Few seem to dispute MT Rainey's assertion in her speech to the RAB
conference last Tuesday, that creativity in UK radio advertising lags
well behind not only other media, but much of the world as well
However, Rainey could surely never fault the devotion of most of her
audience to putting that failing right.
Advocates of radio are probably the most effusive in the agency world
when it comes to listing the qualities of their chosen medium: its
intimacy, conversational tone, high level of trust and unbeatable
accessibility. And their concentrated enthusiasm is in many ways a
reaction to the problems of low-grade, irritatingly repetitive ads that
Rainey railed against. The more frequently creative departments snub
radio briefs, or hand them to junior teams for practice, the louder
radio partisans will list its unexploited qualities.
However, a quick fix for the creativity issue remains elusive. Rainey
argued that a root cause of the problem is that the medium is still
bought for frequency. While radio remains at the tactical, rather than
strategic, end of a media schedule, it is unlikely to grab the attention
of brand-oriented creatives. Worse still, the consequently low-grade ads
will be repeated incessantly due to the frequency emphasis of the
However, radio disciples among the media agencies maintain that Rainey's
view is outdated. MediaVest's radio group head, Mark Helm, says: 'It's
slightly unfair. In the past couple of years there's been a move toward
using radio as a branding tool and taking advantage of new opportunities
in the market. The way that radio is bought now is much more about
buying into an environment.'
For Helm the difficulty remains with the creative output. 'We don't put
enough resources into getting people who can write.'
Adrian Reith, the managing director of the specialist creative agency
Radioville argues that the problem stems from the fundamentally
different skills required for radio advertising. 'The agencies' big
strength is in the visual area,' he says. 'Radio skills are distinct and
different and until people recognise that then the standard of creative
won't be as high.'
Unsurprisingly, Reith believes this problem can be most effectively
solved by agencies farming out radio briefs to specialists such as
Radioville. However, he points out that even a great and willing
copywriter is at the mercy of the brief handed to him.
'If you accept that you need different skills creatively, then you also
need different muscles to commission at that level,' he says. 'You need
to understand what radio is good for. It's a fantastic motivating medium
and it's great for making people feel as though they're understood, but
it's not great for impressing or imparting detail. We need clients who
are more literate and more aware of what it can do.'
There are pioneers in place. Charles Dunstone has been rightly
celebrated for his understanding of the medium. But will Carphone
Warehouse's success be enough to inspire other clients to follow suit?
While too many radio briefs remain locked up in agencies that are less
than interested, it seems unlikely that the ranks of the specialists
will be able to build up the creative momentum that the medium needs.