How to Avoid A Radio Recruitment Advertising Pitfall

(Editor’s Note: The article, “Less is More,” was written by John Mitton, founder of the Radio Recruitment Advertising concept and advertising model. It was first published by the Houston Business Journal on November 15, 2004. Written specifically to address the negative impact a 30-second commercial would have on employee recruitment advertising, the article ended up being published in several business journals around the country. The radio industry, especially Clear Channel/iHeart and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), were not pleased with what they read. So they commissioned Professor David Allan, St. Joseph’s University, and his research team to conduct a scientific study that would show thirty-second radio commercials were just as effective as sixty-second radio commercials. Professor Allan’s research results were eventually published and then quickly buried. Not only did the research validate John Mitton’s findings, it also presented additional evidence that thirty-second commercials were indeed not as effective as sixty-second commercials, especially in areas like employee recruitment advertising. The results of Mitton’s and Allan’s research are as equally valid in today’s workplace as when they were first published.) 

Clear Channel’s 30-second rule has radio advertisers tuning out

By John Mitton

Special to Houston Business Journal:  November 15, 2004

Broadcast giant Clear Channel Communications is trying to redefine the “industry standard” for how long a radio commercial should be.

According to an article in the November 2004 issue of “Radio Business Report,” Clear Channel’s “Less
is More” initiative includes a push to reduce the traditional 60-second radio commercial length down to 30-seconds.

The rationale is that shorter commercials will reduce “on-air clutter” and are better suited to listeners’
shorter attention spans.

Because radio is an effective tool for recruitment advertising, it is in the best interest of human resources hiring managers and recruiters to examine the situation — to look beyond the hype and see if a 30-second radio commercial is really as good as a traditional 60-second commercial for delivering effective, cost-efficient programs.

Power Point Radio

Some are calling the 30-second radio commercial, “Power Point Radio” due to the fact there’s just enough time to give a few bullet points of information. A 60-second radio commercial averages 155 words. A 30-second radio commercial average 75 words.

Long-time experience shows that the 75-word “bullet point” approach is never as effective as the 155- word recruitment message, especially in a “sound-only” medium like radio.

Former KODA/Sunny 99.1 Program Director Dave Dillon says, “TV is usually able to get the message
across in 30 seconds, but has the advantage of using sight, sound, and motion. Radio has to rely solely on sound.”

On-Air Clutter

No employer wants to risk having its radio recruitment message lost in a sea of on-air clutter.

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission enacted the Telecommunications Act. This gave broadcasters the freedom to buy more radio stations per market. Rapid acquisitions and expansion soon followed.

With expansion came heavy debt. How was the debt to be paid? Run more commercials! It was not uncommon to see commercial spot loads on many stations jump from 10 units per hour to 21 units per hour. Instant on-air clutter!

In most cases, radio stations run 14 “units” per hour during the morning drive time and 12 units an hour for the rest of the day. While most of the units are 60-second’s, it wouldn’t translate differently if they were all 30-seconds or 10-second’s. It is a “unit” count, not a “minute” count.

Why Pay More for Less?

According to an article in the October 4, 2004, Wall Street Journal, Clear Channel initially tried to charge more for two 30-second commercials than they were getting for one 60-second commercial. Then the price dropped to 80 percent to 85 percent of a 60-second commercial.

Giving you less, charging you more” is how it was described by many in the advertising community.

On most radio stations, 30-second commercials sell at either the same price as a 60-second commercial (unit pricing) or 80 percent to 85 percent of a 60-second commercial. In fact, many radio stations use the 80 percent to 85 percent as a way to discourage advertisers from buying the shorter commercial. Why pay that much for only half the time? Pay the extra 15 percent and get the full 60-seconds!

Larry Kelley, executive vice president/media director for Houston-based advertising agency Fogarty
Klein Monroe, points out that the 80 percent to 85 percent formula doesn’t exist in any other medium.

Says Kelley, “On a national basis, when advertisers want to air a 15-second TV commercial instead of a 30-second commercial, major TV properties only charge about 50 percent for the 15-second spot.”

“Cheaper” Does Not Mean “Effective”

The “Less Is More” initiative says the cheaper rate for a 30-second commercial allows clients to buy more commercials, more frequency and thus, more effectiveness.

But does it?

FKM’s Larry Kelley states there is substantial “copy recall” research available which indicates that a 30- radio commercial is only 50 percent to 60 percent as effective as a 60-radio commercial.

For example, assume there is a $10,000 recruitment budget. 60-second radio commercials are priced at $250 each. A company can afford forty (40) 60-second commercials. On the flip side, priced at 80 percent, the forty (40) 30-second commercials will only cost $8,000.


Because research shows 30-second commercials are only 50 percent to 60 percent as effective as 60-second commercials, a company will need to buy at least fifty-six (56) 30-second commercials at a cost of $11,200 to be as effective as with the forty (40) :60 commercials priced at $10,000. (Editor’s note: Subsequent to the publication of this article, research conducted by Professor David Allan at St. Joseph’s University, showed a company would actually have to buy eighty (80) :30 commercials to be equally effective as the forty (40) 60-second commercials. So instead of forty (40) 60-second commercials for $10,000, a company would need to buy eighty (80) 30-second commercials at a cost of $16,000. Not such a great deal after all. )

Best Interest for Whom?

According to the radio industry’s own recently released Radio Ad Lab Survey, “…there is no one-size-fits-all ad for radio (at least not one that’s effective) …”

Every situation is different. Some companies may only need 30-second’s. Others, especially those with a lesser degree of public awareness or a longer story to tell, will continue to need the full 60-second’s.

Every radio station in the country will sell 10-second, 15-second, 30-second and 60-second commercials. The problem occurs when a radio station or group of stations stops being “customer focused” and instead tries to force customers to do business the way the radio station wants to do business, whether it’s in the customers’ best interest or not.

In the end, on-air clutter is reduced by shorter commercial breaks, not shorter commercials. On the cost side, recruiters and hiring managers need to decide if they are comfortable paying more for less. They will also need to realize that “cheap” does not equal “effective,” and “effective” does not have to equal “expensive.

Radio is a great tool in a recruiter’s toolbox. It works, if implemented the right way.

– END –

About the Author:

John Mitton is president of Mitton Media. He is nationally recognized as the Founder/Originator of the Radio Recruitment Advertising/Job Ads on Radio concept and advertising model. A full-service advertising agency with services and capabilities for all traditional and non-traditional media platforms, Mitton Media is also the only firm in North America to have Radio Recruitment Advertising Strategies & Campaigns as a specialty.

John is the author of Good People Aren’t Looking for Work, They’re Listening for It!® and is co-author of the SHRM-accredited HR professional training workshop, Beyond Post & Pray: Effective Recruitment Advertising Tools and Strategies for Today’s Workplace®


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