Shaking off its intellectual, granola-munching image, public radio has become a bit of a good news story unto itself, dramatically boosting its audience as it increases local, national, and international reporting resources.
As Andi Sporkin, VP of communications for National Public Radio, says: "NPR's audience is now 26 million a week, double the number of only six years ago. Those numbers overwhelm the stereotype of who the public radio listener is."
BizCom Associates president Scott White adds that it's not just the audience size that makes public radio a great fit for some clients. "Not only does public radio have a very loyal audience, but the listeners represent a certain segment: a little more affluent, more socially aware," he says. "And if your client does have an area of difference, one reason we like public radio is that it goes into a lot more depth."
But while many people consider public radio a single nationwide entity, Sporkin points out that NPR, whose shows include All Things Considered and Morning Edition, is just one of several organizations providing content to independent and diverse stations around the country. "Our relationship to the stations is similar to the Associated Press," she says. "Stations pay an annual fee and have a choice of programming from us."
Others providing content include Public Radio International and American Public Media, producers of the popular Marketplace business show.
Much of the surge in listeners has occurred since 9/11, when NPR - and public radio in general - decided to augment its traditional news analysis and features with more breaking news coverage. "We still try to do the bigger picture stuff, but we don't wait anymore," explains Susan Feeney, senior editor for planning at All Things Considered.
Feeney says NPR welcomes PR pitches, but adds, "We maintain pretty good lists of experts to talk to in breaking news situations, so the time that a story is raging on is not the best moment to call in."
PR pros should also ensure the clients are good talkers. "When pitching a story to public radio, you need to think with your ears," adds David Gerzof, president of Big Fish Communications, who has placed stories with the local Boston-based public radio station, as well as NPR. "You need spokespeople who can clearly and succinctly sum up what it is they do."
But while great visuals can enhance a story's chance of getting picked up by TV or print, Celeste Wesson, Marketplace senior producer, says, "We're unlikely to use sound that someone gives us for journalistic reasons."
PITCHING... Public Radio
The PR hard sell won't work. "The least effective thing to do is send me a pitch every day, be it the same story or a different one," says Marketplace's Celeste Wesson
Pitch local public radio reporters. If the story interests them, they'll find a way to get to producers of national shows like All Things Considered
You don't need your own audio, but you need good talkers, so make sure you media-train your clients to talk clearly and enthusiastically about their company, products, or causes