Mediatel Events spoke with six key figures from the audio world to discuss how they have dealt with the coronavirus crisis and what next for radio, streaming, podcasts and voice technology. They ncluded Ollie Deane (Director of Commercial Digital, Global), Rak Patel (Regional Head of Sales UK, Spotify), Siobhan Kenny (CEO, Radiocentre), Howard Bareham (Co-Founder, Trisonic), Dan Jennings (Production & Project Management Head, Wavemaker) and George Seed (VP Product, Cavai). Here is what they had to say.

Siobhan Kenny, CEO of industry body Radiocentre

What has impressed you by how has audio adapted to the current coronavirus situation and what could the industry learn from the example set by audio?

Radio has adapted really fast, as ever. Although from the output you wouldn’t know it, stations moved fast to protect their talent with some presenters broadcasting live from their homes, displaying the usual versatility of the medium. Cheering the nation up with the humour we need to get us through this time plus broadcasting valuable public health information has been responsible for a huge uplift in listening.


How have you reacted to the crisis?

The whole Radiocentre team has been working flat out. A crisis is when an industry body really proves its value. We represent the majority of commercial stations in the UK so are in daily contact with the Dept for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Ofcom, updating them on the latest situation in our industry. The Coronavirus hub on the Radiocentre website is a constantly updated resource for radio stations and advertisers packed full of useful information. On the hub, you will also find a presentation, Rescue Remedy, which sets out how radio can help advertisers get through the current crisis. Radio Bites, summarises in snapshots the value provided by commercial radio in difficult times. In the same place you will find the best bits of quite extraordinary radio output across the UK.


What has been your favourite piece of audio advertising during this period?

I have been impressed with how many brands including supermarkets, banks and utility companies have responded and turned around important and vital consumer information. Radiocentre has followed suit and we have a new campaign, “Business as Usual” for precistely when it is not, in fact, business as usual. The ad, which reminds advertisers how easy and safe it is to make radio commercials during this period of social isolation, will be coming out across the airwaves in the next few days.


And what is your prediction for the future of audio and how it will come out of this?

Before this all happened, audio was booming and radio was at the heart of that audio revolution. People are turning even more to audio with the new habits developing as a result of our all staying at home. Commercial stations have seen a double-digital rise in listening. I think over the next few weeks we will see brands that can advertise return to radio. During the last recession radio went a bit earliet than some other media but  came back faster. The ad challenge will remain for some time for all commercial broadcasters – that is inevitable but we hope that the actions we are all taking will succeed in halting the development of the virus and we can begin to work out how the economy will recover. We are confident radio will bounce back and  everyone at Radiocentre is determined to do all we can to ensure that the rich and diverse offering of UK commercial radio remains strong and vibrant as we come out the other side.

Ollie Deane, Director of Commercial Digital, Global

What has impressed you by how has audio adapted to the current coronavirus situation and what could the industry learn from the example set by audio?

During such unprecedented times the media industry faces challenges but higher listening figures particularly across radio, demonstrate that audio is resilient. In all of this, audio has prevailed as the trusted medium, able to deliver clear and concise information from respected news brands like LBC. The range of roles that audio is able to play during this pandemic is also impressive. Whilst people are turning to audio for the latest news, they’re also seeking companionship, light entertainment and normality. Thanks to the investment Global has made in technology, where necessary, the nation’s favourite radio shows can continue broadcasting live from presenter’s homes.


How have Global reacted to the crisis?

All of Global’s radio stations have enlisted the help of the biggest stars of music, news and entertainment, rallying the support of the nation and encouraging listeners to join in with a timed moment of applause to thank the NHS and front line staff who are battling coronavirus.


Last week, we also announced the launch of a new podcast with Dr Ranj Singh to help educate children about coronavirus. Dr Ranj, a TV personality and NHS doctor specialising in the wellbeing of young people, has been answering questions about coronavirus on Heart Breakfast with Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden over the past few weeks. Dr Ranj and Heart have now teamed up to create an accessible and educational kids’ guide to Covid-19.


We’ve also been working closely with advertisers to get their brand’s messages heard by millions of people across Global’s radio brands and on DAX. With the news agenda changing hour by hour, the speed and flexibility of audio is invaluable.


And what is your prediction for the future of audio and how the landscape might differ after this?

This unprecedented situation has reinforced the value and role of audio. Future-facing, we can expect digital listening to all forms of audio to continue growing and newer forms of audio to be more prevalent. In a period of social isolation, mediums like TV and film face a harsh possibility of not being able to produce content, which means that a large amount of writers, producers and talent will creatively explore what they can do in the audio space.

Dan Jennings, Production and Project Management Head, Wavemaker

What has impressed you by how audio has adapted to the current coronavirus situation, and what could the industry learn from the example set by audio?

Whilst I now spend my days running the Production and Project Management unit of Wavemaker’s Content team, the first 15 years of my working life were spent behind the microphone where I ‘entertained’ listeners daily in my role as a Breakfast Show presenter.


(What do you mean you don’t remember The Dan Jennings Breakfast Show powered by Sunsilk?).


So, I’m not at all surprised to see, and indeed hear, that audio is winning the hearts and minds of audiences across the UK right now, with stations reporting a huge surge in online listening numbers, delivering record audiences and time spent listening over the past few weeks.


Radio’s strength has always been its ability to tell stories, to paint pictures and to create communities with listeners, and many of the presenters – whether national, regional or local – are the original influencers in a way.


I’ve been most impressed by the feelings of pride and gratitude coming from the presenters, broadcasting from home in these challenging, and often frightening times (or from a boat at the bottom of his garden for Virgin Radio’s Chris Evans).


You can hear that every second of presenter activity is being really thought about, with the understanding that there is a responsibility to entertain, educate and inform in equal measure.


It brings back memories of broadcasting the day after the Twin Towers attacks of 911, and the boss giving me the option of hosting my show live on air the morning after, or replacing it with a more music, less talk breakfast show for the day.  The choice was simple, I had to go on air, however hard it would be to find the right words to share with my listeners.


Radio is seen as a friend, a trusted friend at that, and with Kiss, Absolute Radio, Magic, Capital, Heart etc all being huge big national brands in their own right these days, the power of trust is a lesson for us all across the industry in times like these.


And it’s no surprise that we repeatedly see research showing that radio is still the most trusted medium in Europe. That’s never been truer than right now and it’s evident with every single listen.


How have Wavemaker reacted to the crisis?

Whilst there’s no single, correct way to move forward, we at Wavemaker believe it’s time to invest in supporting the greater good, however a brand can.


Our provocative planning ethos lives on and we have seen a plethora of new work arriving daily from our global markets – some of which are further along the ‘Coronavirus curve’ than the UK and we are constantly examining the best work to identify innovative approaches that brands are pursuing.

Whether it is messaging to support the front-line, clients repurposing production, content that aids the vulnerable, amplifies WHO advice or simply maximizes moments of happiness. It all matters right now.


And most importantly, we have all been super focused on supporting our clients – seeing beyond marketing budgets – to the real people involved: people with families, jobs, businesses and their own staff that they want to look after through these times of uncertainty. I’ve been proud to see that response from an agency that really cares about its work, and those that invest in us.


What has been your favourite piece of audio advertising during this period?

One of the strengths of audio advertising has always been the ability to turn around an idea to broadcast at speed when required and whilst you may not see any Cannes Lions award-winning pieces of work instantly, a lot of brands are showing some wonderful touches of empathy right now.


The simplicity of Tesco – who took a complete transcript of their print ads to audio with an identical message about how they are helping NHS key-workers with revised opening hours, putting in place social distancing etc – coupled with a beautifully simplistic tweak on their usual tagline for “Now, more than ever, every little helps.” shows a deep level of empathy for the current situation.


Bauer Media’s 4-day turnaround to launch an urgent new Cash for Kids appeal was rightly packed full of emotion. With 4 million children already living in poverty in the UK, the use of their brands for good is seriously impressive and the idea of building a fund to provide grants to help families cope is a strong response in desperate times.


We’re always proud of our work with Public Health England, and their own ‘Vital Update about Coronavirus’ radio ads demonstrate the strength of a well-cast voiceover, the selection of the right language to have real impact, and the need for strong call to action with the memorable advice to “Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.”


I’ve also been impressed by hearing examples of the personal touch of those in charge.

Sir Malcolm Walker, CEO of supermarket Iceland, taking the time to voice the copy for their audio messages makes sound business sense and shows a high level of emotional intelligence in their marketing response.


And for commercial radio’s longest running sponsorship, P&O Ferries on the Breakfast Show over at Viking FM in Sheffield, I’ve been touched by their pitch perfect reaction to ditch their usual sponsorship credits pushing sales of Easter mini-breaks, by using radio to get their tonality right with a simple switch to “with P&O Ferries – when you’re ready, we’re ready.”


And whilst, without a commercial sponsor (for now), for me, the mass applause, coordinated under the Clap for our carers hashtag on social media, was a beautiful moment, delivered perfectly in the audio arena too.


This showed the power of the medium, when an entire industry comes together, and uses its airwaves to show the country’s gratitude to all the nurses, doctors, GPs and carers working tirelessly to help fight the virus.


This initiative meant that people like my 93 year-old grandad, Bob, who was unable to go outside, could experience the moment and feel like he was thanking the NHS at such a crucial time.

All heard via his smart-speaker in his front room. Remarkable.


I’d also like to mention Fun Kids, the UK’s always-brilliant children’s radio station for kids, families and parents, run by Folder Media. It has always been a popular listen in our household with my two boys – Henry, 5 and 3 year-old Freddie, and it’s even more of a lifeline right now.


The decision to close schools across the country has been a challenge for working parents, and it’s great to hear that Fun Kids have seen massive audience increases and their new daily podcast for children called Stuck at Home deserves to be a big commercial hit too.


And what is your prediction for the future of audio and how it will come out of this?

Firstly, whilst not in the commercial arena, I believe that we will see a new-found appreciation for the BBC when this is all over. Their radio stations are doing a great job of staying live and local and providing a lifeline to those people in need – and their myth-busting messaging around the virus has been a vital service to ensure that the right messages reach mass audiences at the right time.


Secondly, more than ever, we have seen that the future of audio is omni-present. Home, Work, Play – it’s there with you – and the mass adoption of voice assistants, music streaming, podcasts and other forms of audio entertainment provides massive opportunities for content teams like ours to develop sonic branding or immersive experience unlike anything ever experienced before.

We’ve see success in this space from our award-winning Breast Feeding Friend voice skill, where we stepped away from the standard Alexa-voice to a custom real voice that would give us the warmth, trust and human touch required for support.


And finally, I believe that we’ll see the launch of the UKs first mental-health focused radio station. The power of sound to lift our state of mind is proven and it’s been fascinating to see the rise of stations like Scala Radio during the crisis. Launched as a new classical music station in March 2019 -it’s has become the perfect oasis of calm amongst the noise of social media and constant news updates, showing that it’s not just about being entertained or informed, but also about impacting our moods.  The work that Public Health England have done in the past 12 months with us on their Every Mind Matters campaign, seeing a Richard Curtis directed TV ad packed full of celebrities and narrated by members of the royal family, is a great example of content that would lend itself wonderfully well to the power of sound.


Why not go the whole hog and launch a 24/7 radio station that is solely focused on helping our mental wellbeing? Harry and Meghan – The Morning Crew at Breakfast? It works for me.

Rak Patel, Regional Head of Sales UK, Spotify

What has impressed you by how has audio adapted to the current coronavirus situation and what could the industry learn from the example set by audio?

Here at Spotify, we have seen that as people around the world have increasingly moved inside over the past couple of weeks, music and podcast listening has changed in a number of ways. We often say that Spotify reflects what’s going on in culture and we’re certainly seeing that. For example, with fewer people streaming from their cars during their daily commutes and an increase in working from home, more people are streaming across devices like computer desktops, TVs, smart speakers, and gaming consoles. There’s also been an increase in cooking and housework-themed playlists, showing that people are primarily focusing on family and domestic tasks instead of music intended for get-togethers. Self-improvement podcasts (think wellness, meditation) are seeing an uptick as well. We’re seeing lots of additional streaming trends on Spotify based on listening from March 19 to 25, when much of the world had committed to staying home. Interesting fact, streaming of The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” saw more than a 135% spike in streams in recent weeks—an important reminder to keep 6 feet [2 meters] of distance from anyone outside your household.). We have lots more insight on listening trends here.


How has Spotify reacted to the crisis?

In the UK, we have introduced music editorial and ad support for the NHS and the amazing work they are doing to support all of us and keep us going during the COVID-19 crisis. Our goal with this is to be helpful to our NHS and reflect the growing national drive to support them. When cultural events happen – the very things that bring the world together – they are reflected in what we listen to on Spotify. This initiative is to show all NHS workers, as well as key workers and volunteers, that Spotify is dedicated to supporting them during this time, and that we appreciate the tireless work they are doing.


To show our support, we repositioned two of our most popular playlists: Throwback Thursday which was rebranded to Thank You Thursday, and Monday Motivation was also dedicated to the NHS. We are also celebrating NHS staff in our playlist covers and distributing NHS hero messaging via the playlist descriptions, changing each week. We are also supporting the #clapforourcarers campaign through our ad inventory.


Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been identifying ways that Spotify can help make an impact around the world. Spotify has always been focused on creating connections between artists and their fans, using music and podcasts to help break down barriers and build stronger communities. That community of support has never been more important. We have several COVID-19 efforts already underway. We have contributed much-needed funds to the CDC Foundation Emergency Response Fund and the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO so these organizations can: better help communities prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19; deploy emergency staffing; deliver critical home essentials such as food and medical needs to quarantined individuals.


We have launched the Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief project, which recommends verified organisations that offer financial relief to those in the music community most in need around the world. Currently, we’re partnering with MusiCares, PRS Foundation, Help Musicians, Unison Benevolent Fund, and Centre National de la Musique, and are looking forward to adding more partners worldwide. Spotify is making a donation to these organisations and will match donations made via the Spotify COVID-19 Music Relief page dollar-for-dollar up to a total Spotify contribution of $10 million.


We’ve launched a CPVID-19 hub to consolidate relevant news and information about the pandemic and its impact, and we’re making ad space available to government and non profits for health and safety PSAs. And for our own team, all of our employees will work from home for as long as necessary; we’re supplying needed office equipment for employees while they work from home, and we’re fostering community among our employees through virtual events and activities.


What has been your favourite piece of audio advertising during this period?

Not an audio advert but an audio campaign nonetheless: we have been so inspired and impressed by the Clap For Our Carers campaign which began on Thursday 26th March and is now running every Thursday across the country. The fact that it was the idea of just one person, Annemarie Plas, that the whole nation has now got behind is such a powerful indicator of how people can come together in solidarity in times of crisis. To show our support for the campaign, we’re leveraging our own audio headliner package to join the nation in coming together as one to show our support, thanks and appreciation for every key worker and volunteer that is putting themselves on the frontline to keep us going through this crisis. We are providing “reminder”-style ad creatives from 12pm-7.59pm as well as a clapping creative from 8pm-8:15pm each Thursday.


And what is your prediction for the future of audio and how the landscape might differ after this?

We’re resilient and when it comes to audio, now more than ever brands are starting to think about how audio, combined with changes in people’s behaviours and patterns as they stay at home, can be tailored to their specific needs.

Howard Bareham, Co-Founder, Trisonic

What has impressed you by how has audio adapted to the current coronavirus situation and what could the industry learn from the example set by audio?

Undoubtedly this crisis has been a challenge for the whole audio industry.  We are all having to work differently and it’s a huge credit to the industry that the whole market has been able to provide uninterrupted coverage – a huge technical feat, with many presenters at home and contributions coming from multiple locations.


What has impressed us is how the commercial news and speech stations have excelled at providing balanced reporting of the current situation and have become a portal for accurate information. They have been second to none at deciphering the government measures and support for individuals and businesses and helping with medical advice. For example, they’ve been running phone-ins across shows with experts from a chosen sector on hand, giving an outlet for listeners to share their personnel experiences, good and bad.  In some instances, the Nick Ferrari LBC Breakfast Show has taken up individual cases with the relevant authorities.


The medium is on its own here with the ability and the level at which it can involve members of the public on a personal level and provide the in-depth news analysis simultaneously.


How have you reacted to the crisis?

Like most companies we are working from home, and are able to offer agencies and advertisers full access to our buying and production expertise and tools.  Recording sessions are being conducted ‘down the line’, but all the necessary technology was already in place and this is established practice for us, so there has been no interruption in services.



What has been your favourite piece of audio advertising during this period?

We haven’t heard anything that stands out.  However, a number of brands have been using the medium’s strengths with fast turnaround tactical messaging.   Most, though, have been straight announcements so not outstanding from a creative perspective.


And what is your prediction for the future of audio and how it will come out of this?

The latest streaming numbers released are showing that radio and audio listening is up across the board. Given the self-isolation policy it’s to be expected, and we know from the Radiocentre Breaking News Report 2017 that radio is the most trusted source for national news.


We also know that people turn to radio music services to brighten up their day and provide entertainment. In terms of the wider research of the market then RAJAR Q1 is in mid-May and it will be interesting to see if this listening is captured across the board given the whole period it accounts for and the difficulties of conducting research during March.


More broadly we expect there to be discovery of new forms of audio, from podcasts through to music streaming services, and people listening to a wider repertoire of stations across all audio platforms to continue.


The standout winners we think will be the news services, where the streaming figures show they have had a bigger increase than other formats. Across the board it’s the industry challenge to hold on to as much listening as possible once lifestyle patterns change… and time alone will tell whether advertisers tune in with ad dollars as much as the population has over the last few weeks…

George Seed, VP Product, Cavai

What has impressed you by how audio has adapted to the current coronavirus situation and what could the industry learn from the example set by audio?
With everyone spending longer indoors, long form has become king. Be it a podcast or Radio, there’s never been a larger audience to listen to your brands messaging and this has been a standout positive in the last few weeks.


How have they reacted to the crisis?  
While it is true that  traditional audio has responded well, it is also true that voice search like Alexa has become  the perfect tool to spread a message to your audience during the lockdown; allowing not just one way messaging but two way communication at a time when people are craving new interactions.

What has been your favourite piece of audio advertising during this period?  
PG Tips game out quickly with an audio campaign around #cuppatogether encouraging us to have a cup of tea over Facetime/Zoom etc. It was the immediacy of the campaign that was impressive, married with a spot on and highly relatable message.

And what is your prediction for the future of audio and how it will come out of this?  

The future of audio will be the combination of engaging content with a unique interaction point. Audio chatbots, quizzes, and informational content are all prime examples of what will undoubtedly come out in abundance.