WXPN Philadelphia XPoNential Music Festival

It’s hard to calculate the enormous significance of events to the modern radio station. No longer a value-add, events—which radio does better than any other local media—are now an integral part of ad packages, and one of the main offerings separating AM/FM from pureplays.

Long gone are the days of simple car dealership remotes. Today, concerts, festivals and events of every size and shape enhance a station’s position within the community while providing a one-of-a-kind vehicle for sponsors and advertisers to reach targeted consumers and foster good will for their brands. And, perhaps most essentially, broadcasters gain meaningful revenue from events and event marketing, making them one of the industry’s biggest growth drivers.

The importance of event marketing has evolved significantly, and continues to build upon that intangible relationship with radio listeners.

“As a programmer in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I remember there was an endless line of salespeople coming in with advertisers wanting to spend money on promotion rather than commercials,” says industry veteran Dan Mason, former CBS Radio CEO and current senior advisor for Broadcast Relations with iHeartMedia. “It aggravated me in those days, but now I realize they understood the power of a successful radio sales promotion, and that creative advertisers sought ways to differentiate,” he says. “Today, concerts and events continue to grow in number because it gives an advertiser the ability to separate themselves from that flow of commercials.”

Indeed, the ever-growing prominence of local events offers a shot at a triple bulls-eye. It is an obvious win for radio stations; a win for companies, corporate entities and local service providers that serve as sponsors; and a win for station listeners participating in a one-off with favorite artists or near-and-dear causes.

For advertisers, numbers speak volumes. A robust 64% of local advertisers say event marketing is “successful,” according to Borrell Associates; 22% say it’s “very effective” and 7% say “extremely effective.” As Inside Radio reported June 21, Borrell’s latest survey of 1,900 local ad buyers also shows 48% have sponsored a community event, 34% have bought a booth at a show and 40% say events are “very” to “extremely” important to their marketing strategy.

Changing With the Times

It may be hard to recall now, but a decade or so ago, “we weren’t focused on owning events. Maybe a festival here or there, just as a branding play,” says Leslie Scott, PD and digital program director of Entercom’s modern rock “107.7 The End” KNDD Seattle. “Now events are an opportunity to not only brand our stations, but they are larger brand extensions that take on a life of their own. Obviously, they have opened up more revenue opportunities as well.”

At AC “More FM” WBEB Philadelphia (101.1), the highly rated independently owned outlet was involved in a whopping 230 local events in 2016. Among its goals is to “differentiate ourselves from the competition,” says Bonnie Hoffman, WBEB’s director of Marketing and Promotions. “Event marketing is a vital part of WBEB’s marketing arsenal, and it has become even bigger over the last 10 years. We are constantly looking for more ways to leverage our assets and event offerings to attract more listeners and greater opportunities for advertisers. This is a growing area of concentration.”

Across town, at adult alternative WXPN Philadelphia, GM Roger LaMay is reading from the same playbook. He tells Inside Radio that the University of Pennsylvania-owned noncomm station’s annual XPoNential Music Festival—presented by Subaru—has doubled in size over the last 10 years. The massive three-day event, which plays out over three stages at two adjacent venues, “represents about two-thirds of our total event revenue, among a long list of smaller events.” In other words, that event alone, combining sponsorship and ticketing, represents 9% of the station’s total annual revenue.

As these initiatives have grown, so have the strategies between stations and sponsors. “Radio companies are engaging more than ever with event companies and with festivals,” says Mike McVay, executive VP of Content & Programming for Cumulus Media. “It can be defined as ‘audience monetization,’ whereby revenue can be generated two ways: through the purchasing power of listeners via ticket sales and sponsorship sales.”

Add to that significant advances in the ways stations ensure that event sponsors are getting what they ask for. It comes down to creating significant impact for all three partners: the radio brand, the advertising sponsor(s) and the attendees—all neatly and skillfully interwoven.

“With any event the radio station has an objective, but so do our sponsors. We see it as a parallel path, which begins with the event planning and curation—together,” says Jennifer Morelli, CBS Radio’s VP of Live Events & Experiences. “For both of us, the biggest goal is to deliver the most entertaining experience that we can for the listener, from the minute they walk in to the minute they leave and beyond.”

Audience Interaction Is Key

Indeed, “more local consumers are looking for experiences and events that fit their lifestyle, whether it’s an artist, a dog event or a country gathering. They want to be part of something,” Lindi Glasgow, VP of Business Development at Alpha Media says. That is particularly attractive for sponsors because those attendees “are happy, they’re somewhere they want to be and their guard is down. They believe the things associated with that event are part of what they’re going to like.”

Meanwhile, sponsors are asking to be a part of things that are perceived as “can’t-buy experiences,” she adds. “They’re not interested in the old logo on the banner sponsorship. They want to know how they can interact with an audience.”

And then there is what may be the most essential element of event involvement: the afterglow. Says WBEB’s Hoffman, “It is vital for the radio station to deliver proof of performance after an event. Most event activation programs include the development of a database for the client to use for future marketing opportunities, which is the most turn-key deliverable for event marketing.”

She adds that it is just as important to document a takeaway from events to show sponsors just how integrated in the experience they were. “It’s important to create a recap that includes all assets provided to the sponsor—on-air promos, on-site exposure, signage, website logos, social media posts and digital display ads. Your pictures and video should tell a story. This helps sell it back to your sponsor.”

CBS Radio’s Morelli says, “The benefit always begins with what clients want to achieve, to bring their objective to life. Radio is the best at it. We program our stations based on engagement and passion points and knowing our listeners and, thus, consumers. Sponsors understand that we understand their behavior, what makes them tick, what they like and how to get a call to action. And we make it exciting and fun.”

PART TWO: Sponsors Rely On A Slew Of Event-Inspired Brand Benefits.

PART THREE: The Inside List: Station-Client Event Activations With Impact.