Before I launch into an essay about why radio PR is so different, and why there is a need for a specialist agency, it's worth investigating whether radio is still relevant in the second decade of the 21st century. Although invented in the 19th century, the first BBC stations, as we know them today, started broadcasting in 1967, while commercial radio followed in 1973. So as an industry, it hasn't even turned 40 - and there's no sign of a midlife crisis. Radio listenership is at an all-time high, with Radio Joint Audience Research figures showing 91 per cent of the population listens every week for an average of 23 hours. But why is there a need for a radio PR specialist?
Industry knowledge: The radio industry has changed beyond recognition over the past ten years. Major groups such as Capital, GWR and Emap no longer exist and local independent stations have transformed into national brands such as Heart. There are more community stations, the BBC has fewer resources and tighter editorial guidelines, and the larger commercial stations are networking more than ever. Additionally, because Ofcom has relaxed several rules, many regional stations are not even broadcasting from the same area as their audience. A specialist knows how to exploit these changes to benefit clients.
Relationships: Who you need to influence depends on the station, campaign objectives and content on offer. In commercial radio, you mainly need to speak to newsrooms; in regional radio, it is the BBC's producers; and in community radio, it's the presenters themselves. There are more than 500 stations across the UK, each with its own format and audience. So the easiest way to damage relationships is to keep offering unsuitable content.
Content needs: The type of content that stations need has changed. The BBC always wants interesting guests to interview, but since the scandals in 2007, is not running competitions. Commercial newsrooms have shorter and less frequent bulletins and rarely interview guests. A large commercial station may have fewer than 15 minutes of news output a day, so only the best content will make the cut. Local and community stations are often under-resourced and desperately need relevant content. A radio PR specialist will have former radio journalists creating the content and leveraging relationships to maximise coverage.
Technical competence: A popular way to secure radio coverage is through interviews. While some stations will take an interview over the phone, the BBC and commercial stations generally require studio-quality audio. We encourage clients that are serious about radio to invest in an ISDN studio. We have a client in Edinburgh that regularly secures Sky News interviews because it can have a spokesperson on an ISDN line quicker than its competitors.
Tracking and evaluation: Radio is often overlooked because,as a real-time medium, it is far more difficult to track and evaluate. We have a bespoke system that enables us to build comprehensive coverage reports for each campaign, covering everything from audience reach to rate-card equivalent and regional analysis. Once our clients can compare the value of radio coverage with other PR activity, they have a predisposition to want to do more.
In summary, a specialist should be able to secure coverage that you can't yourself. But knowledge, relationships and technical competence are not enough - with radio, content is king.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?
Inception. We often need to secure coverage for a campaign that is already in motion. In many cases, these campaigns don't transfer directly to radio, so we have to go back to the root of the idea and follow it through with only radio in mind. Every great campaign starts with just the seed of an idea.
Specialist journalists make the best specialist PROs. True or false?
True. We recently hired the former head of news from the largest commercial radio group, and his input has massively affected the coverage we secure on high-profile BBC and commercial stations.