Media Analysis: Virgin Radio begins to find its voice

Chief executive Fru Hazlitt may have quit but PROs still see Virgin Radio as an ideal way to target youth audiences. David Singleton explores the commercial station's schedule and its brand PR potential.

Virgin Radio has seen a number of changes over the past year, and more look likely following the sudden dep­arture of its CEO last week. Fru Hazlitt, a prominent public face of the brand, stepped down after 18 months and has been replaced by programming director Paul Jackson.

The new boss has a number of aces up his sleeve. Firstly, he will want to capitalise on the high profile of award-winning breakfast show host Christian O’Connell. Virgin’s star man pulls in 1.1 million listeners per week and sets the overall tone for the station.

Jackson will also be keen to build on the recent shake-up that saw Madness frontman Suggs handed his own weekly afternoon slot, in addition to hosting the Party Classics show that airs on Friday and Saturday nights.

But Jackson’s challenge will be for Virgin to catch up with its commercial rivals in the crucial London market. Figures for the third quarter of 2006 show that, in the capital, Virgin attracted 1.1 million listeners compared with 1.5 million for Capital, 1.6 million for Magic and 1.7 million for Heart.

Nationally, the station attracts 2.4 million listeners – unsurprisingly, some way off Radio 1’s 10.6 million. In addition, though, it claims an impressive online audience of more than 800,000 users – more than four times its closest commercial radio rival.

United identity
PR professionals believe Virgin Radio is in good health. Mark Cooper, MD of Van Communications, says: ‘In the past Virgin had lots of shows that could almost stand alone – they could have been on their own station, they had their own flavour, format and feel. I think Virgin has now sorted this out in terms of what it’s supposed to feel like, what it’s supposed to be about.’

Cooper explains: ‘Christian O’Connell sets a tone that is reflected across the station’s programmes for the rest of the day. All of the jocks are passionate guys and quite inspiring.’

One observer believes the station does not maximise its publicity potential, though, saying: ‘There have been occasions where the jocks have come up with fabulous on-air editorial ideas that undoubtedly would have delivered brilliant publicity elsewhere for the brand. But sometimes the Virgin PR machine did not follow through and deliver as well as it might have.’

Intriguingly, Virgin is currently rev­iewing its PR strategy in respect of agency use. Nonetheless, the station is still able to boast that it is ‘the number one commercial radio station in London for 25 to 34-year-olds’.

It is for this reason that PR executives remain keen to target Virgin’s listeners. ‘It’s still very hard to beat if you’re going for that sort of demographic,’ agrees Cooper.

‘From an editorial perspective, if you’re drawing up your hitlist it’s going to be in your top five stations that PROs want to target,’ he adds.

Holding the nation’s ear
The station’s national reach also makes it a favourite with agencies outside the capital. Gary Bramwell, associate director at Manchester agency Brazen PR, says: ‘Virgin has always been a perfect fit with our brands and we continue to target it. We’ve always admired its approach, which is irreverent and innovative.’

But Ric Coggins, account director at Tangerine PR, which is also based in Manchester, believes Virgin is generally seen as a London-centric station. He successfully targeted Virgin when his client George Foreman was in the UK to promote his Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, but he admits it was not top of his list.

He says: ‘In addition to Radio 1 and Radio 5 Live, the other station that took precedence over Virgin on an interview level was TalkSport.

We saw Virgin to be very similar to Xfm and Capital Rad­io in being very much a London-focused station. So it was an avenue we used to generate a direct call to action on a local level.’

As with most radio stations, PROs stand the best chance of getting coverage if they talk direct to the producer, having become familiar with the feel of the show in question.

Roque Segade-Vieito, producer of O’Connell’s show, says: ‘In terms of how we work, we like things to be fairly organic. If it fits with the flavour and tone of the show, then we’ll use it. The biggest problem we have with PR executives is that often they don’t know the show.’

He adds: ‘It really comes down to whether they’ve thought about how they can contribute to the programme. It would be great if they could think about how their material could be spun into a topic for people to call in on, or a talking head, or how else we could actually use it on air.’


Virgin Radio: top shows and the people PROs need to know

The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show
Presenter: Christian O’Connell
Slot: 6am-10am
Synopsis: ‘An unmissable breakfast show packed with classic features and interspersed with the very best music.’
Contact: Roque Segade-Vieito, roque.

Afternoon Tea with Suggs
Presenter: Suggs
Slot: 2pm-4pm
Synopsis: ‘Join Suggs for a cuppa and the best music on your radio.’
Contact: Mark Bingham,

Drivetime with Ben Jones
Presenter: Ben Jones
Slot: 4pm-8pm
Synopsis: ‘The best of pop and rock with chat and the latest news.’
Contact: Ben Jones,

The Geoff Show
Presenter: Geoff Lloyd (pictured below)
Slot: 8pm-12pm
Synopsis: ‘Geoff Lloyd shapes the sound of evening radio with intel­l­­i­­gent humour and impeccable music taste.’
Contact: Tony Moorey,

Virgin Radio, T 020 7434 1215



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