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Peter McPartlin: Radio’s No Slave To The Algorithm

Radio | Today FM | 23 November 2015

In an era where new and shiny digital media dominate so much of the marketing conversation, it can be difficult for traditional media like Print, Out Of Home, Radio and even TV, to get their sales arguments across. In radio’s case, familiarity, audience stability and an over pre-occupation with just pushing JNLR numbers have made it even more challenging for a medium that still holds a special place in the daily lives of the nation.

While station managers, broadcasters and sales people might believe that Irish radio is exciting, dynamic and creative, I’m not sure that many of our commercial customers hold the same view.

In an effort to showcase the ability of commercial radio to engage and move audiences, the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) hosted its “Radio – But Not As You Know It” conference in the Mansion House recently.

There was an effort to make the day a ‘JNLR-free zone’ and focus the debate around content creation, radio’s place in music and creative sales solutions.

A panel of radio front-liners, including Neil Prendeville from Red FM, Dermot Whelan, from Today FM, Fiona Stack of Radio Kerry and Ger Gilroy from Newstalk’s ‘Off The Ball’, gave their perspectives on the things that are essential in the creation of great radio content which connects with audiences.

A common thread from all contributors was the true, but often forgotten, strength of radio, which is its ability to forge a lasting connection with audiences. Whelan was only half joking when he said that in radio it takes two people fifteen minutes to get a great idea on air, while on TV it takes thirty people, eight weeks to ruin a great idea. He talked about the ability of radio to change lives and illustrated how creative content can generate real tangible results in unexpected ways. It was clear from the debate that new social platforms and apps have turned the relationship between broadcaster and listener into a two way street, allowing audiences to get creative and entertain the show and each other.

The music session featured a range of industry heavy-hitters including Mark Crossingham, the head of Ireland’s largest label, Universal Music, Peter Aiken, the music promoter, and radio programme directors, Nessa McGann of Spin South West and Colm O’Sullivan of Today FM, addressing the question “Is God still a DJ?”. Both Crossingham and Aiken testified to the power of radio play-listing still in helping to sell new music and Irish artists.

Driven by easier access via mobiles, tablets and apps, O’Sullivan noted that more people are consuming music than ever before streaming services have raised the bar in relation to the music experience and there are now thousands of customised playlists generated to match the user’s every mood or mode. The audience has been offered infinity and instead of a narrow, scarce selection of hits, those that consume music can have all of it, all the time. Nessa McGann riffed on the human touch of the best radio DJ’s which enables them to hold their own against the onslaught of the streaming giants. “Spotify is never going to kiss you goodnight. Spotify is never going to commiserate with you on your break-up.” So a slave to the algorithm, Irish radio is not.

As if on cue and underscoring the primacy of live radio in the new audio landscape, the IBI unveiled some brand new research commissioned through IPSOS MRBI. The key findings in a comprehensive presentation by Karen Hall of IPSOS were:

  • 65% of Irish adults still do most of their listening through traditional FM radio
  • Live radio holds 54% share of listening time daily vs. 9% for streaming services and 21% for other forms of music
  • Radio and Other Audio (including owned music collections on CD, vinyl or MP3’s) offer different choices for listeners.
  • Access to news and information (27%) music (29%) and companionship (16%) were the main attractions for radio
  • With other forms of audio, 46% like to choose what they want to listen to, 8% to listen to specific songs or musical genres and 7% because of convenience
  • 49% trust radio to bring them new music
  • People love Radio for music, news and current affairs, discussion, variety, presenter personalities and the escape from life’s pressures
  • People like other forms of audio because of the element of personal choice, access to their own playlist, preference for podcasts or CDs, the variety of music it offers and the lack of ads

Hall said that the study showed that Radio continues to be relevant and that listeners’ motivations to listen span practical and emotional needs. Radio’s particular strength in delivering topical news, information and music provides a social currency for many. Radio remains a credible authority for new music and bands, even for younger adults.

Other ‘on-demand’ audio, she said, provides an element of choice and control, and is used to add atmosphere to an occasion. As peak ‘on-demand’ listening typically occurs at the opposite end of the traditional radio time-line, this suggests a landscape where both radio and other audio content can exist fulfilling complementary needs and occasions.

Welcoming the initiative by the IBI, Andy Pierce, Group Planning Director of Core Media, said that it was encouraging to see the independent sector trying to move audience measurement beyond pure reach. He stressed the importance though of demonstrating return on investment for radio clients whilst providing real cut-through.

A key part of the conference was devoted to case studies from the sector’s four main sales houses: Communicorp One, Media Central, UTV Radio Solutions and IRS+, who presented an array of solutions for clients as diverse as the HSE, Lynx, Ford, Cadbury and Heineken. The case studies and conference demonstrated how far the sector has travelled in the last few years. While the bulk of the estimated €136m spend on radio advertising is still focused around the traditional formats of spots, sponsorship and promotions, an increasing share is now derived from creative solutions such as these involving online, mobile video, social and events.

Independent radio has come through the worst recession in Irish history, the most disruptive period in global media and contended with a lob-sided broadcast funding model, but it is determined to remain a vital part of the new media landscape.

This article was written by Peter McPartlin, CEO of Today FM & TXFM. Peter has worked in the media, marketing & advertising business for over thirty years. In that period he was held senior management positions in agencies such as Irish International, OMD and Aegis Media. He has worked on some of the country’s best known brands, including Barry’s Tea, Vodafone, Guinness, Meteor, Tesco, Sunday Independent and Bank of Ireland.

He has been part of the award-winning teams for three Gold MII Aim Awards for Today FM’s ‘Shave or Dye’ campaign, Marketing Magazine’s ‘Agency of the Year’ on three occasions, and has won two AdFX awards.

He has been CEO of Today FM for the last four years having worked in a consultancy capacity with some of Ireland’s best known radio brands. Peter has also been the primary force behind the launch of TXFM, Dublin’s ‘indie music’ station with an audience of 40,000 fans each week. He is currently chief executive of Communicorp Group’s Today FM – the most popular independent radio station in the country with an audience of over 900,000 each week.

Peter writes and presents regularly on relation to media and advertising matters.

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