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Learn to Leverage the Radio 5 things you need to know about this effective--and underused--medium.

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Along with print and TV, radio is one of the most popular forms of conventional, "offline" advertising. It can also be one of the most effective. This is partially because radio is oriented around formats, which gives business owners a big advantage in targeting audiences vs. print or TV.

What's a format? Think "classic rock" on the FM band and "talk radio" on the AM stations. Odds are your target market is predominantly tuned into one or two specific stations in your metro area. If you can discover which stations those are, you may have found the sweet spot in your marketing.

So how do you use this great medium effectively? Here are five main factors to consider:

  1. Your target market. Most markets will have a number of stations from which to choose, most seeking to differentiate themselves by attracting different audiences. In radio, audiences are typically broken down between male and female listeners by age. When considering which station to use, it's important to keep in mind whom you're trying to reach. Don't simply choose a station because it's the one you listen to. Choose the one your customers prefer.
  2. Costs. There are two costs you'll incur when you advertise on the radio. The first is airtime--the time unit(s) your commercials are on air, typically broken down into 30-second, 60-second or 120-second segments (or spots), depending on the station.

    The other cost is the production cost, or the price for producing the commercial. Some stations will include production as an added-value option and incentive to advertise on their station. But be sure to consider your options before you commit to in-house production.

    Usually, the production teams at the station are fine as long as the voice-over talent (usually an on-air person) and the producer have a track record of working successfully with small businesses. Most do, considering that small companies are the local stations' most reliable clients.

    If you decide to get your spots produced "outside," be aware that prices vary significantly between metropolitan and regional areas as well as between production houses and ad agencies. However, consider the return on investment. It may be worth a few thousand dollars to produce a top-notch spot that generates a response instead of an in-house spot package deal that does nothing.

    Finally--going back to airtime costs--radio is a medium that relies on repetition. You'll need to spend a certain amount before you begin to see any worthwhile results. You can expect to spend approximately $2,000 per week in a regional market and at least $3,000 with a larger metro station. Spending any less on your campaign is a waste of money; you simply won't be able to get the repetition required to generate a result.
  3. Schedule. Once you get your commercials produced, you'll need to decide when you want them to go on the air. You can choose from two basic types of schedules.

    One is "run of station," or ROS. This means the station will decide when your commercials air as well as the specific time of the day that each commercial will be played. The second type is target placed, or "flights." This strategy gives you the opportunity to decide when each commercial is played and for how many weeks during the month.

    Skilled radio advertising people can help you develop effective "flights." Just know that scheduled spots are more expensive because costs are based on both inventory and the demand for particular times. For example: morning and evening drive times are more expensive than midnight or early in the morning. Some ROS placements are less expensive than scheduled placements; however, they are typically less effective.

    Your local station will have survey figures to indicate the most popular listening times for your potential customers. The best way to target is to find out which are the highest quarter-hour listening shares for your target demographic. That way, you are paying for your commercials when the chances are good your target audience is actually listening. Again, rely on your station sales rep to tell you which times will suit you best.
  4. The economy of words. As a general rule, 65 to 85 words is the limit for a 30-second commercial. However, be aware that this can vary depending on how many sound effects you use. Also keep in mind that your copy block for a 60-second spot will generally only be 30 to 45 seconds, as you will want at least 10 to 15 seconds at the end to include a call to action, phone number, Yellow Pages mention or web address.

    Also remember that radio is a "background" medium. Most people listen to the radio while doing something else, such as driving or working in the garden, so it's important not to put too much information into your ads. You should focus on a single theme, or the "big idea" you want to get across. The general rule is "one focus, one ad."
  5. Choosing the right sounds. If your want your commercial to stand out from the rest, you need to consider some additional factors regarding voice-overs and sound effects. You may be tempted to voice the commercial, but think again--unless you have a really good voice for radio.

    To find a good voice-over talent, keep in mind whom you're trying to reach, and choose someone with a voice that's believable and that relates to your target. If you decide to use a local announcer, keep in mind that he/she probably won't be able to use terms such as "us" and "we." If you want the reader to sound like a representative of your company, you may need to source outside talent.

    Sound effects are another important consideration. They can help create a mental picture for your clients. For example, the clutter of dishes in a kitchen setting or the sound of a lawn mower in the background while two neighbors talk can create an effective mental picture for what you are selling. Your local station will have a number of different effects from which to choose. You may even decide to have your commercials recorded "live" in store--especially if you have a large retail location. This allows you to create the impression of your business being a popular, vibrant place.

    You'll also need to give some thought to the type of music you will use. Music is optional, but if you decide to use it in your commercial, keep in mind that it must suit the mood you're trying to create. While music can help attract your prospects' attention, it should not distract them from your selling message.

    Also know that popular music is subject to royalties and usage fees, so if you are looking for your favorite hit from last year to back your spot, be prepared to pay for it--and it may not be available for commercial purposes.

Generally speaking, radio's ability to target an audience and offer repetition makes it a very effective advertising medium. In fact, some of the most effective campaigns in business history have been "radio-only" ad campaigns.

Just be aware of your target and your message--and be sure to measure your results. Once you find the right combination of audience, message and results, there's nothing in your way to stop you from creating a long-term and very successful radio campaign.

Brad Sugars is the founder and chairman of ActionCOACH. As an entrepreneur, author and business coach, he has owned and operated more than two dozen companies including his main company, ActionCOACH, which has more than 1,000 offices in 34 countries.

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