Radio: How to tune into radio producers

In an intimate, non-visual medium such as radio, relationships are everything. Christie Casalino looks at the basics of getting to know who - and what - is important

In an intimate, non-visual medium such as radio, relationships are everything. Christie Casalino looks at the basics of getting to know who - and what - is important

While the visual appeal and easy clips offered by print and TV media may seem initially attractive to a PR pro pitching a company or client, the sometimes-overlooked radio venue has a lot to offer. With options ranging from morning shows to news broadcasts, and innumerable formats aimed at every demographic, the placement possibilities seem endless - that is if you're armed with the correct strategy and a strong relationships with those on the inside.

The first step is to know what radio program to approach and whom to pitch, so doing your homework is imperative.

You should target each station on a case-by-case basis, so don't be afraid to ask who the correct contact would be, says Jenny Shapiro, an account executive at PR firm TransMedia Group. "There's always the right person for the right pitch - you just have to find out who it is. If you contact five wrong people in the meantime, you're going to annoy a lot of people."

According to John Cannon, Medialink's senior placement specialist, the contact will usually depend on the type of story.

"Radio is fragmented into several different formats," he says. "If it's a hard-news piece, as with television, you can go right to an assignment desk. For more lifestyle pieces, go to the segment producers - often they're the gatekeepers to the show's talent and pick the stories."

It's not enough just to know the show exists. "Listen to the show; understand the format, read the host's bio, and know past guests to gain some kind of familiarity," advises Richard Strauss, president of Strauss Radio Strategies.

Once you know which show to pitch and whom to contact, you can begin creating a relationship with the correct producers, reporters, or hosts. "Introduce yourself without having something to pitch," says Strauss. "Let them know that you may be calling them from time to time to offer guests."

Cannon suggests starting with an e-mail and then following up with a call. "A few years ago, it was all done by phone and fax," he says. "Those days are gone."

Heidi Oringer, director of entertainment news and programming for ABC's radio division, says the biggest turnoff is when she receives long voice-mails with client pitches. "The best thing to do is leave a message and later on work your pitch," says Oringer, "but don't leave the entire pitch in a telephone message." Oringer also suggests sending ANRs and large files via e-mail only after getting clearance to do so.

Gaining the producer's trust is key, especially when pitching something that may stretch beyond their comfort zone.

"Instead of spamming them with 100 different stories, I'll send them the two or three that seem relevant that week to open the door," says Cannon. "Once it's open and I've got a relationship going, I try to establish an even broader one so that I can pitch them stories that might go a bit outside the normal scope."

Reed Pence, producer for the weekly syndicated program Radio Health Journal, echoes that opinion. "If I gain trust that you will only pitch me good guests on subjects of interest to my show, I'll be more likely to subsequently book a 'maybe' based on your recommendation."

It is also beneficial to have an idea of the producer's or reporter's personal interests. Martha Sharan, the operations manager at News Generation, was successful in pitching client Norm Abram, a master craftsman, to Mike Barnicle's show on Boston's WTKK-FM. Although the show generally focuses on politics, Abram was placed because Barnicle was both a fan of his, as well as of woodworking.

"You never know when a producer or host will be interested simply because they've got a personal interest or a hobby," says Sharan.

But whether the pitch appeals to the contact's personal interests or the focus of the show, the key word to keep in mind when fostering these relationships is "respect."

"[Radio producers are] not revenue-generating clients, but they are clients, and we respect them just as much," says Medialink's director of media relations Tom Martin. "With each project, we're really putting our reputation on the line, so we don't want to bother them with what might not be an effective story."

This is important to remember, especially when dealing with radio media tour schedules. "It's like a domino effect," adds Martin. "If you let the schedule get out of control when one station wants to stay on a few more minutes, that can affect all of the other stations, and in the end they may feel burned."

In addition, only offering well-prepared and media-trained clients can go a long way to cementing a producer's trust.

"When doing an all-news interview, it's important that the guest realizes that those are very short and that they're trained to answer with concise statements," says Strauss.

If the station realizes it has found a trusted source, it will know to contact you during a crunch time or crisis. "Handling that opportunity well can also enhance your relationship with these producers," says Martin, who was contacted to suggest medical experts during the recent flu-vaccine shortage.

It's even possible to pitch year-round pieces to the typically news-driven medium, once a relationship has been established. "We want to take off for holidays just like everyone else does," says Oringer, "so an evergreen piece is great to run during slow news days, weekends, and holidays."

But perhaps the greatest sign of respect for your relationship with a producer is learning to accept the word "no." "Don't be a used-car salesman," says Sharan. "Graciously say thanks when they decline an interview. You want to be sharp and give them the interviews that they're really looking for."

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Technique tips

Do be available to fill last-minute requests

Do send guests who are well versed and prepared

Do learn how to graciously accept a "no"

Don't pitch to a station without doing research on its market

Don't let a guest sound like a commercial

Don't forget that personal interests can sometimes help get client placement

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