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The reach of radio

So I have posted before about the radio spots we do. A few years ago, we started doing these spots on WTOP radio here in Washington. For those outside the area, WTOP is the all-news radio station. Much like the cable news networks, they are particularly popular when there is a big event. But, given the traffic situation here in DC, WTOP may be best know of 'weather and traffic together on the 8s' -- so much so that people will see the clock and automatically punch in WTOP. The amazing thing about WTOP -- and other DC radio stations -- is that you will hear commercials for things that you would never hear anywhere else -- talk of GWACs and schedules or NASA's SOUP. Of course, they also have health care companies advertising during the period when feds can change their health care company.

Anyway, Mark Amtower, the government marketing expert who also has a e-mail newsletter that has something of a cult following, posts this week about whether radio is a powerful marketing tool.


On November 28, Ellen McCarthy wrote a decent article in The Washington Post entitled Contractors Take Message To Their People (via radio). Overall this was a balanced piece, neither endorsing or knocking the logic behind the idea that radio reaches so many people you are bound to reach some of the actual few you need to influence.

The effectiveness of radio is predicated on so many variables that this may not make sense. For large procurements where influencing a selection committee of 10-30 people, radio could be one component. However expecting the right people to listen to the ads is not entirely realistic. I assume this is simply a part of the marketing program, not the entire campaign.

The article focused largely on the all-new station in DC, WTOP, which claims 1,000,000 or more listeners weekly (half of the area population?). I listen to WTOP several times a day if I am driving from Maryland to Virginia, but I listen only at 8 after the hour – traffic and weather time. Rarely do I listen longer than the weather, as once you hear the news, it tends to repeat. And repeat. And repeat. The same is true on sister station WFED. [WFED is also known as Federal News Radio. It started as on only online radio station and moved to traditional radio this year.]

So several things come to mind. There is more to DC radio than WTOP. If you think radio is pervasive enough in the market to attract Feds who make decisions, read the local ratings and spread the dollars around. Look for a show or station where people might listen for longer periods of time.

Brian Roberts, CEO of Croix Connect, hosts a business talk show Sunday afternoons (3 PM) on WMAL, Taking Care of Business with Brian Roberts. While Sunday afternoon may not be prime radio time, Brian archives the audio at his company web site for future listening. I have been on the show and have listened to several archived interviews. These are quite good, and I am not aware of any other local business show in our market that comes close to this content. I especially like the concept of archiving shows worth listening to more than once.

There are a couple radio shows that claim to be about business, but are closer to People magazine than news. One of these is the Bisnow on Business, which has been on a couple stations. Mr Bisnow acknowledges in his promotions that his shows emphasize different things about business leaders, but I have no desire to know what these people do in their leisure time.

While the article by Ms McCarthy highlighted a couple good points, marketing to the government remains as much an art as it is a science, and there is not one formula that fits all.

Is radio a part? It certainly can be. Does it reach the right people? That, my friends, is a big gamble.

We end up getting a lot of bang for our buck from the WTOP spots. And WTOP is smart -- they know people tune out ads, so they get us to provide 'content' through a 26-second news brief, and then sell the other 30-seconds. It works for them -- they get the 30-second ad, the advertiser is more apt to listen because it is tied to content rather than just being an ad, and the listener gets something (we hope).

But I also find with radio that it can sometimes be 'out of sight, out of mind.' All too often, I've heard discussions about something on my drive in, but I have all but forgotten it by the time I get to my desk. It is one of the advantages of print -- it is there. We find that is true with our radio spots as well -- it is just a different kind of writing -- KIS: Keep it simple! The listening ear can't handle as much as the eye, apparently.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Dec 20, 2005 at 12:15 PM


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