The Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation has been advertising on Fayetteville radio non-stop for 16 years.
“Everything we do on the radio has the sole purpose of cementing our place as a good corporate citizen in the communities we serve,” says Walter White, the company’s Vice President of Corporate Communications. “No other local medium allows us the opportunity to communicate with all of our members so effectively and affordably.”
Lumbee River EMC is a member-owned company, also known as a cooperative, that provides electrical power to residents and small business owners in portions of Cumberland, Robeson, Hoke, and Scotland counties. The cooperative began in 1941 with 409 customers and 491 miles miles of power lines.
Today, Lumbee River EMC brings electricity to more than 250,000 residents along 5600 miles of wire spanning 77,000 poles across those same counties in eastern North Carolina. “If you need electric power in our service area,” says Mr. White, “you need to be a member of the cooperative. Our membership grows 1-2% every year.”
Radio Advertising Allows Discussion of Broader Concepts
Mr. White states his company takes a non-traditional approach to radio advertising. “The reality is we have a captive consumer base for selling electricity. Additionally, one of the key cooperative principles is our commitment to the communities we serve. It is important to us that our membership sees us participating in their lives by investing in the communities where we all live. Radio advertising allows us to speak in this broader concept.”
To fulfill this objective, Mr. White does not purchase typical 60-second commercials like other Fayetteville small business owners. Instead, he invests in radio station events and sponsorships that benefit the cooperative's members. “We will invest in those programs that promote a sense of community or improves the quality of life in the areas we serve,” he says.
“Fayetteville radio stations are the best partners for this approach, “Mr. White says. “The local on-air personalities are like gods in our community. They have earned the trust and reflect the values of their listeners.”
“We can’t depend on options like Pandora, Spotify or social media to help with these sorts of endearvors,” he continues, “because they just don’t have the local presence we need to be successful.
Radio Promotions Must Personally Affect Target Consumers
“When we are presented with radio opportunities, I ask myself, does it personally affect our members? Is it education related? Is it health and welfare related? Is it electricity related? We only move forward if it can fit those criteria,” Mr. White adds.
“One example of the type of programs Lumbee River EMC will invest in,” he says, “is the ‘Robeson County Driven to Excel Program’. We partner with local Fayetteville radio stations to promote academic achievement. Each school year we provide high school seniors with the opportunities to be awarded a new car, laptops and tablets by maintaining strong grades, and exemplary attendance.”
“By investing in local education initiatives like this,” explains Mr. White, “we can improve the quality of our local workforce. This leads to new businesses locating themselves in our service area, which means more members for Lumbee River EMC.”
Mr. White points out that despite the continual increases in membership, “revenues are starting to drop a bit. This is because our members have become much more efficient in their use of electric power. Over the past few years our typical customer has reduced their monthly usage from 1600-kilowatt hours per months to 1300.”
We Can't Do Without Radio Advertising
“To compensate for the revenue drops, we have had to do things a bit differently. But the one thing we can’t afford to do without is our radio advertising,” he says. “Look what happened to Post cereals when they stopped advertising during the great depression.”
Mr. White is referring to an article from The New Yorker magazine where financial columnist James Surowiecki writes, “In the late nineteen-twenties, two companies—Kellogg and Post—dominated the market for packaged cereal. It was still a relatively new market: ready-to-eat cereal had been around for decades, but Americans didn’t see it as a real alternative to oatmeal or cream of wheat until the twenties.”
“So, when the Depression hit, no one knew what would happen to consumer demand. Post did the predictable thing: it reined in expenses and cut back on advertising. But Kellogg doubled its ad budget, moved aggressively into radio advertising, and heavily pushed its new cereal, Rice Krispies. (Snap, Crackle, and Pop first appeared in the thirties.)
“By 1933, even as the economy cratered, Kellogg’s profits had risen almost thirty per cent and it had become what it remains today: the industry’s dominant player.”
Advice For Fayetteville Small Business Owners
Lumbee River EMC counts hundreds of small business owners as members. So, what advice would Mr. White offer to those members about advertising on Fayetteville radio?
“Be sure to clearly define your message,” recommends Mr. White. “Most importantly, be sure to offer your message in a steady diet to your target customers. Make sure you are always advertising. I don’t care if you’re selling cars or plumbing. Lay out your advertising for a year to maintain a constant voice. Advertising on Fayetteville radio is the only medium that allows you to do that.”