Radio listeners in cities across the UK are bracing themselves for an explosion in choice.
Last month, communications super regulator Ofcom closed its consultation 'The Future Licensing of FM Radio', stating that 16 cities and a raft of rural areas can expect new commercial stations. Six of these, in Edinburgh, Blackburn, Belfast, Ashford, Manchester and Kidderminster, are being advertised as early as this year.
A key reason for encouraging such growth and diversity is to generate greater interest in radio, which, according to the consultation document, will bring 'a faster and more successful transition to the digital future'.
More immediately, despite a slump in advertising across the board, radio broadcasting is still seen as a potentially lucrative prospect and advertisers are demanding growth. According to Ofcom, the commercial radio sector was the fastest growing in the advertising market throughout the 1990s, with total revenues in the year ending September 2003 at £582m.
The benefit of going local
It's little wonder, then, that broadcast PR specialists are taking the local stations, and in particular the more lucrative and larger audience figures that the city-based ones provide, more seriously than ever.
For Joe Dyble, divisional head at The Radio Consultancy, the battle to convince clients to go local has already been won.
'Clients tend to be very aware of the need to include regional radio as part of a national campaign,' he says. 'Generally, as long as stations have good audience figures and they are reaching the right kind of people, the client is more than happy to focus on them.'
One of Dyble's clients is British Gas PR manager Bridget York, who handles PR for its CSR link-up with Help the Aged. She points out that while the company wants the reach of national coverage, it has customers across the country and needs to relate to them on a local level, too. This is helped by having statistics that can be broken down, as well as strong local case studies. British Gas used this approach with its most recent campaign, earlier this year, to warn the elderly of potential dangers of door-to-door callers.
On the whole, broadcast PR specialist Radio Lynx director Steve Leavesley believes that national clients still prefer national stations to local ones, because of audience size. Nevertheless, he concedes that depending on the campaign, clients can be persuaded that going local can provide real value, especially when clients want to make their brand seem more accessible.
Targeting specific audiences
Markettiers4DC managing director Howard Kosky says this has been the case for a number of clients, including Sainsbury's and Vodafone. 'It just makes sense to look at the local radio stations for the FMCG brands,' he advises. 'If you get coverage on 70 to 80 local radio stations with a large share of the audience, you are really linking that brand to local areas. After all, that's where people do their shopping.'
Sainsbury's fresh food media officer Zara Parry backs this up, claiming that local radio is vital in connecting with customers on a regional level.
As a result, competitions are one of the most effective ways to promote brands on city radio, particularly in the FMCG sector. Kosky cites as an example a recent competition, which ran on 80 local stations for Tetley involving the giving away of school sports equipment. However, he acknowledges that with costs of up to £120,000 for a promotional competition on just one station, this method is best utilised by larger clients.
Shout Communications director Catherine Bayfield goes one step further and says that because of this, high-cost competitions are best avoided.
Her advice to those seeking to target city stations is to act more like a local journalist than a PRO. For a campaign relating to anti-spam devices for client Yahoo, for example, Bayfield sought out local examples to provide case studies.
Potential of city stations
She also says there is an increasing demand to get coverage on city stations because, unlike smaller stations and many of the new digital stations, they tend to be measured by surveying firm RAJAR, as well as tracked by monitoring agencies.
However, despite the monitoring opportunities and large audience figures, there are other persuasive arguments to target city radio. The real selling point is its penetration into specific groups within its area. Evidence of this diversity even within a locality is already emerging. Of the two city licences awarded last year, SAGA in Glasgow and Kerrang! in Birmingham, both were targeting local markets.
City and local stations can provide key penetration and should be important targets, not because of how many people tune in, but because of who the listeners are.
Launched in 1974, London's Capital 95.8 is aimed at 15 to 44-year-olds but concentrates on the core 25 to 34-year-old group. DJs include Neil Fox and breakfast host Chris Tarrant, who is soon to be replaced by Johnny Vaughan (pictured with co-presenter Becky Jago). But while the focus is on contemporary music, it has a strong commitment to news, with half-hourly bulletins during the breakfast and drive-time shows and hourly bulletins between 9am and 4pm.
According to group news editor Justin Kings, the station has a 'strong heritage in news', giving the example that it is one of the only local commercial radio stations to employ a Westminster correspondent. But while this gives plenty of opportunity for PROs to gain editorial coverage, very few PROs target the station correctly. He says the worst offenders are those asking him to attend photoshoots and that he likes to be emailed and dislikes follow-on calls.
Swansea Sound is an AM service targeting over-35-year-olds, with a commitment to providing 15 per cent speech and 12 hours of Welsh-language programming a week. Launched 30 years ago, the station's current crop of DJs include breakfast show host Kevin Johns and Steve Barnes (pictured), who hosts the drive-time slot and is also programme manager.
Overall, Barnes says PROs working for national brands are not providing the station with enough local specific angles. A particular mistake PROs make is to think the station will be interested in all things Welsh. He says: 'What is of interest in Swansea and this area is often very different from elsewhere in Wales.' He adds that one organisation that often gains editorial coverage is local charity Breast Test Wales, which supplies local spokespeople and statistics. He says that health in particular is a big subject area for editorial coverage as well as consumer stories.
Galaxy 102 first broadcast in Manchester in 1997, when Chrysalis took over Emap's Kiss 102 in the city. The FM station has an emphasis on dance music, particularly RnB, and targets 15 to 34-year-olds.
Deputy programme director Simon Ritchie says that emailed releases sent in by PROs often cannot be used, as they are either blatant advertising or have no product appeal to its listeners.
Any successful attempts by a PRO working for a national brand to gain editorial coverage, most likely on the news bulletins, must have a strong local angle and focus on subjects that listeners are interested in.
He also says PROs should be aware that there are more female listeners. He says he has no preference for how he is targeted by PROs as long as the subject matter is local and relevant.
The station's key DJs include breakfast show presenters Nicksy, Lynsey and Irish Alan.
RADIO CITY LIVERPOOL
Now in its 30th year of broadcasting in Liverpool, commercial station Radio City has a potential reach of 1.8 million in the Merseyside, North West and North Wales area. Key presenters for the station are breakfast host Kev Seed and drive-time presenter Shaun Tilley.
According to managing director Tom Hunter, because the FM service targets 15 to 34-year-olds, the types of stories producers are looking for are 'talk-ability issues such as a ban on smoking, protests, the 100 sexiest women and the greatest footballers.' However, he adds the station's relationship with national PR firms has considerable room for improvement as they send out too many press releases, often not even tailored for radio, let alone Liverpool.
Local PROs enjoy a better relationship, he says. A good example was the recent opening of the BabyCream bar in the city, which fitted the listener profile perfectly. The best way to target the station, according to Hunter, is simple: local angles should always be included.