FOCUS: BROADCAST PR - Pumping up the PR volume. The growth of commercial stations means that radio PR opportunities are there for the taking. All it needs is some ingenuity and a lot of perseverance. Nick Purdom reports

There are now more than 250 commercial radio stations in the UK,

but more stations have not necessarily meant more opportunities for

radio PR.

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

Survival Plan.

'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.



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.


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.


- 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

more credible.

- 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.

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