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Opinion: Local Radio Set to Become Louder in 2021

Pictured: Peter Smyth, CEO of IRS+

The power of local radio was clearly evident during the lockdowns of 2020 and this is only going to increase during 2021, writes Peter Smyth.

It’s a simple fact that we will not be going back to what was our previous “normal” because new patterns of consumer behaviour and spending are embedded and here to say.

We will see this play out further in 2021. Media consumption will continue to change, “fake news” will fade while facts and trusted reporting will re-assert themselves.  For brands, being connected to communities in lockdown and beyond will be vital – throughout the economy, if 2020 was about surviving, 2021 is about thriving.

At IRS+, we’re a creative media sales and marketing hub that represents 15 independent radio stations across Ireland. Our specialist sector, local radio, is also set for a strong performing year.

As an “always on” media platform, it proved itself last year as a credible news source that was informative, entertaining and digitally adept. It also powered local economies via a message of supporting local businesses and providing a way for national brands to connect themselves directly into the heart of local communities. If last year has taught us anything it is that local is the new national and local is only going to get louder in 2021.

Recent research commissioned by IRS+ and conducted by Amarach Research identifies the longer-term consequences of changes to commuting and shopping behaviours, especially for advertisers and media buyers who need to connect with the post-Covid-19 consumer.  Local radio, as a typically undervalued medium, will bring with it a growing share of consumer spending to the tune of an estimated €60billion in the Irish economy and, as such, its power should not be underestimated.

So, what are our predictions for 2021?

Key categories will grow their radio advertising as benefits of local radio become more prevalent.

We predict that that radio revenues will rebound in 2021 driven by the consistent engagement of regular advertisers across three key categories: retail grocery, government and energy. Other categories like finance, insurance and utilities will grow their presence on radio at a time when  consumers are assessing their outgoings and seeking to make savings in price sensitive sectors.”

Local radio will play a key role in national communication.

According to the latest JNLR report covering September 2019 to October 2020, more people than ever before are listening to radio. Radio, as a reliable and trusted media, continues to play a pivotal role in delivering key messages about COVID-19 to communities around Ireland.

The loyalty of local radio listeners and their consistent engagement with stations makes it a two-way conversation where stories are shared and a sense of real community spirit is enjoyed.  We predict that these strong bonds between listeners and stations will strengthen even further and that trust and loyalty will build and grow throughout the year. The reliance on local radio to deliver key messages in an authentic way will be used more by brands in key categories.

Digital audio will continue to grow and change how radio is consumed.

IAB Ireland’s digital audio research Listen Up Ireland2020, which was carried out by Red C Research identifies strong growth in digital audio, in consumption and across digital audio channels compared to similar research conducted in 2019.

Some 2.53 million Irish adults (71%) listen to digital audio in an average week in 2020 – up 9% on 2019 while growth in consumption is across all digital audio formats: Podcasts (+33%), Online Radio (+32%), On Demand Music (+31%). Back in March, podcasts were one of the immediate growth areas offering various entertainment choices from mindfulness and comedy to technology and business. We predict that the provision of digital options and digital audio content will continue to evolve. Listeners will grow and as brands recognise the opportunity to reach wider audiences, so too will revenues.

Audio campaigns will become more collaborative, creative and engaging.

Brands recognise that they need to make a greater effort to connect and engage with their audience.  The opportunity to deliver creatively on audio has never been greater with access to brilliant copywriters and storytellers.

We anticipate that although creative will continue to be led by visuals, that brands will demand a more creative approach to their radio ads.  This creativity will be born from both execution of the brands vision; but also the delivery options provided by the stations themselves.  We think 2021 will be a time of greater direct collaboration between brands and media owners, pulled together in a cohesive, complimentary plan through agencies.

Radio will remain both resilient and effective.

Whilst trying to avoid the R word (recession) it is fair to say that the outlook for Ireland’s economy is turbulent at best. As an element within the media mix, radio is proven to deliver campaign reach and brand saliency in a targeted way at relatively low cost.  The bottom line is that radio is not going away anytime soon and the benefits of collective local radio in delivering key brand messages nationally will bust any previous doubts about radio effectiveness.

The Brand Challenge

Challenge for brands in 2021 centres on how to communicate with consumers in a way that manages to be engaging, empathetic and market-building. Even in non-pandemic, regular times, that’s a tough ask. There is lots of talk about brands being “Authentic”. But how do you translate brand messages into something meaningful? We would argue that the answer is local radio. Its intimacy, connectedness, credibility and popularity allow brand-owners direct access to consumers and a platform to influence spending.

Peter Smyth is CEO of IRS+


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