PR TECHNIQUE: ANRs - Getting a hit on the radio

Still underutilized by PR pros, radio can be a prime vehicle for pitching news releases. But, as Sara Calabro finds, you can't just take a VNR and adapt it.

Still underutilized by PR pros, radio can be a prime vehicle for pitching news releases. But, as Sara Calabro finds, you can't just take a VNR and adapt it.

Void of visual stimulation, radio has a track record of being overlooked.

"It has always been an underutilized tool for PR people, says Michael Hill, president of News Broadcast Network.

"It's the stepchild of the PR industry, and that's unfortunate. Most people are not aware of the possibilities of radio because it does not have the visual excitement of TV."

With thousands more radio than television stations out there, radio remains a wide-open medium for news. And it has needs all of its own.

An ANR is an entirely different tool to a VNR. While the two are sometimes produced as a package - an ANR often put out as a follow-up to a VNR - even companies that produce both types of release admit that it is essential to consider the two separately.

The majority of radio stations have significantly fewer news people on their teams than television stations, which implies that convenience is key. This does not mean that quality of production and content is likely to slide - quite the opposite. It means that radio stations are more willing to use third-party material than television stations.

It is not uncommon for television producers to drastically change a VNR from its original format. With ANRs, however, material will often be used exactly as it is received, which suggests that content and production need to be top quality.

"I love receiving faxes and sound bites because I can put a complete story together right away, without having to do any searching, says John Moultrie, news director for WGNY-FM in New Windsor, NY.

While the majority of ANRs are sent equipped with sound bites of a prerecorded voice, most radio stations prefer to use only non-voice sound bites, and do a voice-over with their own anchors. This localizes the story, and prevents the station's newscast from sounding disjointed. When an unrecognizable voice suddenly speaks on a station, listeners are quick to assume it is an advertisement, and might start channel surfing.

"Listeners feel they know their local anchors, so they want to hear the news in that voice, says Susan Matthews, president and cofounder of News Generation. "It also makes it look like the reporter went out and got the information themselves."

Equally important is hearing news that is of interest to the station's particular market. "When news is not relevant to your local listeners, it lessens your credibility as a source. People think you had to go away from home to get interesting information, says Moultrie. News Generation, for example, produced an ANR for air bags and seat belts which it distributed around Memorial Day and other high-travel weekends.

To localize the story for individual markets, the release included statistics for each particular area.

The majority of ANR producers and receivers cite newsworthiness as the most important factor in deciding which releases get aired. Aside from having local relevance, ANRs need to be newsworthy - as in not commercial. Too many product mentions start to blur the line between PR and advertising, and for radio stations, between its newscast and a commercial break.

While it would be unrealistic to assume that all ANRs that are aired get there because of altruistic intentions to inform listeners, it is important to at least make it sound that way.

Roberta Facinelli, senior producer at Medialink, highlights an example of how it is possible for PR professionals to do their job of getting client mentions without seeming overly client-driven. "We did an ANR for a yogurt company that was offering free Olympic gear during the Winter Games. We got an athlete to say that it was encouraging to see fans wearing the gear, and that 'by the way,' you can get this clothing if you buy the yogurt. We positioned it as a news story by using a relevant third party."

It is imperative that all ANR producers and distributors develop relationships with stations so reporters trust the material they are being sent. "You get all this information, and you need to decide what makes it to the cutting floor, says Moultrie. "Generally, the stories that make it to air are from people I have developed relationships with."

People working in newsrooms feel a sense of trust when they receive ANRs that are consistently of interest to their listeners. News Generation produced an ANR for breast cancer, for which it targeted contemporary adult radio stations. Lynn Metcalf, EVP and cofounder of the company, says, "These news organizations look at us as a partner. The most flattering thing that can happen is a station sees you as a content provider. It hurts everyone when irrelevant material is sent out."

Once an ANR has managed to get on the air, getting confirmation of placement remains a somewhat gray area. The process of tracking has been aided slightly through satellite feeds, 800 phone numbers, and websites where stations can download ANRs. However, a reliable industry standard for tracking results is not yet in place. While the large number of stations offers great opportunities, it also creates a market that is difficult to measure.

Such a vast industry would require very large sums to set up an error-proof system. The technology exists (music artists have been able to measure how many times their songs air for years), but "there is not the kind of money available in PR or news that there is in music, says Hill. Until there is, the tried-and-tested follow-up call is what most ANR producers will rely on. While a tracking system would alleviate some debates surrounding which ANR producers are getting what results, it would also eliminate the added opportunity for producers to converse and build relationships with people in the newsroom.

TECHNIQUE TIPS
1. Do cultivate relationships with producers, news directors, and
reporters
2. Do your homework to find out the kind of news that stations are
looking for
3. Do make sure your ANRs are newsworthy
1. Don't distribute ANRs that are longer than 60 seconds
2. Don't have more than two product mentions per ANR - it's not a
commercial
3. Don't send an ANR out without informing the station that it is on its
way

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