Tuning back to normalcy: How radio is navigating its way to on-ground activations again

Industry leaders are hopeful that on-ground activations will see a spur in the coming months as industries return to pre-Covid environment

e4m by Rasika Kiran Upasani
Updated: Nov 16, 2021 11:16 AM

On-ground activations have always been a key strategy for radio players to connect with listeners and attract new audiences at a local level. Being a hyper-local medium, FM channels leverage RJs, who are nothing less than celebrities, to build a strong rapport with listeners across multiple languages and cities. This consumer connect was lost as the Covid pandemic halted on-ground radio activations last year. With digital solutions on the rise during lockdown, these on-ground activities shifted to social media platforms of radio channels and digital events, contests, and programmes soon became the norm.

With the optimism that year 2021 ends on a hopeful note, e4m spoke to industry leaders to find out about the status of on-ground activations and their potency in the current post-pandemic market.


The Revival

Sharing his perspective on the revival of on-ground activations following large-scale vaccinations, Ashit Kukian, CEO, Radio City, says they plan to expand their audience by possibly trying to go international as well. “On ground activations are steadily starting to gain momentum once again as consumers all across the country get vaccinated. One of the biggest strongholds for radio has always been the appeal of the studios, and watching RJs go live on-air. Calling celebrities and lucky listeners to the dynamic studio creates an infectious energy that is unmatched. So resuming dynamic studio activities has been one of the priorities for radio stations across the country. Festive gatherings and reality shows have also been some of the most engaging verticals for radio channels. One such reality show is Radio City’s flagship property Super Singer that boosts of 69 million listeners and 5.6 lakh entries in the past. As the country becomes increasingly vaccinated, we plan to expand our audience on-ground beyond 39 Radio City markets and also make it bigger and grander by possibly trying to go international too,” he shares.

B Surendar, COO & Director, RedFM Network, is particularly hopeful about the prospects in the next few months as they are determined to take it step by step. “While the impact of Covid has come down considerably, the problem is not completely over yet. However, we had looked at certain initiatives to recognise the efforts of heroes from the business community who had helped the process of post-pandemic economic recovery in their respective cities, and then a few initiatives during the sports and festival season with the objective of helping a few brands connect with people directly,” he says.

Pooja Gulati, EVP & Sr. Director-IP Solutions, ENIL, Mirchi, explains how sectoral differences can be expected to narrow as industries start returning to somewhere around the pre-Covid positions and the economy starts recovering at a healthy pace. "As the vaccination drive intensifies, the new normal of life sets in at a healthy pace, and as the economy recovers, sectoral differences can be expected to narrow, with industries returning to somewhere around the pre-Covid positions. What is less obvious is how the dynamics within sectors like events and entertainment are likely to change to adapt to the new normal. The mix of large format events v/s smaller focused events will change relatively. Hybrid events have become a significant pie of the entire event industry landscape.”

“Mirchi has been consistent in launching products in the hybrid space to make sure activation solutions are readily available to our sponsors across most consumer genres. All large format events with huge gatherings are transformed into a focused smaller audience with greater engagement levels with the event and brands associated with it," Gulati explains.

Sunil Kumaran, Country Head - Product, Marketing & THWINK BIG, BIG FM, mentions how the radio industry is slowly and gingerly exploring the activation vertical. He says, “With the country opening up post the extensive vaccination drive, the radio industry too has commenced on-ground activations to connect and engage with the listeners, giving them a more personal and immersive experience. Brands too are partnering with us and exploring on-ground events as an important aspect of the campaign activations. At BIG FM, we have conducted various on-ground events in the last few months across non-metros like Pune, Chandigarh, Patna, Kanpur, Lucknow, Indore, Bhopal, Kolkata, etc. As a brand, our audience’s health and safety is of prime importance for us and hence we are extremely mindful of all the safety measures as the activities are carried out as per the government norms and regulations. We are certain in the coming year, these events will be held on a much larger scale for a wider audience.”

Bindu Balakrishnan, Country Head, India, DCMN, adds, “Brands primarily use radio to reach out to tier II and tier III audiences. This media channel is most lucrative in smaller cities, and it is very efficient for tapping into audiences at a high frequency. While radio is generally used to build brand recall, it is also a great medium to support and amplify other campaigns that brands might be running simultaneously, be it on TV, print or out of home.” 

“As a media channel, radio saw one of the sharpest declines in 2020. With extensive lockdowns across the country, radio stations lost a huge amount of listeners who were no longer commuting every day. But after this lull, the current festive season is reviving radio and providing strong growth opportunities, combined with a high vaccination drive and lower infection rates. The current consumer sentiment is very positive and brands are capitalizing on this by investing heavily into advertising across media channels, bringing in much needed revenue to the radio industry," she says.

Future Strategies

According to B Surrendar, on-ground event and activation business is an integral part of the revenue stream of radio companies. “It is true that this significant aspect of our business was affected due to Covid till recently. But as life and business are steadily returning back to normal and restrictions come down across the country, some revival in BTL initiatives are expected that are meant to promote our own brands and that of our clients. It goes without saying that due care and precautions will certainly be undertaken while executing the same.”

Ashit Kukian asserts that the radio industry has seamlessly adapted to the new normal in the last two years whilst simultaneously exploring new virtual avenues and coming up with innovative shows and programmes to engage listeners. “As a medium that is agile and constantly evolving, it is all about building a deep connect with its audience. An intrinsic part of the same is also building physical connect. The radio industry is growing stronger by the day by building new trends for the future and at the same time retaining engagement levels across the length and breadth of the country.”

“With vaccinations being rolled out at a steady pace throughout the country, consumers and media alike are more confident than ever about resuming pre-Covid life. For the radio industry, it is about moulding its operations to suit the present times. Therefore, on-ground activities are definitely on the cards. However, there is also increased emphasis on safety, which is a priority for all of us at Radio City as well. As of now the industry is slowly and steadily opening up small-scale gatherings to engage listeners and it will soon be back to pre-Covid times.”

Pooja also shares her views on ‘revenge shopping’ and how the consumer confidence is steadily returning. “With revenge shopping sweeping through some sectors, the bounce-back is likely to emphasize businesses that have a communal element, such as restaurants and entertainment venues. The hyperlocal catchment of consumers’ mind space is helping radio channels create small yet engaging activities at these venues where brands are eager to participate and return to physically engage with their target audience. The role of radio, therefore, becomes significantly stronger when it comes to getting back to smaller local on-ground events.”

A country like India that has a larger percentage of younger population is conspicuously optimistic about adapting easily to the new normal of digitization and entertainment options as it is important to move with the trends.” 


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