FORUM: Can commercial radio make itself user-friendly? - An industry-wide initiative launched last week is aiming to make radio an easier medium to plan and buy. No mean feat for a medium that has traditionally been weighed down by a wealth of information
By RICHARD COOK, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 May 1997 12:00AM
For all the success that commercial radio has enjoyed in recent years, and it has been remarkable, the radio industry still knows how to scrap with the best of them. At the past two Radio Advertising Bureau conferences, the afternoon debates between radio airtime sellers and buyers have been notable for the ferocity of their exchanges and these arguments have simmered over into the day-to-day dealings between the two sides.
For all the success that commercial radio has enjoyed in recent
years, and it has been remarkable, the radio industry still knows how to
scrap with the best of them. At the past two Radio Advertising Bureau
conferences, the afternoon debates between radio airtime sellers and
buyers have been notable for the ferocity of their exchanges and these
arguments have simmered over into the day-to-day dealings between the
The problem is that a period of inflation in the price of radio spots
has coincided with a contraction in the number of sales houses.
A large part of the increase in airtime cost could be explained by the
increase in demand for radio ads. The question has been, though, could
all of it? Or were the stronger sales houses merely using their market
clout to help to drive up prices?
The sales houses have already addressed the problem of communicating
with radio stations and, from last week, the picture became clearer
The RAB has managed to broker an agreement between the Institute of
Practitioners in Advertising, which has been at the forefront of the
drive for more accountability, and the commercial radio industry
(Campaign, 23 May).
The agreement covers a broad range of initiatives but all these share
the same goal - making radio campaigns easier to plan and buy. Also, a
working body - to be known as the Joint Industry Commercial Radio IT
Futures group (JICRIT) - has been established to focus industry
attention on the question of accountability.
Together the moves go some way towards easing the whole radio
advertising market, Justin Sampson, the director of operations at the
’There are really two key dynamics behind this initiative. There has
been an explosion of interest in radio as an advertising medium and an
explosion in the number of stations broadcasting.
As the campaigns have become bigger, so the amount of work has
’Unfortunately, this increase is not matched by an increase in intuitive
IT solutions,’ he explains. ’This is a problem for planners who have to
cope with 130 stations.
JICRIT is designed to take all the information that is currently
available and come up with the software necessary to manage that data.
The sales points over the last year have developed systems to allow them
to talk to radio stations more easily and there doesn’t seem any real
reason why that communication can’t be extended to take in the media
planners and buyers and make their jobs a little easier.’
For the IPA’s radio spokesman, Derek Morris, the good news about the
initiative is that it shows that the consolidation of radio ownership
can actually benefit advertisers.
’It would be easy to underestimate this announcement, as it’s easy to
forget how far the radio industry has come,’ he comments. ’It was not
long ago that each ILR station was a separate fiefdom with the sole
objective of beggaring its neighbour. As soon as any form of
standardisation or packaging was introduced, someone would go out of
their way to break it up. A public commitment to the whole radio
industry to deliver an integrated standardised IT system is to be very
’The medium must become easier to plan, buy and administer. We have to
find simpler ways of trading so that we can all spend more time selling
the benefits of the medium. This announcement is a major investment to
JICRIT is an example of the benefits that can come from bigger players
owning more stations. As long as these companies put their customers’
needs at the centre of their strategies, these changes will be good of
Some agencies have been more cautious in their initial response to the
scheme. David Fletcher, CIA MediaNetwork’s head of radio, is one who
believes the changes are not quite radical enough.
’We should encourage uniformity, but there is a real danger with any
scheme like this. The risk is that it will not make planning and buying
easier but will instead just produce more information that we will have
to wade through. It’s like when agencies get new presentation software -
the pain of using the equipment doesn’t get any easier but you feel
obliged to waste more time using the extra gizmos.
’A potential pitfall of any uniform system is that we will crunch the
numbers, the sales houses will also crunch the numbers, and the result
will just be unnecessary duplication. None of this solves the problem of
there being too much information. The fundamental problem is that the
system is built from the bottom up and is starting to creak under the
Most clients are happy to leave their agencies to handle the minutiae of
the scheme. But Charles Dunstone, founder of the Carphone Warehouse, has
more experience of the medium than many clients and is aware of the gap
in the radio advertising market the initiative is trying to fill.
’Anything that improves accountability in the medium has got to be a
boon for advertisers. It has always seemed amazing to me that you don’t
know whether your spots have run or, if they have run, whether they did
so in the right order,’ he explains. ’That doesn’t matter if you’re a
London-based company and you’re advertising on Capital because you can
listen in, but if your campaign takes in a station like Forth, then you
just don’t have a clue.
’We have been big supporters of radio but, to some extent, we have
chosen to soldier on through this accountability problem.
We have suffered in the past from the incorrect rotation of commercials,
for example, and it has been really difficult to keep track of
campaigns. In a sense, because of the success we have had building our
company on radio, we have been prepared to stick with it and overlook
these problems. But for clients for whom radio is more of a
discretionary spend, the lack of accountability has been a real problem,
so hopefully this initiative will make life easier for them. And, with a
bit of luck, that will help the next wave of radio growth.’
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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