Credit: Illustration: Tisi

In the fourth quarter of 2008, when banks tanked and Wall Street wobbled, West Coast Vinyl, a Portland, Ore., window replacement company, pulled its radio ads off the air. They stayed off, general manager Roland Constantineau says, because "there were too many other things preoccupying people."

But last summer the company was back with the chatty, captivating radio ads (hear them at that generate anywhere from 10% to 18% of its leads.

Many home improvement companies view radio warily. They fear that lots of cash can be consumed with little or no business to show for it. And those with experience say that the wrong message, station, time, or rate can make that fear a reality. Thinking about radio advertising? Here are some things to consider:

  • What's your purpose? Do you want to drive Web traffic, make the phone ring, or both? If both, you'll probably need longer spots. WeatherTite Windows, in Ohio, regularly augments call-in spots by owner Merv Hollander with offers such as its "Maniac Mondays," tied to specials out of its showroom. Offers, Hollander says, need to be "serious and substantial."
  • What's your hook? Windowizards, the Philadelphia window replacement company, uses goofy scripts, such as its send-up of Gone With the Wind, to capture attention. Without a visual element to lock onto, your script must not only get listeners' attention but give them a reason to remember your name and seek you out.
  • Prepare to persevere. Unless you're extraordinarily lucky, one round of radio commercials will go largely unnoticed by listeners. Multiple ads on multiple stations at different times of day yield best results.
  • Find a formula. Chash Giovenco, marketing manager for All County Exteriors, in New Jersey, says that sponsorship ads ? particularly ads sponsoring the local weather report ? and contests give the company top-of-mind awareness among New Jersey listeners.
  • Be yourself. If you're looking for a medium that allows you to be yourself, radio is perfect. Windowizards president David Goodman, a one-time marketing major, writes his own scripts and delivers them himself. "It's not for the ego," he says. "It builds credibility and ties in with who you are."
  • Measure response. A common complaint about radio advertising is that it's difficult to pin down your return on investment. West Coast Vinyl uses a marketing service to track inbound calls for each station it uses, "So we can get a better data set," Constantineau says.
Radio can build awareness like no other medium. And that lack of visual can work to your advantage. "My daughter tells me I have a great radio face," Hollander says.