FOCUS: BROADCAST PR - Tune in to the sound of radio PR/Radio has not traditionally been a hunting ground for PR campaigns. But with the sharp recent increase in numbers of commercial on-air stations, clients are discovering broadcast PR to be increasingly

What is the best way to get your client’s message across - by shouting it at full volume from the rooftops or by whispering it softly into the public’s ear?

What is the best way to get your client’s message across - by

shouting it at full volume from the rooftops or by whispering it softly

into the public’s ear?

There is something to be said for the latter approach - tell somebody

something personally and they are likely to value it more.

This is the strength of radio as a PR medium. Radio has a high degree of

intimacy with its listener. It is often used to provide companionship

while the listener gets on with mundane tasks.

Add to this radio’s local focus, its flexibility, its

cost-effectiveness, and its potential for interactivity through

phone-ins, and radio’s credentials as a commercial medium are firmly


But radio has traditionally been under-valued as a commercial medium in

this country. It has for some time taken just two per cent of national

advertising spend in the UK, compared to countries like Spain, where it

is closer to ten per cent.

Commercial radio started late in the UK, in 1973, and the scarcity of

available frequencies has meant the number of stations has grown very


In the last decade, however, all this has changed. The success of the

commercial sector has led the BBC to free up more frequencies and the

Government has issued more commercial licences. Whereas there were just

50 commercial local stations 15 years ago, today there are more than


The increase in the number of stations means radio can be used in a much

more targeted fashion, as different audiences have stations dedicated to

their tastes.

PR agencies have been reluctant to fully exploit the potential of radio,

according to Nick Bone, head of radio at Countrywide Porter Novelli,

because column inches have always had the appeal of being more


’Radio has been thought of as the poor relation because you cannot see

it,’ he says. ’PR agencies have tended to steer away from it, or think

they can cover radio with a press release or syndicated tape.’

Former Capital Radio marketing director and founder of the Braben

Company Sarah Braben has seen the problem first-hand. ’The relationship

between PR and radio had to change,’ she says. ’There was a lack of

understanding among PR agencies as to how to target radio stations. We

used to get the same press releases as magazines, and they had nothing

to do with what we wanted on our programmes. The relationship is

improving, but it is still nowhere near as good as it could be.’

But PR agencies are starting to get wise to the opportunities offered

both by commercial radio and the BBC stations. The increase in airtime

available due to the increased number of commercial stations means there

is more opportunity for agencies to place their messages, and the

increasing professionalism of the radio sector means producers are more

alert to the benefits of working with agencies.

Broadcast PR specialists with high-quality studio facilities linked to

radio stations have become coveted as clients seek to capitalise on the

opportunities radio offers.

Companies like Airtime Communications devise programme items around a

client’s brief, which they then sell in to the stations at which they

have contacts.

Typically, an interviewee might be interviewed ’down the line’ by dozens

of local stations across the country, appearing to the listener as if

they are in the local studio. Doing 15 interviews in one morning

back-to-back might reach 2.8 million listeners, according to Elle Hyde,

an account executive at Airtime.

She emphasises that this kind of success can only be achieved with

careful targeting. ’Success is not achieved by blanket faxing of

stations,’ she says. ’You need up-to-date information, influential

contacts and the ability to motivate decision makers at the


Claudia Downes, an associate director at radio specialist Radio Lynx,

says that for an item to be played on radio, it needs to be catchy.

’Radio is theatre of the mind, and we pride ourselves on coming up with

great ideas,’ she says.

John Rosborough, head of programming at Downtown Radio in Belfast, says

the ideas he most likes to receive are those with a local slant, but

with a national relevance, ’ideally featuring someone who listeners

already know, and something entertaining with information value’.

Quirky editorial ideas often catch the attention of breakfast shows,

according to Downes, who cites the example of the campaign run in

support of Diet Coke involving the actor from the ’Diet Coke break’ TV

advert being made available for interview.

But stations will often be reticent to accept commercial promotions

unless they are buried deep within good editorial. In the recent case of

the Diet Coke man, Devon Daley, who produces the mid-morning show at BBC

Radio Nottingham, was only half-convinced. He turned down the idea in

the form it was offered, but wanted to use the item in another way.

’We ran it as a news story,’ he says. ’If the Diet Coke man is in

Nottingham, that’s a news event for us, so we interviewed him. It was

commercial too, of course.’ The item still worked perfectly for Radio

Lynx and its client.

The BBC, with five national stations and 39 local stations, still

commands around half of all radio audiences, and BBC stations are now

increasingly being used for PR purposes as agencies understand more

fully this side of the market.

Daley says: ’Rather than simply trying to book interviews, PR agencies

are realising how to work better with the BBC’s commercial sensitivities

- items cannot be blatant plugs,’ he says.

When Airtime Communications wanted to promote B&Q stores opening on a

Bank Holiday Monday, they carried out a survey on gender differences in

DIY behaviour. They found that more women did DIY than men and promoted

the story to radio, giving a B&Q spokesman a chance to slip in the

stores’ opening hours.

But promotional opportunities on radio should not be ignored. These are

as numerous as the imagination, but generally involve either

tactically-run competitions in which goods or services are given away in

return for a mention on-air; programme sponsorship (including

advertiser-supplied programming); or off-air activity, like involvement

with roadshows.

Andy Kinloch, a director of promotional agency Billington Cartmell,

believes it is radio’s interactivity and its immediacy that makes it so

useful as a promotional tool.

He says: ’Involvement with radio is crucial because of the interactivity

it gives you. We worked with Hula Hoops and the national English

Basketball Association, giving listeners free entry to games if they

arrived with a bag of Hula Hoops. The local station ended up doing

outside broadcasts from the games. Radio stations want to be leaders of

the community so they are interested in that kind of activity.’

Kinloch adds that radio represents good media value in terms of


’If you have an innovative promotion, the DJ will often improvise and

you get 25 or even 50 per cent more mentions than you were


Radio can also fill in holes in a wider campaign. The Braben Company, a

PR and marketing agency for media owners, is building a radio campaign

in support of the Radio Times’ sponsorship of the BAFTA Television


’We wanted to build awareness of the sponsorship to a broader audience

than Radio Times readers, so we are using radio,’ says managing director

Sarah Braben.

’Rave with the Daily Star’ is a spot created by The Braben Company which

goes out for three minutes every Friday on Kiss FM in Manchester. The

show simply takes copy from the newspaper’s showbiz gossip page and

presents it in a lively way for radio. The station likes it and the

paper gets its plug.

With the increasing number of stations on air, some of which are small

and on tight budgets, there are always opportunities to provide

interesting programming they can use. Now that PR agencies have found

the medium to be highly effective, it is likely to become even more



Setting up a radio station in support of a short-term event to target a

captive audience is not as difficult as it might first sound.

In the 1990 Broadcasting Act, the Radio Authority was charged with the

responsibility of issuing short-term, very local, licences for

organisations wanting to do just this. Licences are issued for up to 28

days and have a broadcasting radius of around 10 miles.

Typically, these restricted service licences (RSLs) are used for

community events like the Notting Hill Carnival. They operate like

normal local stations, selling air-time to advertisers, whose adverts

play alongside music, news and information programming.

In some circumstances, RSLs can also be run for commercial purposes.

For example, a shopping centre might run an RSL to advertise its

opening, or a season of special offers.

The Radio Authority is unwilling to license RSLs comprising exclusively

promotional programming, but services which provide some sort of public

service alongside commercial information can be acceptable.

The machine tools and manufacturing technology exhibition MACH, for

example, has diversified the content of its own radio station, Mach FM,

by allowing exhibitors to sponsor shows and advertise their stands to

delegates. The station broadcasts a mixture of news, views, weather and

travel, all centred on the exhibition.

Matt Way, a radio development executive at Milestone Pictures, which has

been organising RSL radio for clients for four years, says: ’Mach FM is

a shop window for the exhibition. Radio like that is the perfect medium

for PR, as it is vibrant and gives you the opportunity to promote

product in an entertaining way.’

Restaurant chain TGI Fridays also gained an RSL licence to help it

support its three outlets in the Manchester area. To tie in with the

all-American theme of the company, the station included programming

direct from US radio stations, as well as local features, such as

employment news.

The RA issues RSLs upon application, subject to the editorial proposal

being acceptable and there being a suitable spare frequency


Only one licence can be issued in each location to any single

organisation each year.

A Radio Authority spokesperson explains that for a proposal to be

suitable, the service should preferably have some news or information

service involved in the project. ’We would want some unique news and

information, features on local issues, events coming up, or traffic

around the area,’ he says.

With things like shopping centres or exhibitions, there are a whole

range of things you can do.’


Broadcast specialist EMR has ten years’ experience helping PR agencies

use radio. In support of this year’s Red Nose Day, a radio campaign was

put together which secured 1,805 items of coverage and more than 111

hours of air-time across the UK, both on commercial and BBC radio

stations - despite Comic Relief being a BBC project.

The campaign began in February with a five-week build-up to Red Nose Day

on 12 March. EMR sends a CD of feature material to radio stations every

week as a matter of course. In the run-up to the day itself, these

featured items such as Jane Asher giving recipes for Comic Relief Day,

which all featured a ’red’ theme, such as cherries.

Interviews with the charity’s celebrity supporters, such as Ruby Wax,

were offered to stations either live or in pre-recorded form. On Red

Nose Day itself, 300 items were offered for broadcast.

But it’s not just charity campaigns which can be winners on the


Another successful PR initiative was the CIC Video Radio Campaign.

Countrywide Porter Novelli ran the campaign to support the launch of CIC

videos onto the rental market. It developed a radio package called CIC

On the Air which involves the production of a CD-ROM each week

containing promotional material for radio stations.

Radio stations are able to lift interviews with the actors from the

package and present them as their own, and also use audio clips from the

films being released on video in preview programming. Trivia, gossip,

and ideas for competitions are also included on the CD-ROM.

Nick Bone, head of radio at the agency, says: ’Live radio gives the

campaign much more credibility than, say, advertising in local

newspapers. We get DJ endorsement, and people trust the DJs, because

they think of them as friends. We also make the CD as accessible as

possible by tailoring it for different stations.’

The project has been running for five years, involving about 25 films

each year. Recently, the package supported the video release of The

Truman Show and achieved coverage on 92 radio stations, reaching an

audience of 6.5 million.

The campaign is also used as a marketing tool by CIC’s sales force,

which is able to point to the local radio coverage when selling its

videos into stores.


While digital television has already made its mark on UK broadcast

audiences, it is only now that digital radio is about to have an


The advantages of digital radio are clear - it offers better clarity of

signal (the improvement is especially noticeable when the listener is

mobile) - but it is only recently that digital receivers have become

available in hi-fi-tuner form. The first portable versions are not

expected until next year.

Although there are already BBC radio services broadcasting digitally,

digital radio is set to take off later this year when the first bespoke

digital commercial services start.

The advent of digital will bring about an increase in number of

services, allowing more opportunities for PR agencies to offer material

to fill air-time. But as the number of overall listeners is unlikely to

increase radically, this could be of dubious value, with the same

audience simply spread more thinly.

However, the emergence of digital is also likely to lead to more

services aimed at niche audiences, allowing better targeting for PR


There is also the possibility of displaying visual information via a

small screen on digital radio sets, which could be adapted to be


Digital licences are being issued by the Radio Authority in bundles

called multiplexes. There are seven multiplexes available for digital

radio - each one can carry about six services. One of the multiplexes is

reserved for the existing BBC national services, another will be used

for existing national commercial services, and the remaining five will

mainly be for new local, commercial services.

The Radio Authority has already awarded the national multiplex to

Digital One, a consortium comprised of the GWR radio group and NTL, the

cable operator born out of the old Independent Broadcasting Authority.

The ten services Digital One is planning will come on air later this


Three will be existing national services - Classic FM, Talk Radio and

Virgin Radio - and seven will be new digital services such as an evening

service dedicated to drama and literature.

The Radio Authority has awarded the local Birmingham multiplex to a

consortium comprising EMAP and Capital Radio, and the same group is the

sole applicant for the Manchester licence.

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