Radio Marketing Can Be Cheap and Powerful

The last thing the average co-op manager has time for is figuring out the vagaries of radio. We know virtually nothing about reading Wilhite surveys, drive-time placement, writing live feeds, or the like. Often, co-ops shunt off marketing to spare time between order days, truck arrivals, staff meetings, and scheduling. We give tacit attention to our advertising by dabbling in print, often relegating layout to part-time employees who own computers and experience with Pagemaker 6.0.

But this slack approach means we are under-utilizing one of the truly powerful advertising media that we have at our disposal: radio. Hopping onto the airwaves has many strong advantages: it can be fairly cheap, both in terms of production and actual air time (at least in smaller city markets); radio is locally oriented; the message can be very simple and devastatingly powerful; good spots can allow us to stand out from the normal. All of these make radio advertising a great alternative for alternative food stores.

Start simple

Decide if radio is right by listening to the various stations in your area. Pick a station that is most likely to have listeners that you can lure to your store. This may be rock and roll, country, R&B, whatever. If you are about to do a store survey, include questions about what station your members listen to and when. Most people listen to radio in their cars, and a surprising number listen at work.

Make an appointment with an ad salesperson and ask them to bring the latest Wilhite surveys. These are tools that ad people use to determine the best demographics. They show who is listening and when, in sometimes maddening detail. Don't be discouraged if it is a blur of numbers. Remember that sales reps desperately want your sale, and they will be glad to explain how to read the survey. Note the times of day when "your people" are listening, and plan to target these times. For example, at Community Food Co-op we choose stations that have a strong base of female listeners between the ages of 20 and 45, with a strong emphasis around "drive-time" (7-9 AM and 4:30-6 PM).

Also, don't underestimate the power of public and campus radio stations. These all run public service announcements (PSA's) that can often be formatted to include a great message that happens to have your name tagged onto the end. If you hear PSA's on a public station, call the PSA director and talk about the possibility of creating some spots for them and if they allow your organization's name being mentioned. Our local campus station happily does this.

Here is an example of a PSA that we recently ran. It grabs attention, is informative, and offers us free promotion without paying for airtime:


Not many of us would choose to spend our hard-earned money to destroy a beautiful coral reef. But if you buy cheap, nonorganic bananas, you might want to consider this:

Banana plantations in Costa Rica are causing silt runoff, petroleum-based fertilizer discharge, and plumes of pesticides to flow into the ocean. This is killing coral habitat.

Organic banana growers, using sustainable farming practices, pollute less. Think about lending your support to organic farmers. Because some things in this world are more valuable than cheap and pretty bananas. This message is brought to you by the Gallatin Valley Growers Association, KGLT, and the Community Food Co-op.

Create relationships

We began our venture into radio by offering a discount to a member who also happened to be a local radio producer. We simply call him up and schedule time to record new spots, both commercial and public. This enables us to keep a regular rotation schedule on the commercial stations (which gets us better rates) while constantly changing our message. Fresh material is important in keeping the listeners interested.

The key is finding talent within your membership base. We also found a couple of voice talents, members who had experience doing radio or TV who also wanted a discount. It's the same arrangement: once the spots are written, we call them up and schedule production time. You can generally get free use of the studio at the station where you run your ads.

Keep it simple

If you cannot find the member talent that you need, arrange to have one of your staff members (preferably with a good, strong, resonant voice) do the reading. We try to avoid having radio station DJ's serve as our voice talent as they often do for other businesses. This keeps Dan the Morning Man from making our ads sound like the latest sale at the local car dealer. You can have the production engineer at the station do the recording, a service that they should offer for no extra charge. Look for a "sound" that will set you apart from the usual ad chatter. We use simple, direct messages, without the clutter of sound effects or music.


The Co-op offers this question: how big a pile would 67 million dead birds make? This is the latest conservative estimate of the number of birds killed every year in the United States by exposure to pesticides. 67 million. This should not surprise us, since we apply over 500,000 tons of pesticides annually. At the Community Food Co-op, we proudly feature organically grown food. It may cost a little more, but what is the price of wild birds? The Food Co-op, Ninth and Main, Bozeman.

I write all of our ads, carefully timing them by reading them slowly to assure that they do not exceed thirty seconds in length. I look for an attention-grabbing introduction and then cut directly to the point. In thirty seconds, you do not have a lot of time to embellish with unnecessary jive. Just make your point, try to mention the name of your store at least three times, and make a clean getaway. Try to stick to only one issue at a time (for example, don't mix an ad for buying bulk with cruelty-free bodycare). To the listener, it offers a clean message that cuts through on the car radio and is just different enough to make it memorable.

Keep it different

I like to collect data from the seemingly endless info-glut that passes my desk and various good websites. I keep a file of highlighted factoids that I peruse when I have time to write a couple of scripts. As you can see, we lean heavily on the environmental angle, a strong draw for people in our neck of the woods.

Remember that in the natural foods business, we have a strong advantage over the mass market: we have more to sell than just cheap food. And in a time of natural products spreading to mass market stores, we gain advantage by being the store (or organization) that brought the news to the public first. Cutting edge informaton dissemination, when it is appreciated, builds loyalty. Radio can be a very effective tool for this approach provided the listeners find it interesting enough to actually listen.

And the topics are endless. Think about the organic certification ordeal, food irradiation, the treatment of chickens and cows, pesticide levels in the groundwater, cholesterol, farm workers and cancer, and so on. Very little of this news hits the papers, and none of it is being discussed by Safeway. Hence our opportunity to fill the niche.

The live feed

Another option, if you want to go whole hog, is to develop a relationship with a popular DJ and fax or e-mail scripts on a regular basis to be read live over the air. This can be more expensive but offers enormous flexibility, because the message is always new. For two years, we did live feeds every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4:55 PM on the local rock and roll station. We could talk about new sales, tomorrow's lunch special, latebreaking news (food irradiation was a hot topic), or anything else. And the disc jockey, who was a member, had fun playing with the message. This obviously takes more time (and money) but can position your store favorably, because the message is new and is something they don't hear anywhere else.

Overcoming the fear

Working with radio is like getting on a computer for the first time: you are afraid of making mistakes and know nothing about it. But it can be fun as time goes on. And that's the key. If you make it fun to create, it will be fun for your listeners. Joke around a little. Feel free to shock the public some. But by all means, avoid having a commercial station come in with their own ad people to tailor a spot for your store. You know what your co-op is all about, and they don't. And you can, with a little help, create a campaign that puts people on your co-op's side, rather than sounding like just another plea for dollars.



ANNOUNCER: There's a lot of fast talk out there, and it's getting hard to know what's real.

WOMAN: Say, could you tell me about this tomato?

NERDY GUY: Yup, that's a tomato all right.

WOMAN: Has it been irradiated?

NERDY GUY:  We prefer to call it cold gamma pasteurized.

ANNOUNCER: At the Community Food Co-op, we don't sneak new multi-syllabic biotechnologies into your food.

WOMAN: Was it genetically engineered?

NERDY GUY:  It MAY have a smidgen of hyperexotic shelf life extension.

WOMAN: Is it a clone?

NERDY GUY: You mean somatic cell nuclear transfer?

ANNOUNCER: At the Food Co-op, we offer good whole foods with nothing exotic. Ninth and Main, Bozeman.

Add comment

Log in to post comments