Radio - the Cinderella of US Media

16 February 2005

Help Wanted
Fairy Godmother to boost Cinderella medium's sorry image among US marketers and media buyers. Augean stable-cleaning experience an advantage. Grasso-style salary negotiable.

That small ad has yet to appear but despite its final sentence, applicants are likely to be thin on the ground. Upgrading the image of the huge - but largely still localized - US radio industry is the media equivalent of climbing the North face of the Eiger.

Who says? The Radio Advertising Bureau, that's who - after sponsoring research to flag discrepancies between the industry's perceptions of itself and those of advertisers.

The RAB/Arbitron-commissioned study pinpoints areas in which radio can improve systems and perceptions. Its findings do not make happy reading for RAB President Gary Fries, who ruefully observed that the "truth is not always what we want and, more importantly, not always what we think it is".

The survey revealed that marketers and media-planning agencies rate radio's audience measurement, schedule integrity and accountability below those of all other mainstream media: broadcast TV, cable, newspapers, magazines and the internet.

The new survey followed a study conducted last year, this time sampling more national agencies than local and regional agencies, and media planners instead of media buyers. It's focus reflects the RAB's plan to target national ad dollars to counter the industry's reliance on local advertising revenues.

Local radio advertising grew 3% in 2004 and comprises eighty percent of the medium's advertising income. National spending last year remained flat and in 2005 is seen as the freeway to growth.

Comments Fries: "This [study] is coming down now because accountability is the key issue with the marketing and advertising industries. And the radio industry, because it is very locally driven, has not had this on its radar screen. It was lethargic."

The issue that most concerns advertisers and agencies is that of audience measurement, little credence being attached to the RAB's current diary-based ratings system.

All sides of the marketing triangle now await the results of the Houston pilot scheme using Arbitron's Portable People Meters. Pending release of the numbers, the consensus view is that a metered system will be more accurate and detailed than the present manual methodology.

It will, for example, provide more detailed, accurate ratings including out-of-home. Also a faster system of reporting to advertisers when their ads ran thereby enhancing schedule integrity. And lastly, immediate electronic invoicing.

According to Fries: "We're really drumming home that accountability is a requirement to stay competitive in this competitive environment. And that requirement has to be communicated for the station level people to react."

And as one media-planning veteran, TargetCast ceo Steve Farella, stressed: "If you can take these accountability issues and own them, you can go after the big dog - TV. And if you can pull 2% out of TV's revenue, you can have a pretty good year."

Data sourced from AdAge (USA); additional content by WARC staff