Likewise Bounty, Pepto-Bismol, Prilosec PTC, Puffs and Secret are new to radio this year, each airing tens of thousands of spots. Meanwhile P&G brands Charmin, Tide and Vicks – already significant radio spenders in 2017 – maintained or increased their investments in the medium in 2018, according to Media Monitors, which tracks radio advertising in 85 markets.

Radio is now so integral to the blue chip Fortune 500 company’s marketing mix that it sent an exec to both the 2018 Radio Show in Orlando and the NABOB conference in Washington, DC. That confidence in the medium has become contagious, drawing in such web-based behemoths as Amazon and Indeed.com, which are now allocating portions of their budgets to network radio.

Surging demand is putting pressure on network radio inventory, network executives say. “When an advertising giant like P&G makes a meaningful commitment to our medium, inevitably, there’s going to be pressure on our inventory—and that gives us momentum,” says Julie Talbott, president of Premiere Networks. “When you have a corporation like P&G talking about the benefits of radio, it’s inevitable that we are going to have a tailwind of advertisers coming to us. That’s just a great thing for the medium.”

At Westwood One, president of sales Bryan Forbes is seeing a similar scenario play out. “We are seeing more clients coming into network radio. P&G has certainly made an impact, but they are just one piece of the puzzle; there are dozens of new brands on our airwaves,” he says.

That “tailwind” has dollars from CPG—consumer packaged goods—at network radio up year over year, according to Nielsen’s Ad Intel.

Digital Dilemma

There are other reasons why advertisers are returning not only to network radio, but also the larger radio medium. Some marketers over-committed to digital and didn’t get the results they hoped for. P&G chief brand officer Mark Pritchard, for example, made headlines when he spoke about this as a reason why the CPG behemoth shifted dollars from digital to traditional media. Concerns about online ads showing up next to hate speech or other undesirable content has also led some marketers to sway away from digital and give radio a second look, network execs say.

This topic was front and center at the ANA’s Masters Of Marketing event in October where the organization’s chief executive Bob Liodice said, “Just 25% of CMOs’ digital media investment reaches target audiences. This atrocity represents more than $20 billion of marketing waste, inefficiency and ineffectiveness.”

And then there’s the issue of reach. Some marketers have recognized that, in their quest to use digital media to more precisely target consumers, in fact, they were no longer reaching the masses, especially for everyday products used by most Americans, like toilet paper and toothpaste. As has been well documented, TV’s reach is continually eroding, while radio reaches 92% of Americans each week; of that group, 94% are touched by a network-affiliated station, according to Nielsen.

“Radio has a big reach and most of that audience is also reached by network radio in some way, shape or form,” says Nielsen Audio VP of Audience Insights Jon Miller.

Yet surprisingly, radio’s league-leading reach is still a news flash to some marketers. “The majority of agency people you say that to, their jaws drop, they’re surprised to hear that,” says Jim Higgins, president, and chief operating officer of United Stations Radio Networks. “The extensive reach of the media has opened a lot eyes and budgets, to put radio back on the plan. We’re having a real renaissance in radio this year and network radio in particular.”

But it’s more than such massive coverage that has put the wind in network radio’s sales. The medium is cost efficient, close to the point of purchase and offers advertisers scheduling flexibility. Advertisers can buy endorsements, voiced reads and promotions and take advantage of copy split capabilities. Bruce Supovitz, senior VP and sales director for Nielsen's National Audio Services division, stresses, “Radio is easy to buy and you can always fill in and heavy up in specific markets. You need that big foundation of coverage first. Network radio provides that to reach U.S. consumers.”