Radio: Beyond The Radio Ad - Sponsorship and promotions on the radio are on the increase. Done well, they can work for advertiser, station, even a lucky winner

What could motivate someone to spend 19 days in a car parked inside a shopping mall, push a Sunderland supporter to bid pounds 400 for a shirt signed by the entire squad, or drive an individual to stand on a soapbox at Speaker’s Corner, relating their personal faults to the world?

What could motivate someone to spend 19 days in a car parked inside

a shopping mall, push a Sunderland supporter to bid pounds 400 for a

shirt signed by the entire squad, or drive an individual to stand on a

soapbox at Speaker’s Corner, relating their personal faults to the


The answer is radio or, to be more specific, radio promotions. Listeners

to Radio City in Liverpool became avid followers of the story of six

people crammed into a Peugeot in a local shopping mall. Called ’in it to

win it’, the promotion - run on behalf of a local Peugeot dealer - was

simple: the last person in the car wins it. Metro FM in Newcastle

flushed out the competitive Sunderland supporter determined to top the

bid of a rival Newcastle supporter for a shirt signed by Alan Shearer on

the internet auction site, QXL. Meanwhile, it was the lure of a trip to

Australia, courtesy of Smirnoff Risk Adventure, that drove the poor sod

to Speaker’s Corner. That promotion ran on Kiss FM and three Galaxy

stations, and winners subsequently entertained listeners with live

recordings of their risky adventures - including abseiling out of hotel

windows and skydiving from 20,000 feet.

Sponsorships and promotions are one of the biggest revenue growth areas

in commercial radio, already accounting for somewhere between 10 and 20

per cent of most stations’ annual income. ’It is going to grow and

grow,’ David Hipkiss, an account director at Emap On Air, says. ’Clients

talk about interacting with customers and getting to know them better.

On-radio sponsorship and promotions are the best way to do this.’

When a promotion or sponsorship works, it is a win/win situation for the

advertiser and the station. A good promotion can have listeners

remaining in the car in the driveway rather than turning off, while the

advertiser gets to bask in the reflected glow of a trusted radio station

or DJ.

Ironically, it was radio that invented broadcast promotions, yet it is

only in the past few years that commercial radio stations have woken up

to the commercial possibilities of radio or sponsorship deals.

Now they’re cashing in. ’The days where radio stations gave things away

on air or mentioned brands for free are long gone. Promotions are now a

premium product,’ Hipkiss says. The cost of promotions and sponsorship

deals are hard to quantify but some specialists suggest that promotions

are now twice as expensive as an equivalent ad campaign - even before

factoring in the cost of the prize.

Not surprisingly, this means that the onus is now on both radio

specialists and radio stations to create sponsorship and promotional

tie-ins that deliver. ’It is about trying to understand the brand and

the target audience,’ Simon Sanders, the marketing manager at the radio

specialist, the Market Tiers, says. ’There are 330 commercial radio

stations and they are beginning to narrowcast rather than broadcast, so

you can pick out shows or stations that attract certain groups.’

Although often classified together, sponsorships and promotions are

distinct marketing disciplines that achieve very different objectives

for the advertiser.

Sponsorship works very much like brand advertising. ’You are trying to

create a character and personality for a brand that a certain target

audience is going to identify with,’ Clive Reffell, formerly at the

Radio Advertising Bureau and now the founder of the Reffell Consultancy,

says. It is a long-term activity.

At the most basic level, a sponsorship is merely a brand credit taped on

to the end of existing programming.

However, more sophisticated advertisers are creating formats that offer

added value to listeners. Coca-Cola’s news updates from the Olympics in

the brand’s home-town of Atlanta, broadcast on Capital FM, fall into

this category. Similarly, Kenco Coffee worked with Classic FM to sponsor

a series of classical open-air concerts during the summer. Classic FM

gained original programming while the coffee brand not only benefited

from the association, but ran a product sampling campaign at the

concerts. ’We believe such tie-ins can enhance the sound of the station,

as well as offering the benefits to advertisers,’ Dominic Barker, the

sponsorship group head at Classic FM, says.

By contrast, promotions are usually much shorter term, and focused

around an offer. ’Promotions encourage consumers to leapfrog the whole

brand selection process,’ Reffell says. ’Radio is a very immediate

medium because it is live and promotions are intended to achieve a

short-term effect so there is a natural convergence of objectives.’

At their best, promotions also make great radio. Warner Brothers and

Kiss FM worked together to produce a promotion for the film, Mars


It kicked off with weird static noises interrupting the broadcast,

subsequently the interruptions became a ’bleep bleep’ - the distinctive

alien language from the film. The stations sent out ’interviewers’ to

track the source of the noises, who ’discovered’ that it came from outer

space. The spot rounded off with a report of an alien landing and a

large explosion before the broadcast went dead for 20 seconds. When

coverage returned it was to announce the film’s impending launch.

’The best promotions are the ones where the presenter really gets behind

the product because they enthuse in a way you could never replicate,’

Ralph Van Dijk, the director at radio specialist, Eardrum, which works

with Warner Brothers, says.

For this reason, the best promotions rarely follow a predictable


’Each brief is different so each promotion needs to be a bespoke

solution to a marketing brief,’ Simon Beales, the managing director at

the radio specialist, Mind’s Eye, says. This can lead to protracted

negotiations between advertisers and radio stations, which are often

anxious to protect the integrity of their own brands. ’We have to

maintain our credibility,’ Hipkiss says.

For this reason, advertisers also need to be clear about the limits of

both promotions and sponsorship. Neither is ideal if the brief is to

communicate a product refinement, a new emotion to be attributed to a

product or a direct sell. ’We never recommend someone doing a promotion

or a sponsorship without backing it up with an airtime campaign,’ says

Michael Charnley-Heaton, the managing director at the radio advertising

specialist, Radioworks. ’The promotion involves the brand with the

programming and the presenters, and the airtime campaign contains the

selling message. This gives you the best of both worlds.’

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