Feature

BIGging up British: Radio

As the chairman of the radio jury, I have a terrible confession to make.

The thing is, radio advertising and I have a bit of an awkward relationship. Whatever sexual chemistry we once had between us is long gone, and we haven't been on speaking terms for some time (which is a little unfortunate seeing how often we bump into each other, this being the small industry that it is).

The rather unfortunate truth is that I'm chairing the Campaign Big Awards for a media channel that has a tendency to get on my tits.

Now, it wasn't always so. In fact, I've been lucky enough to work at agencies that have always treated wireless advertising with the respect that it truly deserves. WCRS authored many classic radio campaigns over the years. Leo Burnett did horribly well in this very awards show last year with its excellent Department for Transport "cell" campaign. And HHCL treated the channel with a typically beautiful disregard for precedent and form with the (genuinely extraordinary) work it did for Tango.

So it's not like I mistakenly believe that the only stuff that counts plays out on the telly screen in the corner of my living room; far from it.

The problem, I think, lies with how the channel is so often treated - by both the agency and client - as a cheap way to post some VERY SHOUTY CLASSIFIED ADVERTISING rather than as a chance to brand-build in any way. At its worst, radio advertising simply interrupts and irritates without rewarding the listener for paying some attention to the brand and its message. A radio ad-break can be a truly ghastly experience. My own industry is the reason why I steadfastly refuse to listen to commercial radio.

Which is where the Campaign Big Awards for radio come in, I hope. I hope for lots of things, as Tim Robbins says at the end of The Shawshank Redemption (I have no idea why I wrote that, as I don't regard myself as similar in any way to Tim Robbins, or my time on the radio jury as anything like spending 30 years in a murderous American prison being bummed against my will).

I hope the work that wins can inspire by example. I hope there is work in this category that surprises and delights rather than makes me want to deafen myself with a wooden coffee-stirrer. I hope that some agencies out there have seen their radio brief as a chance to do something remarkable, anything at all that isn't 30 or 40 seconds long with really truly terrible voice-acting in it.

I hope that the process of judging will re-convince me of the value of this particular media channel. And I hope that as an industry we can one day regard an award for a national radio campaign with a fraction of the respect that we regard an award for a quarter-page press ad that ran once in a local newspaper.

Fingers crossed.

For more info and to enter the BIG awards, visit campaignbigawards.com - Jonathan Burley is the executive creative director at CHI & Partners, and the chair of the BIG awards radio jury.

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