Are you listening?

People are tuning in to their radios more and more, but many PROs still don’t use the medium enough, says Steve Hemsley

Like a football manager who poaches old players for his new club, Christian O'Connell wanted right-hand man Chris Smith to join him when he left Xfm for  Virgin Radio in January. Why? Because studio chemistry is vital, especially on a station's flagship breakfast show. Smith, therefore, is a useful person for PROs to get to know.

Smith is a sounding board for O'Connell, who is always on the lookout for entertaining topics to discuss with his sidekick. Yet Smith despairs at how some PROs get things so wrong. 'I am repeatedly sent press releases with photographs, which is a bit strange when we are talking about radio,' he says. 'Radio presenters feel wounded at this because it means the PR agency has not thought about their needs or the target audience.'

Of course, being aware of every broadcaster's exact requirements is just not possible – there are around 500 BBC, commercial, digital, community and hospital radio stations in the UK, not to mention the pirate ones. However, it is the very quantity of stations that is forcing PROs to refocus their efforts on this medium.

According to Ofcom's 'The Communications Market' report in 2004, radio listening by the general public was calculated to have increased by six per cent on the previous year, from 41.2 hours a week to 43.5 hours. At the same time there was just a two per cent increase in TV watching. Rajar, meanwhile, calculates that the number of hours listened to via digital broadcasting grew by 165 per cent between 2004 and 2005. There is compulsive evidence, then, to suggest that radio should be higher on a PRO's agenda.

'Radio is the elder statesman of broadcasting but also an under-used medium,' says Tim Arnold, managing director of The Arnold Group.

'It builds up a picture far more vividly than does a newspaper or magazine.'

Accessible medium
Indeed, an Ofcom study in October confirmed that consumers perceive radio as the most accessible medium and have a strong and loyal relationship with stations and their presenters.

And the rise of digital has opened more PR doors. 'These digital stations offer PROs the chance to more tightly focus on their client's target market,' says Mandy Green, head of comms at Digital Radio Development Bureau. 'For example, if you wanted to promote nappies you would be wise to approach kids' station Fun Radio, which attracts parents.'

Another element of digital to note is the scrolling text displays of modern radio sets. Green says this feature could be used to promote things such as websites. She adds that soon, larger colour screens will display pictures, company logos and even video.

However, there is a downside to the digital-led radio boom – there has been considerable consolidation in the commercial sector and the market is dominated by just a few major groups: GCap, formed last year when GWR merged with Capital Group; Emap; Scottish Radio Holdings and The Wireless Group. This could be bad news for PROs because stations owned by these groups tend to favour networked programming over dedicated local content and news.

But positives can be drawn from this. 'If you have a great story or a decent budget you can reach a larger number of people in one go,' says Rob Jones, chairman of broadcast comms specialist USP Group.
He adds that BBC radio remains committed to local content via its various broadcast and online platforms.

The BBC aims to include even more local coverage on its stations. There are plans to open new stations in Bradford, Somerset, Cheshire and Dorset, and producers and journalists will be looking for story and feature ideas as budgets come under pressure. BBC local radio costs licence payers around £300 an hour, compared with £11,000 an hour for Radio 4 and more than £500,000 for a television drama.

Underestimated value
According to some, the PR industry is still only scratching the surface when it comes to using radio effectively. Steve Leavesley, director at Radio Lynx, which produces radio features and promotions, has spent six months researching how PR agencies and their clients perceive the medium.

He says a radio campaign is about more than making clients available for interviews and sending out press releases to news desks. Things to consider include on-air competitions, promotion and sponsorship, sampling, podcasting and 'brandcasting' (see box, below). 'It can be easy for a PRO to dismiss radio or see it as just an add-on, but the medium is a good target for consumer-focused news stories,' says independent PR consultant Teresa Horscroft. 'PROs must work closely with researchers and forward planners on programme ideas. I worked with a reporter involved with BBC Radio 4's You and Yours on programme ideas for a security client two months before the shows  were aired.'

Agency markettiers4dc hosts monthly case study-led workshops for PROs. 'The PR agencies that recognise radio as an important and evolving medium are coming to us with editorial briefs and ideas. We will help them approach media owners with the right content in the right format,' says senior consultant Helen Moore.

Another company offering training is BBRC. Managing director Paul
Baker  recommends PROs send presenters a product sample to discuss on air. He also advises writing press releases in the editorial style of the station to increase its  chance of adoption.

Arnold, meanwhile, says PROs must get the basics right. 'We recently did a successful lobbying campaign for a client where, in addition to sending out a Word press release, there was an 18-
second mp3 attachment tailored to each recipient. To Scottish stations, for example, the clip said: "What this means to people in Scotland is..."; for stations in Birmingham the spokesperson said: "What this means for people in the Midlands is..."; and
so on.'

And the radio groups are also keen to help PR agencies. Chrysalis
sponsorship and promotions director Richard Brinkman hosted a seminar for agencies last autumn. 'Radio is a competitive environment and PROs may not realise that many of the heritage stations are no longer the market leaders, or how best to
exploit what is a very personal relationship between a station and listeners,' he says. 'Marketers are increasingly interested in branded content, which lends itself perfectly to what PROs can do so well: create noise around an idea through a trusted editorial outlet,' he adds. But the more traditional method of gaining radio coverage is, of course, to contact the newsdesk with a story and provide a spokesperson.

Ex-BBC radio journalist and CIPR-approved trainer Catherine Cross says getting the right spokespeople for a campaign is crucial. Once a radio station finds someone who can talk authoritatively and enthusiastically about a subject, she argues, he or she will get asked back time and time again.

'Listeners only have voice to go on,' says Cross. 'PROs need to ensure their clients can illustrate their message using anecdotes that work on radio.'

So which clients are making the most of radio and what can others learn from them? Broadcast agency The EMR Group publishes X-Trax magazine for radio stations, which also includes a section dedicated to listing stations' forward features – a useful element for PROs.

It also produces short programmes that are syndicated to radio stations, covering food and drink, finance and health topics.

EMR works alongside PR agencies and directly with blue-chip companies, including Gillette, Nationwide and Scottish Widows. Client services director Phil Caplin says the bigger brands understand where radio fits into their marketing strategy and often use PR
to plug the gaps in their radio advertising campaigns.

'Radio is changing but it remains a mass-market medium. If you have the right story or promotion and can target stations correctly, it provides clients with a massive opportunity to reach millions of people,' he says. 'We help PROs build relationships with individual presenters and manage their clients' expectations.'

Less bias on radio
The agency recently generated six hours of radio coverage as part of a Scottish Widows marketing campaign to explain why people must start saving for their pension. Head of media relations for Scottish Widows, Paula Sutherland, says: 'Pensions are quite a hot topic at the moment. We feel we have good spokespeople who can talk about it in layman's terms.' She adds that radio can avoid the bias shown by some print journalists.

'It is much harder to get our messages over in the press,' she says. 'On radio it is generally our own words that the audience is hearing.'
Elsewhere, retailer Ann Summers recently worked with creative comms agency Symbiosis. Agency co-founder Vanessa Okell helped the retailer support a News of The World Top 100 Sexiest Things feature with radio PR. 'We approached radio in a non-traditional sense, working directly with breakfast-show producers to create fun and innovative programming,' says Okell.

'Kerrang! presenters discussed the entire Top 100 and played with the props we provided, while Steve Wright used the list as the focus for his Radio 2 Sunday Love Songs programme.'

Ann Summers head of marketing Gordon Lee admits he was surprised by how much radio coverage the NoTW list generated. 'We were trying to redefine what was sexy. Radio provided a fun side to what we were doing – we weren't just supplying another survey,' he says. 'It has changed my perception of radio. When used well, radio
can add personality to a brand.

PROs would do well to keep in touch with people like Virgin's Smith to retain that all-important chemistry.

Brandcasting offers PROs a chance to work with other marketing services agencies to create brand-led radio stations for their clients.
These stations could be broadcast over the internet or on digital TV as a radio channel on Sky or Freeview.

So far the only brand-owned radio station is French Connection's FCUK FM, although there are magazine brand extensions on digital radio, such as Emap's Kerrang! 105.2.

Radio Lynx director Steve Leavesley says he can create bespoke brand-led stations for clients and is keen to work with PR companies on projects this year.

'This is an area in which PR agencies can stake a claim because there are so many component parts to brandcasting,' he says. 'It requires a brand to draw people to the station through word of mouth and media coverage, which are best done by a PR agency rather than a marketing agency.' Such stations' output is formatted to reflect the brand and act as a credible platform from which to deliver product-related messages. Listeners can interact with the content via competitions and phone-ins, and a station can run for as long as a client wants. This might be a week to support an event, product launch or on-pack promotion, or a year-round 24/7 broadcast.

Andy Green, managing director of Green Communications, recently gave a talk to the CIPR on personal brandcasting and how PROs should be using the technology to promote themselves. 'At a time when consumers are becoming more media savvy there is demand from journalists to talk to the people behind the news. It is time for PROs to step up to the mic,' he says.

Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) research shows radio has the lowest level of ad avoidance (along with cinema) because few people turn off their sets to avoid ads.
* The web-based survey of 500 18 to 44-year-olds, entitled 'You Cannot Close Your Ears', also explains how most listeners 'zone in and out' of radio content. In other words, PR content must be creative enough to engage listeners.

* Separate research by the bureau explains the 'multiplier effect' of radio when brands combine it with advertising or PR across other media. Radio works well with print ads and editorial, for instance, because the detail of a product explained in 'dry' print is given a 'personal' touch on radio.

*  The combination of online activity with a radio campaign is arguably the most effective. Joint research by the bureau and the Internet Advertising Bureau revealed that at any given time, 20 per cent of people who are online are listening to the radio

So, how do you plan a radio campaign? The number of stations can be daunting, but by following some simple rules PROs can increase coverage for their clients.

*  In the same way that a story aimed at a local newspaper or TV channel must be relevant to readers or viewers, the same care must be taken with radio. 

*This means PROs need to be clear about which programme they want to feature their client, and be aware of who the presenter is and whether his or her broadcasting style is formal or chatty – because this will influence the kind of stories and spokespeople they will want. 

*Also, always try to give radio stations plenty of notice about a story so the reporter or presenter can set up over-the-phone studio interviews, which can take time to arrange and edit.

Gaydar Radio

Area of coverage

The station is available nationally on Sky channel 908 and globally at It also broadcasts a digital radio channel in London and the South-East.

Number of listeners
Gaydar Radio has a weekly UK reach of 200,045 listeners (source: Rajar). The station claims a global subscriber base of 2.8 million.

What slots are suitable for PROs?
Drivetime and evenings, when the audience peaks. What sort of opportunities is it looking for from PROs, and how should they get in touch? Sponsorship and promotional opportunities that creatively engage with AB males aged 18 to 34, across radio and internet.

Alex Friesen at QSoft Consulting on 020 8892 6999 or go to

Capital Radio

Area of coverage Greater London 

Number of listeners 1.8  million weekly

What slots are suitable for PROs?
Capital says if PROs know and understand the station and its programmes they can hear natural places where topical and fun PR-placed stories could work.

What sort of opportunities is it looking for from PROs and how should they get in touch?
Topical, fun, different and interesting stories and surveys targeted at the Capital audience. The station does not need stories weeks in advance. It wants to hear about events that are going on across London and the opening of new bars and restaurants. Matthew Schofield is head of news and can be contacted on 020 7766 6000 or via

BBC Radio 2

Area of coverage

Number of listeners
Radio 2 is the most listened to radio station in the UK, reaching almost 13 million people a week. 

What slots are suitable for PROs?
Current affairs programmes such as The Jeremy Vine Show, and Steve Wright's Sunday show. Producers of other shows are interested in topical and relevant stories. The producer of the Dermot O'Leary show (broadcast on Saturdays between 5pm and 7pm) is approached regularly by PR agencies but says many PROs have clearly not done their homework. 

What sort of opportunities is it looking for from PROs and how should they get in touch?
Contact Nicholas Leake, producer on The Jeremy Vine Show, on 020 7765 5368 or email

Read Radio Scotland

Area of coverage
Central Scotland.

Number of listeners
733,000 adult listeners a week (source: Rajar).

What slots are suitable for PROs?
The Sunday Business Hour from 8am-9am; Real News extended news bulletins at 1pm and 5pm. There is also the Real Action slot where an individual charity or cause is chosen each week for on-air support.

What sort of opportunities is it looking for from PROs and how should they get in touch?
Stories must be topical and of interest to the 25 to 44-year-old family-oriented marketplace. Subjects or suggestions also need to be relevant to the target Scottish audience. For the extended news bulletins, stories with a Scottish slant should go to For Real Action contact

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