On the scale of PROs' preferred media, radio tends to be the poor
relation, an afterthought to print, TV and online channels. So what then
of regional radio, with its focus on all things local, from traffic
reports to phone-ins?
With the PR industry's hefty bias towards London most PROs think of
radio PR in terms of scoring coverage on national stations - the BBC or
the likes of talkSport, Classic FM and Virgin Radio.
But while clients may be impressed by spokespeople chatting up Sara Cox
on Radio 1 or Henry Kelly on Classic FM, there are whole swathes of
customers who prefer tuning in to their local radio presenter.
Indeed, the evidence suggests that local radio consumption in each area
of the UK compares very favourably with national consumption. According
to the latest Quarterly Summary of Radio Listening report from RAJAR,
the weekly reach of local commercial stations is a whopping 27.4
million, while BBC local and regional stations reach 10.5 million.
'There are a lot of people who listen solely to local radio and some
stations reach 25 to 30 per cent of the people living in their area.
PROs who ignore the regional medium are missing out on a whole chunk of
the UK population,' says EMR client services director Jon Trigg.
As a uniquely intimate medium, radio is positioned as the listeners'
friend, the familiar and trustworthy voice that accompanies the many
routine tasks of the day. With local radio stations, this buy-in is even
greater, as presenters talk about the events and places that their
listeners know and can relate to.
'If some guy who you've seen broadcasting in the local shopping mall
tells you about a really great nightclub for example, then you're going
to believe him,' says Trigg. 'It's all about the power of endorsement,
and people tend to have a lot more affinity with those radio presenters
who are a recognisable part of their local community.'
The other main advantage of promoting stories on local radio is that
compared with the pressures and time constraints of national radio, the
ambience can seem relaxed.
'Local radio presenters tend to be more friendly and amenable to
in-depth or chatty interviews,' says Steve Levinson, HBL Media director
of broadcasting and former Channel 4 News economics correspondent.
Levinson's organisation recently organised a campaign for Barclays
Business Banking around a survey revealing that one in seven new
businesses were set up by the over-50s, thereby coining the phrase the
Alongside TV coverage, this was sold in to regional radio stations on
the basis of local case studies, including a London-based florist in the
south-east, an e-business consultant in the Anglia region and a
packaging expert in the Bradford area.
This strategy resulted in 49 separate pieces of regional radio coverage
across the UK, from BBC Radio Cornwall to Forth Radio FM in
'The stations were really up for what we had to say because we were able
to give them a strong local story,' says Levinson.
In fact, the cheering news is that an increasing number of PROs are
starting to realise the importance of regional radio and are
understanding the necessity of tailoring information to local
'More and more PROs are providing regional information these days around
research and surveys that they've commissioned. That alone shows they
are understanding the fact that they are dealing with a medium that
covers local issues and how those issues relate to its listeners,' says
Karen Brooks, director of editorial services at radio PR specialist
Market Tiers 4DC.
However, the medium does still suffer at the hands of those who fail to
look beyond the geographical boundaries to uncover the factors around a
station's output or listener profile. 'If you are a London PRO, do you
know how popular or what kind of information the BBC local station in
each region uses during the various times of the day, in what context
and which format?' asks Brooks.
In addition, commercial stations are often restricted by their Radio
Authority-awarded licences, and may as a consequence be quite light on
chat, or only pump out Asian or Christian content. Alternatively
stations might appeal to diverse groups at different times. A station
can attract housewives during the daytime, but take on cult status with
students and clubbers come the early hours of the morning.
'You've got to research what each station is about and be sure to
approach right people,' says Trigg. 'And it helps if you're prepared to
slot your story in between a recipe for spotted dick and a phone-in on
erectile dysfunction,' he adds.
In May, Manchester 2002 set about mustering 15,000 volunteers for next
year's XVII Commonwealth Games. With vacant positions ranging from
accommodation officers and interpreters to caterers, couriers, drivers
and first aiders, the message it wanted to get across was: 'You don't
need to be an athlete to take part in the 2002 Commonwealth Games.'
However, with volunteers needing to be within easy commuting distance of
Manchester, regional radio was the ideal medium to reach people from all
walks of life across the north of England.
Through Market Tiers 4DC, a series of ISDN interviews, both live and
pre-recorded, were set up with speech-based and feature-style radio
programmes across Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Cheshire,
Derbyshire and Lancashire. These featured former England hockey player
Jane Sixsmith and Manchester 2002 volunteer manager, Amy
In addition, the PR team targeted the faster-moving breakfast shows
through the fax-wires and provided news-bites for newsrooms.
This strategy enabled Manchester 2002 to start building regional pride
in the forthcoming event and Parish-Rett to position volunteering as a
fantastic opportunity to be part of history and see events from behind
More than 19 stations covered the recruitment launch reaching in excess
of 12.2 million listeners. Although the campaign's success cannot be
measured solely in terms of radio activity, to date, Manchester 2002 has
received more than 10,000 volunteer applications.
Regional radio PR is something of a different animal in Northern Ireland
compared to the rest of the UK.
With commercial stations such as Cool FM offering little scope for
editorial coverage, only BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Radio Foyle and Down Town
Radio (DTR) serve up chat. Unsurprisingly, this talk tends to follow the
news agenda around the troubles and the constantly shifting status of
the National Assembly.
However, radio coverage is possible, as Tesco discovered this summer,
with its campaign to highlight its commitment to local sourcing. Viewed
by some as an interloper from across the water, the supermarket wanted
to fight the misconception that it was overlooking Northern Irish
suppliers and farmers.
Activities took the shape of themed weeks, with special promotions,
demonstrations, tastings and competitions in 33 stores.
The first themed week was a celebration of locally supplied beef and
lamb, during which agriculture minister Brid Rodgers and Tesco Northern
Ireland commercial manager Cliff Kells were interviewed on BBC Radio
Ulster and on DTR.
Here they explained the thinking behind the campaign and outlined
Tesco's new in-store customer signage highlighting a range of fresh
produce from seven local suppliers.
The campaign has since moved forward with a second themed week
celebrating local bakery produce, which Tesco's PR agency Davidson
Cockcroft Partnership promoted with a week-long radio competition.
In a straight-forward phone-in, listeners to Belfast station City Beat
could win £50 vouchers to spend at Tesco supplier bakeries, Ormeau
Bakery and Howell House.
Principal Finance Group (PFG), the venture capital arm of Japanese
investment bank Nomura International, made a £402m bid for
utilities group Hyder.
As this was the first proposed takeover of a Welsh company since the
inauguration of the National Assembly for Wales, many people were unsure
about how the Assembly would fit in to the DTI's consultation
In addition, there was some local resistance to the idea of a London
firm meddling with what at the time constituted Wales' largest
'There was also the big question of who would own Hyder subsidiary Welsh
Water, which made the whole thing highly emotive,' says Mari James,
managing director at GJW Cymru/Wales which handled public affairs around
In fact, PFG was obliged to consult with members of the Assembly. But to
win the public over PFG chief executive Guy Hands decided to undertake a
live interview on BBC Radio Wales' breakfast show, Good Morning
Here he outlined his long-term commitment to the development of Hyder's
business, delivering his message directly to the nation's breakfast
Four months later PFG let its bid lapse, with final victory going to
rival US firm, Western Power Distribution. However, James says: 'That
one interview allowed Hands to cross the Rubicon in terms of acceptance.
People were amazed that a big City financier had bothered to come to
Wales to speak to them directly.'
Morgan's Spiced Gold is a pre-mixed blend of golden rum, spices and
fruit that is currently only available to consumers in Scotland.
This June, brand-owner Seagram asked Leedex Euro RSCG Edinburgh to raise
awareness of the beverage and its 'Bingo, spiced up by Morgan's Spiced
Gold' TV ads among 18 to 25-year-old Scots.
Leedex negotiated an on-air promotion with commercial dance, rock and
entertainment radio station Beat 106, which broadcasts to a target
audience of 18 to 35-year-olds across Edinburgh, Glasgow and central
A week-long competition offering daily prizes of two cases of Morgan's
Spiced Gold encouraged listeners to call in and tell their favourite
spicy tales. The winners were then narrowed down to two finalists, who
battled it out live on-air with a striptease in the studio to win a
branded fridge-full of Morgan's and £500 in prize money.
Over 16 million listeners tuned into the 'spiced up' radio activity,
which took over the entire breakfast show on the last day.
'Morgan's Spiced Gold is a fun, up-for-it drink, and that is what this
activity was all about,' says Seagram brand manager Danielle
'It made people laugh out loud and pick up the phone, but it was also
spot-on for our target market as we could see from its impact on sales
during that period.'
Beat 106, which refuses to divulge whether the striptease actually took
place, was also pleased with the results. 'It was a fun idea that really
delivered on the brand message and tone while appealing to our
listeners,' says Beat sales manager Vicky Pitchers.
Owned by Powergen, East Midlands Electricity, distributes electricity
throughout the East Midlands region. One of its priorities is ensuring
that all customers are aware of the dangers of making contact with
electricity, particularly at high voltages.
This summer, to raise awareness of the injuries and potentially fatal
consequences of electrocution, EME instigated a safety campaign. This
concentrated particularly on children with time off from school, who
were most likely to be outdoors exploring and getting up to
'Accidents can occur for example, when footballs are kicked into
substations and children try to retrieve them, or when carbon-fibre
fishing rods come into contact with overhead lines,' says Powergen
external affairs manager Isobel Hoseason.
EME chose to promote its campaign to parents using local radio as a
means of instigating on-air competitions and interviews with EME head of
safety Paul Smith.
On a budget of £5,000, radio PR specialist EMR offered live-link
interviews and editorial competitions to all the BBC and independent
radio stations in the East Midlands region. This enabled Smith to
discuss electricity safety tips while positioning EME as an
authoritative organisation that offers consumers advice.
The campaign was taken up by radio stations ranging from BBC Radio
Leicester and BBC Radio Northampton to Trent FM, Leicester Sound and
Mansfield FM 103.2, reaching a total estimated audience of 403,135.
'We wanted to promote our safety message in a fun and interesting way
that would encourage families to enjoy the summer holidays, but stay
safe,' says Hoseason. 'We succesfully achieved that with 32 items of
coverage across 17 radio stations, with BBC and independent stations
In January, Grayling PR Bristol was asked to promote a temporary
exhibition of aboriginal art at the British Empire and Commonwealth
Museum (BECM), a new venue located in Bristol Temple Meads.
Seeking to attract people of all ages from across the south-west, the PR
team organised a three-phase programme encompassing the launch period,
half-term for schools and Easter.
To bring the exhibition alive for the broadcast media, the PR team
recruited the talents of Francis Firebrace, an aboriginal master
storyteller from the Yorta Yorta people of Murray River, and Stephen
Boakes, a professional didgeridoo player.
Interviews with Firebrace, Boakes and Mary Ingoldby, the exhibition
education and outreach co-ordinator, ran on stations including BBC Radio
Bristol, Eagle FM, BBC Radio Gloucestershire and Gloucester independent
station, Falcon Radio.
At half-term this interest was supplemented by radio features -
including one half-hour slot - about the exhibition's program of
activities for children, encompassing an art competition and a
However, the radio stations really came into their own during the Easter
period when Grayling organised a city 'walkabout' with Firebrace and
'By Easter, Firebrace had become a local celebrity, so this enabled us
to give the radio broadcasters a new backdrop to what was essentially
the same story,' says Grayling PR account director Helen Tridgell.
The overall PR programme has helped secure £300,000 of funding for
the BECM's education work and created a higher profile for the museum in
the local area. 'Because Firebrace is such an amazing story-teller,
radio was the ideal medium for us to use,' adds Tridgell.