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Radio Done Right

14 Apr, 2009 By: Buck Robinson

By Buck Robinson

“Yeah – we can do radio,” said the agency to the client. “We basically take the audio from the TV spot and add the 800 number.” If this dialogue happens to you, run – don’t walk – away.

Radio can be a powerfully effective medium for direct marketers. But in the hands of agencies that don’t understand the nuances of radio, all it will be is a waste of time and money for marketers.

There’s radio – and then there’s radio done right.

Agencies that don’t know radio often assume that what works on TV will succeed on radio. But the fact is that short-form TV and radio are like oil and water – similar in many ways, but when you try to mix them, the differences become readily apparent.

Short-form television is a medium that has mass appeal, is married to a low price point and allows for clear visual demonstration of products or services. Spot radio, on the other hand, is niche advertising and is not price-point driven. Nor is it able to visually tell a story; it is theater of the mind. Lacking the visual elements found in TV or print, radio also frequently serves as a driver to the Internet – compelling listeners to visit for additional information.

Marketers that have had a negative experience with radio will just write the medium off – and while that’s understandable, it also writes off the revenue-generating opportunities that radio clearly represents. But like anything else, radio only works when it’s done right.

For radio to be effective, it is crucial that the message be tailored to the medium. When possible, a campaign should also utilize radio personalities to drive messaging. Due to the intimate relationships that hosts have with their audience, host endorsements typically increase response by up to 400 percent over non-endorsed products and services. And remember, no matter what the price point is, 15-30 percent of the respondents from a radio campaign will make a purchase.

Therefore, it makes sense to bundle your lower-priced product with additional offers for a higher average sale. After all, if you are going to close 15-30 percent of the callers regardless of price point, aren’t you better of getting 20 percent to buy at $99.95 instead of $19.95?

To underscore the impressive scope that radio offers marketers, I’d like to share two recent case studies with you – one involving radio as a lead generator and the other as a vehicle to drive sales.

DirectBuy, a national membership club specializing in home furnishing and improvements with over 160 locations throughout North America, was spending millions of dollars in print and TV but needed to increase the volume of qualified leads for their franchises. To maximize lead conversion, the client needed to target homeowners with a higher household income.

Robinson Radio developed a campaign strategy that utilized more than 10 nationally syndicated hosts to endorse the client’s brand, including Glenn Beck, Howard Stern, Dr. Laura Schlesinger and John Tesh. To ensure authenticity, each host was given a membership so that they were able to provide a firsthand account of their DirectBuy experiences to their listeners.

By utilizing host endorsement campaigns, the client was able to realize an immediate return on their investment while generating over 1,000 qualified leads each week via phone and Web. Conversion rates for the radio campaign were greater than both TV and print – allowing for a higher threshold of cost-per-lead (CPL) benchmarks. Since working with Robinson Radio, DirectBuy has profitably spent several million dollars on radio since 2006.

Working with a prior local agency, National Dealer’s Warranty, a national auto warranty company, gave radio a try – and was sorely disappointed by the (lack of) results and the inflated cost for the initial testing. The only bright spot was that they were able to get out of the contract!

When they visited with Robinson Radio, they really did not know what a prudent radio test looked like. We began by laying out the strategy for a test. We analyzed what worked for them in direct mail (their primary medium) to translate these proven elements and make them fit for radio. As an example, they used price comparisons heavily in their copy. At the same time, our experience has shown that testimonials work well in radio.

We therefore combined price comparisons with testimonials, while making certain our creative remained true to the radio format (personal, memorable, engaging). Today the campaign accounts for a large percentage of the company’s revenues, generating several million dollars worth of new contracts in just the first 10 months. With an annual $5 million spend on radio, the medium is now the No. 1 advertising outlet for the client and generates thousands of calls per week to their call center.

Robinson Radio works closely with its clients to look at their campaigns from a wholly radio-centric perspective. And while it’s never “one-size-fits-all” in mounting a direct response radio campaign, there are several definite dos and don'ts in working with the medium that can only be learned from extensive experience.

Radio is such a rich medium – it plays a vital part of virtually everyone’s lives. We drive with it, cook with it, work with it and even go to sleep with it. As a result, radio is very much a lifestyle medium – perfectly suited to the many lifestyle-oriented products we work with in the world of direct response.

But only when it is done right!

Buck Robinson is the president and CEO of Robinson Radio Inc., a radio-specific advertising agency that specializes in endorsement commercials featuring national and local radio personalities. A 20-year industry veteran, Robinson can be reached at (804) 726-6400 or via E-mail at

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