Tuning in to a valuable audience

Radio can be a powerful medium through which to target the African-American consumer.

Radio can be a powerful medium through which to target the African-American consumer.

With about 1,100 stations in the US programmed toward African Americans, there certainly is no shortage of radio outlets aimed at black audiences, especially in the major urban markets.

And even in the age of new media, these hip-hop, urban contemporary, R&B, jazz, and gospel stations are often the first source of news for this audience.

"Whenever clients come to us [for] radio outreach, one of the first questions we ask is, what is your African-American radio strategy," says Richard Strauss, president of DC- based Strauss Radio Strategies. "Because in many markets, a lot of top-10 stations are aimed primarily at African Americans."

But reaching the African-American radio listener requires a lot more than a general-interest approach. In a medium where content is king, not only do the messages and PSAs have to be tailored specifically for a black audience, but getting through to the news and public service directors at these stations also requires different strategies.

"A lot of people [can] create PSAs and other content that [will] get an audience's attention," says Andrew McGowan, president of the PCS Broadcast Services division of DWJ Television. "The tricky part is actually getting it on the air."

McGowan suggests crafting a pitch that takes into account a number of factors above and beyond race. "If you have content aimed at African-American grandmothers, that won't interest a hip-hop station," he says.

Curt Gill, operations manager with News Generation, says that doesn't necessarily mean you have to come up with statistics and facts in news stories that are relevant to the local market. "I find that localizing isn't nearly as vital as racially targeting your content," he says. "An African-American station in Baltimore won't be nearly as interested in the Baltimore [angle] as they would be in the African-American [angle]."

Medialink SVP Michele Wallace says you don't have to provide a different PSA or ANR for each city you're targeting because that can rapidly drive up costs. But, she adds, you should provide some market-specific information in your support materials.

"In most cases, your market-by-market strategy for African-American radio is in the media relations outreach, which means you should include facts relevant to that station's audience in your pitch," Wallace notes.

Whether you're pitching products or a PSA to an African-American radio station, you also need to stylize your message. "You have to win the hearts and minds of the public service director and news director at that station by crafting a message that they feel will connect with their audience," says Shel Lustig, president of Des Plaines, IL-based MediaTracks Communications.

But Liv Lane, GM of Minneapolis-based PR service company Win/Win Radio, cautions that doesn't mean altering your message or pitch to sound more "black."

"Urban formats are very fast, exciting, and upbeat, [so] make sure your messaging is that way," she advises. "But I warn people about the language they use in their messaging. A lot people think they have to use slang, but slang may differ from market to market. We recommend letting the local DJs add their own flavor to your client's message."

Having a celebrity spokesperson is another great hook. But Strauss notes that while it helps if that spokesperson is African American, it is not vital. It's more important that the spokesperson is perceived as understanding the interests of the target community.

Though a few markets such as DC, Philadelphia, and LA have talk radio stations aimed specifically at black audiences, the vast majority of African-American-centric radio stations are entertainment-oriented.

But Strauss says, "Even if they're primarily music-formatted stations, topics like social injustice, healthcare, and ways to improve the living in an African-American community do resonate with news and public service directors. Most of these stations have public affairs shows that run on Sunday morning [that] get good ratings."

Technique tips


Tailor content not just for race, but also for age

Look at syndicated shows. Many African-American stations air national hosts like Steve Harvey or Tom Joyner during key drive time

Make sure you have a relevant spokesperson, one the black community both understands and respects


Use slang. Leave it to the producer or host to add language that helps your client better connect with this audience

Localize all messages, but do highlight market-relevant facts in a pitch

Rely on ANRs. Most African-American radio stations prefer their own hosts to handle interviews and reports

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