FOCUS: BROADCAST - New tech thrills the radio stars/As new technology amplifies opportunities for the radio industry broadcast consultancies are finding themselves increasingly in demand. Peter Robinson tunes into the market

Walking into the new studios of radio consultancy EMR in London’s Kings Cross is a surreal experience indicative of the change sweeping through radio.

Walking into the new studios of radio consultancy EMR in London’s

Kings Cross is a surreal experience indicative of the change sweeping

through radio.



There are seats made of the converted bonnets of fluffy Mini cars, an

overhead waterfall and a canteen in the shape of an old wireless

set.



Upstairs the brightly designed studios have en suite green rooms

complete with fridges, sofas and work stations. It’s worlds away from

the spartan, bunker-like studios in the bowels of the BBC’s Broadcasting

House.



The new breed of pioneering radio consultancies are boldly going where

Auntie would not dare to tread in a search for creative solutions to

attract their audiences.



For, while new radio stations are opening all the time, they are often

fragmenting the radio audience which is staying stable.



’Compared to two years ago there are a lot of new agencies coming in

with heavy sales techniques,’ says Darren Adler, managing director of

EMR. ’Nowadays you can get the ISDN systems to start-up quite

cheaply.



But this business is not about that, it’s about being creative and

knowing what radio stations want. You can no longer expect to come up

with the same old angles every year.



’With annual events like the Chelsea flower show we have researchers

creating new ideas and linking clients to them. You have to think of

what radio stations might want, not what we want to say. It takes

creativity, contacts and the ability to distribute - you need all

three.’



Specialist magazines are becoming a strong element in marketing to radio

stations and EMR has just launched Extrax. It has two rivals, The

Broadcaster’s Bulletin and Q Sheet which was taken over by The Market

Tiers in February and relaunched as a fortnightly.



Howard Kosky, managing director at The Market Tiers, sees Q Sheet as a

service to broadcasters rather than just a medium to push clients’

stories.



’Both radio stations and PR are our clients so we must serve both. Q

Sheet is not just about ads and pushing stories but providing an

information service to broadcasters. Media Week and Broadcast tend not

to cover radio news much so where do broadcasters go for

information?’



Radio is proving the fastest growing medium in the 1990s. Kosky believes

that even in this increasingly visual age, radio will retain certain

advantages.



’The beauty of radio is that it’s simple. It’s easily switched on and

off, it’s accessible and portable and there’s tremendous choice. People

are basically conservative and though the technology of sound has

improved tremendously the listener doesn’t need to know about any of

that.’



Greg Strange, managing director of the Broadcasting Company, says that

there is now much more awareness in PR of radio’s unique strengths.

’There’s a recognition that radio is part of the PR mix, whereas it was

often fudged or left till last before. But it’s a brilliant medium for

breaking a story and reacting to it. People have been obsessed with

visuals, logos and outlines of cars and press cuttings. But radio has

its own strengths and can create better pictures in the head.’



ISDN - digital lines communicating broadcast quality sound direct to

radio stations - is becoming so cheap that many clients now are

installing their own simple studios for as little as pounds 3,000. So do

they really need radio specialists and PR consultancies?



Claudia Downes, associate director of consultancy Radio Lynx, says it

will always be more a matter of strategic thinking than technology. ’As

radio grows and more stations come on line, more opportunities are

available for PR clients. It’s impossible for busy professional

communicators to keep abreast of these changes and therefore companies

like ours become their in-house radio department. We provide a one-stop

radio stop.’



The consultancies are increasingly taking a bi-media approach. Some,

like The Market Tiers and Two-Ten Communications, have linked up with

television specialists. Others like Bulletin International are

integrated bi-media companies.



’Radio has a strong synergy with TV and we wanted to look after both,’

says Bulletin’s chief executive Anthony Hayward. ’The majority of our

projects now are bi-media and this is increasingly the approach which

broadcasters like the BBC and ITN are taking. This is the key to

maximising coverage of clients’ messages and with bi-media projects

there’s just one brief and one approval process to manage.’



He believes that live ISDN interviews have revolutionised radio.

’Broadcasters want good relevant regional stories and people they can

interview themselves, making their own editorial decisions. ISDN has

created a win-win situation for radio stations and clients.’



While the trend now is towards live ISDN interviews, back-up material is

often sent down the line before or after the interview so that radio

stations can mix this into a package. Syndicated tapes remain two words

which radio specialists are loathe to use these days. They are redolent

of the days when agencies recorded their own packages often ridiculously

overselling clients’ messages, made 100 copies then sent them off, sat

back and hoped. Stations generally hated them.



Jenny Walmsley, producer at BBC Bristol, says: ’We don’t use tapes. We

occasionally use ISDN, but it depends on how the interview is set up and

who is speaking. We like agencies to be honest with us, telling us

exactly who is behind something as sometimes they do not come clean.

Nowadays many newspapers and magazines have their own ISDN studios so

when we want an expert for an on-air programme interview we can go

direct to the journalist.’



Sonya Green, producer at BBC Shropshire, adds: ’The more people to have

ISDN the better because otherwise we have to use lines through

Broadcasting House and that can be very difficult to book. But agencies

have to be fair. Some PRs do a deal with their client that they will not

mention names and we give credit at the beginning or end of the

interview.’



The radio audience is fairly evenly split between BBC and commercial

stations. BBC local stations benefit from being sent a constant flow of

news and magazine material such as the latest excerpts from film

soundtracks down the line from London.



But smaller commercial stations often have limited resources and can be

more open to a wider range of PR generated material.



Sally Vincent of Radio Victory says: ’I’m impressed by some radio

consultancies as they get interesting angles and do not push clients too

much. We also use Q Sheet and the Broadcaster’s Bulletin as there’s

often something in there we can use and the competitions are good. We

sometimes use phone interviews or DAT tapes but the branding is often

too heavy on tapes. There’s a subtle line between pushing a product and

providing an interesting angle.’



Clients often need to be taught how to tread that line and media

training is big business. ’You have to be able to give simple

jargon-free messages,’ says Hugo Brooke of Media Interviews.



’We spend time on how to create the soundbite or usable quote. After all

you may be an expert in your field but if you can’t communicate

effectively in simple, everyday language you will fail to promote your

organisation. You may even damage your cause,’ he says.



Many PR agencies tackle radio themselves as well as linking up with

radio specialists. For some clients, radio can reach parts other media

cannot touch.



For instance Julie Flaxen, director of Munro and Forster Communications,

finds that radio is particularly suitable for healthcare clients.



’We are finding some huge opportunities on radio in healthcare,’ she

says. ’For instance, we often link up with Media Medics, a group of

doctors specialising in broadcasting, providing them with information on

our clients which they can use on their many broadcast slots. Also,

while we can’t pay to promote medical brands, we can talk about subjects

such as indigestion at Christmas, obliquely highlighting the

condition.’



As with most forms of communication these days, the Internet is

beginning to play an important role in radio. Around ten UK stations

including Capital Radio now broadcast live on the Internet. This is

enabling listeners to become interactive with their radio station,

surfing the latest information and sending e-mail.



Radio consultancies are also increasingly using the Internet, both as a

sound-bite delivery method and as a taster for their radio goodies.



While downloading the simplest of still images can be a lengthy process,

downloading sound is much faster.



As Digital Audio Broadcasting develops such digital methods of

transmission and recording are likely to take off. Far from technology

leaving steam radio behind, radio appears to be reaping even greater

benefits from it.



MONITORING: TUNING IN TO WHO’S TOUCHING THAT DIAL



Keeping track and evaluating output of the ever growing number of radio

stations can be a major headache.



The Broadcasters Bulletin’s solution to the problem is to provide

feedback for its clients via a compilation cassette of material that

goes out on air. However, monitoring companies such as Tellex Monitors

says that it can be difficult tracking down all the material. ’No one

can monitor them all 24 hours a day,’ says evaluation manager Michael

Blowers. ’I would hope that we have a good hit rate for the

news-orientated stations but many are music based and to monitor them

all the time would not be cost-effective.’



The monitors can also undertake qualitative evaluation when clients tell

them what key messages they are trying to communicate. The Radio

Advertising Bureau carries out attitudinal research on advertisers and

Rajar (Radio Joint Audience Research) provides regular listenership

figures. Feedback this year indicates that advertisers like radio

because of its low cost, ability to target defined audiences and its

relationship with listeners.



Clearly these three points are also vital in PR. The growth of live ISDN

interviews has made it easier for consultancies to monitor interviews

used but pre-recorded material can still be missed. Anita Hamilton of

Unique Broadcasting says: ’We send every station a questionnaire. But

radio stations are time and cash-strapped so you can’t be sure of

tracing everything.’



Howard Kosky of The Market Tiers thinks that radio needs to start

investing in qualitative evaluation. ’More money is being put into radio

and we need more detailed analysis. Below the line we need to be more

careful about targeting. Technology permitting, we could get word

recognition systems with satellites picking it all up but this must be a

few years away.’



Radio Lynx offers Radio Plan +, an ad agency style campaign evaluation

system. It logs key brand mentions and key messages on each station.

Using the Rajar outreach figures for each station at a particular time

it evaluates the reach and success of a campaign. Associate director

Claudia Downes says: ’It’s no longer relevant to just give clients the

weekly listenership figures of the stations that use their

material.We’ve got to become more scientific, evaluate key messages and

tell clients the reach of each show at the time of transmission.’



But Greg Strange of the Broadcasting Company notes: ’You can do these

calculations but you must also work out whether the coverage was

positive or negative and that can be hard.Other media do it but radio is

not prepared to pay for it and PR budgets are finite.’



EXHIBITIONS: GOING APE AT OLYMPIA



Major events like The Ideal Home Exhibition have always been a mecca of

interesting angles for radio, yet studios are usually tucked away at the

back of the hall like an embarrassing relative.



At this year’s Ideal Home Exhibition Unique Broadcasting, a client of

MacLaurin Communications, built a fully-equipped broadcast studio right

in the middle of the main feature of the exhibition - the Thunder

Jungle.



This dramatic jungle environment had waterfalls, tropical birds and even

thunder and lighting with the studio itself designed as a shack to fit

into the theme.



Anita Hamilton, commercial and marketing director of Unique Broadcasting

explains: ’While broadcasting from an exhibition is not new, its usually

done from a booth hidden at the back. But everyone loves to look so this

year we made it part of the main feature with stations broadcasting

live.’



The studio had full playback and record formats plus two ISDN lines.



There was also a producer’s suite, green room, the services of a Unique

engineer and a producer/liaison manager to help stations and

clients.



The public was kept up to date with what was going on by a moving

message board linked to the studio.



Unique circulated all key stations - BBC and independent, local,

regional and national - with full details of what was on offer. Stations

were invited to make full broadcasts of their regular programmes or a

series of programmes from the studio.



A week before the opening they were granted preview interviews to help

publicise the exhibition. Tapes of key interviews with celebrities and

home specialists were also sent out to other stations.



The blitz achieved over 100 hours of broadcasting from 60 stations

across the UK. Coverage varied from inserts of live interviews to

recorded pieces and full programmes and a week’s programming on Talk

Radio.



Jenny Roman, marketing director of Daily Mail Group says: ’Last year we

had a studio at the exhibition for just ten days but it was hidden. This

time it was right in the centre of things and part of the theme for the

whole four weeks. Many of the radio stations found the studio better

equipped than their own. We succeeded in making it very

user-friendly. They were also able to go out into the exhibition live

with backpacks.’



Roman revealed that she liked it so much that she is going to team up

with Unique again for next year’s exhibition but the theme remains a

closely guarded secret.



CASE STUDY: SLIPPING THE MICKEY INTO RADIO



The prospect of a free weekend at Disneyland Paris to cover its fifth

anniversary last month brought no shortage of takers from radio

stations.



Disneyland Paris (DLP) UK and Ireland used its fifth birthday

celebrations to create a media extravaganza. Since it had limited

experience in accessing UK radio, The Market Tiers(TMT) was brought on

board to coordinate coverage.



Stage one began back in February when TMT started pre-publicity,

arranging ISDN interviews to highlight the anniversary. Stage two saw

radio stations from the UK and Ireland being invited to submit bids as

to what sort of coverage they could provide. The 20 best submissions

were chosen and TMT arranged all accommodation, travelling and technical

requirements for the stations.



’The logistics of getting 20 radio stations from around the UK and

Ireland to board a special celebrity train at Eurostar International

Terminal at Waterloo could have been a nightmare,’ says Grant Levy,

director of TMT. ’But it all went smoothly with interviews with the

celebrities starting from the moment they reached Waterloo and taking

place throughout the train journey with other media pushing for their

share too.’ The glitterati on the train included stars from Eastenders,

Ballykissangel, Goodnight Sweetheart and Blue Peter.



At Disneyland Paris, TMT built, managed and coordinated studio

facilities, running a tight schedule as well as having to drop in last

minute feeds from stations. At one point Melanie Griffiths wandered into

the vicinity and Levy quickly arranged interviews with her too.



At the official unveiling ceremony TMT secured a live interview with Roy

Disney and there were live recordings of the parade, closing ceremony

and fireworks display.



The coverage helped revitalise Disneyland Paris, highlighting new rides

such as Space Mountain, the Eurostar direct connection and the range of

holiday packages on offer. James Morgan, head of press and PR for DLP UK

and Ireland says: ’We have a team of just me and one other person

covering a whole range of media with little experience in securing

regular coverage on radio in the UK. Using TMT allowed us access to the

whole radio network, delivering key messages on the fifth birthday

celebrations.’



The UK and Ireland ended up with far more extensive coverage than other

European countries due to the presence of three national radio news

services - IRN (185 stations), the Source Entertainment News (49

stations) and PA. The World Service broadcast to 44 countries and Virgin

12 commercial stations and two BBC stations also did live broadcasts.



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