Radio Advertising Costs: How Much Should I Spend?
“How much should I spend on radio advertising?” “How do I know I am getting the best radio advertising rates?” “What radio stations should I advertise on?” “What are good and bad radio advertising prices?” “How many spots should I air on a radio station?”
Honestly, there is so much confusion about radio advertising floating around – I can’t blame you for asking these questions. Why is advertising on the radio so mysterious? The answer is – radio advertising is not mysterious. It just helps to know how it works.
Effective radio advertising relies on two major components – the message (the radio commercial itself), and the media (that the radio spot airs on).
Let’s look first at the radio commercial itself. Before even thinking about which radio stations to air on, or how much to spend on radio advertising rates, you must think about what you are going to say in your radio ad. For this article, I am assuming that all call centers, fulfillment, websites, etc. lead generation, and sales closing processes have been put in place by you, the advertiser. Creating a radio commercial that helps drive traffic is extremely important to the advertising process.
The advertising industry is full of voice talents, radio personalities, DJ’s and others, all claiming to create radio commercials. Be careful here. When entering the arena of radio commercial production, look for a radio advertising agency that has experience and a track record of successful ad campaigns. Anyone can create a radio ad, but not everyone can create a radio ad that pulls traffic. Some radio stations provide free radio commercials if you advertise on their station. Most of these free commercials are never based on strategy and are just one of several dozen commercials that have to be created by an overworked radio production person in a five to fifteen minute window of time. Remember, you usually get what you pay for.
The most effective radio commercials are built on a solid, proven strategy. The copy is written using time tested formulas that maximize potential response. The talent is handpicked to best connect with the end user and the production is based upon clear, quality, and easy to absorb audio.
So…what does the radio commercial production process cost? The majority of radio commercials that work best usually fall into the $500 to $1000 price range. There are always exceptions to the rule (lots of revisions to copy or audio, additional voice talents, celebrity endorsements, etc.) but this figure generally covers development of a solid strategy, copy from experienced copywriters, performance by high caliber voice talents, and the highest quality production services.
For many with questions about radio advertising rates, and radio station prices, here is where the mystery begins. I will try to simplify the mystery of radio media buying as much as we can in this small amount of space.
A good radio advertising buy focuses on a few different things:
* Finding the best radio stations in a market that match your customer’s demographics (age, gender, income level, etc.) and psychographics (interests, beliefs, hobbies, personality traits, etc.).
* Finding the dayparts that best reach your target customer. Mornings? Middays? Afternoons?
* Selecting the top radio stations that most efficiently reach the highest potential customers, the right number of times (defined as frequency), for the least amount of money
Usually, when researching radio advertising costs, many potential radio advertisers have a pretty good idea of the first two points. However, when it comes down to finding the best station (or stations) at the best price, the radio advertising process becomes a little more challenging.
Here is how to basically determine how much to spend on radio advertising costs. Within the market you want to advertise in, find the radio stations that have the best potential to reach your target customer. This is based on the formats of the radio stations. Urban Hip-hop stations will target different demographics than a News/Talk, or Soft Rock station. After selecting a group of radio stations, contact those stations to let them know you are thinking about advertising on their radio station. Ask for specific data from the radio stations called “rankers”. This is ratings data that most radio stations can provide based on specific requirements requested. From this point, you can get a good idea which stations perform the best in your target demographics.
Once you have narrowed down the radio stations to just a few that will effectively reach our target customer, request a proposal based on certain criteria – dayparts, frequency goals, etc. From these proposals, see who reaches the target audience most efficiently – using tools like Cost Per Point (ratio of spot rate to ratings percentage), Cost Per Thousand (ratio of spot rate to audience category totals), etc. If a radio station is not competitive, ask the station to resubmit a more competitive proposal. Ask about added value. Yes…it is quite time consuming…and yes it is tough to know if all of the station’s radio advertising rates are too high. You really have to know the market and the going rates. (This is where having an experienced agency is extremely beneficial!) An agency can compare proposals against historical figures to determine if radio station prices are in line with market averages…then negotiate, and help execute the purchase.
Great…but what does this cost? It depends on the size of the market you wish to advertise in as determined by Arbitron (the radio ratings services). Radio advertising rates can be as high as $800 per 60 spots in a top market like New York City, or as low as $3 per 60 spots in Kerrville, TX. How will you know what to spend?
Here’s a valuable system we have used from our history of working with radio advertising rates. The system is based on a solid branding schedule that may run one spot per day in the morning drive, one per day at midday, and one per day in the afternoon drive – Monday through to Friday, and two spots on Saturday and Sunday. That’s nineteen spots a week at sticker price. This type of schedule is good for achieving a desired frequency level (meaning the average listener to a station will hear the radio commercial a certain number of times). Under these broad assumptions, you can use the following chart as a rough guide to budgeting your radio advertising campaign.*
*Note, these are gross rates and do not include production costs or agency discounts. These are market averages for the standard radio schedule mentioned above, actual costs may vary. Does not factor in added value, ROS schedules, bonus spots, etc. Different combinations of dayparts on different stations may cost much less.
* Markets 1 -5 (ex: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.)
Expect to pay from $4000 to $8000 per week/per station for a top performing station.
* Markets 6 – 20 (ex: Dallas/Ft.Worth, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego, etc.)
Expect to pay from $2000 to $5000 per week/per station for a top performing station.
* Markets 21 – 50 (ex: Denver, Cleveland, Kansas City, etc.)
Expect to pay from $1000 to $3000 per week/per station for a top performing station.
* Markets 51- 150 (ex: Akron, Syracuse, Baton Rouge, etc.)
Expect to pay from $800 to $2000 per week/per station for a top performing station.
* Markets 150+ (ex: Myrtle Beach SC, Green Bay, Topeka, etc.)
Expect to pay from $500 to $1500 per week/per station for a top performing station.
You may be saying, “Wow! That can be expensive”. In some cases it is! These are standards and radio advertising schedules come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, schedules are smaller depending on advertising goals and objectives. However, it is recommended that you are able to commit to the range of minimums.
Notice nothing has been mentioned about remnant radio advertising here at all. Remnant advertising is the practice of buying unused inventory at deep discounts. Remnant advertising success exists more in theory than in practice. However, this is not to say that there are not advertisers who are having success with remnant advertising. If, and when, remnant advertising falls into your lap, it is strongly suggested that you look into it. However, basing your entire radio ad campaign on remnant advertising may be shooting yourself in the foot. With the exception of a few times a year, most top performing radio stations do not have that much unsold inventory. Often, the largest advertisers have contracts that guarantee so many low cost/no cost spots that have to run. The reality is that if large advertisers (with the big dollar schedule) need their spots to run, or if another advertiser pays just one penny more than you did for your remnant spots – bump! You just got bumped off the air that day. You may pay for twenty spots and only get two that air. The stations will make it up to you, but what if you were counting on that advertising to drive sales. Or better yet, in the age of consolidated radio groups your remnant advertising might run on the third to the last rated station in the market. The result is NO RESULT. I am a firm believer that when it comes to radio advertising YOU TRULY DO GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.
Now that radio advertising rates have been explained, you may ask the question, how long should I advertise? The type of radio advertising helps define the length of a campaign. Advertising for an event? We recommend shorter, more compact schedules to create buzz leading up to the event or launch. Branding a product? Often, long term schedules with a bit of breathing room work best. Maybe even flighting could work (on two weeks, off two weeks or some other length of time). Most of the time, the two things that will determine how long to run a radio advertising campaign will be advertiser goals (traffic numbers), and external factors such as sales cycles. Oh yeah, and usually budget affects the length of the campaign. It is not desired, but that’s reality.
The Total Cost
You may be thinking, “So if I want to run a spot on three top Houston radio stations, I should expect to pay $1000 for a commercial, plus $3000 per week per station…that’s $10,000 for one week’s worth of advertising!” That’s true, and may be just what it takes to reach several thousand potential targeted customers. The real question is, “How much money can you make off a few thousand potential targeted customers?” Is it more than $10,000 a week? $40,000 a month? These are questions to ask yourself, because in the world of advertising, that is pretty good traffic.
It works even better when you let a professional advertising agency reduce that cost even further. Let the agency get you a great radio advertising schedule by providing an instant discount ABOVE the negotiated lowest radio station price plus great added value.