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Sky Radio soars with new format

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Marc Holland is one business media executive who likes to see ad spending up in the air.

Holland is the founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Sky Radio Network, which has attracted a growing number of b-to-b marketers with its mix of business, technology and health audio programs delivered on six airlines: American, America West, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways.

Sky Radio, which launched in 1995, has seen a surge in the number of b-to-b clients since last year, when it began offering advertisers the option of participating in full-length audio programs in addition to offering traditional ad units. The full-length programs are presented in a magazine style, with a blend of CEO interviews, industry spotlights and commentary on major trends. They are produced-in-house at Sky Radio.

Ongoing programs include "The ROI Report" and "Meet the Nation," which focuses on undervalued companies whose use of technology and marketing strategies have propelled them to outperform the S&P average.

Interviews for sale

Advertisers pay Sky Radio for an interview segment, and Sky Radio then pays the airlines to run the programming. Corporate sponsors, such as Novell Inc. and Microsoft Corp., pay to attach their names to an entire program, which can run on one of several channels available through Sky Radio, including Radio Entrepreneur, Radio Forbes and Radio Yahoo!

Holland said the drop in ad spending after last year’s terrorist attacks prompted the move to longer programming. "It used to be the client was driving the message," he said. "The new model is the listener drives the message. We don’t let companies talk about who they are but [about] their ROIs and what’s changing in their markets."

Sky Radio is averaging 50 new b-to-b clients a month since changing to the longer format. These include IBM Global Services, PeopleSoft Inc. and Verizon, Holland said. They joined a stable of advertisers that already included Accenture, General Motors Corp., IDC Corp., Knight Ridder Inc., Microsoft Corp. and the U.S. Postal Service. Holland said Sky Radio’s revenue this year will be up 35% compared with last year.

Sky Radio charges companies $5,000 to $100,000 to participate in the full-length programs, depending on how often the program runs, how long it is and on which airline it airs. Holland estimates that at least five passengers per flight tune into the programs. With a base of 86,550 flights a month, that adds up to an estimated audience of 432,750 passengers. The prices of traditional ad packages airing on all six airlines for several months start at $10,000.

No ROI tools

So far, Sky Radio doesn’t offer any tools for marketers to track their return on investment for advertising on the programs. Richard Bliss, manager of collaborative marketing for Novell Inc., who has participated in three in-flight audio programs in the last year, said that doesn’t bother him. "I knew that people listened to the program, responded to the program and were the people who I wanted to respond—business executives, mostly in high-tech, who are disconnected from their infrastructure," said Bliss.

Decision-makers listening

He pointed to Novell’s second quarter, which was strong despite the economy. "Why, in a slumping economy, have I had the best quarter in a decade?" he said. "Because decision-makers are listening to my message." Novell’s latest program is running on United Airlines flights worldwide through the end of October, the peak season for trade shows and, consequently, business travel.

Joel Novak, managing director of media merchant bank Veronis, Suhler & Associates, said a similar argument about a lack of ROI tools can be made for print media. "You can’t directly measure the printed page, either," he said. "[Sky Radio] is priced very competitively and can prove very attractive because it’s a captive audience."

Peggy Winton, director of membership and marketing for the Association for Information and Image Management, estimated that between 2 million and 4 million listeners may tune into the four-minute tutorial on business enterprise that the association sponsors. The program is currently featured on Delta flights as part of Radio Forbes. "If your message appeals to a broad base of business symptoms," she said, "there’s a chance you’ll get a good audience."

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