Radio still dials up small businesses at local level

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When facilities maintenance company UNICCO Service Co. decided to target small-business owners this year via the radio, the company didn't want to sing the same old marketing tune.

Newton, Mass.-based UNICCO, one of North America's largest facilities outsourcing companies, with more than $700 million in annual sales, passed on spot ads and instead purchased "paid mentions" on WEEI-AM, which broadcasts Boston Red Sox games.

During each game this season, UNICCO got a certain number of "mentions" by the commentators calling the games, who told listeners, for instance, that UNICCO is the "official maintenance team for the Boston Red Sox" and "can take care of all of your business' clean-up needs."

" `Bosox Nation' is so into listening to every game. It has a relationship with the announcers, and UNICCO was able to borrow that equity to get its message out," said Michael Nicholas, senior VP-managing director of Carat USA, which buys media on behalf of UNICCO. The message is "less like an ad and more like getting an opinion from a trusted source. That's why b-to-b marketers love paid mentions."

UNICCO's campaign reflects one of the more imaginative ways national marketers use radio to reach small-business owners, who, despite the growing influence of both cable TV and the Internet, continue to have a hearty appetite for radio programming.

On a typical weekday, 80% of small-business owners listen to the radio in their car, and 47% of small-business owners say they are more likely than the average adult to listen to the radio at work, according to Mediamark Research Inc. MRI said there are 13.7 million adults who are small-business owners, defined as adults 18 years of age or older who own a business with fewer than 99 employees.

Radio continues to post slight advertising gains at the local level, which is considered a quicker route to small-business owners than network buys. Local radio ad spending rose 1% in the third quarter, compared with the same period last year, while national ad sales remained flat, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau.

From a b-to-b perspective, radio is underused considering how much it enables companies to stand out from the pack, said Mike Paradiso, VP-global media director at Computer Associates.

"You're getting them both on their way to work and at work," Paradiso said, adding that Computer Associates has used both Bloomberg Radio and the Wall Street Journal Radio Network to target the small-business sector. "These are not nine-to-five jobs. You can reach them day or night."

Steve Pacheco, FedEx director of advertising, said radio is a "very effective way to reach out to small businesses, especially in local markets. It is one of the strongest tools we have for this audience." FedEx uses local market outreach, for example, to promote its FedEx Kinko's retail outlets. FedEx advertising reaches almost 14,000 radio stations, including 3,000 non-commercial stations and two satellite services, XM and Sirius.

In using local radio buys, advertisers should strive to capture the essence of that particular market. "Radio gives you that flexibility to localize the message to get that authenticity," Carat's Nicholas said, adding that radio spots are easily tailored to local communities, as opposed to TV or cable spots, which are more static.

Scott Hauge, VP-membership at the National Small Business Association, said radio ads targeting small-business owners "have to link up to something that's closely aligned with the specific community's small-business market. It gives [the ads] some validity, rather than hearing a spot that's just selling." 

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