Over the years we’ve spoken to probably a thousand principals of companies interested in using national radio in their advertising campaigns. They have similar questions about how to buy national radio advertising, which we’ll address here.

First, principals, really? Yes, for the most part they are not marketing employees. What we see is the owner of a middle-market company becoming frustrated with sales, marketing, scaling and they take the investigation for a solution into their own hands. Or, they hear a company in a category similar to theirs on a national radio outlet, and they say, “hey, if them, why not me!”

To that, we say, “yes, why not!”

First question we get, how much do I need to spend. Answer, at least $20,000. 

Consider how much money you spend annually on marketing and perhaps sales. $100k+ probably. You don’t necessarily have to spend more to get on national radio. You may just need to stop spending “everywhere” and instead focus your spend. That may be your 101 in how to buy national radio. 

The U.S. Marines have a philosophy: “To be present everywhere is to be strong nowhere.”

Okay, so you probably have enough money to invest in a national radio campaign. Why radio, and not print or television? Well, it’s the perfect balance in its ability to communicate with humans. Without getting too deep into Media Richness Theory, we all seem to understand that communication goes beyond words. The best forms of communication involve all the senses. We communicate best using verbal and non-verbal forms. On the “low” end of the media richness spectrum is email. On the opposite end is an in-person meeting. In the middle are radio and TV ads. 

Being that radio is SO MUCH less expensive than television and they are close on the response spectrum, we prefer radio for most situations, certain conditions being met.

Next, what is national radio? Well, ostensibly it means coast-to-coast coverage, no gaps. All national radio options have gaps with one exception, Sirius XM satellite radio. Some say, well, I just want the west coast, or I just want Florida. These obviously are not national buys, but they will need to use national outlets and then restrict their buys to these geographies. However, this will be expensive. The moral of the story with media buying: the more you refine and define your target audience, the more you pay. So let’s come back to Sirius XM. When you advertise with this national radio option, you absolutely get coast-to-coast no gaps. And it is super economical compared with other national radio options, or even compared to taping together individual radio stations in your target markets. Saying it another way, even if you just want Florida, it is likely less expensive to use Sirius XM and just know that the rest of the country will hear your ad. A way to reduce unproductive leads, and you’ll hear this in ads on Sirius XM, is to specify Florida in your ad.

Next, what radio format, show or channel do I buy? Of course, the answer is whatever format your prospects listen to. So, what do you know about your prospects? Let’s cover demographics, psychographics and behaviorals. Demographics means where are they and who are they. Male, 35+, high household income, in Chicago? Or the reverse? Psychographics is how they think. Are they liberal or conservative? Are they do-it-myself people, or do they like to have others do it? Do they consider themselves early adopters? Are they leaders? Last is behaviorals. How do they behave? Do they watch or listen to sports? Do they consume news, and if so, which channel? What are the ‘communities’ to which they belong? All of these questions can be fairly endless. 

When you buy traditional radio and especially online radio, like Pandora or Spotify, you’ll need to know some of the answers to these questions. When buying Sirius XM, they don’t apply as much. Why is that?

Unlike any other national radio advertising option, Sirius XM beams down via satellite to all of North America at the same time. This means that when your ad runs at 6 a.m. on the East Coast, well, it’s also being heard at 2 a.m. on the West Coast. Other options allow you to select when and where to run your ads. This show, this time. Not Sirius XM. You buy the channel and your spots will generally run between 6 a.m. and midnight Eastern Time. You can fix your ads into drive times, like morning drive, but that’s only for the East Coast. If you’re really trying to reach a national audience, then with Sirius XM you don’t worry about drive times and such.

Next, do I run a 30 or 60 second ad? First off, 60s tend to be slightly discounted compared to buying two 30s, so there’s value there. Also, if your service or product is at all new, complicated, or requires a story, then you’ll need a 60 second spot. If it’s an easy message, like hey it’s winter so get your tires checked at XYZ, a 30 second spot might be okay. You want your ad to “breathe” so people can comprehend what you’re saying. Have you ever listened to an ad that read so fast by the time it’s over you’re like, “what are they saying?” Don’t be that ad.

What’s my call-to-action? A call-to-action or CTA is what you want your prospect to do. Do you want them to call you or visit a website? Do you want them to text you? Remember, you want a CTA that is easy to remember. Why? Well, many of your prospects will be on the move. They’ll be in their cars and won’t be able to act until they arrive where they’re going. So, if you pitch them a phone number, that could challenge their ability to recall. We like web site addresses. Use a vanity address if your real address is difficult or too long. Also, don’t make the mistake of mentioning your CTA only one time. Get it in there at least twice. We prefer three times.

Do you need to use a promotion? This is a tricky question and probably requires some help here. If you’re selling a consumer product, it’s a good option and you’ll hear it a lot. If you do, make it a fixed dollar amount or a hefty percentage or BOGO (by one get one free). Don’t use low percentages like 10 percent off unless you’re selling something of high perceived value.

How many spots do I need? Well, the more the better! We like a minimum of three per day. This is also a function of the size of the listening audience. The smaller it is, the more spots you need. The larger, less. Why? Because with larger audiences you’re reaching more people. This is also a function of how much response you need for an ROI.

Okay, that’s enough! Just know that we’ve tried to put some of the above into layman terms. If you’re a professional media buyer, then you’re thinking in terms of reach, frequency, gross impressions and other media buying parameters. We did not want to get nerdy here and kept it real.

We recommend you follow your instincts and try national radio. Compared to all the waste that happens in business, from bad contracts, customer write-offs, poor hires, hey, a radio buy is low risk! Mostly, you deserve to know. Marketing is all about running smart experiments. National radio advertising might be that smart experiment to scale your business.

Just make it a smart buy! Happy to take your questions.

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