The radio medium has always had an intimate relationship with the
telephone. For decades, the lame-brained phone-in show has represented
the ultimate pinnacle in imaginative speech-based radio within the
commercial sector. Now it's time to SMS.
Last week saw a couple of tie-ups between text messaging specialists and
radio companies. 12snap has signed a deal to manage mobile databases and
implement SMS services for Kiss 100 and Key 103. Separately, Chrysalis
Radio has signed a deal with Flytxt to create an interactive text
messaging service called The Text Maniacs Club. Listeners will be asked
to join the club by sending a text message - the incentive is a cinema
pass - and having joined, they will be offered an increasing range of
interactive services, beginning with simple quizzes and eventually
embracing e-commerce opportunities.
This is just the start - radio is about to embrace SMS in a big way and
there are a number of other deals in the pipeline. Some are even touting
this as an evolutionary step change for the medium. Is it? Or is it
merely a new promotional technique? A peripheral, added-value listener
Or is it what some of its new advocates are claiming - a rich
enhancement that alters the nature of the medium and opens up all sorts
of new opportunities?
The phone-in analogy is only partially appropriate here. SMS certainly
won't have much impact on radio programming content. And anyway, its
heaviest users are likely to be music stations.
"We make radio shows interactive," Lars Becker, the chief executive of
Flytxt, states. "Listeners can send in requests, respond to polls and
questionnaires and send questions to people in the studio. But it also
emerges as a separate media channel. People will be asked to send in
their home postcodes so we will be offering the same targeting as radio.
It will become even more targeted - by age and by sex. That's when it
becomes even more interesting.
"It's personalised and it's interactive. People can respond to
broadcasts or the broadcasts can encourage them to go somewhere or do
The response rates can be very high - it obviously depends how
interesting the message is and it helps if you make it funny. For the
movie Get Over It, for instance, we've been asking people to send in
their favourite dumping lines."
A separate media channel? Does that mean advertisers can either create
traffic or piggy back on routine listener-radio station messages? Isn't
that the opportunity here? Yes, Anne de Kerckhov at 12snap, says: "You
can achieve impressive response rates. And it can drive traffic to the
medium or it can be used for promotions in the music-related area.
That could be obvious music products or bars and clubs or even things
such as spirits or certain fmcg brands - for instance, perfumes. It's
actually ideal for the launch campaigns of a wide range of products.
It's about targeting the right audience. So it's both an audience
benefit and a way to increase audience revenue."
Not by much, surely? One area that media owners have high hopes for is
e-commerce. You hear the record, like it, pick up your phone and buy
through your tried-and-trusted favourite radio station.
One messaging specialist that's unashamedly retail-orientated is Scan.
It's about to sign at least one radio deal.
Scan's founder, Robert Hamilton, says: "Having a store is great for
radio stations. It delivers great feedback as to what their audience is
not just listening to but actually buying. Once you have that
relationship with them you can also sell books and other entertainment
products. It has even wider applications.
It could just as easily be sachets of washing powder. It's a return path
for a medium that hasn't had one in the past."
It certainly hasn't had one as sophisticated as this, but there are
sceptics. Chris Bartlett, the head of emerging media at Zenith
Interactive, comments: "From a broadcaster's point of view it's
fantastic, creating a relationship with the audience that you just can't
do any other way. But there are a number of different SMS databases out
there and in the end it comes down to exactly what users have signed up
to receive. If they want Robbie Williams ticket information they will be
receptive to other Robbie Williams material but almost by definition
they probably won't want information or promotions or advertising
messages from designer shoe brands."
But surely it's possible to find ways of piggy-backing on this
communication stream? Bartlett will take some convincing. "It's
something you see with SMS services, for instance ones giving football
scores. Sometimes you might see an advertiser's logo down at the bottom
and that's OK but it's not something that most advertisers will be
wildly enthusiastic about."
So it's down to the likes of Flytxt's Becker to convince the advertising
market that this can work. Obviously, he thinks it can be done but that
companies have to embrace the interactivity creatively, not just the
He concludes: "For advertisers it's an opportunity to do something
tailored to the medium. You have to engage people by speaking to them
personally. It shouldn't be just one outbound message, it should involve
a dialogue. In the end the creativity is in using text and integrating
your message into that."