Ask an Expert: A sound idea for marketing

Q: What should I know about my first foray into radio advertising? — Mark

A: I continue to love radio as a tool for small business. Even in this 24/7 Internet age where people are flocking online to get their information and where Google has become one of the most important companies in the country, terrestrial radio (as opposed to satellite radio) remains a very valid choice for the small business looking to get new customers.

The reasons are several:

•Radio listening is habitual:Radio, more than almost any other medium, is a habitual experience; people tend to tune in to the same shows again and again. Indeed, the average radio consumer listens more than 19 hours every week, according to Arbitron's 2006 report, Radio Today. That means you have a golden opportunity to get your message heard again and again.

•Radio is highly targeted:Want to reach homeowners, or teens, or Baby Boomers? Advertising on the right station, and the right show, allows you to very specifically target your market.

•Radio listeners listen alone:People usually listen to the radio alone, either in the car or at work. That means that you have a captive audience for 30 or 60 seconds, which is a golden opportunity.

So radio is still a very strong way to get potential new customers to hear about your business. And while it is not nearly as financially risky as television, to be successful with a radio campaign requires a lot of repetition, so it is not inexpensive either. Therefore, you want to do it right. That means:

Try to tell a story:Why are those OnStar commercial vignettes so memorable? Because you quickly get involved in a story: Will someone be able to help that poor woman in that car accident? Will OnStar be able to unlock her door so she can get her keys and soothe that crying baby? We want to find out!

Now it is true that all sorts of other effective radio ads remain memorable without telling a story ("Head On – Apply directly to the forehead!"), so, while stories work, the important thing is to ...

Capture their attention! I had a radio ad that I ran for many years for my old bankruptcy seminar business. It began with three sharp, loud beeps, akin to the sound you hear before hearing "This is a test of the emergency broadcast system…." The noise was like a great headline that piqued their interest; they wanted to hear more.

You must do the same thing. Whatever sort of ad you run, be sure to begin in a way that CAPTURES THEIR ATTENTION.

Repetition is the key to success:Repetition is the key to success. Repetition is the key to success. What is the key to success? You know. You simply must earmark enough money to your campaign so that people will hear your ad many times.

By the same token, whether it is your phone number, URL, the location of the sale, or whatever, repeat your vital info within your ad numerous times so that people can catch it and remember it.

Test:If possible, buy ads on more than one station to see which station works best. Or consider buying ads on one station one week and another station the next week and then compare. Try different times too. Drive time is the most expensive because it reaches the most people, but that is not always necessary. Occasionally, a cheap overnight ad on a very popular station reaches enough people to make it worth your while too, and it costs a fraction of the price.

Once you have an ad that works on a station you like, you can drop some bigger bucks and go for it. But don't do so until your smaller test indicates works.

Negotiate:Buying time on the most popular station during high season means there will be no negotiating, But if you can wait until a slower season, and pick some smaller stations, you will find that negotiating your price down from the fee quoted (called the "rate card.") is very possible. This is especially true if you can pit one station's price against the other.

So I say, check out radio. It remains a great advertising option for many small businesses for a reason: It works.

Today's tip:Remember, too, that radio uses people's imagination. Mentioning a 100-foot mound of whipped cream topped by a cherry the size of a boulder is the sort of imagery that can get people to listen more closely to your ad.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —