There are now more than 250 commercial radio stations in the UK,
but more stations have not necessarily meant more opportunities for
Regulatory changes in the 1990 Broadcasting Act allowed large groups to
own many stations, and over the last decade groups such as GWR, Capital
and emap (see panel, p13) have been buying stations across the country
to build up their media presence.
One consequence of the growth of large media groups has been the
networked show. 'Stations owned by big groups are having more and more
of their programming centralised, with programmes syndicated across the
group to enable the stations to deliver bigger names and shows,'
explains Jon Trigg, client services director at radio specialist
Radio groups have also opted for increasingly music-led programming to
deliver the mass audiences that advertisers require, with speech cut to
a minimum. On many stations the only opportunity for PROs to place
material is the one or two minute news bulletin on the hour.
Specialist programming on the big commercial stations is almost
For instance, 'Since taking over the Century network, the Capital Radio
Group has shown that it is willing to sacrifice some of its specialist
programmes with the business programme on Century 102 swiftly being cut
from the schedules,' comments Market Tiers 4DC marketing manager Simon
But it is not all doom and gloom for radio PR. 'Smaller independent
stations, stations owned by smaller groups or many second-tier stations
are finding their point of difference by having higher speech content,
but the speech will almost certainly be fiercely local,' says Trigg.
Among these are Rutland Radio, which has DIY, gardening and book review
slots, and South Wales' newest regional station, Real Radio, which is
competing with music-intensive local rivals Red Dragon and Galaxy 101 by
placing a greater emphasis on speech.
Steve Leavesley, associate director at radio PR specialist Radio Lynx,
feels the result of stations' 'more music, less talk' approach is that
they are less cluttered and have cut unnecessary chatter.
'Any attempt to gain coverage needs to be much more focused and
relevant. Stations will take the strong items, but will file weak
releases and syndicated tapes in the bin,' he says.
Syndicated tapes, or audio news releases, have traditionally been a
major weapon in the armoury of radio PR consultants but many in the
industry feel they no longer have a place. Leavesley believes stations
are becoming more sophisticated and selective in their programming and
are looking for compelling content that sets them apart. As most
stations' biggest USP is their regional positioning, syndicated material
falls down on this count as well.
However, PR Newswire head of broadcast services Alan Hardy argues that
there is still a place for ANRs on smaller stations which don't have the
resources of larger stations and may have more specialist
'ANRs still work and we still offer them to our clients, but they have
to realise they are used by the smaller to medium-sized stations,' he
Despite the changes in the structure of the radio industry, many believe
that the key to successful radio PR remains the same. 'I've stuck with
the tried and tested technique of targeting, research, tailoring and
selling in,' says Text 100 associate director Simi Belo.
Understanding the show, and individual presenters' preferences, can be
all important. 'I've had a lot of success in the past with publicising
video games on morning programmes like Bam Bam's breakfast show on Kiss
FM,' says Belo. 'He was so happy to receive the precise types of games
he was into, he even took a few moments to thank me on air.'
The other traditional radio PR favourite, the live link interview, is
still very much alive and well. But the key to success is again precise
targeting and relevance. 'If you can offer something relevant to the
audience, a guest or topic that will enhance the programme, stations
will willingly use down the line interviews,' says Hardy.
One of the overriding tips for successfully selling in interviews,
however, is not making them overtly commercial. Medialink got over this
problem in a story about chocolate company Guylan funding research into
sea horses at London Zoo by using an independent spokesperson.
Medialink head of radio Nick Hirst targeted stations where listeners
lived within driving distance of the sea, and used the sea as a hook for
the story. The story reached more than two million listeners. 'For a
small, low-cost project this was a very good take up,' says Hirst.
Live link interviews are still a useful tactic in getting radio
coverage, but with the challenges now facing radio PRs, they are only
part of a fully-fledged radio strategy.
'Radio PR has moved beyond the interview,' says Sanders. 'To secure
maximum coverage these days you have to look at all the routes to on-air
coverage. We use audio features, newsbites, editorial competitions, and
coverage in our monthly Q Sheet magazine, which covers what happened on
this day in history and famous birthdays.'
Providing a useful 'bible' for DJs is also a tactic used by emr, which
produces x-trax magazine to mix trivia and snippets from clients'
Tailoring content, creating newsbites to fit short-time slots, and
providing outside broadcast facilities to assist stations with limited
resources are all recognised editorial activities, but increasingly to
get on air, brands are having to pay.
'Radio PR has moved beyond editorial. Paid-for coverage offers a route
to sustained and guaranteed coverage and many PR companies have embraced
the opportunities with tactical sponsored promotions, advertorials, and
sponsored programmes,' says Sanders.
It is still possible to get competitions on air without paying for the
privilege, but these tend to be for lower value prizes. 'Commercial
radio being commercial, when they see a reasonable opportunity they will
charge you for it,' observes Hardy.
But competitions are attractive to both the PR community and
'Editorial competitions and giveaways give us access to stations with
very little speech content, and presenters love them because they keep
listeners tuned in,' says Trigg.
Radio Lynx uses the phrase 'radvertorial' to describe the sponsored
radio editorial service it provides to clients. 'Radvertorials allow
clients to own the education and advice on various topics,' explains
The consultancy has created a series of short features for stations,
each lasting no more than 60 seconds. Examples include Energy Efficiency
with Powergen, Quaker Well-being Week, and the Zantac 75 Seasonal
'Sponsorship and promotions are the fastest growing area of commercial
radio. This is what more and more clients are looking at, so if PR
agencies are not putting these plans forward then they are missing a
trick,' believes Oliver Russell, Market Tiers director of commercial
But Leavesley advises: 'If a suitable opportunity does not exist, don't
just sponsor anything - look at creating a bespoke property with the
station.' Radio Lynx has created several sponsorships for clients,
including the PPP Minute Clinic, and Around the World in 60 Seconds with
British Airways on Virgin Radio.
As the industry becomes increasingly commercial, broadcast consultants
are still optimistic about the future. Getting coverage may now require
more effort and ingenuity, but the rewards are there for those who
And the advent of digital radio offers exciting opportunities in the
future and the prospect of more specialist programmes. The broadcast
specialists who are going to be successful are those that are receptive
to the changes ahead.
CASE STUDY - Cathay Pacific puts Hong Kong firmly on the map
emr was briefed by airline Cathay Pacific to raise awareness on radio of
the fact that it has more flights from the UK to Hong Kong than any
other airline, and to promote Hong Kong as a fun, vibrant place which is
not as expensive as many people imagine.
Cathay Pacific wanted to reach as wide a target audience as possible,
and to achieve this emr recommended using a variety of techniques that
would appeal to a wide range of stations. To spread coverage over a
longer period and make the greatest impact, it was also decided to
stagger the use of these techniques rather than using them all
The campaign got underway in August with a competition in emr's monthly
magazine x-trax, which is sent to every radio station in the
The competition offered stations leather travel bags and clocks in the
shape of a plane to give away to listeners, and a list of questions
relating to Hong Kong so stations didn't have to do their own research.
Unlike many competition giveaways, emr did not pay stations to run the
In September the emphasis switched to live link interviews, which were
sold in by the radio liaison team. Cathay Pacific sales and marketing
manager Nula Stahlmann was briefed by emr to conduct interviews with a
range of stations, which had been supplied with a list of five suitable
questions so that again it was unnecessary for them to conduct their own
research. She was introduced as a travel expert, and advised by emr to
keep branding down to one mention per interview so as not to alienate
stations and the audience.
The October issue of x-trax magazine carried a 'Globetrotter' feature on
Hong Kong. This gave information on things to do in Hong Kong, where to
stay, hot tips and vital statistics. Cathay Pacific branding was again
subtle and limited to one mention so that stations could present the
information without it appearing like a blatant plug.
Globetrotter was also presented as an audio feature by emr and sent on
CD to around 40 subscribing stations. The advantage for Cathay Pacific
in presenting material in this way was that it couldn't be edited so it
gave more control over the way the message was presented.
Measurement of the campaign by emr shows that so far more than 180 items
of coverage totalling 12.5 hours have been achieved on a range of
independent and BBC stations throughout the UK, reaching a combined
audience of over 1.5 million.
The competition was used by several BBC stations including Merseyside,
Oxford and Berkshire, as well as by commercial stations such as Essex FM
and Metro Radio.
TOP COMMERCIAL RADIO GROUPS
Operates 19 stations in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Oxford, Kent,
Sussex, Hampshire, North East, North West, and East Midlands playing
predominantly chart music and national/local news. Stations include
Capital FM in London and BRMB in the Midlands. Recently acquired the
Century FM network in the East Midlands and North West, and Beat 106 in
Launched national digital station Life in January 2000, and local
digital stations in London, Birmingham and Manchester in June.
Operates two brands. Heart plays contemporary music in the West Midlands
and Greater London. Galaxy plays dance and rhythmic chart music,
broadcasting from five stations to South Wales and the South West,
Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Yorkshire and the North East.
Brands include Kiss in London playing mainly mainstream dance music, the
Big City network playing dance and pop music, and the Magic network
playing mainly former chart hits and ballads. Magic and Big City cover
the North West, North East and Yorkshire.
In the past year, emap has won licences for the digital multiplexes in
London, Manchester and Birmingham, and exclusive licences for
multiplexes to launch in Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds, Teeside, South
Yorkshire and Central Lancashire.
Operates the largest national commercial station Classic FM, and 35
local stations with a strong base in the South West and Midlands. Plays
predominantly chart music with national/local news. Has the controlling
share in Digital One, which owns the format and transmission rights to
the UK's seven new national digital stations.
THE WIRELESS GROUP
Bought Talk Radio at the end of 1998 and renamed it Talk Sport last
January. In July 1999 bought The Radio Partnership and eight stations in
the North West and South Wales.
Last December bought Independent Radio Group and its three stations in
Scotland and the North West. Brands include Big, with a rock and sport
format, and The Wave, playing past and current chart hits.
Has recently won London Two and central Scotland digital multiplex
licences, and operates Bloomberg Talk Money service on the national
Digital One multiplex.
TOP TIPS FOR SELLING IN RADIO PR
- Research the stations thoroughly and understand what they are looking
for, and in what form.
- Build a relationship with stations, so that you are in a position to
respond quickly to their needs.
- Localise the angle and information as much as possible. Stations want
stories that will interest their listeners
- Make sure the story is topical - radio wants news.
- Keep the story short and simple, and write cues and sample questions
to make things as easy as possible for producers and presenters.
- Offer interesting interviewees, particularly ones the stations would
have difficulty getting themselves. Independent experts can make a story
- Create stories likely to get the public talking. Many stations
encourage listener response through phone-ins, e-mails, faxes and
- Don't offer thinly veiled ads. Stations rarely cover something that is
simply a product launch. Look for the story behind the story.
- Consider running a promotion or competition. These may have to be paid
for, but they can be enormously successful.
- Consider setting up an outside broadcast from an event so that
stations don't have to send their own reporter.