CAMPAIGN-I: Spotlight on: radio and SMS - Can radio develop its message with text instead of phone-ins? Alasdair Reid looks at the relationship being formed between radio and mobile

The radio medium has always had an intimate relationship with the

telephone. For decades, the lame-brained phone-in show has represented

the ultimate pinnacle in imaginative speech-based radio within the

commercial sector. Now it's time to SMS.



Last week saw a couple of tie-ups between text messaging specialists and

radio companies. 12snap has signed a deal to manage mobile databases and

implement SMS services for Kiss 100 and Key 103. Separately, Chrysalis

Radio has signed a deal with Flytxt to create an interactive text

messaging service called The Text Maniacs Club. Listeners will be asked

to join the club by sending a text message - the incentive is a cinema

pass - and having joined, they will be offered an increasing range of

interactive services, beginning with simple quizzes and eventually

embracing e-commerce opportunities.



This is just the start - radio is about to embrace SMS in a big way and

there are a number of other deals in the pipeline. Some are even touting

this as an evolutionary step change for the medium. Is it? Or is it

merely a new promotional technique? A peripheral, added-value listener

service?



Or is it what some of its new advocates are claiming - a rich

enhancement that alters the nature of the medium and opens up all sorts

of new opportunities?



The phone-in analogy is only partially appropriate here. SMS certainly

won't have much impact on radio programming content. And anyway, its

heaviest users are likely to be music stations.



"We make radio shows interactive," Lars Becker, the chief executive of

Flytxt, states. "Listeners can send in requests, respond to polls and

questionnaires and send questions to people in the studio. But it also

emerges as a separate media channel. People will be asked to send in

their home postcodes so we will be offering the same targeting as radio.

It will become even more targeted - by age and by sex. That's when it

becomes even more interesting.



"It's personalised and it's interactive. People can respond to

broadcasts or the broadcasts can encourage them to go somewhere or do

something.



The response rates can be very high - it obviously depends how

interesting the message is and it helps if you make it funny. For the

movie Get Over It, for instance, we've been asking people to send in

their favourite dumping lines."



A separate media channel? Does that mean advertisers can either create

traffic or piggy back on routine listener-radio station messages? Isn't

that the opportunity here? Yes, Anne de Kerckhov at 12snap, says: "You

can achieve impressive response rates. And it can drive traffic to the

medium or it can be used for promotions in the music-related area.



That could be obvious music products or bars and clubs or even things

such as spirits or certain fmcg brands - for instance, perfumes. It's

actually ideal for the launch campaigns of a wide range of products.

It's about targeting the right audience. So it's both an audience

benefit and a way to increase audience revenue."



Not by much, surely? One area that media owners have high hopes for is

e-commerce. You hear the record, like it, pick up your phone and buy

through your tried-and-trusted favourite radio station.



One messaging specialist that's unashamedly retail-orientated is Scan.

It's about to sign at least one radio deal.



Scan's founder, Robert Hamilton, says: "Having a store is great for

radio stations. It delivers great feedback as to what their audience is

not just listening to but actually buying. Once you have that

relationship with them you can also sell books and other entertainment

products. It has even wider applications.



It could just as easily be sachets of washing powder. It's a return path

for a medium that hasn't had one in the past."



It certainly hasn't had one as sophisticated as this, but there are

sceptics. Chris Bartlett, the head of emerging media at Zenith

Interactive, comments: "From a broadcaster's point of view it's

fantastic, creating a relationship with the audience that you just can't

do any other way. But there are a number of different SMS databases out

there and in the end it comes down to exactly what users have signed up

to receive. If they want Robbie Williams ticket information they will be

receptive to other Robbie Williams material but almost by definition

they probably won't want information or promotions or advertising

messages from designer shoe brands."



But surely it's possible to find ways of piggy-backing on this

communication stream? Bartlett will take some convincing. "It's

something you see with SMS services, for instance ones giving football

scores. Sometimes you might see an advertiser's logo down at the bottom

and that's OK but it's not something that most advertisers will be

wildly enthusiastic about."



So it's down to the likes of Flytxt's Becker to convince the advertising

market that this can work. Obviously, he thinks it can be done but that

companies have to embrace the interactivity creatively, not just the

concept.



He concludes: "For advertisers it's an opportunity to do something

tailored to the medium. You have to engage people by speaking to them

personally. It shouldn't be just one outbound message, it should involve

a dialogue. In the end the creativity is in using text and integrating

your message into that."