Infiltrate the brave new airwaves

The radio landscape is evolving dramatically as websites and portable music players change the way we listen. Dan Bloch investigates how PROs can turn these new broadcasting platforms to their advantage

The number of digital radio services (which counts the same station broadcasting in different areas separately) has risen from five in 1998 to 422 at the end of August, according to the Digital Radio Development Bureau. There are now 122 commercial digital radio stations. And, as the internet, mobile phones and MP3 players continue to refine their radio functionality, PROs will have to adapt their tactics to the changing market.

Next week, Chrysalis Radio – owner of Heart 106.2, Galaxy, LBC and digital station The Arrow – is running a seminar to help PROs deal with this revolution on the airwaves.

The 11 October event will include sessions about how on and off-air promotions and sponsorships are growing – and how to build them. It will explore what stations can offer beyond airtime, including use of 'text clubs' – text message mailing lists – and 'ground staff' to carry out promotional activity on the road. It will also provide case studies from presenters, and explain how to fit radio properly into the media mix.

Chrysalis group director, emerging channels, Ian James will run a presentation on how radio should adapt to changes in our media consumption. Last month, Chrysalis set up its first WAP site for Galaxy and plans to add forums, blogs and voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) capability so listeners can talk to each other via its websites.

Different delivery
According to Radio Joint Audience Research (Rajar), 2.8 million people listened to radio on their mobile phone at least once during the second quarter of this year, while 32 per cent of adults had listened to digital radio through their TV.

Rajar has done no research into podcasting – downloading content to listen to on an MP3 player – but anecdotal
evidence suggests it is booming, says Rajar research director Paul Kennedy.

The changing landscape has big implications for PR. 'PROs need to think of radio stations as brands and where they sit in listeners' minds,' argues Chrysalis Radio sales director Gerard Bridges. 'A Heart listener won't listen to Xfm, so if you send something out to all radio stations, it's not going to happen.'

The growth in delivery methods has reinforced stations as brands with which PROs' clients can build associations. 'There are more opportunities but you need to know where the stations are, what they are talking about and what programmes they broadcast,' says Vodafone senior consumer PR manager Julien Cozens.

Vodafone ran a radio campaign in June for its Simply Sagem VS-1 handset, targeting over-35s who had never had a mobile before, fronted by TV presenters Richard and Judy. 'We had competitions on Saga and Capital Gold, which were perfect for the target market,' says Cozens.

Exclusive deals are another possibility. Orange signed a deal with radio group GCap in August giving the mobile operator exclusive access to content, sponsorship and promotional opportunities on the advertising-free national digital youth station Core. 'This provides Orange with an opportunity to test the response, positions it at the cutting edge, where it wants to be, and gives it loads of opportunities to get new information across,' says Bridges.

Listen closely
So what advice should PROs bear in mind? 'Understand the musical environment,' says Markettiers4dc managing director Howard Kosky. 'Most commercial stations are not London-based. Log on to the station's website and listen. How many PROs do this
before approaching a station? I would say very few.'

Think like a producer, urges Greg Strange, managing editor of radio PR agency The Broadcasting Company. 'Real producers prefer people who clearly know what they are talking about and can present a story in radio terms,' he says.

Spokespeople need to be chosen carefully, agrees Cozens. Vodafone chose Richard and Judy because they were trusted commentators among the potential customers of Simply phone.

Podcasting, though in its infancy, offers scope for tailored content. 'We can create programmes especially for podcasting. For example we might know that a proportion of our audience likes hip hop or drum and bass, which alone would be too niche for the radio audience,' says James. Bridges adds: 'Speech radio might work really well for podcasting, if you want to choose a time when you can concentrate on something such as a book review.'

Ultimately, commercial radio is about bringing in revenue for the stations. As they proliferate, they will need more content. If agencies are to avoid their broadcast budgets being squeezed, they will have to choose media outlets more carefully. But the good news is there is plenty of scope for being creative.

Radio PR: Top tips
* Use research from organisations such as Rajar, as well as that commissioned by the stations, to determine coverage, audience type and sizes.
* Listen to a station's content before approaching – most are available via the internet.
* Choose representatives that closely fit the brand and its target audience
* Find out in which format the station wants the content – direct feed, electronic? Live or pre-recorded?
* Consider how you can use stations' non-broadcast capabilities, eg websites, 'text clubs', personnel, sampling opportunities.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in