PR TECHNIQUE - RADIO PROMOTIONS: Winning over radiostations - Getting radio airtime requires being creative yet flexible,and persistent yet patient. A hot-ticket prize to give away won't hurteither

You've heard the spiel: Be the tenth caller and win concert tickets, or maybe even a trip to Florida. Radio promotions are an everyday occurrence in virtually every market, big or small. But despite their prevalence, a well-fashioned campaign still earns low-cost airtime, and remains an effective way to reach a target demographic. And no matter how many times they've heard the pitch, listeners still love the chance to win - whatever the prize may be.

You've heard the spiel: Be the tenth caller and win concert tickets, or maybe even a trip to Florida. Radio promotions are an everyday occurrence in virtually every market, big or small. But despite their prevalence, a well-fashioned campaign still earns low-cost airtime, and remains an effective way to reach a target demographic. And no matter how many times they've heard the pitch, listeners still love the chance to win - whatever the prize may be.

While radio promotions may seem like a cut-and-paste business, scoring a slot on the big stations in major markets requires creativity, patience, and connections. The fax machines in promotions directors' offices supply an endless stream of possible prize packages from eager PR pros. That means that a free baseball cap from your fertilizer-manufacturing client isn't going to grab their attention. But even the stinkiest company can wage a successful radio campaign - with the right ingredients.

Aiming to get your promotion on the largest station in the top market may seem like a no-brainer tactic, but you may be creating more work for fewer payoffs.

The big players are inundated with offers for freebies and potential stories.

Often, targeting a smaller station with a more desirable demographic can mean not only gaining more on-air promotion time from DJs with fewer freebies to give away, but also reaching the right consumers. "Radio stations are as individual as people are,

points out LA PR pro Michael Levine, who hosted his own talk show. "Know your market; know who you're trying to target."

Unlike print journalists, who won't return your calls if they find out you're passing out your story to competing outlets, radio can be more forgiving. It's acceptable to offer up your prize package or news lead to more than one outlet in a single market so long as you're up-front about who else has it, says Tammy Van Donselaar, VP of radio campaign producer North American Network. But don't be too quick to e-mail the idea to every station in the tristate area. Many promotion directors are drawn to exclusives. Promising your client's goods to only a single station can be the deal maker - but just make sure it's worth your commitment.

Creating a prize package is becoming a necessity for giveaways, unless your solo freebie is a very valuable or hot item - such as tickets to see Madonna. If you're offering up less than Mrs. Ritchie, make it a fun and useable mix. "Campaigns that are too traditional just don't inspire much passion,

cautions Levine. "We're living in an age of data clutter."

Try to find an unusual or unique angle so that the giveaway is timely or different, and make it an easy sell by providing all the information they need - including the contest.

Van Donselaar cites her recent efforts for the launch of Bird's Eye Simply Grillin' vegetables as an example. The radio promotion was tied to football season and tailgating parties in 20 markets where the sport is popular.

Bird's Eye wanted to give away samples of its new healthy veggies - perfect for grilling - and coupons for a free one-year supply. Knowing stations weren't likely to jump at bags of eggplant, North American Networks and PR agency Kramer Krasselt added in an apron and a charcoal grill with a Bird's Eye logo. Then they created two options for how to give away the package: either a call-in with the best tailgating story, or a football trivia contest, with the questions and answers provided to stations. The promotion cost about $10,000, but was so successful that it garnered about $70,000 in comparable airtime.

But, cautions Katherine Worthen of San Francisco-based Connect PR, don't be too pushy with ideas - make sure you present them as suggestions so as not to offend the station's creative team. Often, "they already have their giveaways in mind. They already have their contests set up,

says Worthen. "Sometimes it doesn't have anything to do with the product."

So you sent your pitch and the station loves it. Send out the prize package and wait for the results? Bad move. Stations "get really excited over a freebie, but then they get busy and it doesn't air,

warns Van Donselaar.

Before handing over the goods, say the experts, get a confirmation in writing of what the station will do for you. This can be a simple fax-back form signed by the promotions director, outlining how the product will be discussed, a time frame for the promotion to occur, the promise of an "air check

(a tape with samples of DJs doing the actual promotion), and how much the airtime is worth. This not only gives you security that you'll get airtime, but the client will get the air check, and will be thrilled to hear the results of your hard work.

Not every radio pitch involves a prize, of course. Selling a news story to a station is its own art, but with many of the same rules of creativity and connections. The number-one obstacle for pitching these ideas is reaching the right person. Radio stations have notoriously high turnover rates, especially in promotions, and often employees work part-time or odd hours.

This makes relationship building an essential tool, so that not only do you know the right person to approach, but they'll know you well enough to return the call. While the proper target at a local station might be a news director, remember that many shows are syndicated in multiple markets, meaning you need to track down the producer.

Once you have the decision-maker, be sure the pitch is relevant. "The most successful campaigns are those that are going to resonate with the listeners,

explains Worthen, who pitches stories to hi-tech talk shows for client Symantec. "These radio guys are all very friendly, and very eager to hear about new products. But they are going to be very conscious of what their listeners want to hear."

Which means you need to be conscientious of what you say.

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