MEDIA SPOTLIGHT: Newsagents Radio gets ready to float on the AIM

This in-store radio station lays claim to an impressive client list.

Doesn't sound promising, does it? Newsagents Radio. Run by the former Radio 1 poptastic DJ Bruno Brookes. Actually, that second bit is well below the belt. Lots of less-than-inspiring presenters go on to bigger and better things when their days behind the microphone are over - and not all of them are in the conversation-stopping league of the likes of Noel Edmonds.

But that still leaves us with the newsagent bit. Newsagents are the scrag end of retail, aren't they? They're silverfish specials, smelling of damp and dry rot; they have scuffed and cracked lino on the floors and displays of chocolate bars that melted out of shape in last year's heat wave.

But even if your classic down-at-heel corner shop still exists, it's not exactly the sort of establishment in which you'll hear Newsagents Radio. Newsagents Radio is all about a cleaner, cutting edge of a continuing retail revolution - and it's definitely more of a piece with a marketing trend in which the "retail channel" is given increasing weight and priority.

It's available in 2,300 convenience stores up and down the country, including some Londis stores and Texaco forecourt shops. This is really part of a vision of the future, of a piece with the in-store entertainment initiatives pioneered a decade ago by the likes of Asda and more recently Virgin Megastores.

Newsagents Radio features a mix of pop music, news, weather, sport, commercials and special advertiser promotions, dominated as you'd expect by the sorts of products carried in convenience stores. Brookes could actually be on to a big winner here - and if you have any lingering doubts about that, then look no further than the fact that he has decided to launch his company on the second tier of the Stock Exchange. Currently called Storm Digital Broadcasting, it will be renamed as Immedia Broadcasting. It is expected that the flotation will raise the funds for ambitious expansion plans.

And Newsagents Radio (where Immedia acts as a conventional media owner, funding distribution and selling airtime itself) isn't the only string to Immedia's bow. It supplies content to Lloydspharmacy, running Lloydspharmacy Live across 1,000 of its stores. Lloydspharmacy sells the advertising itself to the brands its stocks on its shelves but it relies heavily on Immedia's expertise in supplying the right type of "editorial" content. Two more such content deals are said to be in the pipeline.

Immedia's sales and marketing director, Sara Haynes, points out that Newsagents Radio has an impressive client list, including the likes of Nestle and Coca-Cola as well as obvious candidates such as publishers.

And the big multinationals are there because it works. "It's unique in that it is clearly an above-the-line medium but it creates sales multiplier effect by reinforcing at the point of sale. You can measure performance at the till so it is very measurable in terms of sales uplift. It is very accountable," she asserts.

But is it really an above-the-line opportunity? Is it in any way mainstream?

Or should it be filed alongside other tillside marketing techniques? Or even quirky ambient such as petrol pump media?

Let's not get tied up in definitions and pigeon-holing - but it's definitely about the increasingly feted "retail channel", Howard Bareham, the head of radio at MindShare, says. "Retail as a medium is in vogue for good reasons," he argues. "One of the difficulties Immedia faces is the fact that, by definition, customers aren't in these stores for very long so they don't listen to it on anything like a regular basis. You can't measure it like a traditional medium - or think of it in that way."

One thing that will help, Bareham argues, will be to raise the company profile. He states: "That's one of the reasons they are seeking a listing (on the AIM). They have quite a high capital cost operation because they give the reception equipment to the stores. New funds will allow them to expand and that, in itself, will help them grab more people's attention. From an industry point of view, they should also change the Newsagent Radio name to reflect the fact that it's about shops stocking quite a significant range of FMCG products."

Mark Holden, the executive planning director of PHD, isn't so sure about the whole proposition. He says it will always be regarded as a below-the-line opportunity and will struggle to make a play for the real prize - mainstream advertising budgets. He adds: "It has had a low profile to date and many people in the business are surprised it has decided to go for a listing. It is mainly driven by ad revenue, which might leave it a little exposed. The opportunity here is to remind people of an ad campaign and trigger product associations. But it will always be in the point-of-sale category. It would also ideally have to join Rajar so that it could become an integral part of planning systems."

The company has been talking to the research community about how it can develop a wider trading currency but Mark Middlemass, a media account director at Universal McCann, says that this is beside the point. Just look at the client list, he suggests: "The biggest companies in the world wouldn't be supporting this if it wasn't a genuine strategic option. That's all you need to say really. They know what they're doing and they have plenty of research to back up the effectiveness of this medium. The footfall numbers represented by these shops speak for themselves. I actually think that the success of Storm (now Immedia) is one of media's great untold stories. It shows how a core insight backed by lots of really hard work can pay dividends."

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