Writing for radio: an interview with Clare Bowen at Radiocentre

Last month, Clare Bowen, Head of Creative Development at Radiocentre, and I took our seats on the D&AD New Blood judging panel. Young creatives were tasked with submitting a fresh way to express the Dr. Marten’s brand positioning, Stand for Something. How? Using the power of words.

We read and listened to hundreds of radio scripts filled with short, sharp sentences, long, meaningful statements, calls to action, long copy, short copy, spoken word, poetry, lyrics and more. Take a look at the winning work.

Radio is an incredibly important platform for copywriters. Where else do we rely so heavily on words to bring a message to life, to feed a listener’s imagination? Clare is hugely passionate about her work for Radiocentre and encourages creatives, agencies, brands and marketers to listen up. After all, 90% of the UK population tunes into radio every week.

I asked Clare to tell us more.

Hi Clare, thanks for agreeing to this interview. It’d be great to get to know you and your work with Radiocentre, and to get tips on what makes a brilliant radio ad. Let’s get started…

What’s the first thing you remember hearing on the radio?

I grew up in Cornwall and had to wake up at 6am to get a train to school. So for me the ‘Pips’ going off at 6am on Radio 4 are probably my earliest memory. That – or the cricket commentary. I still only understand about 40% of what I hear on the cricket but there is something very rhythmic and soporific about it. It reminds me of lazy afternoons in summer.

Are you always tuned in? What do you listen to on your commute, at your desk, in your spare time?

I’m a cyclist, so no audio on my commute. I have to keep my ears out for buses. During the day I listen to Absolute, Classic and Kiss. I wake up to Radio 4 for the today programme and 6 Music on Sundays.

Do you have a favourite radio station? 

No favourites. I like to mix it up depending on my mood.

Do you listen to music, audio books, podcasts? All of these? None of these? Any recommendations?

Music-wise, I’m really enjoying listening to Blossoms at the moment and the new Radiohead album ‘A Moon-Shaped Pool’ is a real grower. I listen to classic novels on audiobooks as I don’t have enough time to give them justice.

You’ve been at Radiocentre for over four years. What attracted you to working in radio advertising?

I started my career as a suit at Ogilvy working on TV, print, digital as well as radio. I’ve always been interested in all forms of writing, performance and music so radio chimes with all of these interests. Radio is woefully overlooked from a creative point of view; although conspicuous wins for the UK at D&AD and Cannes over the past few years suggest that there is a growing appetite for developing quality, brand-led radio ads.

How does radio perform over other advertising platforms?

Radio is incredibly effective. It delivers an average of £8 for every £1 spent – far more than on-line channels. It remains the most consumed audio format, far more than streaming services or owned music, and in fact is still the main source of music discovery for young people. Our challenge is that although radio accounts for a fifth of the media day it only accounts for 3% of ad revenue.

What’s your elevator pitch for encouraging a client to advertise on radio?

It’s an effective but underexploited channel, ripe for innovative, well-produced, daring ideas.

Which brands or products communicate best on radio?

Retail brands are proven to have the highest ROI on radio. Lidl, IKEA, M&S and Specsavers are brands that spring to mind that use radio well. Other than that, Dove have done some fantastic creative work in recent years, which have been recognised at awards. Listen out for the AA ads too!

Which brands would you like to see advertise more on radio?

I think there’s a great opportunity for new, tech-led brands to advertise on radio. Without the budgets for TV, I think there’s an opportunity to use radio to build these brands. It’s encouraging to see ‘traditional’ radio playing such a big part in Uber’s recent advertising campaign for example.

Is there a voice you love hearing in radio ads?

Casting is absolutely crucial for radio ads. With only sound at your disposal, every audio element has to be just right. Any voice over that gives a strong performance, that enjoys the read and doesn’t treat it like a throwaway script really shows. Matt King (aka Superhans from Peepshow) was recently the talent for the PC World radio ads. Very good. And frankly, Joe Cocker’s voice might just be my Desert Island luxury.

What are your favourite and/or most memorable radio ads?

Ricky Gervais / Prostate Cancer. It’s a witty, perfectly timed performance.

What copywriting tips do you have for writing a great radio ad?

The way we speak is different to the way we write. Listen to real conversation and try to recreate it recorded on your phone voice recorder rather than going straight to pen and paper. Or screen and keyboard. Don’t overwrite. Be authentic. It can be helpful to have casting nailed before you finalise the script and write to their tone of voice. Involve them in the process as soon as you can.

Why did Radiocentre sponsor the D&AD New Blood brief this year?

Simply because we think there is not enough done to encourage writing craft for radio amongst new creatives coming into the industry. It’s a massive advertising medium but people often approach it with certain preconceptions. We want to challenge those preconceptions and encourage people to view radio in the context of a modern, digital advertising world.

What are the current trends in radio advertising?

On a functional level, we’re starting to see call-to-actions to mobile. Just Eat’s ‘Tap the App’ sign-off is an example of this. It’s been claimed that engaging with a brand through an app rather than browsing a website makes you three times more likely to convert to purchase. In a creative sense, the work that wins awards are those ads that demonstrate great writing, inspired casting, strong performance and clear messaging. These are the traditional pillars of radio and the principles still hold true.

What do you think is next for radio advertising?

I’d expect we’ll see radio integrated better with other channels. Lucozade recently ran a campaign where a car radio triggered branded messages on digital out of home screens near by. As mobile listening grows on mobile I think that’s also an area for creative exploration. And use of long form too: the rise of the ad-break takeover in TV is definitely something that could be executed in radio.


2nd July 2016


Any thoughts on Green Flag’s current radio ad?

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