2009 was a tough year for advertising, but radio is a resilient beast. Despite the fact it's been around since the 20s, radio has managed to stay as relevant as ever and this fact, teamed with a leaner, consolidated marketplace, bodes well for the future of the business.
So let me put my cards on the table.
2010 needs to be the year that we fully recognise and support the potential of what is undoubtedly a medium that's full of fresh thinking and stacked with new and powerful ways of connecting with audiences.
There are some notable clients who are already in this new place with radio thinking, and many agencies are working hard to make the most of what the medium has to offer, but there are still people out there who have a one-dimensional view of what radio can do. This perception, often based on a view of radio as a purely short-term, tactical medium, means that radio can come lower down the media and creative food chain than it should. In turn, such a view can hinder a more progressive use of radio as a whole.
So, collectively, we have a responsibility to continue to drive change in our relationship with a medium that looks very different now to how it looked ten years ago.
The classic strengths of radio still apply: reach is as strong as ever, and there is still an innate human need for trusted, curated, entertaining content. However, the digital landscape is offering the opportunity for radio to spread its wings and move into a non-linear, interactive, more data-rich space that offers a whole new realm of communication opportunities to brands.
Central to radio redefining its role in the digital landscape is its dedication to great content combined with a clear strategy to maximise its distribution. Unique content and on-air talent is radio's weapon against online players such as Spotify. It's certainly true that people have a hunger for this content - just look at the iTunes podcast charts to see how popular radio shows are.
Internet players are great, they have a role to play on many an audio communications plan, but they simply play music that is commercially available anywhere. The content created from Capital Radio's Jingle Bell Ball, Bauer's Lily Allen gig or LBC's Nick Ferrari is only available in one place.
Better onand off-air content means radio remains unique and opportunities for strategic partnerships are created that make the most of association and allow brands to reach new and diversified audiences.
A huge benefit of digital content distribution is its ability to deliver interactivity. Online listening obviously facilitates this, next-generation DAB is Wi-Fi-connected and the increasing penetration of smartphone radio apps allow instant interaction while on the move. Hear a song, buy the song from iTunes; hear a DJ's comment that annoys you, send an instant missive to the studio; hear something you like, tag it and save it for later.
Radio has always been interactive (what else is a phone-in?) but digital offers a hugely expanded list of ways in which listeners can engage with the radio brands they are so passionate about. In a world where people expect to be able to talk directly to brands, this is a hugely powerful asset and will do much to strengthen radio's relationship with audiences.
With all this interaction comes data. Sign-ups, registrations and log-ins are all standard fodder in the digital space and radio brands are making huge steps in using digital to build powerful audience databases. Absolute Radio's VIP programme is an interesting case in point. The team at Golden Square is using a range of innovative digital products such as Dabbl.com and Songofthedecade.com to recruit registered users. Ultimately, programmes such as this will provide great opportunities for advertisers to connect with audiences on a personal level as well as through broadcast streams.
Digital means more screen-based listening and this has some interesting longer-term implications for creativity. Smartphones allow visualisation, the BBC has tested visualisation on TV, obviously online listening can be visualised and next-generation DABs such as the Pure Sensia mean slideshow visuals can be broadcast within the same data spectrum as the audio. The development of visual radio technologies means that glanceable information such as football score updates, studio footage or song details will become as much a part of the radio experience as the sounds of the show itself.
With this comes a whole new opportunity for integrating commercial messages. Visual radio is not bad TV, it's an enhanced multimedia experience offering additional layers of information or insight into the dynamics of a show. As visual radio technology and its execution develop, it will become as important to think about how a campaign looks as well as sounds.
Let's also remember that while radio is working hard to be digitally forward-thinking, it can work hard with digital. The evaluation work we have done with many of our clients shows that radio is well-placed within the offline world to deliver branded search volumes and the Radio Advertising Bureau is soon to release a research project looking at this.
The radio business has its challenges, which will certainly stay in the headlines this year - digital upgrade and all the issues that come with that, the "handbrake" to upgrade of in-car listening, some inevitable in-fighting and the pull of digital generally will continue to put pressure on listening hours.
However, I am a firm believer in trying to control what is within my gift and it seems that media owners are too. Radio is investing in a better product. Let's leave regulation to the regulators, legislation to the legislators, and in-fighting, well, to anyone who wants to in-fight.
In the meantime, we should concentrate on how we can make a difference - innovative, integrated radio work set firmly in the digital ecology that can have a real effect on client business.
- Matthew Landeman is the head of radio at Carat.