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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

Radio’s million pound giveaways

Jonathan Lumley, Deji Awokoya, Gabrielle Cummins and Nik Goodman

Four commercial radio practitioners from diverse markets share their experience of putting big money prizes on the air.

<clarkson-voice>One Million Pounds</clarkson-voice>

The promise of cold hard cash is back in fashion. The UK’s Hits Radio network is giving away a share of one million pounds with a mechanic that requires you to remember a big number all day while you keep listening, and register via premium SMS or online.

The one million pound cash register – Hits Radio

Meanwhile Heart has upped the stakes dramatically with its promise of “two million in the music”. A premium SMS entry path and a classic listen-and-win hours-building mechanic runs during the new breakfast show.

Two million in the music – Heart

And hours are what it is all about. I can’t count, but radio’s Phil Riley has kindly run the numbers for you.

Phil says:

Each hour delivers £1.50 in revenue so to get £1m in revenue you need around 600,000 hours (although you would never really calculate it this way as listener gains, if kept, mean recurring revenues).

Obviously £1m in revenue doesn’t mean that can cover £1m in costs – rights, agency fees, sales commission etc,. In truth I’d probably want £2.5m in extra revenue to cover £1m prize, and make a profit.

So for simplicity you could say adding 250,000 new listeners, listening for 6 hours, might be seen as a reasonable return if you can keep them for at least a year.

So what’s the chance you can get a return on investment, and when is the promise of filthy lucre the best audience driver anyway?

For Earshot, four commercial radio practitioners from diverse backgrounds share their perspectives on cash prize promotions in radio markets big and small. Here’s our cast:

Jonathan Lumley

Promotions manager at two of South Africa’s most successful music stations, Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Gabrielle Cummins

CEO of Beat, the regional youth radio brand in Ireland. It’s South East Ireland’s market leader.

Nik Goodman

An accomplished commercial radio programming consultant based in London and working with radio stations in Europe and beyond.

Deji Awokoya

Group GM of Megalectrics which operates four radio brands in cities across Nigeria plus a community-tier station in London.

When is the right time to give away cash?

Listeners are always happy to win cash, but for me, the right time is using it as a lever to either get people to trial the station and attract those switchers, who will come across from a rival specifically to enter the contest… or as part of a marketing push highlighting something that’s going on e.g. a refreshed breakfast show, a music policy shift etc. Cash giveaways can really help reinforce different images depending on the mechanic that’s used.     

Its always a good time to give away money. People love it. It gives them freedom to do what they want with the cash. Maybe it’s to pay off debt, buy an engagement ring or go on holiday…, the listener chooses what THEY want to do with the cash, and it makes it accessible for anyone to enter.

In terms of timing, it helps to launch a big cash prize giveaway a few days to a week before payday. We tend to find a big uptake then, slight dropoff around pay days and then increase in entries thereafter (I guess when you’ve paid all your bills and realise you don’t have anything left it’s a good incentive to enter again).

We think about the life of our target profile “Claire”. Claire is regularly strapped for cash so giveaways will always garner huge responses for Beat. We make a big deal of cash in November heading in to Christmas present buying, January when everyone’s broke and the summer for “summer thrills” focusing on the desire for our target to have cash to spend on “an experience”. When we do focus groups “cash and an experience” will regularly be the most popular prize options.

Money is always a big draw because people always want to win money. So anytime works but if you want to tactical and for budgetary purposes, I would say it should be seasonal i.e in the lead up to Summer/Easter. If we want to get very technical, in the morning between 7.30am to 8.30am and drive time from 4.30pm to 6pm Monday to Friday. Weekends better in the afternoon.

How big must the prize be to impress?

There’s always been a bit of an ‘arms race’ when it comes to the amounts – but in reality listeners often think a massive prize is less attainable. A higher frequency of smaller cash prizes can often be more effective than one big amount. But if you want to create the image of being ‘BIG’, then clearly £1000 is not going to cut it anymore. Having said that, all radio cash contests seem to be pretty small in comparison to a Euro Millions rollover! So I’m not sure if size is everything any more.

I prefer to work a “prize pool” or total prize money to make a campaign work. In Cash Call you need the fluidity and agility to switch up cash amounts at each competition moment to make the promotion work harder for the station. It’s also lazy to have the same amount given away for each comp moment (which is the easiest and “go to” proposition for a weekly S&P competition) but I do think the “win your SHARE of R250 000” sounds better and is more accessible to more people than a “You could win R250 000 all to yourself”.

Granted, jackpots do work as the amount grows. Or as in Secret Sound on Jacaranda FM, the R100 000 Secret Sound is what it says on the box. So the fact that one person is going to win that amount is impressive. I think currently a big prize right now is around R25 000 and up to R100 000 in our markets, as a grand prize.

For daily prizes, we generally don’t go under €200 and weekly big cash prize for Beat would be between €1k & €2.5k.  It’s all about how we position it and the fact that our local competitors in our region don’t give away much cash so, to your listeners, €200 daily prize is actually a big deal. It’s all relative!  The most cash Beat has ever given away for a promotion was €11k for The Fugitive in 2007. Immediately after that big promotion, we did focus groups and asked participants how much did they think we’d given away. They said €80k!!!!! It just shows you the power of packaging the material correctly and making it sound like we were giving away thousands daily over a month.

I’d say £100 to start with and if more is possible then even better. Heart and Magic at the beginning used to give away £500 – £1000. The competition to enter and win was excessive. [The demand] is what leads to today’s million pound giveaways.

In most cases [stations can] make double the money back from the telephone and short code billings. At end of day it can be any amount as long as its sustainable so you could give away £100 every day for a month or just £1,000 for the month.

Can radio still buy listeners?

Oh yeah! It is the corner stone of many a CUME builder. I think we’ve become a bit lazy and not budgeted for it ourselves as a radio station as a marketing ploy for a while in this country. I think Australia have it right and tend to do this. But I do see the wheel swinging back to stations doing this themselves as opposed to waiting for a client to come on board and supply the cash to do the promotion. And there really is enormous value in a station investing in themselves and promoting the heck out of the competition and getting it to reach everywhere.

All the research I’ve seen [suggests that] most listeners don’t care that much about them. Cash contests only really appeal to a small amount of people who enter them, and usually these are promiscuous listeners who will swap stations depending on who is running a giveaway. These listeners are ‘power users’ of radio and can deliver really high listening hours, so if you manage to get a few of them in your ratings sample, then that can really work for you. Cash contests can add great content moments, be fun to listen to if you have the right mechanic, and create a focal point for a station when running them.

We can attract listeners by giving away cash but they won’t stay if the product isn’t good enough.  In other words, cash giveaways are a great marketing tool but listeners who come for the cash won’t stay if the content around the cash giveaway isn’t strong enough.

Absolutely! It really depends on the strategic intent of your station but you can set the competition so that the entrants have to do a number of things which in turn can be allocated to data capture. Terms and conditions for entering the competition can include asking entrants to leave their name, number and email.

We can email them later to cross-sell and up-sell other elements of the radio station or even drive them to attend a station event. You could use competitions to increase your social media numbers by asking that they follow station on social media as part of entering the competition.

Or it could just be as simple as saying a catch phrase when phone is answered such as “I love The Beat 1036 FM London” which builds advocacy.

Isn’t a hard cash giveaway what you do when you’ve run out of ideas?

No.  We always do a combination of both because cash is so important to our listeners who are generally cash strapped.  They also like to have fun so we always ensure we have plenty of quirky, creative mechanics too to keep them interested.  Beat is known for “doing things differently” and this is across everything we do so it’s important this applies to contests too. Cash + creative + strong content = winning combination.

Straight answer is No!! it what you do if you want do drive audiences to the station at a particular time as well as getting your rating figures up across the station.

It could even be to generate revenue. i.e  a text phone number charge would enable the station to generate some capital return. You can also be creative about the cash giveaway by including a “booby prize” in there as this brings out the fun.

Cash giveaways are a fairly blunt creative tool in set of the weapons you can use as a programmer. They can be effective, but aren’t particularly elegant! Far better in my view to run a great piece of activity or promotion, where there’s fun and engagement in the idea, and there may (or may not) be a cash reward at the end of it. Getting a listener to feel something for your station and develop loyalty, is far more important than just trying to bribe them to listen temporarily. But if you’re running a station where simple cash mechanics can help with your strategic aims and there are clear benefits to doing them, then there’s no problem with that either.

Not at all. It’s just the sweetener. The lure, the carrot to a creative idea. And it’s the motivation to get a listener into action to enter.

You want the best people to perform for a major comp so you need to “motivate” them. Your creative idea or campaign must makes sense and align to the objectives set out by the station and in line with its strategy. Even if it’s a tactical campaign the creative idea has nothing to do with the money or reward at the end. Granted, the more “hoops” you want your listener to jump through or the more complicated the promotion the more money needs to be on offer.

Radio competes with a number of TV reality shows in a number of markets around the world in this space. You have to remember why you are doing a promotion. Is it for:

  • Reach – talkability?
  • Market share?
  • Launch of a new show/formet?
  • Theme. E.g.: Mothers day or Valentine’s?
  • Client based?

Who does it well? Any success stories you’ve been involved in?

I’d consider The Fugitive a fantastic success story for the station. Over ten years later and The Fugitive will still come up unprompted from participants. Why did it work? It was all over the region and everyone felt they had a chance to take part themselves and try win the cash.

The “serial effect” involving cash can work well too.  Most stations have a daily cash rollover competition and once the mechanic is entertaining, these can work well. Our version is called “Cha-Radio” – it’s Charades on the radio played every day on Beat Drive, check it out!!!

Comnunicorp Dublin and national stations give away huge amounts of money and they market it well. I’m not sure the ROI is quite there for them in terms of growing their listenership to the desired level but they certainly get lots of talkability.

We also enjoy seeing what Kyle and Jackie O do – they have budgets we can only dream about but great for creative inspiration!

We gave away a piece of land to a lucky winner on Naija FM once. It was manic!

We used it to drive attendance to a Naija FM event. The turnout was ridiculous and until this day, the winner of the land comes in to the station and tells everyone that Naija FM made him a landlord. He attend every event we have, tells everyone about naija fm. He is a Naija FM advocate for life.

Kronehit! is Austria’s biggest commercial radio station with a CHR format. We introduced a ’10 Hits in a Row’ position across the day, and to highlight this and reinforce the music quantity that the station offered, we developed a ’10 Hits in a Row €10,000 Guarantee’.

If we didn’t play 10 in a row in the designated hours then listeners could call in and claim their €10,000.

We used the cash giveaway to spotlight the music quantity position and it worked really well. Listeners started to pay more attention to the music we played and it really drove him that message of 10 Hits in a Row.

I of course have to say that we do them really well on East Coast Radio and Jacaranda. But equally I have seen and heard some great ideas and execution from KIIS 1065 FM (5K Money drop) Radio 538 Netherlands (Slow Mo Radio) and Beat in Ireland (Coffin Lock in).

Steve’s takeouts

Thanks to Nik, Deji, Gabrielle and Jonathan for agreeing to share their experience and expertise within Earshot. Here are some key points I’ll remember:

It’s always a good time to give away money

Cash giveaways are a fairly blunt creative tool [but] ratings and creativity are not always perfectly aligned!

We gave away a piece of land.

We give away very small amounts of cash… we just make it sound HUGE!


A special thank you to the ever-helpful Phil Riley. Rent his villa in Mallorca if you want to say thank you too.