Radio: Try the Most Targeted Recruiting Tool

Okay, before you instantly think, “John’s nuts!” stop and think about radio for a minute. Don’t you personally listen to it several times a day, perhaps in your car, in places where you are a “captive” audience? Some of the most under-used tools in recruiting involve the media. Nearly every major firm has used TV and radio advertising (with great success) for their product advertising, but few in recruiting have ever even tried it once. Not so long ago, showed its marketing prowess with the first recruiting ad during the Superbowl, and Sony successfully used radio ads to attract talent for its Pittsburgh plant. But most others have been no-shows. I can see how the initial upfront costs of TV can scare some people away (though that is less true now with the proliferation of cable channels with “localized” advertising.) But radio? It’s cheap, fast, and it has the best niche demographic demarcation lines on the planet. Some recruiters are just the corporate version of lemmings. Almost without exception, they use the same tools as everyone else, year in and year out. If you know anything about marketing, you know that the “first user” has an advantage in advertising (and in any recruiting tool for that matter). Whether it is a new approach or new medium, being the first grabs more attention. Why not be the first in you market to use targeted radio ads to recruit? Why You Should Try “Targeted” Radio Targeted radio doesn’t mean placing ads on the most popular stations and shows. Instead, it means using radio to reach narrow niche groups. Targeted means placing ads on smaller stations and on specific shows that are frequently listened to by the demographic group that represents your job needs. Radio station audiences represent one of the narrowest bands of people demographics in the media. It’s one of the best kept secrets in recruiting. There are a variety of reasons why targeted radio advertising is a great recruiting tool, including:

    • Definable demographics. Radio has very definable demographics. If you want to target a particularly narrow population, radio is the champ. If you want to target a certain age group, education level, or even a type of worker, there is nothing better (with the exception of direct mail from professional magazine lists) than radio. It is far superior to newspaper ads and job fairs, which hit a broad audience. In this case stereotypes are true. Construction workers listen to country and western stations, teachers to NPR, and stockbrokers and traders listen to Wall-Street-type shows.


  • Definable shows. Radio stations have a definable listenership, but specific times of the day and shows have even more narrowly defined and measurable demographics. For example, more nurses listen to NPR than grunge rock, but when you advertise specifically on medical shows (Dr. Dean Edel, for example) you will get a significant number of nurses and medical professionals, guaranteed.
  • Focus on “employed people.” Unemployed people read the want ads, but most of the people you reach on radio are employed. And if you advertise during the commute hour on commute stations, nearly everyone you hit will be an employed person. These are the most desirable candidates, because the very best generally are working even during tough times. Can you imagine a top-performing baseball player being unemployed during the season?
  • Diversity. There are many small ethnically focused stations where ads are cheap because of the size of their audience. However, the impact (demographic or market niche penetration) is high within that demographic group. If you are looking for diversity in your workforce, you will find that diverse populations are frequent radio listeners.
  • Many listen during work. Some jobs allow you to listen to the radio during work hours, so radio is a natural if you are trying to attract the people in those types of jobs. Commuters are also a captive audience who are easily reached every day of the work week.
  • It’s cheap. Radio ads on targeted stations and shows are almost as cheap as block newspaper ads (incidentally, newspaper readership is declining in most big cities). Some stations will heavily discount ads for a new customer.
  • It’s fast. You can place an ad within days and you will see the results almost immediately. For example, if you want hourly workers, placing an ad on a country and western, youth-oriented rock, or “ethnic focused” show will generally produce results within days.
  • Design is easy. If you are unsure of what to say to increase your impact, most radio stations will help you design the ads.
  • Building your brand. In addition to its immediate job-focused message, radio ads spread your brand name and leave a lasting impression. This “name recognition” may also help product sales and future recruiting.

Okay, I’m sold. What are the steps? It’s not very difficult to use radio for recruitment. Here are some things to do. If you need help, consider talking to your own advertising or marketing department, for they might already be experts in using radio.

  • Define your audience. Identify the jobs that have relatively narrow and definable demographic profiles (for example, nurses, hourly workers, truck drivers, service personnel, temps, and even engineers).
  • Contact some radio people. Ask some radio professionals to show you their listener demographics (for example, zip codes, income level, interests, etc.). You can’t use age in hiring, but you can target age groups in advertising (job experience generally goes hand and hand with age).
  • Ask your employees. In order to validate your targeted demographics, survey your top people in targeted jobs. Ask your employees what stations and shows they “always” listen to. If that agrees with what the radio people told you, you are ready to go.
  • Design the ad content. Work with the station to finalize content and test it on a few employees. Incidentally be sure and ask (in the radio ad) those who hear it to “tell their qualified friends.” If you are bold, consider a referral bonus for those who refer someone you hire.
  • “Mark” your ad. In order to be sure that the ad is working, make sure that the people that respond to the ad are easily identifiable. For example, ask them to call a specific number, use a unique web address, or ask for “Mary” and you will then know for sure that those candidates came from the radio ad.
  • Run a test ad. Run a trial ad and refine it to improve your response rate.
  • Try radio for other jobs. Don’t be surprised if radio works just as well for professional jobs like nurses as it does for hourly workers. Expand the ads to cover other jobs and demographics as you learn (remember to partner with your advertising department).
  • Advertise open houses. Even if you lack the courage to try a straight recruiting ad, using targeted radio to announce job events is an effective alternative.

Categories of Radio Shows With “Job Specific” Demographics There are dozens of different categories of shows to choose from including:

  • Financial advice shows
  • Stock market and Wall-Street-related shows
  • Drive and traffic shows
  • “Pure” talk shows
  • Science and car shows
  • Medical-related shows
  • Personal advice shows (avoid these)
  • Career shows (avoid these)
  • Political commentary (yes, executives are conservative)

Cisco once targeted users of a traffic/roadblock warning station in their search for engineers who got frustrated with roadblocks. The logical premise was that if you were good at avoiding traffic roadblocks, you would also be good at eliminating “data roadblocks” in networks. A side note on how radio is becoming even more powerful: One firm in California is “instantly” changing the ads that are placed on large mall ad screens (those visible from the highway) based solely on what radio stations the most approaching drivers are listening to (yes, they can do this). The most listened-to radio format instantly tells them what ads to display on the electronic sign! Still Not Convinced? Think of your self as a test case. As a recruiter, odds are that you frequently listen to news talk and drive news programs. If I put an ad on a news radio show during morning or afternoon drive times, would I catch your ear? If so, see my point? Recruiters are always complaining that they can’t find good people. One solution to that continuing problem is to try new and different tools. Unfortunately, that takes some degree of courage. I find that a major reason why many recruiters don’t try new things is because of their fear of failure (you seldom get blamed for doing what everyone else is doing). Nurse recruiters are tops in this class of avoiding failure. If you are different and are ready to step out of the mold, I suggest you consider radio. It’s fast, cheap ó and it works!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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