Feature

RAB turns to O'Shea to trumpet the virtues of radio

RAB chief executive Douglas McArthur believes that Chris O'Shea can make a big difference, writes Ian Darby.

You could be forgiven for believing that advertising becomes a gravy train for its big names. Knock a few good ads out, run the creative department for a bit, take a back seat and then wait for the non-exec offers to roll in.

If you were in a cynical or dismissive frame of mind, you could argue that Chris O'Shea's career has followed this route. But that would be grossly unfair, given his passion for the creative process.

And anyway, Douglas McArthur, the chief executive of the Radio Advertising Bureau, which has hired O'Shea as a creative consultant as it takes its message to the creative community, argues that his is no token, bit-part role: "Chris will be coming in a couple of days a month and will do more if he thinks it will be valuable. He'll be a non-executive director but he's not just a casual consultant."

The RAB has spent its first 11 years taking the message of radio advertising to media agencies and, while its annual and monthly Aerial Awards have done something to push the issue of radio creativity up the agenda, it wants to do more. Believing that, having grown from a 2% to a 7% medium, media agencies understand the role of radio, the task is to improve standards of radio creativity and to convince creative agencies that it's worth investing in the medium.

McArthur says: "Radio isn't sexy but it's no longer tatty. We want to go to the next step of there being more great ads and we don't really know exactly how to do it."

Enter O'Shea. A man with as much experience as anybody in the industry. And not just of creating good radio creative (he and his creative partner Ken Hoggins created a Red Cross spot voted the listeners' favourite in an RAB poll) but also with a track record of campaigning and working on improving industry standards via posts at D&AD, Creative Circle and the IPA.

Some might believe that the RAB should have employed the services of a blistering young Turk, a Robert Saville or a Charles Inge, rather than turn to an industry veteran. But the RAB believes that O'Shea is an organiser and somebody with the enthusiasm for the medium to make a difference.

O'Shea now has time for the RAB job, given that he works three days a week for Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB, the agency he helped to launch 10 years ago. His passion is obvious. "I'll be proclaiming the virtues of radio. I'm a great fan and not just of radio commercials. It's a wonderful medium and there is still a lot of untapped potential that the ad community has not realised yet. I think it was Tom Stoppard who said 'I always prefer writing for radio because the scenery is better' and that sums it up really."

O'Shea's appointment is part of a more general restructure at the RAB that will enable it to take its message to the creative community. O'Shea has some specific ideas about how this should be done but says it is too early to outline them.

The past year has seen the RAB embark on a series of briefings for advertisers -- it has developed in-depth research for markets such as FMCG and automotive clients that are less likely to use radio. This has been a relative success, so it feels that by harnessing client-focused marketing with approaches to the creative community, it can convey a more powerful message.

O'Shea has worked closely with the RAB over the years: he was the Aerials chairman in 1998, and has regular catch-ups with McArthur. His new role is a formalisation of his involvement. He says: "The RAB has done amazing work. I'm old enough to remember when it was the shite end of the market, down there with door drops. Now it's a much more respectable medium, up there with good print advertising. Overall, the long-term objective is to make the commercials better than the programmes. It might even take a decade to make a difference but there is definitely potential to be unlocked."

The task is to convert the success of the Aerial Awards, particularly among young creatives, into radio becoming a seedbed for these more junior creatives before they move on to TV. "It's clear there are opportunities for young teams to make their mark and we can work on making radio more part of their lives," O'Shea says.

O'Shea's day job for BHO has seen him revert to producing his own ads once again, having taken a back seat in the day-to-day running of the agency's creative department back in 1999. The fact that he still gets his hands dirty will be of benefit to the RAB. But how does O'Shea see the role alongside his other commitments? "The work isn't going to be that arduous. I see this as an interest and something that I enjoy. It's a bonus to get dosh for it," he says.

The O'Shea file

1991 The Banks Partnership, co-founder

1993 Banks Hoggins O'Shea/ FCB, joint creative director

1998 RAB Aerial Awards, chairman

1999 Creative Circle, chairman

2000 D&AD, education chairman

2000 IPA, chairman of Creative Directors Forum

2003 RAB, non-executive director

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