FORUM: Will the new sales trends boost radio’s position? GWR’s sales operation will be called Opus and it is due to launch at the start of next year. It is the last piece in the new radio sales jigsaw - from 1998, all the major groups will

The radio sales map is complete once more. Or will be on 1 January when Opus, GWR’s sales house, officially opens its doors. Opus will be headed by Duncan George (Campaign, 5 December) and it will have two very distinct and separate divisions - one for the 40 local and regional GWR stations and one for Classic FM.

The radio sales map is complete once more. Or will be on 1 January

when Opus, GWR’s sales house, officially opens its doors. Opus will be

headed by Duncan George (Campaign, 5 December) and it will have two very

distinct and separate divisions - one for the 40 local and regional GWR

stations and one for Classic FM.



Opus is the last piece in radio’s new sales jigsaw and ends a hiatus

that followed the demise of Media Sales and Marketing in May.



Capital Sales and Marketing rose almost immediately from the ashes of

MSM; and Emap, as was widely predicted, took its radio sales in-house,

with the creation of Emap on Air, which is headed by Tom Toumazis. The

other major players are, as ever, Katz and Scottish and Irish Radio

Sales.



This is pretty much as everyone predicted when it became clear that

Capital’s proposed merger with Virgin meant that the Capital-owned MSM

would have to be wound up to pacify the Monopolies and Mergers

Commission. But, as the dust starts to settle, it’s time to assess the

pros and cons of the new sales environment.



MSM was hardly the last word in radio sales but it had one very

important quality - simplicity. And radio needs to be kept very simple;

not because agency radio planners are simple, but because radio accounts

for an average of 5 per cent of UK advertising spend. If it starts

demanding 6 per cent of an agency’s time, it begins to look like a

distinctly unattractive proposition - and, mysteriously, the medium may

stop making it on to the agendas for strategic planning meetings.



In any case, aren’t ever-larger sales houses the way forward for all

media? It’s clearly a more cost-effective way of doing business. It’s

the way of the world. But will radio be more difficult to plan and buy

next year?



Unsurprisingly, Duncan George doesn’t think it will. He comments: ’I’ve

endeavoured to place people of calibre at the top of the agenda. I will

put together the most knowledgeable, dynamic and hungry team that I am

able to. And, as they are part of the company rather than part of a

sales house, their knowledge of the product is bound to be better -

there is always a distance between an independent sales house and the

stations it sells.’



That’s fine, but does it outweigh the case for simplicity? And surely

the new sales points will be less well resourced than MSM? ’All the new

sales teams are investing heavily,’ George points out. ’And the medium

will benefit from having sales people who are not merely commodity

traders.



Agencies don’t want to be burdened by detail but they do want to see

some passion from the sales side. We can bring stations and radio

programmes to life. We will also offer clearer trading policies. From

our point of view, there will be more cohesion in terms of the

relationship between national and local sales. And the industry as a

whole will be no less cohesive than it was before. We will, of course,

be looking for points of difference as compared with the other sales

points but we’re not going to be obsessed with competing with them. That

would be bad for radio as a medium.’



That all sounds very reasonable. Do media specialists see it that way

too? David Fletcher, head of radio at CIA Medianetwork, is prepared to

keep an open mind. He says: ’MSM always looked better in theory than it

was in fact. One of the problems it had was trying to manage a volatile

internal market. It’s true buyers didn’t do anything to discourage that,

as long as they got the value they wanted. But individual media owners

were always vying for position and prices of individual stations could

be changed at the whim of individual managers. They won’t have the

excuse to moan about MSM not being fair to them any more.



’Now individual stations will have to be more consistent about setting

out and sticking to a market position. That has to be good. A more

realistic station-by-station price will emerge and that will increase

buyer confidence in the stability of the market.’



Derek Morris, the managing partner of Unity, agrees.



’The lines of communication will have shortened. We will actually be

talking to the people who are responsible for, and in control of, the

inventory they represent and that should make the whole process more

efficient,’ he argues.



’In the past, when you talked to MSM you knew it would have to talk to

the individual groups and even individual stations. Each group had

different trading methods and computer systems. It was like wrestling

with a hydra and there were a lot of things that could go wrong. I think

MSM actually carried the can for problems at the media owner end. You

also have to acknowledge that the relationship between local and

national markets in radio is very complex. If a media owner is down to

his last spot, will he sell it to Procter & Gamble or the Sheepskin

Warehouse in Manchester?



They find that a difficult one to resolve. But at least now we might

find out sooner what they actually decide to do. One of the problems in

the past was that we just didn’t know what was happening.’



Mike Hope Milne, the head of radio at Western International Media,

maintains that if you are merely in the business of bashing the spots

out, you might think that you were worse off under the new arrangements.

’But if you are using radio’s strengths, you really have to talk to the

people who know their own stations inside out,’ he adds. ’We want to

talk to people who know what individual stations are about and what the

programming opportunities are about. That really wasn’t the case with

MSM. For instance, if we want to talk about a syndicated feature across

all GWR stations, it’s going to be far easier for Opus to talk to all of

its individual station directors and come back with a decision.



’And the thing is that all the sales points have been sensible in

packaging their airtime. They’re selling mini networks, for instance

against football.



It will make airtime easier to buy. On the whole, the strengths of the

new sales environment outweigh the drawbacks.’



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