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  • The Spirit of Radio: How and When to Use Radio Advertising

    By David Himes |

    From 'The Gig Kahuna' —



    Whether or not to use radio advertising has long been a subject of debate. To the inexperienced and the armchair club owner, radio advertising conjures up images of massive turnouts. But savvy club owners know that radio advertising is expensive and more often than not, produces meager results—depending on where you are in the country, time of year, and several other factors. There are, however, ways to make radio work for you and make it economically feasible if you know how and when to use it. More on that later, but first a few points:


    Radio stations come in different formats and varieties. Ones to avoid as far as advertising are those independent Internet stations. It’s not that I have anything at all against indie online stations. The problem is first, everyone was and still is doing it and second, very few people are listening locally. Yeah, yeah, I know, your online station gets a gazillion listeners per day. When you hear this claim, keep in mind that even if there is any truth to it, the “listeners” are worldwide and will do you absolutely no good locally. There was a time when the scene was exploding with those online indie stations, and they dropped like flies. Wonder why? They simply don’t work, unless we’re talking the big names.


    Even the mass-market stations have their low points as far as listeners, such as overnight hours. Running ads during overnight hours is useless. That’s why most stations run pre-recorded shows during the late and overnight hours and offer dirt-cheap ad rates. Very few, if any, people are listening.


    A radio station’s ad rates can vary wildly throughout the year. The better their ad sales, the higher their rates, and the less they will negotiate. And the lower their sales, the more flexible they will likely be. One good hint that ad sales are down is when you hear a station claim something like “more music, less commercials.” Notice how those periods come and go. When you don’t hear those “less commercial” ads, it’s a safe bet their sales are strong. This is just one reason “Brotha Integrity” should listen to the radio from time to time.


    Let’s get one thing straight: Radio stations DO NOT put their listeners anywhere for free. It doesn’t happen. Period. While stations make it look like they are putting on a show or series of shows such as “Summer Concert Series,” rest assured somewhere, someone is paying out the ass—be it a venue, promoter, sponsor, or whoever. The only exception to this might be a station’s annual event, such as some outdoor festival, but even then, someone (big corporate entities) is buying into it. Listen closely and you’ll notice nobody gets mentioned on the air who isn’t buying advertising from the station.


    Radio advertising—at least in the case of bands—is typically most effective with known artists. By known artists I mean mostly big-name national bands, but strong, mid-to-upper-level local and regional bands can benefit as well. Also worth noting is radio ads are not only most effective with known artists, but for a specific date of a show. And venues, promoters, or whoever is responsible for an event will usually only run ads when advance ticket sales are slow. If you are an unknown artist, I strongly recommend against radio advertising for the most part.


    Depending on the station, its policies, how much they will negotiate, your market area and other factors, most of them will offer some sort of package deal. For example, a station might offer a combination of different time slots with maybe some overnights (useless) thrown in, live plugs, ticket giveaways, and maybe bring the band in for an on-air interview. Such packages are usually the most bang for the buck, within reach for many bands, and shouldn’t be too hard to negotiate.


    The next step up is the mobile thing, where the station brings out their “van,” sets up an appearance by one or more of their jocks, do call-outs from the venue, etc. However, this is where it starts to get insanely expensive and depending on your market area, out of reach for most local bands and clubs. But if you have a strong budget and the know-how, well, I’ve seen local bands go for it. But for the most part, unless you can get others involved, I again recommend against it.


    One of my favorite ways to use radio and make it economically feasible is to get others involved to co-op the advertising with you. Some clubs and venues might not go along with this idea, but a lot of them will. Chances are the other bands on the bill will also kick in a few bucks to get their name mentioned on air. (Very few local bands will object to the idea of a little radio love.) It’s best to take the agreed amount of money out of their door money—much easier when it’s money they don’t see. Finally, if you can do it, get another business involved. You, or someone near you, might know someone who owns a tattoo/piercing shop, smoke shop, clothing store, restaurant, or some business that would benefit. The idea is everyone involved gets some cheap radio love, which should be worthwhile for all.


    Whichever way you choose to do radio advertising, the timing is critical. Let’s say you’re going for a package with no live jock appearance and the date of your show is on a Saturday. Let’s say you negotiated a deal with 12 good, prime-hour 30-second spots. To maximize effectiveness, I would time it something like this:


    • The previous Tuesday: One or two times.
    • The previous Wednesday: One or two times.
    • The previous Thursday: Two or three times.
    • The previous Friday: Five or six times.


    Never run any of the ads on the day of the show, regardless of what the ad salesperson tries to tell you. It’s not going to do you any good when the ad runs shortly before, during, or after your set!


    In most cases, it will do you more harm than good to record your ad yourself. Your best bet is to let one of the station’s jocks do the voice-overs. And as long as they get the information correct, don’t be picky, and just let the jock word it as he or she sees fit. Keep in mind the station has a lot of advertisers who spend a lot more money than you. Like working with a soundman, you want to communicate a message that you have confidence in the jock. When treating the jock with such respect, chances are good he and the station will do a nice, bang-up job for you.


    Working with the right ad salesperson can also have a big effect on the success of your little ad campaign. On the low end are the ones who only care about their commission. On the upper end are the ones who will go the extra mile. Some will actually get personally involved. I’ve worked with some who would actually help scheme up the event and help find ways to make the whole thing work. But either way, never be too demanding or give them a prima donna attitude when they have more important clients than you. For the most part, just listen to the ad proof (MP3 sample, which a good salesman will see to it you get), to make sure the information is correct, and if not, get them to correct any mistakes.


    Having a good professional attitude toward the station will result in them working harder for you. Never be the person who will be a pain in the ass to them. Remember, they have many more advertisers spending a lot more money than your meager 12-or-so spots, and are therefore obviously more important to them. Following these guidelines will result in the station being happy to work with you in the future.




    David Himes is the author of the book Realities for Local Bands: Talent is not Enough. You can find it at Amazon. For a FREE sneak preview, click here. The book is also available in PDF format. Also, David published a local music scene paper for over 16 years and has held over 400 live shows, giving him a unique insight on the scene. Your feedback and comments are welcome.

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