Tuning in to your multicultural audiences

The intimacy of radio and its particular appeal to ethnic audiences makes a compelling case for the importance of ANRs.

The intimacy of radio and its particular appeal to ethnic audiences makes a compelling case for the importance of ANRs.

Imagine a situation in which you are able to pitch a story to your target audience in an intimate medium where the demographic has already been isolated, the source is trusted, and the audience is loyal and attentive.

It's every PR pro's dream. It's also a reality. Radio is an enormously deep and wide media-relations market. There are more than 13,500 registered radio stations in the US, and according to the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), 96% of Americans 12 and older listen to the radio each week. The spectrum of radio stations varies among dozens of formats, regions, and audiences, meaning that placing an audio news release (ANR) or pre-produced news story on the air reaches a very specific audience, whether it's 'tweens, political conservatives, or urban adults.

"Radio is a very intimate medium," says Tammy Lemley, VP at North American Networks, a radio media relations company. "You get to know the personalities, and it's a constant. It engages your mind in a different way.

You don't see anything, so a good reporter will let you hear. When you're in your car, you're a captive audience."

The RAB also notes that American adults listen to the radio for an average of 20 hours, 45 minutes each week. Even more fascinating is the fact that these numbers jump among multicultural audiences, whose population and spending power have been increasing quickly, as seen by the 2000 Census. Hispanics listen to the radio for an average of 23 hours, 45 minutes, while African Americans listen for 24 hours, 45 minutes every week.

"That statistic has a deeper truth to it," says Lynn Medcalf, EVP and cofounder of News Generation, a radio PR company. "What you see in statistics like that is a medium specifically targeted toward an audience."

Not to mention the fact that it is a receptive audience. Richard Strauss of Strauss Radio Strategies says, "The top markets for Spanish-language and African-American listeners are often neglected in the news cycle. They are often underserved by nonprofits and starved for news. In addition, they are more likely to take an ANR. So if I'm a company or organization that wants to get on the air and I'm not using those stations, then I'm missing a huge opportunity."

Seizing that opportunity can take some work, but there are certain keys to making an ANR more resonant with multicultural radio stations. One is demonstrating why your information is important for the target demographic. The other is finding the right outlet for that information.

When Medcalf recently handled an ANR for a faith-based initiative in African-American churches to raise awareness about diabetes, her team targeted oldie-format, gospel, jazz, and religious stations. "There's a different way of crafting the message," she says. "It's getting focused on who you want to reach, and writing for that audience." Don't be afraid to mention that it's an outreach to African Americans, and include statistics about the demographic.

"Typically, in a broad sense, issues tied to education, jobs, the economy, and health are going to appeal to the African-American community," says Strauss. "If you have an ANR that's geared toward those topics, I think you're going to be more successful with pickup. If it's more general, I think you'll have less success. The news director will say, 'How does this apply to us?'"

In an ANR's typical 60-second format, a sound bite from a spokesperson is used. When targeting African Americans, it is important, but not crucial, to have a spokesperson who is African American. However, when pitching stories aimed at the Hispanic community, many of whose most popular stations record in Spanish, it is vital to not only record the ANR in Spanish, but to have a Spanish-speaking spokesperson.

Lemley says, "We've noticed that we get better placement when we pitch in Spanish." However, she notes that simply translating into Spanish isn't enough. It is important to use general Spanish, meaning that there are no words that are specific to a country's dialect, and consult with a native speaker to be sure that none of the translated words are offensive. Most companies that produce and pitch ANRs have native speakers on staff.

The biggest hits for someone pitching multiculturally targeted ANRs are the American Urban Radio Networks, HBC (which boasts the number-one overall station in LA) and CNN Noticias. "The network feeds have been taking 85% of our stories," claims News Broadcast Networks president Mike Hill, who notes that pitching the networks first is better, since they will automatically distribute the story. "We take those main markets, and call whatever stations have news formatting," he says.

In addition to the hundreds of news and talk stations that target multicultural listeners, as well as the more than 800 Spanish-language stations, there are hundreds of music formats that cater to multicultural audiences, including black gospel, R&B urban, soft urban contemporary, and hip-hop. "There are many formats that reach African Americans," Medcalf says. "There are as many Hispanic stations as there are English formats. The thing you see with many people is they feel that their stations are truly in tune with their lifestyle."

So in addition to keeping up with content by listening to stations via the internet, what can media relations pros do to forge relationships with programmers, many of whom change jobs and move stations frequently?

Medcalf advises talking to the station's receptionist. That person is most likely to know when radio staffers take calls. "As soon as the media directories hit the press, they're outdated," she says. "Keep a good database." Keeping in touch with station staffers will keep you informed not only about their preferences in ANRs, but the movement of different personalities.

Also, be prepared to send an ANR in many different forms. Station size and funding vary greatly across the country, and while some stations are able to receive sound files electronically, others prefer that an ANR be delivered via phone. Lemley says, "Some stations request CDs" - a practice that is never done unless requested, because most ANRs are timely.

As for targeting other multicultural groups, such as Asian Americans, look to one of the 128 ethnic or variety stations, which will often dedicate time slots to many different formats. Lemley points out that because Asians speak several different languages, those formats aren't widespread, though tend to appear where there is a large population of speakers.

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Technique tips

Do include specific statistics about the group you are aiming to target

Do listen to the station you are looking to pitch

Do consult a native speaker when translating a story into another language

Don't rely on directories to give more than an assignment-desk contact. Keep your own database to manage frequent turnover

Don't mail out ANRs like press releases

Don't just translate an ANR. Make it relevant to your audience

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