Radio: Fair Hearing

Rival broadcasters are upping the advertising ante in the battle for listeners but they risk cannibalising audiences, Steve Hemsley says.

Unless you have been living underground recently, you will have noticed a small eruption in radio brand advertising as rival stations jostle for position in an increasingly competitive market.

The rise in the number of analogue radio licences - and industry forecasts predicting 40 per cent of households will have digital radio by 2009 - mean media owners must work harder to woo advertisers and keep hold of increasingly promiscuous listeners.

In the major cities, previously dominant heritage brands, such as GCap's 95.8 Capital FM in London and Emap's Key 103 in Manchester, have had to come out fighting and produce big-budget campaigns as newer rivals invade their turf.

Capital FM is running another version of its "Dancing in the Street" commercial to promote Johnny Vaughan's breakfast show, while Key 103 has embarked upon a £2 million outdoor offensive before Xfm arrives in Manchester in the new year.

The gloves have been off for a while in London, where the real battle is for the ears of 25- to 44-year-olds.

Magic 105.4's £1 million "lyrics" television campaign broke on 12 September with a "more music, less talk" message. Howard Bareham, the head of radio at MindShare, says: "Magic has recruited some strong personalities, such as Neil Fox at breakfast and Eamonn Holmes on Sunday afternoons. Its investment in marketing shows how its managing director, Andria Vidler, is determined to make Magic number one by appealing to listeners who like music and celebrity."

Chrysalis Radio spent £2 million advertising Heart 106.2's new Jamie Theakston breakfast show in April and the campaign moved into its second phase on 1 October. Guardian Media Group's Smooth FM, formerly Jazz FM, is targeting the same demographic and investing £1.5 million in a TV and outdoor campaign.

"GMG wants to mirror the success of the Smooth FM launch in the North West. This heavyweight repositioning for the brand in London seems to be working," the Starcom account director, Dominic Woolfe, says.

Virgin Radio is also on television at the moment with its "music we all love" creative, which features ordinary people whose everyday lives are improved by music.

"Consumers are being courted by lots of radio brands at the same time," John Walker, the head of radio planning and buying at OMD UK, says.

"They are getting better informed through some creative advertising, but it is important that any campaign conveys a station's overall brand and does not focus too heavily on one or two high-profile presenters."

Media buyers are also worried that this huge amount of media activity is simply cannibalising the commercial radio audience as stations concentrate too heavily on stealing each other's share rather than luring new listeners from the BBC.

In the second quarter, BBC Radio secured a 54 per cent slice of the market, up from 52 per cent in October 2003, according to Rajar. In the same period, commercial radio's share fell from 46 per cent to 44 per cent.

"If commercial radio is to flourish for advertisers, it must grow its overall audience and stop the in-fighting," Mike Colling, the managing director of the media agency MC&C, insists.

He has called on media groups to cooperate more with initiatives such as UK Radio Aid, which was organised for the tsunami appeal in January.



Adspend this year: £2 million

Best show/DJ: The Go Home Show with Richard Bacon. Neil Fox had presented the drivetime show for eight years and Capital has now found a successful replacement.

Brand in a nutshell: Capital used to have London's young adults to itself. Not any more. GCap is fighting hard to retain Capital's market-leading position, but media planners worry its advertising is focusing too much on the breakfast show. "The marketing is not telling listeners enough about what they'll find if they tune in to Capital at other times," OMD's John Walker warns.

HEART 106.2

Adspend this year: £2.5 million

Best show/DJ: Heart Breakfast with Jamie Theakston launched in April supported by ads from Clemmow Hornby Inge, the station's biggest campaign to date. Theakston, who spent three years at BBC Radio 1, was chosen because of his affinity with 25- to 44-year-olds.

Brand in a nutshell: Heart targets people who love current hits but want reminding of the music they enjoyed in their teens. Its sister, 100.7 Heart FM, is the biggest radio station in the Midlands. "Heart has become very focused on celebrity and aggressive in its brand marketing in London," Starcom's Dominic Woolfe says.


Adspend this year: £2 million

Best show/DJ: Pete Mitchell and Geoff Lloyd have presented the Virgin breakfast show since January 2003, mixing humour with music sessions by the likes of Paul Weller. They will be replaced in the new year by Christian O'Connell.

Brand in a nutshell: Virgin describes itself as the nation's most credible music brand, but it has tinkered with its music policy repeatedly over the past decade. It is desperate to shed the perception that it is a rock station for men, so its latest ad campaign emphasises that it also plays pop.


Adspend this year: £1 million

Best show/DJ: X-Posure on weekday evenings with Claire Sturgess and John Kennedy is Xfm's showcase of the latest indie, rock and alternative releases.

Brand in a nutshell: Upmarket and with a predominantly male audience, Xfm has established itself as a national brand despite its strong London roots, MindShare's Howard Bareham says. It has had to work hard to retain its credibility as a specialist music station after it was bought by Capital in 1998. Comedy is now an important part of the schedule. A treasure chest of marketing cash has been hoarded to support its Manchester launch in the new year.

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