Today's 'populist' strategy pays off

BBC Radio 4's Today programme has been spectacularly successful this year, reaching more than seven million listeners a week during the first three months of 2011.

John Humphrys: Today presenter
John Humphrys: Today presenter

That is an increase of 600,000 listeners a week compared with the same period during 2010 - making it even more of a key target for PR professionals.

So why are more and more people tuning in?

The programme has arguably become more populist, with even Katie Price reportedly considered for a guest editor slot.

Editor Ceri Thomas says the editorial range of the programme has grown over time. 'Politics and hard news is obviously central to what we do, but we also thrive on a steady supply of issues and talking points away from the daily news agenda,' he says.

This range and innovation has helped the Today programme gain new listeners, says Melanie Riley, director of Bell Yard Communications.

'Today has been the professional's trusted friend for years - deliberately elite,' she says. 'Impressively, however, it seems to trot along with the times, helping it retain its loyal listeners and gain new devotees.

'Some of its more recent popularity is down to creative thinking by the bosses - the Christmas guest editor slot, bringing in unexpected but high-profile names, has broadened its listener appeal.'

Riley advises PROs to go to a specialist correspondent with a story - then it may feature elsewhere on the BBC too.

She says a Today exclusive is preferable to a national newspaper exclusive, and Paul Hamilton, radio specialist for the TV Consultancy, agrees.

'If you've got a strong news story these guys will be your first point of contact,' he says. 'Today's listenership is sky-high and the presenters will discuss the topic in detail, which is great from a PR perspective. It sets the news agenda for the day.'

He says PROs must be well prepared and respect the programme: 'Try to make sure your story is relevant and not overly commercial - Today will see right through that.'

Yvonne Maher, corporate and financial director at Grayling, argues that radio in general is becoming more important, evidenced by an upsurge in listening figures across the industry.

'The impact of the financial and economic crisis means that what may have been viewed as a specialist and complex area is now mainstream and headline news,' she says. 'Listeners want to know how the Greek debt crisis or the rise in inflation is affecting their everyday lives, or their businesses.'

She says it is important to line up a reputable spokesperson with a different view and insight - and make your pitch succinct and relevant to the news agenda.



Ceri Thomas

Who are Today's listeners?

Our heartland audience is 50-plus, intelligent and engaged with UK and world affairs. What the listeners want is a broad and authoritative news and current affairs programme that entertains and challenges them.

How should PROs get in touch?

The best port of call is the planning desk.

Are there things that PROs should not do?

This might sound blindingly obvious, but it is amazing how often it is neglected: listen to the programme. One would be astonished by how many calls and emails we get offering items that are clearly never going to work for our audience, from PROs who have obviously never listened to the programme.

How does the website fit with the radio content?

The website fulfils two main functions: it is a listen-again service and a place for features that build from items we broadcast on the programme. There is relatively little in the way of exclusive web content.

What are the deadlines?

Flexibility is one of the great beauties of radio. We can literally change the programme at two minutes' notice - and frequently do - or we can work weeks or months ahead for big events.



Listeners: 7.03 million a week (Rajar,Q1, 2011)

Brodcast times: 6am-9am (weekdays); 7am-9am (Saturdays)

Website address:

Website users: 282,288 unique users (BBC)

Did you know? The Today programme was first aired on 28 October, 1957


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