Walking into the new studios of radio consultancy EMR in London’s
Kings Cross is a surreal experience indicative of the change sweeping
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
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
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
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
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’
’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
Radio is proving the fastest growing medium in the 1990s. Kosky believes
that even in this increasingly visual age, radio will retain certain
’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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.