What Would Propel More Digital Sales For Radio?


Radio’s digital ad sales rose 11.8% to hit $1.1 billion in 2020 and are forecast to accelerate 18% in 2021, according to data compiled by Borrell Associates for the Radio Advertising Bureau. What could make those numbers grow faster? Additional training and more and better digital products to sell – that’s the consensus from 238 radio managers surveyed by the two groups in December 2020 and January 2021.


Specifically, managers were asked, “What would have the most positive impact on digital sales?” The sample was asked to pick one response. Training existing sales reps came in first in the latest data, selected by four out of ten managers (40%), down from 48% in early 2020 but up when compared to 35% in early 2019.


But the biggest news is a threefold increase in those who think more and better digital products would have the most positive impact on sales.It was selected by 35% of managers surveyed, up sharply from 11% one year before and 22% in early 2019. Adding digital-only sales reps came in third place at 17%, down noticeably from 32% in early 2020 and from 29% in early 2019. Replacing existing sales reps with better ones came in last at 8%, even with 9% the year before, and down from 14% two years ago.


Digital now makes up more than 14% of total radio ad sales as the industry marked a sixth consecutive year of double-digit growth in digital ad sales. Tracking the trend, radio’s digital ad revenue was just $551 million in 2015 but steadily increased by low double-digit percentages to $617 million in 2016, $700 million in 2017, and $804 million in 2018. Then there was a big hockey stick jump of 24.6% in 2019 to $1.0 billion.Advertiser pullbacks in 2020 decelerated the trend with digital growing 11.8% in 2020 to $1.12 billion, for its lowest percentage growth since 2016.But 2021 is expected to deliver 18% digital growth for radio, hitting $1.32 billion.


A related survey of advertisers underscores how the COVID outbreak caused many local businesses to slam on the brakes on advertising. Among local businesses that cut radio in 2020, 43% said it was because of COVID and 33% said the medium is too expensive. More than one in four (27%) of businesses who stopped buying radio advertising in 2020 said the medium was difficult to measure and 24% said they moved money to something else. “No data to determine the impact” was the fifth most cited reason, selected by 16% of the 219 businesses that stopped buying radio advertising in 2020.


The RAB will present a live-video presentation featuring Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell for its joint digital benchmark report, “Defy the Gravity of 2020: Radio’s Digital Sales Rise.” The presentation will take place Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 12pm (CT). During the session, Borrell will share insights into 2020 digital sales and opportunities for areas of growth for 2021. Registration information can be viewed HERE.

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