Media: All about ... The RadioCentre

The trade body plans to take radio into a third age.

You might be forgiven for not knowing that there used to be five separate trade bodies representing commercial radio in the UK.

Fortunately for those with no head for acronyms, last July the RadioCentre was formed out of the merger of those bodies. They were the lobbying body CRCA (Commercial Radio Companies Association); the RACC (Radio Advertising Clearance Centre); Hit 40 UK; JICRIT, which looks after trading systems; and the RAB (Radio Advertising Bureau).

The idea of the RadioCentre is to act as the overarching trade body for the radio industry and to provide a single point of contact and a joined-up vision for commercial radio in the UK. However, it is still maintaining the RAB as a distinct brand, which it is now in the process of relaunching - starting with the appointment of the former Yahoo! managing director Martina King as its non-executive chairman.

The appointment comes as radio seeks to regain some of the gloss and sales growth it enjoyed in its heyday in the 90s, when it was the fastest-growing medium in terms of adspend. Last year, ad revenues for radio were down by 5 per cent overall, including a 10 per cent drop in the final quarter.

Andrew Harrison, the chief executive of the RadioCentre, says King's appointment was made because a high-profile person was wanted for the role: "Martina has a great media background. She was the marketing director at Capital Radio, and she's also been in the digital space as the head of Yahoo!, first in the UK and then in Europe. She's good casting for the RAB."

The body is also in the process of recruiting a full-time head of the RAB to take over from Peter Cory, who is leaving to join Google at the beginning of March, where he will look after agency relationships.

Full details of the RAB's relaunch will not be disclosed until 6 March, but Harrison reveals that there will be a focus on moving radio into a third age - or "radio 3.0", as it is being dubbed.

The idea is that radio was once the primary medium through which people received communication: think of people listening to their wireless for updates during World War II. The second age was as an accompaniment to television. Now, radio exists in a multimedia, multiplatform world, and must adapt once again.

Jonathan Barrowman, the head of radio at Initiative, welcomes the moves to reinvigorate the bureau. "The RAB is really up there as one of the best marketing bodies, and has done a really good job of selling the medium," he says. "But it does need a change and a refresh."

The RAB's refresh will need to be more than just cosmetic if Harrison doesn't want to end up with egg on his face. He started the year by delivering a clarion call to the industry in a speech in which he vowed that commercial radio would see a return to growth in revenue and increased audiences within three years.

He has set a target of growing radio's share of overall adspend from 6.1 per cent to 7 per cent, which would push revenue from around £600 million to more than £700 million. How does it plan to do this?

The RAB will continue to focus primarily on providing research that proves radio is an effective medium. It will also remind advertisers that as well as being cost efficient, radio can offer more than just spot advertising - it can offer programming and content that is live, and integrate brands into editorial.

This is a development particularly welcomed by Barrowman, who thinks this will enable the RadioCentre, which this week hired the former Ofcom partner Kip Meek as a non-executive director, to look at how radio can be better integrated with other media, and also take a stronger stand against some of the restrictions.

Harrison takes the view that radio should be at the heart of convergence, because it is the only medium that can be consumed in the home and on the move, and from a huge variety of devices, including TV, mobile phone, in the car and online. The plan is to look at how this can be exploited to the benefit of commercial broadcasters.

The RadioCentre can go a long way to pushing the medium of radio, but Barrowman regrets it won't be able to address issues outside its control that are holding back growth in the industry, namely the fact that agencies struggle to take money out of the medium because of low commission.

Nonetheless, with recent Rajar figures showing record numbers of listeners, and the possibilities that are being opened by digital and internet radio, there is reason to believe that 2007 could be a turnaround year for the medium.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- Harrison is aiming to take on the BBC, with a long-term goal of commercial radio taking a 50 per cent share of all listening, giving advertisers access to a bigger audience. The theory is that a greater proportion of older listeners are loyal to the BBC and that commercial radio can capitalise on its strong reach among younger audiences.

AGENCIES

- Radio buyers will need to clear some space in their diaries, with the RadioCentre promising practical initiatives including events and training, as well as research. There is likely to be a focus on younger, more junior planners, specifically the generation who joined the industry after the internet started to dominate, who don't have the same love or affection for radio as their older counterparts.

OTHER MEDIA

- Radio is positioning itself as the complementary medium, the only one that can be enjoyed at the same time as other media is consumed, be it outdoor or online. It has already teamed up with the Internet Advertising Bureau for a joint research project, which showed that one in five people listen to the radio at the same time as they surf the net. Expect more internet-related projects this year.

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