Radio: Learning the rules of satellite radio

As subscriptions grow and high-profile names sign up, satellite radio is gaining popularity and securing a prominent place in the broadcast PR mix.

As subscriptions grow and high-profile names sign up, satellite radio is gaining popularity and securing a prominent place in the broadcast PR mix.

In the almost four years since it's been introduced, satellite radio has become an increasingly popular option for those who love music, talk radio, or simply a different form of entertainment.

For PR pros, satellite radio means something else: another outlet for a client's message. Yet some in PR are just beginning to navigate the space.

"The PR industry is somewhat myopic when it comes to radio," says Roberta Facinelli, director of radio services at Medialink. "It still only looks at terrestrial radio."

But while satellite radio is still developing, it does offer some significant opportunities. "It's not a medium that's going to be able to be ignored," says Richard Strauss of Strauss Radio Strategies.

Currently, the two players in the space are XM and Sirius. XM, the largest and oldest, began broadcasting in 2001 and currently has 4.4 million subscribers. Chance Patterson, VP of corporate affairs for XM, says the figures break down to approximately two people per subscription, with a good mix of age groups. While two-thirds of the subscribers are men, Patterson says, the female listenership is increasing as more subscribers come from the new-car market.

Sirius, introduced in 2002, currently has 1.8 million subscribers. That base is broad, with a core audience of upscale males, ages 18 to 54. Sirius has made news in the past year for signing such notable hosts as Howard Stern and Martha Stewart.

Although subscribers represent a cross-section of society, most radio PR pros agree that satellite is a good way to reach the 18-to-34 demographic. "If you have an issue that you want to get to young people, using new technologies is the way to do it," says Lynn Harris Medcalf, EVP of News Generation. "It's not the 40-year-old soccer moms who are the new adopters of this technology."

Tammy Lemley, VP at North American Network, agrees that satellite radio offers an outlet to an educated, technically savvy consumer. "When you get a placement on satellite radio, you're reaching a niche audience," she says.

One thing common to both satellite radio providers is the diversity of stations; there are commercial-free music stations, as well as news, sports, entertainment, and traffic channels. On the news side, there are many programs and channels that are rebroadcast from terrestrial radio. For example, CNN and ABC News come directly from the network. In addition, some Air America shows are rebroadcast or simulcast on satellite.

Even though such programs don't represent brand-new opportunities for PR pros, it's important to be aware of the shows that are rebroadcast or simulcast on satellite because it provides further exposure for the client. "It's a bonus for PR professionals to know who's on satellite radio," Strauss says. Facinelli also suggests that this awareness maximizes results.

"If you are really astute about where you place your ANR ... each ANR gets multiple plays per day on all these different formats," she says.

Perhaps the biggest difference between terrestrial and satellite radio is the ability to quantify listeners for certain programs. The satellite radio industry does not have the equivalent to Arbitron ratings, so providing clients with a measure of how many people heard their message is almost impossible. Facinelli says it is more important for PR professionals to convey to their clients that the number of different platforms for their message is the real benefit. "[Lack of measurement] is a problem for an industry that likes to justify what it does by the numbers," she says. "The most important thing is the re-education of the industry."

Although satellite music stations are commercial-free, there is a huge opportunity for music, entertainment, and sports figures. Steve Leeds, VP of talent and industry affairs for Sirius, says it is possible for such guests to make the rounds at the company's different channels. "We have so many different places that an artist can go," he says. "The bulk of our music channels have platforms for artists that fit that genre." He adds that there are many PR avenues. "The opportunities are expanding constantly and daily," he says. "Look at some of the opportunities as an empty palette, and tell us how you want to paint that picture."

Because so many channels are specialized - XM offers two NASCAR channels, while Sirius boasts a gay and lesbian station - pitches can be very specific. And because there are no commercials, the channels can dedicate more time to programming. As a result, Lemley says, interviews on satellite can run as long as 20 minutes. "If you can present interview opportunities with guests that they're excited about, they'll give you a significant amount of time," she says.

Strauss agrees that the opportunity to do a longer segment is stronger with satellite radio. "There's more of an opportunity to get deeper into the conversation," he adds. As such, he says, spokespeople need to be adequately prepared and trained for more in-depth interviews.

While the music channels are commercial-free, there are opportunities for PSAs or ANRs on news stations. "If there is a relevant, notable news story, there could be an opportunity," Patterson says. But for PSAs, Strauss advises creating 15- and 30-second spots, rather than

60- second ones.

It's important to keep in mind that satellite radio plays by the same rules as traditional radio. "When it comes to pitching, it's very similar to pitching regular radio," Lemley says. "You need to listen to it."

But because satellite is still a fairly new platform, the most important thing is to be educated about both XM and Sirius. Leeds suggests that PR pros not be afraid to ask about opportunities. "We're here to be part of the solution, to help market the brand," he says. "We just want to be part of the litany of things that PR people do."

Technique tips

Do consider satellite as part of a radio PR plan

Do research the content of both XM and Sirius to find the best fit for your client

Do prepare your spokesperson for a longer interview if satellite is part of the equation

Don't forget to ask terrestrial stations if their content is rebroadcast or simulcast

on satellite

Don't get hung up on numbers; satellite represents a way to reach a tech-savvy audience

Don't forget the rules of pitching when dealing with satellite; it operates like any media outlet

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