Five minutes with Radiocentre’s Lucy Barrett

Five minutes with Radiocentre’s Lucy Barrett

Lucy Barrett, client director at Radiocentre, tells Mediatel News about commercial radio’s response to Covid, whether listening figures are likely to hold up post-lockdown, her favourite radio ad, and her hope for the future of the industry

It’s been 5 years now since you joined Radiocentre, the marketing body for commercial radio. How has the radio industry, and Radiocentre’s role within it, changed in that time?

Since 2015 the world of radio has been through continuous upheaval. The rise of voice assistants and proliferation of digital devices, the growth of music streaming services, a surge in DAB radio listening and the launch of many new commercial stations honing in on ever more specialist audiences have transformed the landscape.

Through all of this, radio has remained popular and offers advertisers highly targeted and responsive audiences.

Back in 2016 we ushered in “See Radio Differently”, a strategy written by the brilliant Andy Nairn from Lucky Generals. We’ve also proved radio’s relevance and effectiveness through a series of high-quality research projects, “Tuning In” events around the UK, and strong advertising campaigns.

We’ve worked hard to make the case for radio advertising and the message is getting through to more clients.

The Covid-19 crisis and nationwide lockdown has had a huge impact on the media and advertising industry, and radio has been no exception. How has radio risen to the challenge, and what part has Radiocentre played in helping it to do so?

Commercial radio stations have played a crucial role during the pandemic and lockdown, increasing their commitment to broadcasting news about the crisis, delivering Government messages about the lockdown, and broadcasting public health information campaigns.

But the economic lockdown has led to a collapse in advertising spending, which has put pressure on commercial radio stations. In response, we created a Covid-19 hub on our website offering advice for advertisers and radio stations, and also launched the “Business as usual” ad campaign.

It is vital we make the case for brands to maintain their marketing spend during the recession.”

We lobbied Government and Ofcom on defining commercial radio staff as key workers and relaxing production regulations, and helped with the reduction or deferral in fixed radio station costs charged by bodies such as Arqiva, which provides broadcast infrastructure, and PRS for Music and PPL, which manage music licences.

We have also increased our activities, hosting virtual Tuning In events (taking inspiration from Mediatel’s brilliant Future of Audio livestreamed event early in lockdown) and publishing more research on listening during lockdown and radio’s influence on FMCG purchasing.

In fact, our upcoming conference, which will come to attendees from the stage at Kings Place, will offer insights into the difficult economic times ahead, and how creativity and marketing can steer us through them.

And how have you personally had to adapt to the crisis and lockdown?

Working from home, schooling two kids, petting the husband and laughing at the cat’s jokes has proved just how adaptable I can be. Just like everyone else I guess.

There’s been plenty of evidence that lockdown boosted media consumption across the nation, including consumption of radio. As we now come out of lockdown, how do you expect listening figures will fare?

Radio listening hit an all-time high just before the lockdown began, with 36.3 million people tuning in to commercial radio every week – the highest figure ever recorded. So, things were already going in the right direction.

RAJAR suspended research into radio listening during lockdown, but people do seem to have increased the time they spend listening to commercial radio – our research showed that 38% of commercial radio listeners were listening to more radio during lockdown, for an average of one hour 45 minutes per day.

While this may fall somewhat as people return to the office, we believe that lockdown has got people back into the habit of radio listening and this behaviour will continue over the months and years to come. New research which will be revealed at our upcoming event will show how listening uplifts remain as new habits solidify.

With UK marketing budgets slashed to their lowest levels in 20 years, how do you see an ad spend recovery taking shape?

In the short-term, we found that consumer spending was expected to bounce back post-lockdown, with pent-up demand leading to a flurry of spending on leisure, eating out, travel and delayed purchases. We have been making the case to advertisers that radio can be particularly effective in influencing these spending decisions and our members are reporting advertisers returning, which is no surprise given the great ROI radio offers.

In the longer-term, the expected economic downturn is likely to put further pressure on advertising budgets. But it is vital we make the case for brands to maintain their marketing spend during the recession.

We believe that message is getting through, so we are confident that budgets will hold up.

With their purse strings tightened, why should marketers pick radio advertising over the offerings of other types of media?

Although I would always say there is plenty of room for all mediums, lockdown has shown how radio forges close relationships with listeners in times of crisis. Advertisers understand the unique role radio advertising plays in hitting large audiences at key times of the day.

Radio ads are highly effective at targeting listeners with products related to activities they are engaged with whether driving, doing household chores or exercising. It is also one of the most trusted mediums.

Do you think brands have reappraised their use of radio since the start of the pandemic? How?

Brands have seen radio’s ability to target people at home and learned how the public value commercial radio during the lockdown. While some people are now returning to the office (me included), flexible working is likely to continue over coming years.

This provides a ready-made audience of people who are likely to spend more time listening to the radio and responding to radio advertising. Brands are waking up to the societal transformation triggered by the pandemic and radio provides a great opportunity to have their message heard by this huge captive and receptive audience.

What has been your favourite radio ad since lockdown began?

Although I admired many of the original lockdown ads, where companies showed real empathy for their customers and key workers, I have to go with something more recent that struck a chord.

As Waitrose’s relationship with Ocado came to an end at the start of September, Adam+Eve DDB created an amusing ad about the split. The spot nicely sets out to tell Ocado customers what they will miss about the lack of Waitrose own label products and to rectify this by securing a direct relationship with the supermarket in store and online.

As an Ocado customer, listening to it both in Radiocentre’s office and at my desk at home, it gave me the right level of anxiety now Ocado wasn’t able to provide me with my lovely Waitrose products.

How do you expect radio to evolve and change in the coming years?

Ultimately listeners like the ease of radio, so it will continue to bring together a wide variety of different people at key times of the day. In the audio age, people are increasingly listening to music streaming services, podcasts and audiobooks but there will always be strong demand for curated music services with known radio presenters. Trusted radio news will continue to be an important source of information for the public.

These basics will remain constant, although people will also listen to an ever increasing range of highly targeted radio stations catering for specific tastes on a growing range of devices. This ability to be accessible and be both a mass and highly targeted medium will keep radio audiences healthy.

And finally, what is your biggest hope for the future of the media and advertising sector?

I hope trust can be restored to advertising after some of the problems of recent years associated with digital advertising. I’m confident that radio stations can offer brands safe, credible and effective platforms for their messages for many years to come.

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