Bill Caralis “insulted” at missing out on Govt campaigns again.

Hot on the heels of the $27 million (est) PBS campaign, of which radio stations got little or no money (and which, ironically, was fronted on TV by veteran radio medico, Dr James Wright), has come an even bigger campaign for Medicare – also with no radio component.

Although radio did get a slice of the “See Australia in a Different Light” campaign for the Department of Tourism, it has been left off the schedule for other current campaigns for “Citizenship” and “Apprenticeships”.

In a letter to Commercial Radio Australia CEO, Joan Warner, the outspoken, yet reclusive, Bill Caralis, who owns a network of 33 stations wrote: “We find the situation totally repugnant and are most insulted that Federal Government monies appear to be going everywhere except Radio and we keep wondering why?”

Austereo Chairman, Peter Harvie was not prepared to criticise the government or its agencies for their relatively light use of radio. However, he did tell radioinfo: “There’s no doubt that over the years there’s been a track record of a preference of the (government) marketing campaigns to go to television and to press.”

When asked for a response to the Caralis letter, Joan Warner told radioinfo: “He’s a member of mine and he has a perfect right to express his opinion, and the board will be discussing what’s been happening at board level. But the fact is that for all the lobbying we do we cannot control the final decision making process.”

Nonetheless, Mr Caralis and his network managers have decided to do their own lobbying and have written to politicians in electorates that his stations cover in NSW and South East Queensland asking “why is commercial radio continually left off Federal Government spending?”

One of his arguments is that politicians continually ask, and are granted, free
on-air time on Commercial Radio so that they can communicate directly with the community, particularly in the lead up time to elections. Politicians know this is the best way to get their message across.

Caralis also points out that unlike Regional TV, Radio has local news rooms and radio journalists are meeting and greeting and are in constant touch with politicians on local and Federal issues. He asks “why then does the Government spend so little, if any, on paid radio advertising in trying to achieve the same objective.”

Joan Warner is sympathetic to this view, telling radioinfo: “It probably doesn’t hurt for local members to understand the frustration of their local radio station because what I think a lot of politicians don’t understand is that a lot of government ‘information campaigns’ aren’t going out on a regular basis to their local radio stations for whatever reasons. And while politicians make the best use of radio – in that, I mean better than television and newspapers in promoting their ‘products’ – our frustration is that sometimes it doesn’t translate into the paid information that other media gets.”

Peter Harvie also believes there’s nothing wrong with both a collective and an individual lobbying effort: “I think its very good for the industry to have a concerted front, particularly in cases like this when you look at the size of the government as a client and its importance to the media universe. And if you’re being debarred, not allowed to enter the club for one reason or other, you’ve got every right to lobby collectively through CRA. But I think also independent stations and networks equally should be making their voices heard. Any other industry would do it.

“We’re not arguing for something unreasonable. In fact one would have to conclude that the lack of selection of radio is an unreasonable move in its own right because it just defies logic,” says Harvie.

Yet, despite the logic, a number of senior managers have told radioinfo that there remains a resistance to radio that seems to emanate mainly from creative agencies.

“Where I think we’re still falling down”, says Warner,“is there seems to be a belief out there that some government messages are too complex for radio to handle. And that’s very frustrating. Even if it can’t be used for very complex messages that need a lot of text, it can be used to get people to look out for material in their letter box and read it before they throw it away, or to make sure they read the ad in the newspaper in these times of falling circulations.”

While the government’s media buying agency, Universal McCann declined to comment on anything to do with their biggest account, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Ageing told radioinfo that, “Radio is being considered for the second round of the Medicare campaign”.

No one can seriously doubt Joan Warner’s commitment to the job – perhaps the toughest in radio – and Peter Harvie is quick to praise the efforts of CRA: “I know they’re working hard on this,” he says. It’s also fair to say that Warner is presiding over a purple patch in terms of overall revenue growth for the industry, which will, after all, be the ultimate measure of her success in the job.

Warner believes there’s no quick fix to raising radio’s share of government advertising. “The fact is we are doing a lot of work. We believe we’re making progress and we’re very pleased to be given the opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of radio to government departments and to the GCU (Government Communications Unit) and, on occasion, federal ministers. But it’s a long entrenched mindset we’re dealing with as well. And its not going to change overnight.”

Still, Bill Caralis remains unconvinced. His spokesperson told radioinfo: “Bill thinks there’s a better chance that the Greeks will have the Olympic Games site ready on time than regional radio has of receiving Federal Government advertising dollars.” With his background, he should know.