Close-up: Is radio a good entry point for grads?

The medium offers fledgling creatives the chance to hone their craft skills, Anne Cassidy writes.

Undervalued and often ignored, radio continually struggles to win the respect, and even interest, of creatives made giddy by the bright lights of the telly.

It is termed by one ad exec as "the shitty bit no-one else wants to do". For example, there were no executive creative directors, and few creative agencies, at this year's radio Advertising Awards. The radio industry needs to recognise and celebrate great creativity if it's to improve the medium's fortunes.

As a result of radio's poor status in creative agencies, or possibly as a symptom of this, radio briefs have historically been flung in the direction of wide-eyed new starters. One of the main reasons is money. Paul Burke, a radio writer/producer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, says: "There's less at stake with radio. TV is very expensive and there's more media spend."

Also, those who create radio ads don't get the glory and recognition that creatives on TV or even poster campaigns can expect. And so those looking to raise their profile will studiously overlook radio.

Advertisers are also accused of undervaluing radio as they often assign the junior member of their team to oversee radio campaigns.

However, senior industry creatives believe radio is wrongly maligned and it's a great opportunity for grads to flex their creative muscles. It allows creatives to stretch their imagination and bring ideas to life on a low budget, as well as helping develop craft skills that many young people joining the industry are bereft of. Creatives can also get a sense of the tone of voice of a brand with radio, as well as being a testing ground for ideas and a chance to work with layering and sound effects, as well as actors.

Radio also gives graduates the opportunity to do that rarest of things in advertising - make mistakes. Mistakes aren't always a bad thing - young creatives can learn a lot from them.

However, as advertising diversifies and clients begin looking for multi-platform campaigns that include anything from a widget to a social networking application, there is a school of thought that the younger tech-savvy employees who don't have 20 years of baggage should not be sidelined from the bigger briefs but that their youthful exuberance should be embraced.

While radio is still used, it will continue to be a viable testing ground for the young bucks, but the days when this was their sole calling are definitely disappearing.

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"Are radio briefs the best briefs to give junior creatives? Well, it depends on how good the brief is. If it's a single-minded proposition without 28 seconds of mandatory voiceover, then, maybe, yes. If it's a complicated, quadruple-headed proposition, then definitely not.

"Truth is, you should give the people who are learning their trade the simpler, arguably better briefs rather than defaulting to an 'oh, they do the radio' decision.

"What radio does have is the opportunity to own the project, and ownership is a great way to learn and get better. Get a radio campaign bought and you're suddenly doing the casting yourself, you are directing those actors and running the production.

"Then there's the other truth: junior creatives are free from the baggage that 20 years in the business can give you. And as a result, the young, fresh-minded creatives can be a better bet for something truly original on the big brief that requires everything from an MPU to a TV commercial to an app. After all, while us oldies know our FM from our AM, it's the 23-year-olds who know the modern world best."


"Is there such a thing as a 'radio brief'? As far as I've seen, every brief is about a problem rather than a media channel. After that, sometimes radio features as part of the solution.

"As it happens, my planner's baby teeth gnashed on AOL and web-based campaigns for milkshakes, before I got near the radio. But as a medium, it presents some great challenges. Radio ads are commonly seen by the public as the headlice of the airwaves, which sets the kind of challenge that any industry member - young or old - should salivate over.

"Radio's constraints demand more precise and more creative solutions. As Torture Garden regulars might put it: we do our best stuff when we're tied down.

"What's more, sound can be pretty persuasive stuff. Drench some fireside charm in whisky and murmur something about fighting them on the beaches, and you can turn the fag-end of an empire into a fortress."


"When you start out in the industry, there are a million and one things you have to learn in a very short space of time.

"This is where radio can be an extremely effective learning tool. Not only does it give you valuable production experience, it also gives you the chance to hone your skills for other mediums by forcing you to distil a thought down to one succinct and memorable idea.

"But radio is much more than just a training ground for other media platforms. A lot of young teams overlook how creative you can be with radio as so many of them dream about doing the next big TV or print campaign.

"However, radio briefs give teams a chance to really showcase their creative and strategic thinking, because unlike in other mediums, where budgets can make a big difference, radio offers a level playing field, enabling you to make a great idea for not a lot of money."


"As every dog owner knows, feeding off scraps thrown from the table breeds a hunger for more.

"That hunger is the lifeblood of our industry - the desire to crack any problem, however small, whatever the media, in a jealousy-inducing way. It dies and so do we.

"Radio has always been a good place to try something new but with the current pressure on advertising revenue, opportunities for fresh thinking are greater than ever, and stations more willing than ever to offer up presenters' involvement and airtime for branded content.

"But there's a flipside to this question: are radio briefs the best use of young creatives' abilities from the agency's perspective? Why would any forward-thinking agency choose to restrict some of its most open-minded and tech-savvy talent to working largely on one relatively traditional media when it could be giving them the freedom to find completely fresh answers in channels that haven't even been thought of yet?"