| 13 Jul 2024
2008: The Year of the Radio Buyer - Sunil Kumar

For the radio industry in India, if the year 2008 belonged to anyone, it was to the buyer (of radio). Having got a considerable size of audience, the radio groups and individual stations did everything possible to persuade the buyer to buy airtime and other activities on their respective stations. Buyers, on their part, did everything within their reach and understanding to seek more and more about the medium.

Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) did what any such research activity does: helped the buyer choose the station(s) right for one's brand and helped the seller (of radio) approach the relevant customers with the right pitch. The talk about which stations is doing how changed from being emotional to logical. Controversies around the research methodology and even around the findings are the side-effects of a syndicated research and are sometimes understandable but they augur well for the future of the industry.

Evangelistic efforts of radio companies — notably Radio Mirchi and Radio City — and the industry association AROI (Association of Radio Operators for India) to create a market for radio were the other important milestones of 2008. What was most notable and surprising about these campaigns was the Print vs. Radio pitch, considering these activities had the backing of major print players in the country who also have interests in radio such as Radio Mirchi (Times of India), Fever (Hindustan Times), My FM (Dainik Bhaskar), Radio Mantra (Dainik Jagran), Red FM/Surayan FM/SFM (Dinakaran), Mango (Malayala Manorma), Tomato FM (Pudhari). The effects of the campaign are yet to be seen but on the face of it, there is greater awareness about the working of radio as one of the primary media, which can play a strategic role in many a marketing plan, rather than just a �reminder' or a �frequency' medium.

Another interesting development in the year was media buying houses appointing specialist radio buyers. Some of them are doing a fine job of it but most still need to go beyond the �effective rate'. They need to understand the fundamentals of radio planning, which includes knowing your client's brand, knowing the brand image of the stations in the given city and then creating a match between them. Starting with the lowest rates or the highest listenership or the convenience of buying a network of stations are some cardinal errors they can avoid making.

The bad news has been the lack of enthusiasm for radio amongst advertising (creative) agencies. The year didn't see any outstanding radio spots coming from any of them. Is it to do with the fact Creative Directors do not find radio as �hot' as television or is it to do with the lack of knowledge about how creativity in radio works? Now, the point is: an advertiser is going to buy radio only if it works for him. So the industry must ensure that when an advertisers bets their money on radio, they gets results or else they are not going to come back. For that, the industry should share all the knowhow it has about the working of the medium with all involved with the buying of radio on behalf of the advertiser: the brand managers, the account planners, the servicing teams, the creative teams, the production houses and of course the media planners and buyers. To do this would entirely be in the industry's interest and any investment in that would bring in huge returns. That may well be the strategy for AROI's next marketing campaign.

The year saw a surprise buyer of radio: the political parties, who used radio extensively during the recent assembly elections in several states, who are estimated to have contributed more than to Rs 100 crores to the radio's kitty. Imagine what the size of the kitty could well become around the General Elections in April-May 2009. The AROI, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Election Commission of India need to be congratulated for the foresight have shown in making this happen.

One group that needs to become a much bigger buyer, in its own interest and in the interest of the industry, is the government. The central government and the state governments should to recognise the phenomenal reach private FM radio stations have achieved in a short span of time and how they can work as medium for reaching out to the masses to inform and involve them with their various policies and programmes.

Overall, two happy years for radio. The year gone by and the year to come.

Sunil Kumar is Managing Director, Big River Radio (India) Private Limited, a consulting firm specialising in setting up and management of radio stations