Share. Cume. Average quarter hour. Just a smattering of the terms you'll need to learn when you buy radio advertising. Media buying can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process, and exacerbating matters is the way media outlets make their case -- stare at Arbitron ratings long enough, and you may be reaching for the Advil.

I asked Peter Kern, vice president of Kern Media, Inc., for his insights on the radio advertising buying process. Based in New Gloucester, Maine, Kern Media plans and places newspaper, magazine, television and radio advertising from Bangor to Los Angeles. Mr. Kern, a radio veteran since his days as an announcer, started Kern Media in 1985 with his wife Pamela.

Kimberly McCall: Is there a certain product or service that's best suited to radio advertising?

Peter Kern: Radio's a great way to generate excitement and make sales in a short period of time. For example, Boston television has always worked great for The Cliff House [ an oceanfront hotel in Ogunquit, Maine] . But last summer we were looking at one week still not sold out. A quick flight on Boston radio filled the rooms.

Radio can deliver great results for some services -- such as cosmetic dentistry -- if run on a long, fixed-position basis. For longer purchase cycles -- products like DuPont and Corian -- we lean toward magazine or newspaper. Where details such as price per item are crucial, like appliance sales or wireless services, newspapers might make sense.

McCall: What goes into an effective radio campaign?

Kern: High ad repetition is crucial to success. It's better to run thirty spots in three days than to spread them out over a week or two.

A simple yet creative ad message is equally important. Radio is truly word-of-mouth advertising -- your chance to explain benefits in a one-to-one setting. [ When you write your ad] parse each line of copy by asking, "Who cares? What's in it for me?"

Target one specific group of customers with your offer. Men/women, young/old, good credit/bad credit. Select one radio station that efficiently delivers the target.

McCall: How does a small business owner decide among several stations in a market?

Kern: Use ratings only as a rough guide to understanding the different audiences each station has. They're just estimates, after all.

Meet with two or three sales representatives from stations that do a good job reaching your target. Reps are generally well trained and interested in a long-term relationship with you based on results.

Give each the same budget and goals to work with, then choose the proposal you feel the most comfortable with.

Evaluate the campaign, and stick with stations that deliver results. From time to time, give others a chance to prove themselves as well.

McCall: Can small business owners on a limited budget make radio effective?

Kern: Absolutely. They can use radio just as effectively as newspaper or television. They probably don't need all 100,000+ listeners the top Portland station reaches. But a smaller rated station just might deliver a good return on a smaller investment. Concentrate a small budget into just couple of times a year of radio advertising. Or buy just one daypart. We had great results for a Connecticut real estate firm by using just 5-6AM times on one station.

McCall: At what point does it make sense to outsource media buying?

Kern: Our clients fall into three broad groups:

  1. Those who can no longer invest their own time and energy meeting with the media, researching, buying, negotiating, checking invoices, etc.
  2. Those who realize they could be getting lower rates or better placement from existing ad budgets.
  3. Those who need objective research, budgeting and planning options.

McCall: Any closing thoughts on the process?

Kern: We buy print and radio advertising in major markets like NY, LA, Dallas and Chicago every month. And we buy smaller markets like Caribou, Spokane and Dothan. We've found no significant differences among markets large or small. Only the population and ad costs in each market change.

Air time is essentially a commodity. Buying it effectively is pretty easy if you do it every day. Unfortunately, some radio stations try to complicate the process. We have clients based all over the country. We've never met half of them in person, yet get the results they expect by using fax, phone, email and the Internet.

Copyright © 2001 Kimberly L. McCall