What Is Radio, Now? And How Can It Help Your Agency?

Navigating the Radio Chaos: Part 1

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A friend of mine back in Boston is interested in learning more about the radio business. Like most people, he likes radio and, as an advertising professional, knows just enough to be dangerous. Additionally, when he hears the term "radio," he knows that there are new innovations and platforms, but it always seems to come back to the speakers in the car. Radio is still likely an important part of the mix for most regional clients. And, like every other medium, radio is continuing to change rapidly and there is quite a bit to digest. This is how things look from our perspective.

Over-the-Air Radio Will Continue to Thrive
Radio has, and always will have, the power to speak to the crowd. With over 249 million listeners a week (and growing), one cannot dispute its power. Whether its music, talk, entertainment or the amazing work of NPR, radio is not going away. In fact, it is thriving and will continue to do so.

I was having a discussion with a colleague recently and we started talking about music. He had said that he caught the Rosario Dawson-hosted SNL and just fell in love with Fleet Foxes. For this artist, and a bunch of others, radio has always been a discovery tool for me. Back in 2004, I fell in love with Keane after hearing them on the radio. This initial contact, from the radio, threw me in to a deeper desire to learn more. It also led me to iTunes, so that I could purchase the album. It got me to Pandora to hear other artists. It got me back to the radio wanting more. It's still one of the best tools for marketing music.

Radio and Digital Are Clearly Sympatico
These are the two most "populist" mediums, in my opinion. There is a unique, intimate relationship that is built in these two platforms. When they can be brought together well, it can be something incredibly valuable. Just think of iTunes apps alone. My iPhone is now a radio receiver. I can listen to DaveFM from Atlanta, I can listen to the BBC, Pandora and scads of other stations that are either over-the-air or crafted and curated specifically for digital delivery. Even talk does well. I have one app, Stitcher, that gives me news updates and other very cool content.

In Radio, It's Good to Be Narrow and Social
It's clear that blending radio and digital together can work extremely well. In fact, we're betting heavily on it by opening up a new business unit called Small Plate Radio. It's all about live radio/podcasting with content that is developed and driven by brands, advertisers and those with special interests. We're developing content that is highly niched and built to create very narrow, but strong, attentive audiences. WADV, our project with the RAB for Advertising Week, has had over 300,000 visits to the site.

Appland, a show about iPhone apps that started as a bit of a lark, has had over 20,000 listens in three short weeks. We've been dinking around with a Small Agency Diary Radio show. Very narrow stuff, but also clearly appealing to our audiences.

And where there are dedicated enthusiastic audiences, advertisers will follow.

We're also seeing that this kind of content isn't just a "radio" story, but it's a social networking story where endless content can breathe and come alive.

A New Radio "Economy" Can Emerge
Those who choose to innovate in the digital space and those in the over-the-air world who continue to do exceptional work will benefit. For advertisers, the opportunity is endless. This is a blank canvas that brands and advertisers can paint the way they want. Radio stations and groups who recognize this stand to create some profound revenue.

And it's also fertile ground for agencies looking to think beyond standard ad creation and ad placement. There's a lot of talk on this blog about going the extra mile for your clients. This is good exercise for just such an effort. Hell, even if your clients are old school and resistant to change, small targeted podcasts could be painted as a return to the old-fashioned single-sponsor radio show.

On the digital side of the equation, brands and advertisers can clearly create their own ways to communicate. With the technological tools at our disposal there is tremendous opportunity to create content that has high levels of engagement and touch. Plus, when one leverages a beefy database and the social matrix, the sky truly is the limit.

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