NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- As radio continues to increase its audience each year -- gaining more than 3 million listeners in 2008 alone -- its ad support has not kept pace. Not only did ad revenue continue a steady decline in 2008, finishing the third quarter with an 8% decrease, according to TNS Media Intelligence, the talent pool for radio advertising is getting shallower as well.
Aiming help change that is the Radio Advertising Bureau, which is establishing its first radio-advertising curriculum as part of a new partnership with the Virginia Commonwealth University BrandCenter in Richmond, Va. As part of the partnership, the RAB has pledged $250,000 to the school, donating $50,000 annually for the next five years.
Jeff Haley, president-CEO of the RAB, said VCU was singled out for its status at the top of the ad industry's portfolio schools, where radio is traditionally an afterthought.
"Creative is a long-standing problem with our business, because for too long it's been relegated to the back benches of the major creative agency teams," he said. "Radio represents what I call working media. It's very efficient, very effective, and we're certainly seeing a renewed emphasis on working media going into 2009. We want radio creative to be at the forefront of that."
Rick Boyko, managing director of the VCU BrandCenter, echoed Mr. Haley's thoughts on radio's perceived obsolescence. "It's still a terrific medium that's been underleveraged creatively. A lot of agency creatives would rather work in the digital space or on TV than really focus on radio," he said. "One of the challenges is to get people to want to write for radio in a much bigger way. Instead of it being, 'We'll do this campaign, and we'll do TV spot X, Y and Z,' radio can sometimes be the key driver."
The new curriculum will be integrated across a variety of workshops with top agencies in major markets, as well as the RAB's partnership with the Radio Mercury Awards, held in June, which recognize excellence in audio creative.
Mr. Boyko cited Anheuser-Busch's "Real Men of Genius" and Motel 6's "We'll leave the light on for you" as examples of radio campaigns students should aspire to. "Those were campaigns people have made careers out of, written specifically for radio. This offers a real opportunity for students to look at the medium in a different way."
In-house creative teams
The paucity of talent on the agency side has forced the radio-station groups to equip their staffs with in-house creative teams to help produce ads for clients who don't have dedicated audio creative groups at their agencies. Katz Media Group, Clear Channel's ad-sales arm, which recently laid off 122 employees amid a sales-staff overhaul, is retooling its creative-services group to create customized campaigns for advertisers, following recent work for Walmart and Verizon Wireless.
Stu Olds, CEO of Katz Media Group, said the economics of the radio marketplace have made it so that both media sellers and media buyers have to be trained on all aspects of campaign execution, including on-air, digital and post-campaign analytics.
"We're looking for individuals who speak the same language, who we think are influencers," he said. "The agencies are our partner, and we've always looked at them that way. We try to bring them ideas and access to our assets that will allow them and our capabilities to do things that will benefit our clients."
For Mr. Haley, one immediate goal of the new curriculum is for radio to be prioritized among agencies. "Too often radio is left to whatever the audio track was on the video commercial, and that's just not effective. We think a specific focus on audio creative is going to be a benefit for both brands and agencies."