ARN CEO Ciaran Davis: No recovery yet but 'pockets of positivity' are out there

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 19 August 2020
Ciaran Davis

The advertising industry is slowly rebuilding after Australia’s coronavirus shutdown during the first half of the year, but ARN boss Ciaran Davis isn’t calling it a recovery for the radio business just yet.

As a whole, ad revenue for commercial metropolitan radio fell to $643.046 million for the 2019/20 financial year, down 20.34% from $807.701 million the year prior, according to Deloitte figures.

Meanwhile, SMI figures which look at media agency bookings show the radio sector was down 55.8% in May, taking a bigger hit than TV, back 35.6%, and newspapers, down 46.1%.

As the nation readjusts to new coronavirus restrictions, most brands have started to turn their advertising spend back on with media channels, particularly TV, starting to see a recovery.

However, Davis, ARN CEO and managing director, says it’s a slow climb out of the pandemic collapse which led to ARN reporting an ad revenue fall of more than 40% in April.

“I'm not sure I'd use the word recovery but I would say that we're talking to clients now about spending, whereas at the start of COVID, we had clients who were just not spending and pulling spend,” Davis tells AdNews.

“I think every business is adapting to the dynamic situation that we're in at the moment.

“There are pockets of the industry that are beginning to spend, and looking to the future it’s important that brands support their products and realise that radio is a very efficient medium at times like these to reach customers and to sell products because of its immediacy and its efficiency and its ROI.”

Davis says retail has been a key client during this period, as well as SMEs, home improvement and home delivery brands, particularly Menulog which launched a big campaign across the network.

This slowdown from advertisers comes as consumers continue to tune into radio at the same levels, often even more, than before the pandemic despite expectations that the sector would take a hit similar to the one seen out-of-home as people travel less throughout cities.

ARN’s radio streaming grew 10% in March and April compared to January and February this year, according to Adobe Analytics. ARN says its iHeartPodcast Network also saw a 14% increase in listening between workday hours, 10am-4pm.

In preparation for the return of ratings on September 29, ARN has rolled out a big marketing push to support all of its stations with a focus on key talents such as The Kyle & Jackie O Show.

Davis says the “multi-million” campaign, which runs across multiple channels throughout the rest of the year, is a balance between watching costs during a challenging economy and investing in the business. 

“We have a responsibility to our clients who we’re trying to convince every day to spend - and spending during tough times is important - to put our money where our mouth is and that’s what we're doing,” he says.

Looking to the rest of the year, Davis expects it to remain “very challenging” as Australia balances keeping coronavirus under control and restarting the economy.

“We’re going to have to deal with pockets of outbreaks that we're seeing, I think Victoria is an incredibly difficult situation at the moment, but what we have to do is continue to build on the pockets of positivity that are out there,” he says.

“There are people who are doing a very good job changing their business models and advertising to that effect on radio and doing very well.

“So it's our job to make sure that our workforce remains as flexible as possible. We're obviously not in the office four days, five days a week, and I've been very pleased with how our business has worked with clients, and continued to work with clients in difficult, remote circumstances.

“And that’s what it's going to be like for the next four, five months. It's our job to continue to reinforce the power of radio, continue to reinforce where digital audio fits with that, and continue to provide great content that listeners want and that, ultimately, advertisers will want to be part of.”

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