Radio Plays a Key Role in Amplifying Brand Purpose

The medium is a major linchpin for cultivating relationships and serving communities

December 1, 2020

By Tammy Greenberg

GeorgePeters/Getty Images

It's been well-documented that consumers now more than ever care deeply about how brands are addressing social and environmental issues. According to the 2020 Porter Novelli Executive Purpose Study, 89 percent of business leaders believe companies that lead with purpose have a competitive advantage in today's marketplace. In fact, 85 percent agree that being a purpose-driven brand drives profitability. The bottom line? In an increasingly competitive marketplace, a brand's contribution to society is, for consumers, the company's distinguishing characteristic.

Leading with purpose is not novel, of course, but, in the current climate, the marketing shift has been accelerating at a steady clip. Purpose is defined as the motivation and focus that derives from a brand's values — not what it sells, but why it exists. The key to establishing lifelong and meaningful connections with consumers around purpose is by converting it to action.

After all, brand purpose without action is pointless. Without action, purpose is likely to get bogged down and suffer from inertia, with potentially negative repercussions for the company.

Broadcast Radio Leads With Purpose

In exchange for obtaining a valuable license to operate using public airwaves, broadcast radio stations are required by law to operate in the public interest. This is simply the foundation.

Radio stations go well beyond what is required to unite audiences around common interests and social and community values. Listeners in local communities rely on local radio brands for news and information, music that soothes their souls, conversation and companionship, and to help guide them toward achieving common goals.

The opportunity for purpose driven marketing lies in building more authentic relationships with consumers, according to Accenture. Meaningful relationships shift the dialogue from "give me what I want" to "support the ideals we believe in;" long-lasting relationships are grounded in a common purpose and structured around a collective sense of belonging.

Radio, of course, helps to facilitate relationships and make people feel like they belong. In a consumer focus group of varied demos conducted by Jacobs Media Strategies, people were asked: "What is radio's job?" The answers ranged from providing security, camaraderie, and connection to providing the information and entertainment when and where listeners want it.

Separately, marketing and advertising executives and industry leaders were asked by the RAB why radio matters. Below are excerpts from how they responded:

  • Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA: "Radio is a friend, colleague, it keeps me company, it is important to my local community, it is a facilitator, it is a driver."
  • Doug Ray, CEO of Dentsu Media Americas at the October 2020 By Black Conference: "The personal relationship and the engagement that radio, in particular local radio, has with its daily listeners is authentic and intimate and unlike any other medium."
  • Kristy Carruba, director of audio planning and strategy at Macy's: "Radio establishes one-to-one relationships in your skull like no other media can."
  • Rishad Tobaccowala, futurist and author of "Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data," joined the 2020 Radio Show and said: "Audio is the most important way to tell stories, move people, and therefore move product."
  • Whitney McChane, VP of marketing communications at International Dairy Queen: "Radio provides a sense of joy through sound."
  • Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Allen Media Group and founder of Entertainment Studios, spoke at the 2020 Radio Show and stated: "Local radio is a medium that is entrenched in the communities it serves and the community is strongly connected to their local radio station. I believe that one of the greatest foundations you can have is local radio and local television."

A Force for Good

Consumers tune in to their favorite radio stations because they provide a reflection of who they are and help connect them to a community of shared values. Listeners rely on local radio personalities to entertain, inform, and comfort them. Specific groups of consumers rely on the goodwill that widely distributed radio broadcasts inspire in the communities in which they live.

The onslaught of COVID-19 profoundly affected media consumption and, as each state continued to impose its own unique set of social distancing guidelines, local communities banded together (albeit with social-distancing limitations) to stay updated and informed on how to take safe actions.

In April 2020, Cox Media Group conducted a study to determine how this new sense of community, fueled by microlevel legislation and health care, influenced the way people consumed local audio.

According to the study, a third said they were listening to more radio since the outbreak began, and 94 percent said they tuned into radio "more than any other streaming service for music, talk, and information."

"Listeners depend on our radio brands more than ever for local information, entertainment, and companionship during this uncertain time," says Tim Clarke, VP of audience and content at Cox Media Group. "They are captive and immersed in our content on all platforms and our top personalities continue to deliver."

From distribution of personal protection equipment to virtual learning to food drives, radio stations have rallied to the cause for their audiences, helping those in need and bolstering local economies.

Facilitating Positive Change

Nationwide surveys reflect overwhelming support for protests in defense of racial equality and a need for community support from local media. For instance, 62 percent of consumers have a positive impression of radio ads that support Black Lives Matter, according to NuVoodoo's 2020 Protests Media Report.

The marketing and media community is answering the call to promote the fundamental values of equity, diversity, and inclusivity. For example, following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May, Beasley Media Group (BMG) Detroit collaborated with local community leaders to host a "Solutions Not Slogans" Zoom event, in which radio talent brought together a group of civic leaders, police, and concerned citizens to talk about how to make change in the local community.

The community gathering was followed by an event in October designed to encourage radio listeners in the Motor City to vote.

Part of BMG's "Community of Caring" program, Solutions Not Slogans events provide an opportunity for radio listeners to speak directly with city officials about solutions that motivate people to act.

Salem Media Group takes on systemic racism by focusing on the inequities in the American penal system and the impact on the vast number of minority prisoners and their families.

Through partnerships with Prison Fellowship and Angel Tree, Salem helps to provide rehabilitation and life skills to minority prisoners and encourages its listening audience to raise funds to support their families. During the past three years, listeners have donated more than $1.5 million, enabling Salem's radio stations to send more than 7,500 children of prisoners to summer camps.

Universal Appeal

Making a difference in all lives is standard practice and a core mission of every radio station across the U.S. Supporting the health, education, and safety of local communities is the top priority and a major reason why so many people turn to their local radio station in times of crises.

Radio helps to save lives, feed and clothe families, educate kids, and support local businesses, as well as national and local charities.

Take Children's Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH), a banner organization responsible for raising money for 170 children's hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. The organization is charged with filling the gap between what their partner hospitals are compensated for by patient care and the resources they truly need to save lives.

The CMNH partnership with the radio industry and its radiothon platform raised $38 million in 2019 alone. "Our partnerships with radio are very important to us, not only the reach of radio, but the ability to tell beautiful stories," said Maureen Carlson, chief program and marketing officer at CMNH, during an "Open for Business with Purpose" webinar hosted by the RAB.

Carlson said, "Every dollar that is raised through our radiothons remains local. It's important to us to have partners that understand how to have local conversations, tell local stories, and saturate a local market."

Brand Lift

With more choices than ever before, consumers seek to align their purchase decisions with companies that exercise shared beliefs. According to a Google-commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 tracker, 46 percent of U.S. shoppers agree with the statement "I make a deliberate effort to shop at businesses that align with my values," and 66 percent of U.S. consumers who plan to shop during the 2020 holiday season said they will shop more at small businesses locally.

Major brands and organizations are tapping into radio partnerships at the local level to boost their visibility and invite listeners to follow their lead and take action.

P&G, the world's largest advertiser, bolstered its efforts with radio to put its purpose in action. One way the consumer packaged goods company is driving change is by supporting minority- and Black-owned broadcasters in the fight against racism, with plans to bring its "Take on Race" initiative — in concert with the RAB and Katz Radio Group — to local radio to create an impactful movement in communities most effected.

Unilever also turned to radio to support the brand's United for America program, which provides community-based support and food-based relief for those hit hardest by the pandemic.

CVS Health, meanwhile, does more in local radio than national because the health care company can see specifically where it is relevant (or not) and include messaging based on store formats and local consumer needs.

Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) in Los Angeles leans on radio to drive awareness and provide critical advice that can improve the quality of life for families in need and strengthen neighborhoods.

NHS has placed nearly five million families on the road to home ownership, helped secure employment for more than 238 neighborhood youth, and reinvested nearly $6 billion back into Los Angeles County's most underserved neighborhoods. The partnership with Black-owned broadcaster KJLH in L.A. continues to play a key role in such outcomes.

To help feed a community that the brand deeply serves, Frauenshuh Commercial Real Estate turned to Salem Media Group-Twin Cities in an effort that raised $37,000 and fed 500 families. Meanwhile, several local brands in Decatur, Ill., partnered with Neuhoff Media Group to help raise more than $600,000 in just 12 hours to donate three million pounds of food to at-risk communities.

Align Purpose with Radio

Every action a brand takes reflects its purpose and its beliefs. Addressing nearly 6,000 brand marketers, marketing solutions partners, and media professionals during the ANA's Masters of Marketing conference in October, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, stressed that, "Our jobs are to step up as a force for good and a force for growth." His key message to his fellow marketers: "Step up."

With 2021 about to start, radio will continue to fulfill the responsibility it has to its listeners and the communities it serves. Radio will also remain a valuable partner to brand marketers, providing a trusted media environment to reach consumers with the power of the brands' actions and communicate the brand purpose.

Tammy Greenberg is the SVP of business development at the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program. You can email Tammy at

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