The radio industry made a big leap forward in 2021 as digital revenues shot up by one third and now make up 15% of the average station’s revenue. But what will propel radio to the next level of growth? According to research from Borrell Associates, the answer is continuing to train sellers, conducting regular digital strategy reviews, and hiring more digital-only sellers.
That last one is key, Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell told a webinar audience last week. “Once you begin to understand that hiring digital-only sales reps is going to significantly transform your company into this digital age – rather than hiring more radio reps and getting them to sell digital as well – then I think you’re really going to move forward quite quickly and evenly,” Borrell said.
The purpose of hiring digital-only sales reps is to go after non-radio customers. “That is the only way you’re going to see new net growth at your business,” Borrell emphasized. “Otherwise, you’re going to continue to sell digital to radio customers, and guess where they’re going to get the digital budget from? Their radio budgets.”
In its annual survey of radio managers conducted for the Radio Advertising Bureau, Borrell Associates asked respondents to name the one thing that would have the most positive impact on their station or cluster’s digital sales in 2022. Adding digital-only sales reps was selected by 34% of respondents. That’s double the amount that chose this option in early 2021.
Just over half (52%) said training existing sales reps would have the biggest impact. That tactic appears to already have paid big dividends. After years of digital training, local radio digital revenue hit $1.5 billion in 2021, with a forecast of nearly $2 billion this year. “You’ve done a great job,” Borrell said of radio, adding that the newspaper and television industries are now stumbling after making major digital gains in the past.
More consistent training efforts is one reason why radio managers’ confidence in their digital strategy is growing. Nearly one in four (23%) rated their station’s digital strategy as brilliant, up from 10% in 2021 and 7% in 2020. And nearly half (47%) rated their sales team’s ability to sell digital advertising as “good” in 2022, up from 29% in 2019, 31% in 2020 and 43% in 2021. Meanwhile those rating it poor has consistently declined, falling to 11% in 2022.
While these are strong indicators the industry is doing well and feeling confident, Borrell cautioned RAB members to continually reevaluate their digital strategy because the marketplace is constantly changing. “You’ve got to assess it every single year because there are new products, there are new competitors, they are new ways of doing business out there.”
Keeping up with the latest shiny new toy marketers want to buy is essential. Right now, it’s digital video. In an encouraging sign, the survey found that 87% of the 83% of stations selling digital marketing services are offering over-the-top video ad placement services. That came in second only to search engine optimization among the digital services that stations sell.
The largest sources of digital revenue for radio stations is targeted display and audience extension banners, cited by 40% of managers as their top digital revenue generators and by 18% as the second largest.
The survey uncovered a disparity between what drives digital sales for high performing stations (those with 40% or greater digital growth in 2021) and low performers (20% or less digital growth). High performers relied more heavily on targeted banners and reselling paid search while low performers favored targeted banners and streaming audio ads.
Among other top takeaways from last week’s RAB/Borrell webinar:
Stations are learning to drive digital revenue independent from radio.
“If you continue just selling digital to your radio customer set, then your business is probably not going to grow,” said Borrell. Instead, pitch digital products to the 70-80% of businesses in the marketplace that don’t buy radio.
Radio is inching toward a ‘digital first mentality’
While that may make some wince, “digital first” means leading with digital since that’s what advertisers want to talk about most right now. It’s a hook that can then help stations sell radio advertising.
There is an advantage in advertisers’ belief in radio’s marketing savvy.
Four in 10 advertisers said radio sales reps are “very” or “extremely” savvy in marketing, higher than any other local media. “If the perception is there, you’re going to have a much better time of selling them and convincing them that you’re the company to work with to help them with all of their marketing needs,” said Borrell.