FOCUS: BROADCAST PR - Learning to love the radio stars/The emergence of a new generation of personality-led radio programmes is challenging the creativity of radio PR people. Tara Nealon reports

Big-name radio personalities are a 1990s phenomenon, wielding far greater power than the old-style disc-jockeys.

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

Talk Radio.

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.


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.


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.


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

Screen’ campaign.

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.

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