CAMPAIGNS: NPR's Smiley push transmits loudly to various audiences

PR Team: National Public Radio (Washington, DC) Campaign: The Tavis Smiley Show launch Time Frame: October 2001-December 2002 Budget: $20,000

PR Team: National Public Radio (Washington, DC) Campaign: The Tavis Smiley Show launch Time Frame: October 2001-December 2002 Budget: $20,000

When NPR teamed up with Tavis Smiley, it marked one of the organization's first major forays into the African-American market. NPR wanted to reach out to new demographics, and Smiley wanted the credibility that the NPR brand could bring. The resulting project was The Tavis Smiley Show, which helped give NPR listeners a new perspective from which to view important issues, and provided a vehicle to serve a significant but underrepresented audience segment. "What we're trying to do with this show is to make NPR sound more like America," Smiley told the Miami Herald in October 2002. For NPR's in-house PR team, the challenge was to let both regular NPR fans and potential followers of Smiley know what the show had to offer, and why they should tune in. Strategy NPR's team focused on reaching out to the African-American market. "What it was really doing was introducing a service to a community that probably didn't think what we were giving was relevant at all," explains Jessamyn Sarmiento, NPR's director of public and media relations. The team chose a grassroots approach backed up by efforts to win coverage in the mainstream press. "Because the show wasn't picked up on every single station across the US, we had to target each market that the show actually aired in," says Sarmiento. Tactics NPR reached out to community organizations and leaders in markets where the show would air. Hitting important locales like churches, they met with influential members of the African-American community to let them know what the show was about and how it was different from other NPR fare. Smiley himself also met with reporters and others, but because NPR wasn't his only project, Sarmiento and her team did not have as much access to their star as they would have liked. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to do a much bigger thing because of his time," she says. Along with efforts in black venues, NPR tried to win placements in mainstream press by pitching the show as a historic event for public radio. "We really sought to complement the local outreach with national mainstream efforts, and our biggest thing was to get the buzz rolling with some major placements," says Sarmiento. Results Both parts of the effort met with success. In addition to a positive response from the African-American community, NPR did gain valuable mainstream press placements, including a front-page story in The New York Times Lifestyle section. "That was a major coup that gave both [Smiley] and us credibility," says Sarmiento. The buzz her team created for the radio program was so successful that stations across the country heard about it, and subsequently decided to pick up the show in their markets. "The goal was to be on 16 stations the first year, and now it has surpassed 50, and it's still going," she says. Future The NPR team continues its work to build buzz for the show, but now they also have Smiley's content to help them with their messages. In the past months, he has broken a handful of news stories on the show that were later picked up by other outlets. Making sure those items get coverage - and that Smiley and NPR get credit - is where the team now spends its efforts. "That has probably happened four or five times where we have totally blanketed the country on an NPR/Tavis Smiley get," says Sarmiento. "It has been another opportunity that we have really been able to use to our advantage to make this a known entity."

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