Big-name radio personalities are a 1990s phenomenon, wielding far
greater power than the old-style disc-jockeys.
Audiences nowadays are lured by the likes of Chris Evans and Zoe Ball,
rather than the station itself, presenting new challenges for PR
practitioners trying to get their clients airtime.
Increased availability of band widths has seen the number of radio
stations mushroom in recent years. And as competition increases, so does
the commercial factor.
The old formula for winning airtime - sending out general press releases
- now rarely works. Radio stations are now more likely to charge clients
a fee for promoting a product on air.
’When it comes to acquiring coverage on a celebrity-driven show, the
radio market becomes even more complex,’ says Grant Levy, a director of
broadcast consultancy The Market Tiers . ’A story has to be manufactured
and tailored according to the personality involved.’
When it comes to tailoring a story there is no substitute for meticulous
research, according to Ian Haworth, head of Text 100’s consumer
’PR people have missed out on radio too much,’ he says. ’Now there are
bright PR executives that have new ideas but they know no one inside the
radio stations. They do not know who to target or the station’s target
audience, which is ludicrous.’
Managing director of MacLaurin Communications, Brian MacLaurin
’First and foremost, when targeting a radio station do your homework.
Know the decision makers.’
For the launch of The Science of Sport at London’s Science Museum last
March, MacLaurin Communications’ associate director Richard Knight was
in charge of overseeing press coverage, including radio. He and his team
spent hours researching what science and sport correspondents needed for
coverage. He invited the radio decision makers - such as the sports
department heads - to a preview of the exhibition.
’We treated the radio correspondents as we would have treated the
top-rated newspaper correspondents. We made them feel important,’ says
’They are the decision makers and we asked their advice. PR people tend
to tell radio experts what to do instead of asking them what their needs
A topic which may be of interest to an editorial-based programme may not
be of interest to a music-formatted station. But the same topic can be
approached from different angles to suit the targeted station’s
’The business is based on long-term relationships. It’s about knowing
and understanding the market,’ says MacLaurin. ’You must target the
right person in the right way.’
Levy of The Market Tiers adds that it is not only about targeting the
radio station. ’You need to take into account who is listening, the
age-group, the time of the show and the presenter,’ he says.
’All of these factors are important and ensure that you reach your key
audience, ensuring the most effective and penetrating coverage.’
Targeting the right person may involve contacting the show’s producer or
even contacting the presenter directly, depending on the station.
Countrywide Porter Novelli’s client, video distributor CIC, wanted to
promote a latest Star Trek release, Star Trek First Contact, last
Countrywide discovered that BBC Radio 1 DJ Dave Pearce is a huge Star
Trek fan. They targeted him directly and he decided to run a weekend
talking about Star Trek, which included exclusive merchandise giveaways
and promoted the new video release. It was the biggest editorial
promotion run on BBC Radio 1.
’Personalities have interests just like you and me,’ says Nick Hindle, a
director at Countrywide Porter Novelli. ’For example, Chris Evans is
into fishing. Personalities need to have talking material everyday and
often they talk about their personal interests. If you can play to these
interests, you get a better chance of getting client coverage on
The long-term relationships between broadcast consultancies and radio
stations are based on trust. ’If we feed them bad stories, we have got
to go back to them in the future selling other stories,’ says Greg
Strange, managing director of the Broadcasting Company. ’Radio is a
small world and we can not afford to lose our reputation with the end
Personality-led radio programmes tend to be fun, entertaining and are
often heard at breakfast time. Clients who want coverage should keep
this in mind.
’It does not have to be a fun story but it must be something to have fun
with. It has to catch the mood of the listener,’ says Alan Hardy, head
of Broadcast Services at Two-Ten Communications.
This needs to be taken into account when deciding how to get press
’Think about the programme content and how you would fit your story in
with the structure of the programme,’ he adds. ’Will this story you are
going to offer enhance the programme?’
Some subjects are more suitable for this kind of programme than
’The type of story that works best tends to grab the listener’s
attention instantly by being unexpected, bizarre, funny or incredible
and sometimes all of these things together,’ says Nicky Mayhew, vice
president of Medialink Live, Medialink’s radio and live TV
Even the best of the broadcast consultancies admit it is difficult to
get a client mention, let alone to have it covered editorially. But once
a producer or presenter is hooked, clients have to understand that the
coverage may be used in an entertaining way.
’Clients must be realistic and be prepared to have the story thrown back
at them,’ says Hardy. ’They must accept that the personality is there to
provide laughter and light entertainment.’
Most personality-led stations make it a policy not to e allow any overt
brand promotion. Capital 95.8FM’s station is one such case. Everything,
including press releases, is reviewed by the news department and
producers. Nothing is allowed on air without permission from programme
controller Pete Simmons.
’A story, such as an event, is more likely to be covered if it is not
totally based around a product,’ says Simmons.
Talk Radio, an editorial-based station which is known for getting
publicity for its personality presenters, such as Kirstie Young, Scott
Chisholm and Lorraine Kelly, is against any product association.
’Our presenters are wary of being associated with any particular product
because it would alienate others,’ says Alison Halstead, head of PR at
However, for Virgin Radio’s Chris Evans Breakfast Show, mentioning the
occasional product is not a problem. ’Everything is spur of the moment
with Chris and he’s not totally against mentioning a product,’ says
producer Dan McGrath of Ginger Productions. ’If it is clever and it is
on our wavelength, we’ll cover it.’
If clients are not brave enough to take on Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show
on Virgin Radio or rivals on BBC Radio 1 Zoe Ball and Kevin Greening,
they can aim for coverage through news bulletins or editorial-led
When dealing with a news bulletin or programme, broadcast consultancy
Radio Lynx focuses on trying to get a story run as a final news
This means finding a quirky hook that would enable stations to run it
last, so it could be discussed by the presenter.
’There is growing interaction between personality presenters and news
readers such as (Capital 95.8FM’s) Chris Tarrant and Howard Hughes and
(Virgin Radio’s) Chris Evans and Tina Ritchie,’ says Steve Leavesley,
associate director at Radio Lynx. ’It is quite likely that presenters
will enlarge on either a relevant, fun or bizarre story.’
For editorial-led stations, such as Talk Radio, the type of stories
covered are more likely to be those which allow for debates and calls.
’We are interested in stories which are topical and debatable and which
interest a broad number of people,’ says Halstead.
BBC national and regional stations, which are editorially-led and do not
allow for any open product promotion, also tend to be more accessible
for getting a news-led story covered. But when a personality presenter
involved in the programme is being targeted, it can be just as difficult
as the commercial stations.
But no matter how difficult a market, PR people will have to address the
challenge of personality-led radio.
While a large proportion of radio-orientated PR still involves forming
working relationships with lesser-known regional radio journalists, the
continuing public and media interest in radio stars, such as Ball and
Evans, will undoubtedly continue to fire clients’ desire to be allied
with these big names and the high audience figures they attract.
CASE STUDY: MAKING THE NEWS WITH STOCKING FILLERS
The Christmas period is a busy time for radio as products fight their
way onto the airwaves.
But what about the gifts which are not mentioned, such as lingerie and
body chocolate, which may be considered toorisque to mention on air?
With this in mind, lingerie chain Ann Summers set itself the challenge
of getting some of its best-selling products radio coverage over the
lucrative Christmas period.
Georga Douglas, Ann Summers’ marketing manager, asked The Market Tiers
to publicise some of its best sellers, including lingerie, love oils and
body chocolate, along with a new perfume, Forbidden as well as
reinforcing its increasing high street presence.
’Our objective for this radio campaign was to suggest something
different for a loved one but to also keep promoting the evolution of
the Ann Summers’ brand,’ says director of the Market Tiers Howard Kosky.
’Ann Summers has moved into the mainstream to be positioned as fun,
glamour and sensual, as opposed to being sexual.’
Kosky and his team approached key radio stations and specific programmes
around the UK, taking into account the sensitive subject matter. They
offered interviews with Douglas as well as goody bags to give away in
competitions. Some stations were interested in Ann Summers, although
their format did not allow for interviews.
’With a subject like this you cannot expect to do serious interviews,’
says Kosky. ’It must be light-hearted and able to be laughed at.’ Some
stations, apprehensive of the Ann Summers name, needed gentle coaxing to
run with the story.
Once interest was generated, Kosky followed up and arranged the
He asked individual presenters or producers how far they could go with
the subject matter. Several radio stations drew the line at mentioning
the word ’sex’ but still covered the story.
Just before going on air, Douglas spoke to each presenter to establish
the atmosphere. ’Some of the regional stations were a bit nervous
talking about a risque subject so we had to adjust the discussion each
More than 70 stations either interviewed Douglas or used the goody bags
for competitions over the period of a week. Scot FM, Metro FM, Essex
Radio, Galaxy 101 and Talk Radio were among those which covered the
Douglas tailored the interviews to each station. Each interview was
different and she played to the image of the station - outrageous in
some interviews and funny in others.
She judges her ’radio tour’ a success on the basis of increased Ann
Summers’ Christmas sales and is planning similar coverage for
Valentine’s Day. The secret to the campaign was flexibility. Douglas
listened to each radio station and met its requirements, making herself
available at any time of day.
’If a client limits what he or the time he is available, coverage will
be limited. If you can work on radio’s terms, then radio is willing to
work with you,’ says Kosky.
CASE STUDY: ORANGE GANGS UP TO PROVE TALK IS CHEAP
Subtlety was bottom of hi-tech PR agency Text 100’s agenda when it was
promoting Orange’s mobile phone network and its new product, ’Just
The agency literally harangued its way onto radio stations, in a way
guaranteed to bring the subject to life.
’It was decided that Just Talk’, a pre-paid mobile phone network with no
contacts or credit checks attached, would not appeal to the newspaper
’We were faced with the problem that ’Just Talk’ would not be covered by
the nationals (newspapers) because there was a similar product already
on the market,’ explains Ian Haworth, head of Text 100’s Consumer
’So we came up with the idea of promoting it on the radio in London as a
general publicity stunt.’
Haworth and his team decided to target five stations including Virgin
Radio, Talk Radio, Liberty Radio, BBC’s Greater London Radio (GLR) and
Kiss FM. They omitted Capital 95.8FM and Heart 106.2FM because they knew
that these stations did not accept publicity stunts.
Text 100 hired 60 men and women, dressed them in bright orange-coloured
leotards and orange-coloured and branded puffa jackets along with
matching caps and megaphones. For 20 days, the troupe walked around
London approaching passers-by screaming ’Just Talk’ through their
Of the 60 individuals, some stood outside the selected radio
Two women were posted outside Virgin Radio one morning to wait for DJ
Chris Evans, to arrive for work.
’There is synergy between Orange and Chris Evans because Evans has
orange hair,’ says Haworth. ’The girls were given the brief to be very
bold and brash and specifically very forward, essentially to be like
Evans and his programme.’
When Evans arrived, the women asked if he would give away a ’Just Talk’
phone on the air and Evans invited the women to appear on his Breakfast
When the show started, Evans announced Orange’s slogan, ’The future’s
bright, the future is Orange.’ For one hour, the girls and Evans joked
and Evans mentioned Orange on average every two-to-three minutes.
’It is more than we ever had hoped for,’ said Haworth. ’It worked
because we played to the presenter’s whims.’
The phone give-away promotion was also successful on the other targeted
stations. Liberty Radio did a free one-week promotion with Orange,
giving the phone away at the end of the week. The campaign also received
airtime mentions on the other stations with Heart 106.2FM giving away
its sample phone on its breakfast programme.
CASE STUDY: LYNX MAKES ITS MARK WITH ADDICTION TALE
Placing a news story on a commercial or music-based station often
requires ingenious lateral thinking to ensure that the item does not end
up in the bin.
Even a news story which at first appears lacklustre can become
sensational and quirky when given a twist.
Such a story was broadcast on Radio Lynx last December when Firefly
Communications was publicising text service Reuters’ ’Glued to the
The campaign was based on an independent survey conducted by Reuters,
which revealed that information could be the ’drug of the nineties’. The
report showed the rise of a new generation of dataholics and the linkage
between Internet abuse, data accumulation and information addiction.
Radio Lynx sent the ideas to its radio contacts around the country,
which included BBC and commercial stations. ’We sent releases out to
stations covering both (editorial and commercial) bases,’ says Radio
Lynx’s associate director Steve Leavesley. ’We leave it up to the
stations to decide in which environment it belongs.’
Radio Lynx also made interviews available with Reuters’ spokesman Paul
Waddington and with a leading addiction psychologist Dr Mark
But the hook was in the story itself. ’Are we becoming a nation of news
junkies? Can we do without our mobile phones, faxes and the Internet?’
asks Leavesley. ’This story allowed radio stations access to a subject
in which the information is not widely available to the public.’
Radio Lynx knew the dangers of placing the story near the Christmas
period because the holiday season was on the minds of the presenters and
the audience, but the conusltancy was confident that a story with a
difference would catch the radio stations’ attention.
’Even with the Christmas hysteria, it was a story which was more than a
news angle. It was a story which evoked discussion,’ says Leavesley.
Many commercial and BBC stations placed it as a final news item, which
left a topic to ’hand over’ from the news reader to the presenter.
During the campaign, it was mentioned by many presenters either as a
sideline or a serious comment.
The item was covered by 26 national and regional stations, including
Radio 4’s Today, Radio 5 Live, Independent Radio News and London’s Talk
Radio and Capital 95.8 FM.