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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Radio Gaga

As some of my compatriots already know, I spent some time in radio.  I know that sounds a little like an ex-con who reluctantly admits he or she spent some "time" in the "big house" (prison, for those of you not up on your film noir vernacular).  Truthfully, for some, radio might have seemed like a prison.  Long hours, little pay no glory.  But I enjoyed my time in radio.  I have always said that if radio had paid more at the time, I would probably still be pushing buttons and speaking into microphones.

But it didn't, and I moved into television, for better or worse.  For most small business owners and non-profits, radio remains an enigma, despite being one of the longest running and most consistent media outlet formats available.  This is most likely because the inner workings of radio are still a mystery to the masses, a kind of Wonka-esque dream factory where magic happens behind gilded doors by disembodied voices.  We never actually SEE the radio process, we just hear it.  Newspapers have printed pages we can pick up and read, and you can actually see the anchors and reporters going about their work in the neighborhoods, on the streets and on the set. 

But radio happens behind closed doors while still being so easily accessible.  And maybe that's part of the appeal.  It provides entertainment, offers debate, gives us the news of the day, all with a simple turn of a knob.

It can also be a huge boon to small businesses and non-profits looking to get a little notariety.  With a little knowledege, some basic legwork and a bit of perseverance, you can build radio relationships and take advantage of the myriad of listeners who tune in every day to hear their favorite songs or listen to their favorite personality talk about the day's issues.

Options Abound:

Like the rest of the media world, radio has been deeply impacted by the digital revolution.  Unlike newspapers and television, though, the digital impact has actually hurt small business and non-profit PR opportunities, if even only a little.  More and more, people are listening to XM radio and other digital offerings.  There are fewer commercials, less talk, more focus on a particular musical era or talk topic (sports, politics, etc.). 

However, with the explosion of social media, other opportunities have opened up.  Let's take a quick look at the various kinds of radio programs and opportunties that are available to small businesses and non-profits:

Traditional Music Radio - You're already familiar with this type of programming.  In just about every city, these stations often have some kind of morning and afternoon "drive-time" show featuring two or more personalities and sometimes conducting interviews with locals.

Talk Radio Programming - You might know "Rush" or "King" or any of the other big names of talk radio already.  But every large city has their own local talk personalities you can attempt to build relationships with.  These programs often focus on news of the day topics, adding their own personal bias or political slant to the conversation. 

News Programming - These types of programs are often found on the talk radio outlets and they normally feature two or more personalities delivering news and delving into specific topics deeper with interviews or pre-packaged stories.  They also often report on business, sports and breaking news.  Generally, these are morning programs. 

Straight News Reports -  Most music stations have their deejays (is that term even relevant anymore) deliver news.  However on sports and talk stations news is often delivered by an in-house reporter or anchor that is locally based.  Sometimes stations will take wire news services, but many cities have at least one large local radio news organization.

Weekend Programming -  This is often also referred to as, "Pay for Play" programming.  To increase profits, many local talk stations will charge for hourly weekend programs.  On the local stations, you can find gardening shows, real estate shows, auto shows, etc.  If you own a business, you can pay $1,000 or more for an hour on the air to promote your business and your industry.  You can get sponsors and even make a few bucks if you do it right, all while earning some notariety for your own business.

Online Radio/Podcasts - This has been a source of confusion for a lot of small businesses and non-profits.  This is because there are online radio stations, and then there are podcasts.  Right now, it's safe to say that the actual number of online radio stations that offer interview opportunities for small businesses and non-profits is limited.  Most online stations are music-oriented and provide strictly streaming music.  However there ARE some networks out there that operate just like more traditional radio stations, with commercials, interviews and a variety of show programming including sports talk, political talk, pay for play and music.  Podcasts are different in that they are generally pre-recorded, packaged and then released onto the internet to be downloaded by fans.  Podcasts are actually a great opportunity for small businesses and non-profits since they target specific audiences and often host interviews.

Finding the Right Fit:

Garnering earned media coverage (industry speak for news stories or interviews) in radio involves a lot of the same practices you might use to get covered by your local paper or television news station.  You have to do your research, target your audience and make a pitch that is appealing to a particular outlet. 

1.  Research Your Local Radio Outlets - If you've spent any time at all in a city, you probably have a decent idea of the different radio stations available and what they do.  But knowing a stations' format isn't the same as really knowing that station.  Get an idea of which demographic that station targets aggressively, try and understand the kinds of stories the station covers regularly.  Do they offer pay for play?  What kind of remotes do they do?  Where are they in terms of audience share and ratings?  Who are the personalities?  What kind of following do they have?  What different kinds of shows does the station offer? These things matter when you're trying to decide which station or stations you want to target to pitch for an interview opportunity.


2.  Understand Their Audience -  Some stations target women, some target teens, some target an older demographic.  More than probably any other electronic media, radio stations break their audiences down into very specific demographic categories.  They look at income, ethnicity, gender, political preferences, education as well as age when they look at their audience.  You should have a very good grasp on who exactly this station wants to attract as listeners before you pitch.  You can do this by contacting the station and speaking to a salesperson.  They will give you all of that information in an attempt to get your to buy time.  


3.  Find the Right Programming -  Once you have done your research, you can begin to target not only specfic stations, but individual shows on that station.  For instance, if you want to target women between the ages of 25 and 40, you can find the one or two stations that also have that as a target demo.  Then, find the one or two shows on those particular stations that have the biggest appeal.  It might be the morning drive time program, or it could be the mid-afternoon female deejay.  This is particularly important when dealing with talk radio stations.  More on this in a minute.


4.  Make Direct Contact -  Unlike television or print outlets, the cast of characters is much smaller in radio.  Yes, the larger drive time programs have producers, as do talk shows.  Larger newsrooms also have a news director (who is like the Executive Producer/News Director in TV newsrooms).  You can contact a radio reporter directly, as well as the news director.  Because there are fewer people involved and fewer moving parts, your pitch power will be increased that much more by contacting more than one individual.  Send your pitch to the specific personality as well as their producer (if they have one) as well as a reporter, anchor and news director (if they have one).  


5.  Be Persistent -  This is no different from your TV or print efforts.  You can't simply send out a single press release and pitch email and expect an immediate response.  You have to follow up with phone calls and other emails.  Radio stations, like their print and TV bretheren are inundated with emails and phone calls.  You have to follow up to get their attention.  More than newspapers and TV stations, some kind of special media kit with food or trinkets works for radio because it's a smaller environment.  Send a case of beer with a release and pitch and the entire station knows about it.  Send it to a newspaper reporter or TV station, there's a chance it might end up in the personal stash of that individual.


Adding Knowledge:

The above tips also work for podcasts as well, but one important aspect that can't be overlooked is actually being familiar with the station and its programming.  Take some time to listen to the program or podcast you're attempting to pitch.  This will allow you to speak knowledgably about the personality and the program itself.  You might also mention something you heard recently on their program in the pitch itself. 
Example:  
Mr. jones, I have been a fan of your program for some time and I was particularly interested in your interview last week with Mrs. Alberts on the plight of the homeless in Denver.  I run an organization in the city that takes a unique approach to helping the homeless...
By letting the personality, producer, reporter know you listen to their program, you immediately catch their attention.  You can then tell them about your product, business or service and request an interview.  This is important.  Just like in all of your other PR efforts, you have to let them know that you are available for interviews, but more than that, you WANT to appear on their show.  Let them know when you can be interviewed, let them know if you want to do it in studio or over the phone and let them know specifically what you want to be interviewed about.  Being flexible is your best option.  When I pitch radio stations or podcasts, I make sure to note that the client is available at ANY time, they would prefer to do the interview live in studio, but would also be happy to do a phone interview.  I also state specifically what the client will want to talk about, but also offer other topics that the client can discuss. 

When dealing with traditional radio stations, you can certainly try to snag a news interview, but this really only gets you a few sconds of airtime at the top or bottom of the hour.  If you're lucky, you might get a reference every other hour or so for about 6 hours before the story becomes stale and you're story is moved out of the pile.

This is why pitching actual shows is the better way to go.  When you pitch a radio show, whether it's a talk program or a morning show on a music station, you have no need to go through the news director (if they have one).  You're really pitching a feature story here, which is different than pitching a more hard-news story, so many radio newsrooms won't pay you much attention since they really only have time to focus on the hard news and breaking news stories of the day.

In this case, target the show producer and the personalities involved.  They make the decisions in regards to content.  In the years I worked as a radio talk show producer, I almost never dealt with the news director when considering a topic for the show.  Sometimes I would approach him for added information, but no once did he talk to me about what our show should be covering.  It was also very rare when he would come to us with a talk show topic. 

Since it's very rare for podcasts to have separate personalities and producers, you simply need to contact the show host directly.  One trick to pitching a podcast, one that might improve your chances for an interview, is to note in your pitch the fact that you have an extensive network of friends and fans that fit directly into their target audience.  By interviewing you, they have an opportunity to be exposed to thousands more potential listeners.  It's not bribery, really, just good information for them to know. Let them know that you will be reposting the podcast and recommeding the podcast on your various social media platforms for all to hear. 

Bigger Isn't Always Better:

When I worked in radio, I worked with a very strong and well known radio personality in Denver.  I also had the chance to work with some other legendary Denver radio personalities who all had a different take on what made for good radio.  Two of those personalities, Jay Marvin (before his Air America days) and Mike Rosen, a very popular Denver talk personality on the city's largest radio outlet would argue constantly over who had a better listener base. 

Marvin, a self-professed liberal and relative newcomer to the Denver market, would often boast he had a larger audience than the more established Rosen.  And the numbers often proved his point.  Rosen, however, responded by saying that he had a better "quality" audience.  Rosen, a self-professed conservative, said he wanted listeners with a higher education and income level and because of this he would naturally have a smaller audience base to draw from.

As a small business owner or non-profit, you have a similar choice.  You can go after the larger shows, the ones with a bigger listener base, or you can go after shows and stations that really cater to the kind of audience you're trying to attract.  In this case, a smaller station or show might be your better option.  Non-profits, for example, might be better served by pitching their local NPR outlet.  A deli-owner might go after a weekend entertainment show.  Business programming is also a great outlet for small businesses.  There are a ton of those on both traditional stations as well as business-oriented podcasts.

Your audience may be more inclined to listen to jazz or adult contemporary formats than the more listened-to pop music stations or sports and talk formats.  While you might not be reaching the mass audience you might reach if you pitched the bigger stations, you'll be speaking to a more receptive and interested audience by hitting these smaller stations.

Finally, don't be afraid of the radio salesman.  Because they want to bring in listeners and advertising dollars, radio salespeople will help small businesses when they can.  Of course, they'll try and sell you on buying time on a show or station.  And you should listen to them.  I still firmly believe that radio advertising represents the best value for your advertising dollar.  You can buy some time on their online station programming and find it might be a cheap way to buy your way into other on-air opportunities.  They also have incredible insight into the personalities, structure and atmosphere inside the station.  Because it always helps to have someone carrying your flag in a newsroom, a salesperson can be that person, since the personality, reporter, anchor, news director and producers simply have little time to develop a real relationship with any of their interview subjects.

You can pull the curtain back on the mystery surrounding radio stations, it simply takes a little legwork and effort on your part.  If you have time, take a morning or afternoon and go to the station and ask for a tour.  If you have purchased time on a station, ask the salesperson to take you around and introduce you.  Radio is a little more rogue than the other media outlets BECAUSE there are fewer moving parts and fewer people involved.  There is still a bit of the renegade spirit in most radio stations and you can capialize on this by being a bit of a risk-taker yourself. 

It's never a bad idea to pitch radio stations or podcasts, for the simple reason that people still listen to radio and will continue to do so.  People talk about what they hear on the radio during their drive into work and listeners have incredible loyalty to "their" station.  o get out there and get gaga over radio and podcasts.  It will only help you in your other PR and social media efforts.

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