What Exactly is Radio Reach and Frequency?

posted by Stephanie Theisen

What Exactly is Radio Reach and Frequency? | Young Boy Reaching for a Book on ShelfThere are three big variables you want to control when scheduling radio ads: reach, frequency and consistency. We’ve talked about the importance of those three already in this post, so now I want to examine the difference between radio reach and frequency specifically.

Reach in Advertising

In any advertising medium, reach refers to the number of people your message reaches (hence the term) in a given time frame, typically a week. For radio, you can increase your reach by placing ads on more radio stations. It’s a pretty straightforward equation:

Total Reach = Station A Listeners + Station B Listeners + Station C Listeners + Station D Listeners

In essence, your reach is the sum total of the listenership on each station you place ads on. There will be some variances in day-parts. For example, the morning show will have a larger listening audience than overnight programming; however, the above formula still holds true.

Every radio station has a coverage map, which is the reach of that station from a geographic standpoint. Generally speaking, a larger geographic reach means a larger listener reach.

The Downsides of Increasing Your Reach

Advertising on four stations, like the above illustrates, will blow a small advertising budget quickly and ineffeciently. You need to balance your reach with other variable to maximize your radio adverting results.

Frequency in Advertising

Simply put, frequency is the number of times your commercial plays from a single source over a given time. Again, that time frame is typically a week. To capitalize on frequency, you should run more ads per week, on a single radio station. The equation here is also simple:

Frequency = Total Number of Ads per Week per Station

The time-of-day you run your commercials will play a major role in how much frequency you can afford per station. Here again, the morning show is more expensive than overnights. It's wise to keep that in mind when creating your radio schedules with your rep.

The Downsides of Increasing Your Frequency

Like with reach, having massive frequency on a station can quickly eat through your marketing budget. It also limits your message to just one station, even if multiple stations fit your target audience.

Finding the Right Balance

Reach and frequency are opposing forces in the radio advertising realm. They compete with each other for dominance. By increasing one, you decrease the other - unless you have more money to feed it. To be effective, your business doesn’t have an infinite budget; however, reach and frequency remain crucial elements for a successful campaign.

How do you find the perfect balance? It's easy, ask the experts. Your radio rep can help immensely here. Optimizing reach and frequency based on your specific goals and budget requirements is one of the many things they specialize in.

The Formula for Success

We’ve found that there’s actually a formula you can utilize to better balance reach and frequency. Here it is:

Success = 21 Ads per Week, 52 Weeks per Year per Station

In radio lingo, we call that a 21/52 schedule, or branding.

Psychologically speaking, the average person needs to hear an advertising message three times per week for it to be memorable. That’s called a “Three Frequency.” Knowing what we know about radio listening habits and average time spent listening, a message must be played about 21 times per week to reach the average listener three times.

This is just one station. Spreading your budget thin across multiple radio stations will maximize your reach, but dilute frequency. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a strong frequency. If you were forced to choose between reach, and frequency, always choose frequency.

To illustrate this, I’m going to quote Thomas Smith from his book Successful Advertising and his thoughts on frequency:

“The 1st time people look at an ad, they don’t see it.
The 2nd time, they don’t notice it.
The 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.
The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.
The 5th time, they actually read the ad.
The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.
The 7th time, they get a little irritated with it.
The 8th time, they think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
The 9th time, they wonder if they’re missing out on something.
The 10th time, they ask their friends or neighbors if they’ve tried it.
The 11th time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The 12th time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The 13th time, they start to feel the product has value.
The 14th time, they start to feel like they’ve wanted a product like this for a long time.
The 15th time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
The 16th time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The 17th time, they make a commitment to buy the product.
The 18th time, they curse their poverty because they can’t buy this terrific product.
The 19th time, they count their money very carefully.
The 20th time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.”

Notice how the prospect isn’t buying anything until after the 20th repetition of the same message? That’s why you should run a 21/52 schedule. Twenty-one ads per week, fifty-two weeks per year.

Maximize Radio Reach and Frequency for Your Business

As a small business owner or marketing director, you need your advertising to work. It's mission critical for your business and your employees. That’s why it’s important to use your advertising budget strategically and methodically. Don’t just throw your money at something and hope for the best. We call that the “spray and pray” approach, and it never works well.

Instead, use the resources at your disposal to find a perfect balance between reach and frequency. We’ve featured several clients who exemplify this balance. You can read about them in our top advertising strategies eBook.
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