CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/RADIO CREATIVITY - Can the advocates of radio alter its identity within the media?

Few seem to dispute MT Rainey's assertion in her speech to the RAB

conference last Tuesday, that creativity in UK radio advertising lags

well behind not only other media, but much of the world as well

However, Rainey could surely never fault the devotion of most of her

audience to putting that failing right.

Advocates of radio are probably the most effusive in the agency world

when it comes to listing the qualities of their chosen medium: its

intimacy, conversational tone, high level of trust and unbeatable

accessibility. And their concentrated enthusiasm is in many ways a

reaction to the problems of low-grade, irritatingly repetitive ads that

Rainey railed against. The more frequently creative departments snub

radio briefs, or hand them to junior teams for practice, the louder

radio partisans will list its unexploited qualities.

However, a quick fix for the creativity issue remains elusive. Rainey

argued that a root cause of the problem is that the medium is still

bought for frequency. While radio remains at the tactical, rather than

strategic, end of a media schedule, it is unlikely to grab the attention

of brand-oriented creatives. Worse still, the consequently low-grade ads

will be repeated incessantly due to the frequency emphasis of the


However, radio disciples among the media agencies maintain that Rainey's

view is outdated. MediaVest's radio group head, Mark Helm, says: 'It's

slightly unfair. In the past couple of years there's been a move toward

using radio as a branding tool and taking advantage of new opportunities

in the market. The way that radio is bought now is much more about

buying into an environment.'

For Helm the difficulty remains with the creative output. 'We don't put

enough resources into getting people who can write.'

Adrian Reith, the managing director of the specialist creative agency

Radioville argues that the problem stems from the fundamentally

different skills required for radio advertising. 'The agencies' big

strength is in the visual area,' he says. 'Radio skills are distinct and

different and until people recognise that then the standard of creative

won't be as high.'

Unsurprisingly, Reith believes this problem can be most effectively

solved by agencies farming out radio briefs to specialists such as

Radioville. However, he points out that even a great and willing

copywriter is at the mercy of the brief handed to him.

'If you accept that you need different skills creatively, then you also

need different muscles to commission at that level,' he says. 'You need

to understand what radio is good for. It's a fantastic motivating medium

and it's great for making people feel as though they're understood, but

it's not great for impressing or imparting detail. We need clients who

are more literate and more aware of what it can do.'

There are pioneers in place. Charles Dunstone has been rightly

celebrated for his understanding of the medium. But will Carphone

Warehouse's success be enough to inspire other clients to follow suit?

While too many radio briefs remain locked up in agencies that are less

than interested, it seems unlikely that the ranks of the specialists

will be able to build up the creative momentum that the medium needs.

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