While users of radio and TV advertising in the motorcoach industry may be few and far between, the ranks are growing. Find out how some operators are using broadcast media to grow business and rejuvenate brands by targeting their core markets with prime-time spots.
Peoria Charter Coach Co. in Peoria, Ill., has been using radio advertising since the late 1990s. With 50 motorcoaches, the family-owned tour and charter company has been in business since 1941. Vice President Cindy Winkler, who has a degree in marketing, develops all of the ads for the company.
A key strategy for Winkler’s ad development is taking advantage of the company’s family appeal. “Because we are in the Midwest, and because we are family-owned, and family values are really important here, we decided that the more that people know we own the business, and that we’ve been here for 64 years, the more they want to be a part of it,” she says.
Pay to play
Based on the audience and the product she wants to advertise in radio ads, Winkler either writes the ad copy for the promotion (see sidebar on pg. 54), or asks for help from the copywriter at the radio station, which includes its production services in the ad contract. “They staff copywriters and have the disc jockey voice the ad, so if you don’t have any experience with it, there are still professionals out there who will do it for you,” she says.
Winkler selects radio stations based on ratings, which come out twice a year. “I selected stations with the highest ratings and built relationships with the different promotions directors,” she says. Winkler then selects shows and times that will appeal to her specific audience. “For instance, if they have an AM talk station, that might reach more 55-or-older tour customers,” she says.
Instead of using a standard form of payment for ads, the company trades its services to cover airtime costs. “We price out the trip for them and I make them give me 150% of the trade value on the air,” Winkler says. “This is very important because the cost and profit margin is so much better in the radio industry.” For example, if the charter is valued at $1,000, they trade Winkler $1,500 in airtime commercials.
On the flip side, the company cannot trade services to pay for TV commercials. In the early 90s, when Peoria Charter started using TV ads, Winkler worked with local stations to develop 10-second spots that aired during the evening news at a cost of roughly $180 apiece. “You can’t do much in that amount of time, so we would show a Peoria coach driving down the road with the company information,” she says.
In 2002, the company began running 30-second commercials using footage of various travel locations. Winkler says this type of ad has more impact on the audience because of the visuals. “It’s not hard to produce good commercials, because in the travel industry, we all have video libraries from destinations across the U.S.,” Winkler says.
Stand out from the crowd
At Upstate Tours in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., radio and TV advertising is a must to remain competitive. “We live in a very saturated area in terms of motorcoach operators,” says company spokesperson Valerie Pabst. “One of our competitors started using TV and radio in 2004, so we kind of hopped on board ourselves.”
For its radio and TV ads, Upstate chose to focus on what it calls its retail tours, such as trips to Yankee Stadium, the Statue of Liberty and the Boston flower show. “We have a lot of pre-formed groups, a lot of good clients that are loyal to us, but we want to get more new people on our motorcoaches,” Pabst says.
Pabst thought it would be easiest to get radio ad information for several stations by speaking to a local Clear Channel representative. “The representative shared pricing rates and demographics for 10 stations.” She says the company spent an estimated $1,500 per week for 20 spots, which included free production.
The operation’s 60-second radio ads convey general company information in the first 30 seconds and then focus on upcoming trips in the time remaining. “I would change the spot every week for the specific trips I wanted to focus on,” Pabst says.
Pabst followed a similar route for the company’s TV campaign. After some research, she chose to go with the local ABC affiliate as well as cable stations, represented by Time Warner. Since most standard TV ads are 30 seconds long, Pabst’s ads had to be structured differently from the radio format. “I couldn’t fit in as much information, so instead of listing individual trips, I decided to focus on giving general information about the company,” she says. The ad shows an Upstate driver driving a company coach with a voiceover giving the information. “I wanted to drive [the audience] to our Website, where all of our trips are listed.”
All of the people shown in the commercial were employees or friends. “I needed some passengers for the ad, so it was myself, one of our employees, the president’s wife and a next-door neighbor,” Pabst says. Production of the commercial was done by the ABC affiliate at a cost of $500. This included dubbing a free copy, which Pabst was able to give to the cable stations for use.
Pabst says most TV stations offer deals if you purchase a certain number of spots. While the cable ads were less expensive, she feels they weren’t as effective as the affiliate station, where time is key rather than the particular channel. The company spent more money on TV ads versus radio, but Pabst says it was worth it. “The TV response was better.”
Rejuvenate iconic brand
With its fleet of nearly 2,000 buses serving more than 2,200 U.S. destinations, Greyhound’s advertising campaigns are grander in scale, but still rely on the basics of development. “We wanted to take what we consider to be one of America’s iconic brands — Greyhound, and reconnect and rejuvenate it,” says Toby Purdy, vice president of marketing. “Our goal was to rebuild brand awareness with our key targets.” The company uses this strategy in its newly launched national radio campaign, which is also being supported by print and billboard ads.
Development of the campaign involved intense market research to determine Greyhound’s target market. Results showed the target market as the youth segment aged 18 to 24 with an ethnic skew, concentrating on Hispanic and African Americans. “So, understanding the right targets led us to understanding the right creative to put in place,” Purdy says. “Hence our radio campaign and the voices that we chose.” To appeal to its Hispanic consumers, the company chose actor Adal Ramones to do voiceovers in Spanish, which will be aired on Spanish stations. For the general market and urban groups, actress Wanda Sykes was selected to do voiceovers in English.
In developing its ads, Greyhound worked with an outside creative agency. “We have input from the [voiceover] artists themselves,” Purdy says. “While we kind of write the shell and provide the scripts, we definitely solicit and want their feedback and direction to really make it work.”
Greyhound conceived two approaches to its radio campaign, one being ads that reflect its route restructuring. These ads employ the tagline “Stop less. Go more.” Several ads were developed for each approach to keep it “fresh, relevant and connected with the target,” Purdy says.
The company then selected radio stations and formats that fit the 18- to 24-year-old market segment. “You’ll hear our spots on the Steve Harvey morning show, for example, which is very relevant to our target,” Purdy says. Compared to past campaigns, this is a more aggressive approach for the company in terms of focusing directly on a specific market and in terms of the amount being spent, he says.
Reflecting on the campaign, Purdy says his advice to coach operators thinking about using radio advertising is to understand their target markets to help them develop the right creative approach. “If we were trying to reach out to everybody, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it in a relevant manner,” he says. “If you try to be all things to all people, it’s watered down.”