How far radio has come; what next?

How has the radio industry done this year in its efforts to attract future generations of listeners? Are broadcasters expanding and integrating the digital platforms and social tools that make a difference to Millennials and other all-important demos?

These were the two questions I pondered as I headed to last week’s Radio Ink Forecast 2015 conference in New York. A year had passed since I attended last year’s show, only to come away then with the verdict from a highly prejudiced jury that radio is not dead.

So what answers did I get this year?

  1. Not really sure.
  2. Not really sure.

At the end of the day, I didn’t get enough of what I was hoping for, but I did hear some interesting dialogue that tells me radio can get there—and faster than critics believe. It was from a no-holds-barred panel of brand marketers, discussing the good and the not-so-good of radio, a refreshing diversion from the “pep rallies” that these events can easily become.

The “Advertiser Super Session: Where Do the Ad Dollars Grow in 2015?” panel featured representatives from brands that run the gamut of radio spending:

  • Nancy Ryan, Media Director, Allstate Insurance (big radio users)
  • Larry Schweber, Divisional Vice President/Marketing Communications, Comcast Cable (pretty big users)
  • Lou Paskalis, Senior Vice President, Bank of America (not big users)

Hearing feedback from these well-known brands affirmed for me that the industry has the fundamentals required to continue to be an important and valuable part of everyone’s daily lives—even Millennials.

But change has to actually happen, not just continue to be discussed. Here are some sound bites from the session:

What Radio Gets Right

  • “The power of radio’s local touch is still there, and the ability to tailor the message—particularly for local agents and offices—is a key advantage.” (Nancy Ryan)
  • “Radio reduced waste in smaller markets. Radio is more efficient than TV; it’s local. Our markets are fragmented and radio addresses that.” (Larry Schweber)
  • “Local radio activates locally and nationally with speed, delivering efficient and effective solutions.” (Lou Paskalis)
  • “Customization and ownership of content/information is important to everyone—the key is being in the right place at the right time. An example is our Allstate Good Route traffic sponsorship.” (Nancy Ryan)
  • “Local personalities are the key touch point with listeners in and out of the home; being more social and real is a big asset that radio has.” (Larry Schweber)

What Radio Needs to Do

  • “Start on the air and take it through social in an entertaining but honest way. Invite the listener into the conversation and have them take it further through social media.” (Nancy Ryan)
  • “What the agencies ask you to do and what the clients need are both important. Clients care about ideas and results and only get numbers through the agency. I’m in the ideas business.” (Lou Paskalis)
  • “Radio needs more listener data to complement and enhance other client data sources.” (Lou Paskalis)
  • “We need more opportunities to test and learn, so that what radio can and does contribute to a marketing plan is understandable.” (Nancy Ryan)

Broadcasters heard that such clients would always be part of the mix, and grow in stature, if stations listen and respond to the need toprovide solutions, and not just cheap media.

So we go into 2015 convinced that radio has a bright future—provided, of course, that broadcasters heed the words of some of their bigger spenders, seize the opportunity, and work harder than ever to understand and deliver to listeners compelling content, good music and relevant information. And, as the “Advertiser Super Session” panelists suggest, be a driver of social engagement, not a follower.

Broadcasters must rise to the occasion now more than ever. We know they can do it—in fact, we’re counting on them.