Making Radio Work

Since I'm starting to offer some ad space on the show, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what makes a "radio" spot work.

For those who don't know, radio is how I got my start in this business. Way back in the day, marketing podcast host and consultant, Bob Knorpp, was commission-sales, low-on-the-totem-pole sales grunt. I was a inconsequential radio sales guy, trying to scrape by enough accounts so that I could write and produce spots. It was low-budget and a terrible mess to be sure, but it was real-world experience and I loved it.

Slowly, though, I realized it was the absolute bottom of the entertainment industry (you'll hear my story about that on the upcoming outtake show), and I needed to be a producer of content, rather than a seller of it. But I never forgot my roots in radio and I've spent two decades as a closet fan of the medium. So I thought I'd share just a few of my personal insights about what makes for good radio advertising:

Offer Testing

For God's sake! Don't run a radio ad without an offer and don't assume the spot doesn't work because your offer didn't attract people. THAT'S how important offer is in radio.

Low production costs and easy insertions, make radio a great medium for testing new strategies for increasing response. So don't be afraid to test different offers on different stations or adjust an offer that doesn't work. And even if your goal is to just brand a product (like a beer ad), there's no reason not to push a person to some kind of response. Downloading an app or visiting a site will make the branding that much more effective.

Simple Call-To-Actions

Speaking of response, let's be reasonable about what we can achieve here. Asking someone to stop off at your store on main street or download your app from the 


 store is completely reasonable. Providing instructions for reaching your obscure location or repeatedly shouting your phone number is just a waste of time.

We live in a digital/mobile age. Not only has spitting out phone numbers always been a bad practice of radio, now it's nearly irrelevant. No one wants to call you. But texting "[insert store name]" for an offer code or searching "[insert search string]" on Google are practical ways to get people to respond. And all radio stations (and podcasts, for that matter) have websites. Don't be afraid to make their site your destination and provide a link from there. But whatever you do, make it easy and memorable. That's what works best.

Live Reads Are Best...

There's a reason Paul Harvey and Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh command such high dollar figures for live read spots. It's because they work. And not just work. They kill!

Talk show hosts command a lot of respect with their audience. And when they talk about something, even when it's clearly mentioned as an ad, it becomes a personal recommendation in the minds of the audience. That's why many hosts (including myself) are choosy about what ads they accept for live reads.

Yes, they are more expensive. Yes, you have to jump through hoops to convince a host to do it sometimes. But if you can get it, go for it. It's the epitome of radio advertising at this point.

...But Only In The Right Hands

Let me point out, though, that not all live reads are worth your time. Someone like Leo Laporte on TWiT is a master of the live read, incorporating the ad into playful banter with other guests and oozing sincerity. Your average disc jockey can't pull out of the radio voice long enough to deliver these kind of results.

Choose your live readers carefully. And don't look for audience size as much as audience loyalty. You want someone who already commands respect with their listeners. Because even a small audience of loyal followers will deliver phenomenal results if there is sincerity and trust. That's why I've been recently calling radio the original social media.

Concept Spots Must Features Benefits

Now I realize that not everyone can do a live read, so when it comes to produced material make sure your ad incorporates benefits into the entertainment.

I've heard lots of funny advertisements on radio that had me rolling on the floor. And most of them I can't remember the product they were advertising — at least not in any clear way. This is because radio ads are notorious for being entertainment plays for 50 seconds and ads for the last 10 seconds.

The best ads on radio are entertainments that are created around the benefit being promoted. That's because even though you mostly have a captive audience (caught at work or in the car) it's a distracted audience performing other tasks. The entertainments will end up blending together with the rest of the entertainments, unless the memory of what was funny or interesting involved your product or service. So don't forget the basics of advertising. Go back to the brief and make sure the spot is communicating your core strategy.

Hope this little primer helps. I still love audio mediums (which should be obvious, I guess) and I'd love to see more of you benefit from the advantages this type of advertising can bring.

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