RADIO: OPENING THE AIRWAVES - Increased up-take in sponsorship and promotions has led to clients exploring innovative ways of communicating to their customers on the radio, as Pippa Considine finds out

Despite a glowing recent history for radio advertising, some stations have refused to rest on their laurels. Because of their greater willingnesss to work with clients on promotions and sponsorship, many stations and specialists have been giving their advertisers a gentle push in the direction of advertorial.

And it seems that advertisers are keen to make the most of the new opportunities.

Alongside youth brands and smaller advertisers using radio sponsorship and promotions are the likes of Procter & Gamble, COI Communications, Tetley Tea and Interbrew.

Sponsorship and promotions represent only a modest slice of the radio ad cake. Figures from the Radio Advertising Bureau reveal that sponsorship and promotions are now worth £64.2 million, up 7 per cent year on year from £61 million. Yet clients appear to be happy to work hard for effective coverage and specialist radio agencies are on hand to help those clients and agencies who aren't so sure of how to go about the process. Stations, although normally emphatic about their editorial integrity, have also been known to help out.

There are initiatives to knit together all parts of the radio advertising offering in broad deals for clients. There are also plenty of new advertorial developments on many stations - even a totally new hybrid being introduced to the market as the radio specialist Radio Works offers live 30-second ads for the first time in the UK on talkSPORT.

One advertiser which recently ran a successful radio promotion is Boddingtons.

A month-long promotion on Virgin called "Barrel of laughs

- fitting with the brand's strategy to be associated with comedy - was designed by the radio creative shop Eardrum. Ralph Van Dijk, the creative director at Eardrum, describes the process: "Station presenters were given about 60 pre-recorded snippets by well-known stand-up comedians which they could play in their shows. Each one referred to Boddingtons. These were followed by advertorials on "how to be a barrel of laughs

with the comedians Armstrong and Miller. Both parts were backed up by a competition on Virgin Radio's website."

Dee Clayton, the senior brand manager on Boddingtons, is enthusiastic about the project. "Our objective was simple - associate Boddingtons with comedy. Not only did Eardrum and Virgin Radio come up with an excellent way to achieve this, we all had a great laugh doing it."

Virgin Radio has a reputation for being more open to discussion than some stations about ideas linked to programming. It has an "access all areas

policy which aims to let clients into the programming heart of the station.

Emap's Broadcast Innovation division also likes to promote itself as open to negotiation about both cross-media solutions and those that need the say-so of editorial. The radio brands in its portfolio include Kiss, Big City and Magic. The head of Broadcast Innovation, Emap Advertising is Adam Bullock and he works closely with the managing director of Emap Programming and the group programming director. "It's not just a case of selling off-the-peg solutions for traffic and travel,

Bullock says.

"We create bespoke solutions. And the way we see it, the lines have blurred between sponsorship and promotions."

Emap has recently signed a deal with Nike to be what it calls an "official partner

with Kiss. "Kiss is not football biased, but Nike is interested in the youth and lifestyle of the audience,

Bullock says. "It will be promoting Nike and football and helping to drive football-crazy children to knock-out tournaments which are organised by Nike around London.

The partnership will include live promotions, player profiles and Nike-backed footballers appearing as guests on shows.

Although youth brands are a strong presence in radio sponsorship and promotions, more mainstream advertisers are also interested. Bullock has recently worked with NatWest, and at Chrysalis Radio, the sponsorship and promotions controller, Richard Brinkman, is now working with Tetley Tea as sponsors of the breakfast show on Heart.

Brinkman, who looks after the company's two radio brands, Heart and Galaxy, is clear about what he can offer mainstream advertisers. "We're not the be-all and end-all, but we can be a useful addition,

he explains. "We offer a more interactive, more emotive link with the brand than conventional advertising.

So Tetley's "Tetley loves you

campaign, led by D'Arcy and MediaVest, uses mainstream advertising channels, with the radio sponsorship working on an emotional level.

Brinkman is reluctant to compare radio spot advertising with sponsorship and promotions. "You're not comparing like with like. A sponsorship and promotions campaign should deliver you a lot more involvement and hopefully do it a lot more emotively - with implied endorsement - but it's never the same as a spot campaign."

There's a far more complicated and sometimes more trusting creative process with sponsorship and promotions, which can be off-putting to potential clients. Brinkman insists it has never been easier - he can offer advertisers a form of one-stop shop. At Chrysalis, Brinkman's team co-ordinate creative work and offer marketing support. "Unlike TV sponsorship, the radio station does all the work. In terms of convenience of purchase it's not as ugly as it sounds."

At the radio specialist agency Markettiers 4dc, the commercial services director, Oliver Russell, is sceptical about this sort of in-house offering from radio stations. "In practice the radio industry isn't set up to deal with this.

Radio brands are big brands in their own right with massive audiences in individual regions. That brand does not want to be corrupted by bringing another brand into airtime.

He points out that, in addition to this conflict of interests, the sales teams are also frequently distanced from the actual operations. He's equally uncertain about the ability of big agencies to get to grips with the specifics of radio advertorial.

Enter the radio specialist. Russell can boast a place on the agency roster of the likes of Vodafone, COI and P&G. Such clients - whether through specialists or via other channels - have had their eyes opened to the advantages of advertising on the radio and they have now turned their attention to radio promotions and sponsorship deals.

As it needs real finesse to get it right, a successful advertorial campaign can give real credibility to a brand. Promotions and sponsorship may carry something like a 30 per cent premium compared with spot advertising, but with the right creative you could be on to a real winner.