The very smartest tips for buying radio
Media Life readers share advice on how to get the best deals
September 28, 2015
The editors of Media Life
This is one in a number of stories on radio in Media Life’s ongoing series “The new face of radio in America” examining all the changes taking place in the medium. Click here for earlier stories.
There is a wealth of knowledge among Media Life readers about media, and periodically we turn to them to share what they have gained over the years.
Who better to talk about buying media than the people who have bought it for years?
Media Life posed this question:
“Imagine you are talking to a junior media buyer with little radio experience.
“If you had to sum up your best advice on buying radio in three tips, what would those three tips be?
“Also, tell us what you think is the most common mistake buyers make in buying radio?”
We got wonderful responses, and they are wide ranging. Rather than summarize them, we’ve simply posted them in the order they came in.
We think they are really smart. We hope you think so too. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment box below. And of course we want to thank everyone who contributed.
My best advice for a junior buyer would be the following:
1. Be yourself. Don’t try to pretend you know more than you do. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to a question. Tell them you will check and get back to them.
2. Establish good rapport with your vendors. These are the ones you can go to in a market when you have an urgent request. These relationships can also help you get better rates. It’s a game of give and take, and these relationships make that process easier. The account reps are more likely to give you their best rates when that rapport has been well established.
3. Be honest. When I negotiate with my vendors, I am honest and upfront with goals and budget. I am honest when I give out station share information. I’ve had several conversations with reps when I’ve told them their share and it was the true share. They appreciated the honesty. This honesty reinforces those good relationships mentioned in item No. 2.
1. Learn all you can about your market and each station serving it — formats, on-air personalities, community presence, etc.
2. Look not only at the most recent ratings but look at the past three ratings periods. This gives you a picture of a stations’ performance over time.
3. There is lots of information in Nielsen Audio. Learn how to use it. Look at demo share and time spent listening as well as ratings.
The biggest mistake is relying too much on ratings and not looking at qualitative factors and sometimes just trusting your gut.
Sometimes the No. 3 station may be a better fit, qualitatively, than the No. 1 station. Don’t just buy ratings.
I follow all three of these items, and I am able to get great rates for my clients.
As for the biggest mistake buyers make, I think it would have to be a lack of communicating buy specifics to their account reps.
The more information you can give them, the better the rate they can give, even if those rates are tiered by week.
I have not encountered this personally, just feedback from some of my account reps from other buyers they have worked with at other agencies.
1. Don’t assume that the No. 1 station in your target demo is automatically the best place for your ads to be. You need to consider cost per point, potential frequency and other factors to determine the best station(s).
2. Do consider a combination of :05 billboards, :15 and :30 spots to increase frequency and reach.
3. Work with your account executive at the station to find additional ways to gain exposure. That could be through bonus spots, promotions, giveaways or even programming support. Always ask for more and be ready to give ideas that help them make the case to management.
Biggest mistake: Assuming just because you come to an agreement, things will run as planned. Always get spot times in advance and confirm any added value is happening during the flights.
Here are my three tips to a junior buyer for radio buying:
1. Buy frequency! Radio is not like TV, and a weekly schedule should have strong frequency. I was taught to buy a minimum of 12 spots per week on any one station.
2. Vary the format. Stations should be ranked by your target, and then purchase various formats to increase your audience reach, while maintaining frequency of spots.
3. Negotiate sponsorships, endorsements and promotions. Radio has more flexibility than other media to be creative and enhance your client’s message. And it’s fun to work in new ideas!
The most common mistake made in buying radio: buying radio like TV, cherry-picking dayparts with a low number of spots and buying too many stations.
1. Remember that you’re buying AUDIO, not just radio. Make sure you’re up to speed on the entire online radio landscape (not just Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio), and integrate it into your plans.
But keep the perspective that terrestrial radio is still the dominant reach driver and reflect that in how you allocate shares.
2. Take advantage of radio’s greatest strength … its personalities and their deep connection/influence with their audiences. Look for ways to create custom and organic ways to integrate into their programs, and get them to serve as brand ambassadors. Their endorsement goes a long way with their very loyal audiences.
3. It’s not all about the ranker. The difference between No. 1 and No. 10 is not nearly as great as it used to be. Pay more attention to formats, content and qualitative data when choosing a station mix.
No. 3 is the most common mistake that people make when buying radio. They look at a ranker, buy the top four to five stations, and move on without realizing there are probably more appropriate options (which are also likely to be less costly).
Frequency is important when creating a radio schedule. Most media professionals agree it is advantageous for your target consumer to hear your message at least three to five times in a week.
This means that you will run enough ads during the week (within a given daypart) to reach a determined number of potential listeners and average of three and up to five times each.
In radio you often focus on drive times (the time of day people commute to and from work) as listening base is heightened during these times.
Mistakes buyers make in buying radio:
1. Expecting radio stations to include no-charge spots as a prerequisite to getting the buy.
2. Asking stations to meet a ridiculously low cost per point, usually set by the media buyer without any justification other than to look good in the estimation of the account manager/client.
3. Requiring radio stations to “post” buys and makegood on “under delivery.” Posting has been used for decades by television and is not applicable for radio.
And just one final piece of advice, be flexible and open to negotiations so as to create a win-win-win for station, agency and client.
1. Look beyond ratings to include engagement. Spoken word can be more valuable than many realize.
2. Ask how many commercials are in each break.
3. Ask the reps to remove “commercial-free” hours when providing daypart avails.
Radio continues to offer tremendous local engagement when bought correctly.
1. Don’t underestimate the importance of choosing the right formats.
Think about how the various formats will play with the creative. Go on the stations’ websites; get a feel for the personality of the station.
Don’t just pull a ranker and RFP the top stations. You’re investing your client’s money. Kick the tires a bit.
2. Find a resource in the market. Pick up the phone and call the sales manager at a local station. Pick their brain about the psyche of the market. Radio feels like a personal medium to listeners, so learning about the personality of the market can help. (Philly is in-your-face and all have strong opinions, Kansas City is more gentile but they love their sports teams, etc.) Make them feel like a partner, and they’ll want you to win. Which brings me to …
3. When appropriate, work locally. Local reps have their ear to the ground. They will be your local hero. If you’re buying less than eight or so markets, don’t use rep firms, work with reps in-market.
4. Use endorsements by popular personalities. One of the absolute BEST strengths of radio is the way that they engage with their listeners.
The listeners really care what their favorite personality has to say, what product they are using, or where they have been on vacation.
Consider this stat: Eighty-two percent feel they have a personal, parasocial interaction with their favorite radio personality (USC, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, PSI Study released June 2012).
So leverage that.
5. “Fluff” the buy. Anything that takes the purchased spot schedule, increases frequency, and gets the client’s name more top of mind with the listener: :05 or :10 liners, news/weather/traffics, anything that lets the listener hear your name just one more time.
Ask for it. They will almost always be able to provide something along those lines.
When I was working–I am now retired from a major ad agency–the very first thing I did was research reports showing the station’s audience versus the client’s target. I did this not only for radio but also for TV and for all dayparts.
It was important to me to know my client and especially for non-mass products or products targeting a specific audience.
One time I found that a big client was not using radio stations that skewed toward a specific audience. Once I showed them the report, those stations were purchased.
I had the research reports developed by three stations. The reason I had three station do that it is because I knew that the result could be manipulated in how the questions were asked.
The report had to show:
1. The age, income, education, professional of my client purchasers. I knew that being told how big or great a station is was not always the right fit for my client’s target audience.
2. I also looked at the percentage of the target audience versus my client’s profile.
The reason is that sometime the percentage is huge when the station’s audience is low. Or the opposite is true when the audience is huge and the percentage of target audience is low. If you do not ask, the station will not divulge it.
3. Of course, the station’s efficiency based on the CPP and CPM. On the higher-end clients, I also based the station’s purchased list on the station’s client’s target audience efficiency versus total station’s demo audience.
I did observer buyers, not only junior but seasoned buyers, base the buy on a station list that a rep put together. The danger of this is that the station’s “recommended” are owned by the same company. This is more prevalent to radio.
I will be nice and say “sometimes” a smart rep will get to know the buyer’s attitude and weakness and gain their trust, and will dine and cater to a buyer’s “wants/needs,” and as a result, they are “rewarded” by receiving the priority of the budget. I tried to tell other buyers that it is the rep’s job to “please, be nice” and, unfortunately, be fake.
1. Always look at a station’s weekly turnover to make sure you can afford an effective schedule. If you don’t have software, you can figure turnover manually.
For each of your target audiences, simply divide the daypart’s cume by its average quarter hour. Then double the turnover number to get the number of weekly spots necessary for an optimum frequency in metered markets and a minimum frequency in diary markets.
2. Make sure to look at reach and frequency when evaluating every radio campaign. In metered markets, minimum weekly frequency should be 2.0, optimum should be 3.0.
In diary markets, minimum is still 3.0 with optimum 4.2. Some people consider this type of buying to be “old fashioned,” and it most definitely is. But it still works.
3. If you aren’t meeting the minimum weekly frequency, then run more units. If you can’t afford more units, then narrow your days and/or times.
Don’t worry about the people you’re not reaching. You need to reach your audience effectively, regardless of its size.
4. Rarely can one radio group provide everything you need, no matter what the seller claims. It can be tempting to talk to just one rep who can offer multiple formats, then head out for a long lunch.
In most cases, though, that’s doing a disservice to your client.
5·. Unless you can get a rock-bottom CPM (free would be better), include display ads on radio stations’ websites and apps only when the ads can be targeted by at least geography, gender and age.
6. Pandora Radio can target by geography, gender and age. Include them, and try to pay for it from the internet/digital line item of your budget.
Now that virtually all new cars can receive Pandora, it’s tempting to lump them in with broadcast radio. If you must, then it’s okay to do that – but including/evaluating Pandora in your digital buy is a far better strategy, one that can often give you a larger budget with which to operate, without diluting your broadcast radio campaign.
My best advice is “research” to understand your client and their competitors.
How does your competitor utilize radio? Were they successful with their radio campaign? What worked? What did not work?
Reps are great at providing info if you have strong relationships with them.
How does your target consume radio, what formats, what dayparts?
What is the supply and demand of radio in the market? Do they have access to SRDS or SQAD? (Great tools to negotiate with.)
1. Do your research! Station Websites, Rankers, Audience Composition, Hour-By-Hour, Trends, … look at it all!
2. Make sure your message gets heard. Buy a 3-4 frequency at minimum (per week). What good in the campaign if no one’s hearing it?
3. Always ask for a little bit more. The worst they can say is no, right? This applies to all negotiations.
A common mistake for buying radio in your local market is letting your personal preferences skew your decisions.
Just because you’re listening to it, doesn’t mean everyone else is.
1. Use radio for its strength: frequency. Let TV handle the mass reach, and radio deliver the frequency. Always try to schedule a minimum of 10 spots per week in each daypart.
2. Look beyond ratings to decide which stations to include on the buy – look at audience composition, cume, time spent listening… Nielsen Audio has a ton of great research available to buyers, and we should be using all of it.
3. Allow radio stations to get creative – have sales reps build you packages, layer in DJ endorsements, think about contesting or live events…radio is a unique media type that allows for out-of-the-box thinking; use this to your advantage!
Common Mistake: Buying too many stations, and not enough spots on each station to build up a great frequency, which truly is one of radio’s greatest strengths.
Not many other traditional media types can deliver the type of frequency that radio can.
The tips below came in anonymously:
1) Wide time frames rarely deliver the rating promised — 6am-Midnight often runs 7p-12a, 12a-12a usually runs overnight.
Make sure you change your projected ratings to reflect that, as your proposal from the station is rated at an average of every included hour, which portrays cost-per-points much lower than they are in reality.
2) In buying broad demos–such as Adults 25-54–make sure you look at every age cell (25-34, 35-44, 45-54) and male/female split to make sure you’re balanced.
Otherwise, your buy may be lopsided in delivering one end of the demo, etc.
3) Make sure you send a tight avail request laying out your parameters, (daypart weight, demo, CPP) to make sure the proposals you get are an apples-to-apples comparison.
Beware of packages and “one-day-sales”, as they often contain the inventory stations are trying to get rid of, rather than their prime inventory.
If you’re going for a “professional” feel for your brand, than don’t buy an unprofessional radio format.
Don’t just go for the most popular stations; keep in mind cost per point, gender/age skew, and format variation for maximum reach. Use specific dayparts when buying radio.
Common mistake: Buying rotators – spots end up buried in the 10 and 2 o’clock hour.
1. Stop buying low-frequency schedules. They won’t work, and your shop will eventually lose the client because they don’t see results.
2. Stop buying metro of license, look at actual coverage. Bigger stations very well may cover better and be out of market.
3. Radio is not a commodity. There are many variables that make one station different/better than another. CPP doesn’t show that.
Common mistake: Not buying enough frequency.
1. Think of radio as a frequency media. You have to have enough spots to make an impact. Perhaps think of buying specific dayparts vs. the entire day.
2. It isn’t all about rankers. Sometimes the lower stations can provide way more than the top-rated stations. You don’t always have to buy the No. 1 station.
3. Be sure to have good balance of the age cells in the demo. Look at each age cell and make sure you have adequate coverage and aren’t heavy on one of end of the demo vs. the other.
Common mistake: They strictly buy off the demo ranker without looking at my #3 above.
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