2010 April: On the Air

For 23 years, Dana Siller has relied on radio to get the word out about Jerry’s Subs & Pizza, a Washington, D.C.- area group of 66 franchised restaurants. Siller, director of marketing at Jerry’s, created a character, Jerry, who converses regularly with various callers in his ads about his restaurant’s sandwiches and pizzas. His “Jerry” is a voiceover artist –– since there is no Jerry at Jerry’s Subs & Pizza.

To play off the Washington location, most of the callers are impersonators of famous politicians, presidents included, who call the fictional Jerry with questions and comments about the food. “Radio allows us to build personality for our brand,” Siller says. “I can’t really use outdoor. It doesn’t work for what we sell. I’ve run some newspaper ads, but it’s just not as good for image advertising. Radio tilts heavily in our favor.”

Radio advertising can feel decidedly retro. But it can be a great way to reach your audience, particularly if you have a limited budget. Airtime isn’t nearly as expensive, and production costs are much cheaper, says Tim Earnhart, principal and CEO of Nashville, Tennessee-based Werkshop Marketing.

“Production costs are dramatically higher for television,” Earnhart says. “It could be anywhere from 10 to 15 times more expensive to produce TV spots instead of radio. In radio, you can go into a booth and knock out six commercials very quickly. That’s why the messaging can change so often.”

Even with as many opportunities as there are out there to turn to something other than traditional radio, it’s actually still a much-used medium, research shows. “How Adults Use Radio & Other Forms of Audio,” an October 2009 study conducted by the Council for Research Excellence and paid for by The Nielson Company, indicates that 90 percent of adults are exposed to some form of audio media on a daily basis. Some form of broadcast radio reaches adults every day, with 77 percent hearing some form of radio every single day. If satellite radio is included, the average adult listens to two hours per day of radio. Think of those commuters, a captive audience, tuning in every morning and evening: some 74.2 percent of car listening time is with radio.

Siller, of Jerry’s Subs & Pizza, relies on that car time, which can easily top two hours each way in the congested Washington, D.C. area. His restaurants mainly attract a lunch crowd, so he advertises heavily between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. He doesn’t buy when sales are typically slow, such as August, when consumers turn away from hot food and Congress, the main driver of D.C. activity, is out of session. “When you’re on, be on,” Siller says. “I don’t believe in trying to take the budget and spread the money over 52 weeks. There are some companies that can afford to run all the time, but we have to make sacrifices.”

 

There are some clever ways to stretch that advertising budget that will take your ads further along, says Rich Lobel, executive vice president of CBS Radio, one of the nation’s largest radio station groups. He recommends that a pizza restaurant take some of its food to the station, particularly for the on-air personnel. The ultimate endorsement is if they recommend it to listeners. Earnhart notes that some stations will offer packages that include such endorsements, and it’s a great bonus to get.

Lobel also suggests that pizza restaurants consider buying a lunchtime ad that just airs on the station’s online streaming listeners, and perhaps couple that with an ad on the station’s Web site. “Think of a radio station as a vault,” Lobel said. “You can find so many opportunities sitting there that you want to activate.”

Radio stations can create ads for you. That’s what Lobel recommends. But Earnhart believes the work will be better quality if handled by a professional marketing team. “What makes a great spot is having a true ad agency take the strategic plan and messaging to develop the script,” Earnhart says. “Then, in my opinion, it’s not having the local radio station write the script and produce the spot. It blends in if you use the local station talent, versus standing out.”

Siller writes his ads himself with a writing partner, changing the message every two weeks. The ads are topical and fresh. Earnhart does it much the same –– though his ads push what’s seasonal and also change frequently. ?

Making a great ad that sticks with consumers is tricky. Here’s some tips from several people we interviewed for this story:

Rich Lobel of CBS Radio recommends that the restaurant owner keep an eye out for loyal customers who may be willing to record a spot. Many times, they can be paid in pizza, and they’ll love being a celebrity for the day. “Talk to your customers and find out what they love about the restaurant and bring that to life,” Lobel encourages.

Dana Siller of Jerry’s Subs & Pizza recommends playing off of top-of-mind current events. But do it well. “If we’re going to parody someone or a TV show, we have to do a good job so that people follow along,” Siller says.

Tim Earnhart of Werkshop Marketing creates ads for a franchise of Godfather’s Pizza. His advice is hit the customer with irresistible deals, right about the time they’re wondering what they’re going to do for dinner. “The pizza market in general is very price-driven,” Earnhart says.

Robyn Davis Sekula is a freelance writer living in New Albany, Indiana