As radio evolves, pitches must follow suit

Changes stemming from consolidation and the Web mean opportunities for PR pros.

Changes stemming from consolidation and the Web mean opportunities for PR pros.

Several recent industry events have impacted radio. While consolidation – such as the recent merger of XM and Sirius – tends to shrink staff, the number of programming options is growing, and stations are hungry to engage listeners. There are many opportunities for PR practitioners who develop relationships with the right people and understand the content stations want.

“Consolidation has made it more important [to] have your ducks in a row with contacts and pitching,” says Richard Strauss, president of Strauss Radio Strategies. “There might be one news director [for multiple stations], and if they [decline your pitch], there aren't five others to go to.”

Strauss adds that stations still need experts during breaking news. “If a client is tied to breaking news, call and offer them as a guest,” he says. “Stations will [likely] interview that person whereas when they were more staffed they would get their own experts.”

Lynn Harris Medcalf, EVP and cofounder of News Generation, explains that technology has extended radio's reach, which is good news for PR practitioners.

“You can get on traditional radio and then get a bump on a podcast,” she says. “Web site-exclusive podcasts are another option.”

The XM/Sirius merger will ultimately be a good thing, Medcalf continues, because it will provide a larger listener base and expanded program listings, including more talk shows and magazine-style shows.

“Stations are trying to extend their listening day,” she says. “Ask what they're looking for and make customized pitches.”

Integration of programming and promotions is increasing, notes Cheryll Forsatz, SVP of MWW Group's Mediamixx.

“To keep listeners longer, stations are looking for more compelling programming, activities, and promotions,” Forsatz says. “Radio isn't necessarily telling news – [it needs] to keep listeners engaged. Understand the stations, and if you have brands that advertise on a station, work with [their] ad agencies or clients to leverage added value.”

Forsatz recently finished a successful McDonald's promotion, which tied in with ad buys and centered on listeners calling in with their stories about, and renditions of, the Big Mac jingle. “[The point is to] engage listeners,” she says. “Call-ins keep listeners listening, and they're very interactive.”

Strauss notes that stations “crave” stories about the environment and saving money. He recently got a lot of coverage for an energy client by pitching gas-saving tips.

“The tips were tied to ways to save money and help the environment,” he says. “We would have never talked about that before as part of a pitch. [There's] more interest in environmental stories from… higher-rated stations in [bigger] markets.”

Strauss also sees increased interest in celebrity content, particularly from music stations in the top 25 markets. Medcalf says stations will often repurpose live content for their Web sites. She recently got extended coverage in this way from rock stations that interviewed musician Johnny Colt, who is the spokesperson for Medcalf's client Planet Green.

Strauss advises clients not to overlook syndicated programming, which provides great national coverage. He also notes a significant rise in liberal talk shows.

“There are more liberal hosts and more opportunities to be on the air with programming that matches that,” he says. “Nonprofit, civil rights, pro-choice, and environmental clients have now found a home.”

Satellite radio and HD radio both provide improved audio quality, and both Strauss and Medcalf advise paying close attention to how sources sound. “Make sure clients aren't on cell phones when they do interviews,” Strauss says. “Use good, digital-quality phones.”

Technique tips

Develop strong relationships with news directors

Coordinate PR programs with clients' advertising buys

Pitch healthcare, environmental, and celebrity stories

Blanket pitch. Customize pitches to station needs

Overlook nationally syndicated programming

Allow clients to use poor-quality phones for interviews

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