A Red Flag for Radio Recruitment Advertising

(Editor’s Note: This article about a radio recruitment advertising “Red Flag” was first published in November, 2004, by the Houston Business Journal. It was written by Mitton Media President, John Mitton.)


  • The push for thirty-second radio commercials was brought about, primarily, by a broadcast group trying to pay off its debt load resulting from a robust spending spree acquiring radio stations.
  • The broadcast group had to run so many commercials on all its radio stations that the general public rebelled.
  • To satisfy this listener base, the broadcasters came up with a plan to split sixty-second commercials into two thirty-second commercials then charge more for the thirty-second commercials even though they were not as effective as the sixty-second commercial.
  • The advertising community quickly labeled this strategy, “Giving you Less, Charging you More!”
  • An advertiser would have to buy 50% more thirty-second commercials to be equally effective as if had purchased a fewer number of sixty-second commercials.
    • “Buy a whole pizza for $10 or buy a half-pizza for $8.50?”
  • “Cheaper” does not mean “More Effective.”
  • In the end, there is no one solution that fits every situation.
  • Just be sure you are getting what you pay for when it comes to expected results.
  • Contact Shana Reinhart at Mitton Media® for more information about the best strategies for a radio recruitment advertising campaign.

The Article:

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

Author: John Mitton/President/Mitton Media

Special to Houston Business Journal

Broadcast giant Clear Channel Communications (iHeart Media) 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 radio commercial is really as good as a traditional :60 commercial for delivering effective, cost-efficient

“Power Point Radio”

Some are calling the :30 radio commercial, “Power Point Radio” due to the fact there’s just enough time to give a few bullet points of information. A :60 radio commercial averages 150 words. Thirty-second radio commercials average 75 words.

Long-time experience shows that the 75-word “bullet point” approach is never as effective as the 150-
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!

Not all broadcasters opted to increase their commercial loads. Companies like Entercom and Cox Broadcasting have, for several years, adhered to strict guidelines for limiting the number of commercial “units” their stations can run per hour.

In most cases, these 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 :60s, it wouldn’t translate differently if they were all :30s or :10s. 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 :30s than they were getting for one :60. Then the price dropped to 80 percent to 85 percent of a :60.

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

On most radio stations, :30 commercials sell at either the same price as a :60 (unit pricing) or 80 percent to 85 percent of a :60. 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!

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 TV commercial instead of a :30 commercial, major TV properties only charge about 50 percent for the :15 spot.”

“Cheaper” does not mean “More Effective”

The “Less Is More” initiative says the cheaper rate for a :30 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.

Assume there is a $10,000 recruitment budget. Sixty-second radio commercials are priced at $250 each. A company can afford 40 :60 commercials. Priced at 80 percent, the 40 :30 commercials will cost $8,000.

However, because research shows :30s are only 50 percent to 60 percent as effective, a company will need to buy at least 56 :30 commercials at a cost of $11,200 to be as effective as with the 40 :60 commercials.

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 :30s. Others, especially those with a lesser degree of public awareness or a longer story to tell, will continue to need the full :60.

Every radio station in the country will sell :10/:15s, :30s and :60s. 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.


John Mitton is president of Mitton Media, a Recruitment Advertising Agency based in the Houston, TX area.  


© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.


(Editor’s Note: In case you are interested, on June 15, 2016, MediaLife Magazine published, “The Year That Changed Radio Forever: 1996,” which provides a “Where Are They Now?” perspective to the whole unfortunate situation.)


Mitton Media®

The staff of recruitment advertising professionals at Mitton Media design, produce, and execute blended recruitment advertising programs that GRAB ATTENTION and GENERATE IMMEDIATE RESPONSE.  “Hard-to-Fill,” “General Hire,” or “Mass Hiring.” “Professional,” “Skilled,” “Hourly,” or “Seasonal.” Mitton Media helps employers gain the competitive edge they need to be successful in today’s competitive workplace.

Contact Shana Reinhart for more information about Mitton Media’s services, capabilities, and JOBSPIPELINE®.

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