In Depressed Radio Ad Market, Clear Channel Innovates with Integrated Approach

Terrestrial radio hasn’t exactly been synonymous with innovation, but industry behemoth Clear Channel could be changing that. When it comes to advertiser offerings, the national radio station network is dedicating significant resources to branching out its integrated media department. The department recently set up a location in New York to complement its original L.A. office, and boasts custom work for brands like Ford and McDonald’s.

Radio ad revenues are poised to drop 15 percent in 2009 compared to last year, according to BIA Advisory Services. But Clear Channel appears to be dedicated to leveraging its broad on-air, online, and mobile presence to ensure it remains appealing to national advertisers that are shifting budget allocations away from traditional media.

Since Michele Laven, VP of integrated media for Clear Channel Los Angeles, started the department three-and-a-half years ago, it’s grown to include just her and an intern to a bi-coastal staff of around 26 sales managers, project managers, designers, and developers. In New York, the department is hiring a digital marketing and social platforms intern and an integrated media project manager, among other available positions.

The goal of the department, said Laven, has been “to create platforms that take radio’s strength and really extend them to multiple platforms.”

The group recently ran a custom campaign for Ford to raise awareness of its environmentally-friendly vehicles and help build a database of potential customers. In addition to standard display ads, the integrated team developed a portal aimed at L.A.-area residents including a vehicle customization tool, video, and a contest promotion to win one of the featured cars. The automaker also ran ads across all stations in L.A.

An event held at Manhattan Beach this past Saturday helped tie in the Web to real-life and connect Ford’s “blue oval” logo to its “green beaches” message. According to Clear Channel, the campaign portal attracted 76,000 unique visitors and garnered 1,895 registrations for Ford.

Nationwide, the company claims to receive an average of 22 million unique visitors to its sites per month, and 8 million audio and video users per month. “Radio is about reach and frequency,” said Laven. “Our online and mobile assets simply extend our reach and frequency.”

On its station sites, Clear Channel often uses Rovion video units to connect on-air DJs to digital promos. A recent custom campaign for Taco Bell on L.A.’s KIIS-FM included a video unit featuring DJ JoJo Wright hovering above the station site’s content to promote a contest related to the campaign. The effort also included video webisodes featuring the DJ, produced by the integrated media team.

“It’s tied into the personality, to the fabric of the radio station,” said Laven. Six Flags and convenience store AMPM are also recent integrated advertisers. The integrated media department created a custom “Build Your Own Coaster” online game for the amusement park to help boost attendance and introduce its new “Terminator” roller coaster.

The firm considers mobile to be another important layer of its integrated approach. Visa recently signed on to sponsor a live music channel available through its iheartradio offering, which streams stations via Apple iPhone and BlackBerry and Web-based widgets. The credit card brand is sponsoring the “stripped” on-demand channel, which features the music of acts like Alicia Keys, Green Day, and Kanye West, recorded live at Clear Channel’s 200-seat New York studio.

The integrated group works closely on a day-to-day basis with the company’s digital division, which is responsible for its station Web site content and national ad sales. From New York and L.A., Laven explained, “We’re working together and making [programs] scalable for the rest of the country.”

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