Open my eyes! Don’t overlook the radio gal!  And other turn-key promotions

Guest comment by Denise Donohue

Denise Donohue: Open my eyes! Don’t overlook the radio gal! As a busy executive for a large commodity organization, my phone was always ringing, my e-mail bulging.

 I received dozens of calls from TV and radio stations that seemed irrelevant to our promotional strategy, and they went to the bottom of the ‘call return’ list. Usually never to be returned.

Until I got wise to the radio gal. And the radio guy, as it turns out.

Here’s a little back story. Many of us in produce have worked with ad agencies or graphic design firms.

Most of them were agency types unschooled in grocery or the produce business, and they would all recommend putting a brand sticker on the fruit. Or a sign in the produce department. LOL.

If only it were that simple!

Actually, back in the day – it did used to be that simple. In my small city in the 1960s, IGA’s produce aisle was about 12 feet long. Chilled items were on mirror-backed slant tables. Root vegetables, nuts and other shelf-stables were on the opposite side.

Chiquita®, Dole®, Sunkist®, Diamond® and other big names in produce had all manner of kitschy display aids most of which were hung from the ceiling. Blow-up oranges, multi-colored crepe paper swags, and Chiquita® banana lady cut-outs spring to mind.

But the carnival ended 15 or 20 years ago, when produce departments began cultivating a more sleek, sophisticated appearance.

Marketing consultants decreed that all departments from pet food to toys and produce must have the same “feel” across the store. I can’t deny that that’s a good move.

OK, so back to our response to main street art firms and ad agencies: Truth is, it’s getting harder to put up your sign in produce, or to put a clever sticker on a piece of fruit burdened with GTINs.

For that reason, today’s produce shippers, packers and growers are called to be both artistically creative and to adopt innovative approaches to raising awareness in the produce department.

That’s where the radio people come in.

In recent years I got smart and started listening to the radio gals and guys – even though our organization didn’t have a mass media budget.

Salespeople are creative, after all and I needed new ideas.

In one situation, the persistent radio gal wanted – surprise! – to sell us radio. But we didn’t really want radio. Broadcast radio can be one part of a comprehensive promotional budget, but with limited dollars to spend we needed to hone in at the point of sale (POS).

But I’d learned this nugget from the Nielsen Perishables Group: Over 80 percent of decisions to buy produce are made while the shopper is standing in the produce department. Which makes Produce the most important place to influence shoppers’ opinions.

No one driving down the street will hear a radio ad for your fruit – no matter how sumptuous – and turn her car around to head for the nearest produce department.

If, however, she hears your radio ad and it is somehow reinforced by a message when she does shop the produce department, you’ll have at least twice the consumer impressions. And much more opportunity to win the sale.

Thus we said to the radio gal, “We might be inclined to advertise with your retail/grocery partner, but we simply must have something in the store to make it all work for us.”

In this case, the radio gal went to the grocery retailer (Hint: She works with different people than produce buyers) and came back with a deal we couldn’t refuse.

That deal included in-store signage (3 pieces per store), in-store radio for a month, and in-store circular ads – all of which ended up being completed at the retailers’ cost! (It’s true, although rare.)

The value of those POS materials made the five-figure cost of the broadcast radio look like chump change. Of course, we took the deal! The broadcast radio helped us achieve gravitas with out-of-store and in-store elements.

The campaign was a win-win-win for the produce commodity, the retail grocery chain – and our new BFF, the radio gal.

The radio guy? Well, that’s another story for another time.


Denise Donohue, former executive director of the Lansing, Mich.-based Michigan Apple Committee, nows offers marketing services through Donohue Associates. DeWitt, Mich. She can be reached at 517- 282-5742 and