MEDIA ROUNDUP: Drive-time radio shows tune into PR

As Americans spend more time driving to and from work, radio stations are seizing the opportunity to disseminate information about a variety of topics.

As Americans spend more time driving to and from work, radio stations are seizing the opportunity to disseminate information about a variety of topics.

The average American now commutes nearly 50 minutes each workday. Not only is the lion's share of this traveling done by car, but it comes during the two times of day when people are actively looking for news they can use, making drive-time radio a great target for PR pitches. "Regardless of the format, drive time has always been about information, even on the music stations," says Ned Barnett of Las Vegas-based Barnett Marketing Communications. Much of the current media focus on drive-time radio has been on the FCC pressure on Howard Stern and other shock jocks. But Jared Sharpe, publicist with the Ruder Finn subsidiary Planned Television Arts, points out, "Most people driving during the morning are listening to get traffic updates, weather updates, and news updates. But between those updates, you have interview segments, and those are great opportunities for client interviews and product pitches." Getting familiar with the show Sharpe says that Planned Television Arts has trademarked "Morning Drive Radio Tour," and can often provide a client with more than 20 interviews with morning hosts across the country in one four-hour block. The keys, Sharpe says, are developing relationships with producers of key morning shows and taking the time to figure out the type of content the host is looking for. "Knowing the station's format, the show's tone, and the views of the hosts are all imperative to getting a 'yes' on your first call to their producer," he says. Sharpe says he tends to book these tours up to four to five weeks in advance. But others point out that with six hours to fill every day (6-9am and 4-7pm), drive-time producers are continually looking out for interesting guests and content. "We've had a really high success rate," says Susan MacTavish Best of Bay Area-based Best Public Relations, whose recent clients include author Caroline Waxler. "It's almost a relief to them if you can provide someone on short notice." Despite the overall trend at large radio companies - such as Clear Channel, which controls thousands of stations across the country - and the increasing number of syndicated radio hosts, most drive-time radio remains intensely local. "We do piggyback on national trends, but in general, it's better to have a strong local angle," says Elizabeth Romero, senior account executive with Hollywood, FL-based O'Connell & Goldberg. Steven Turner, partner with St. Louis-based Solomon/Turner, points out that while there are some evening drive time opportunities, "I think morning slots are more serious and people are paying closer attention." Turner also notes the best drive-time formats are usually news/talk, but says you can get placement on music entertainment Morning Zoo-themed shows with the right hook, especially if it involves a high-profile name. But he adds, "You have to pay special attention to the real crazy ones in the morning who can get very off-color. You have to measure the benefits of the publicity you receive versus any potential embarrassment the client may get." Heidi Krupp, founder and CEO of Krupp Kommunications, says that while it can help to do some client media training for drive-time radio appearances, she prefers to take it one step further by providing producers with a script of suggested questions. "Most producers and hosts know that we want to give them the best content ever, and so we let them know what we require," says Krupp, whose clients include Rodale Press. Considering new content rules The FCC's crackdown on Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge is already impacting the content that is aired on morning and evening radio. Krupp says that she's sensing some hesitancy among producers, especially when pitching one of her latest clients, sex therapist Ian Kerner, and his upcoming book, She Comes First - The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman. "There's a lot of eyebrows raised when we pitch this, with people telling us, 'We don't know if we're going to be able to say this title on air,'" Krupp says. "Radio used to be the one place where you could do anything at anytime. And now with everything that's happened, now all of sudden we're really having to be careful with what we pitch and how we pitch it." Pitching... drive-time radio
  • The drive-time audience can't stop to jot down the name of a product, so work with your client and the host to mention the guest's or brand's name several times in an interview so it gets burned in the listener's memory
  • Pitch your client as a local expert on national news who can bring that story home to the area's radio listeners
  • Most people want entertainment on their commute home, so point your serious, information-heavy clients toward morning drive time whenever possible

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