FIVE WAYS TO GET ON THE RADIO
Here are five basic methods of fitting your group into the programming at radio stations:
1) Spot messages
2) Feature stories
5) And becoming a reporter.
Here are details on each method.
Spot messages are short public-service announcements that most stations are required to carry as part of their license agreement. Getting a spot is not difficult; you must simply fulfill the program manager's criteria for the types of charitable organizations the station is willing to sponsor.
If you are approved, some radio stations will write the public information spot for you. You need supply only the grist, the basics about your cause and your organization, and perhaps some flesh -and-blood examples of how you've helped.
But don't count on getting such assistance. In the majority of cases, the staff is too busy to do this work for you. And even at stations where they're prepared to help, supplying them with copy that requires minimal alteration makes it more likely your spot will eventually get made and aired.
If you need to write your own spots, here are basic tips for making your spot appealing.
1. First, remember that spots are typically only a minute long, so the message must be conveyed in a tightly wrapped form, with the accent on getting the listener's attention from the very outset.
2. Spot messages can be informational, telling listeners about the problem your organization seeks to alleviate and how you go about doing it. In this case, you need to accent the human dimension of things: a story about someone you've helped, or an individual volunteer's experiences, for instance.
Alternatively, a spot message can be motivational, urging listeners to get involved and help give the problem a cure. These kinds of spots demand a tone of enthusiasm and challenge. They're pitched directly at the listeners, summoning them to respond personally.
The appeal should be frank, candid, direct, yet upbeat, not an exercise in guilt- tripping. “You have what it takes to help a child in need, " is a good example of a positive way to appeal to someone's best instincts.
In contrast, a downbeat tone, intended to shame people into helping your cause, doesn't conform well with the radio medium: People are listening for enjoyment and entertainment, and a public information spot that hits a discordant tone is likely to cause irritation- a switch of the radio dial.
3. No matter what station the promotional spot will run on, keep the language conversational. Don't write in long, run-on sentences. Use short, active phrasing. ("We want to hit a home run against hunger, " for instance. Not: “The societal disorders evidenced by homelessness should give us all pause for concern. "
4. Write with directness to take advantage of the immediacy of radio. Speak to listeners as if they were your friends. Be personal and friendly, projecting a relationship between your organization and your listeners with liberal use of words like “you" and “yours. "
5. Avoid jargon, slang, acronyms, or unfamiliar words that might cause people to scratch their heads instead of focusing on the important things you have to say.
6. If the radio station runs your spot, be sure to write a note of thanks. “Station personnel are like everyone else, " says Pete Weitzner of Century Cable. “They like to feel appreciated, and organizations that show appreciation are more likely to be helped by people at the station again in the future. "
Feature pieces are another form of programming that can provide you an opening to a station. Your feature piece could be an interview or a report on an event you are sponsoring in your community. Feature pieces are usually more analytical and in-depth than spots or news stories.
If you identify a local radio station that does occasional features, call to find the names of the producers who oversee them. Write to these people about your project, and the social problem you are covering. Give solid examples of people being assisted by your efforts. Say that you would be happy to help the station with your experience and expertise should they be interested in doing a feature dealing with your issue.
As with newspapers, I also recommend following up your letter with a phone call, telling the producer you “just wanted to make sure" the letter arrived, and you'd be happy to answer any questions he or she might have.
Again, as with follow-ups for standard press releases, it's useful to have additional noteworthy facts to offer when you make phone contact, to spark more interest.
Feature stories are most interesting when they include real people. If there's someone whose life has been turned around by your charitable organization, that's the kind of story people like to hear-and radio can convey it effectively. So make sure the producer knows if there is such a potential story about your nonprofit.
A charity can be proactive in its approach to radio news, attempting to generate news stories about itself with press releases. Those releases should be geared to the style of radio news writing, which gets the basic point of the story across in the first sentence or two, adds some descriptive imagery, and ends fairly quickly.
There is also the possibility that your organization's work could be mentioned in the context of a “hard news" story. In fact, when you write to the radio- station producer for any reason, you might gain a special advantage by linking your organization's story with a topical story in the news that week or month. “If your message can be wrapped into a news story . . . that catches a programmer's eye, he or she is likely to add it to the end of an announcer's newscast, " writes Marty Schwartz, vice president of sales at New USA, a public- relations firm in Virginia. “Of course, not every message can be . . . successful. There has to be some news value or public-service value inherent in the message. If it just a ‘product’ pitch, programmers will make their own pitch- into the circular file-and be sore that you wasted their time. So this is where some creative thinking about how it can be presented is really valuable. "
Even if an expanded feature program doesn't fit into the station’s schedule, a producer or news director who finds your story interesting might see the opportunity to broadcast an interview with you, or to let someone in your organization interview someone else involved with the charity.
Radio interviews can be divided into three broad categories.
1. The first is akin to feature reporting-a longish interview, conducted by someone with the station, in which the subject matter and general questions are known in advance. Such exchanges can even be scripted. But authenticity is enhanced when there is some spontaneity, so it is better to request a format in which you don't stick to a text, but only to an overall framework of questions that have been agreed to in advance.
2. There is the interview conducted by the charity itself. While these can be effective, especially if done with leeway for ad-libbed conversation to boost credibility, there is something more authoritative for many listeners when a station employee conducts the interview.
3. There is the news interview conducted by a reporter. These can be the most intimidating exchanges for the interviewee, because the questions aren't reviewed in advance, so you have to be quick on your feet in answering.
If you have an opportunity to choose among these various formats, the one that usually offers the most potential to show you and your organization to best advantage is the first, because it is more relaxed and you're usually given a chance to know what you'll be asked about and to frame your responses in advance.
If you are interviewed, it is recommended that you try to get to know the interviewer before the tape actually starts rolling. This will help you relax during the interview itself. When the interview is under way, don't step on the interviewer's questions, and pace yourself in your answers.
And when it is over, make sure get a recording of your appearances, just as with any print stories that appear about your organization, you should collect your radio “clips"-i. e. , record your appearances-and assemble a little cassette of your best sound bites. These can be used for an “audio press kit" to help line up future radio appearances.
Becoming a Reporter
A last way you can gain access to radio is to become something of a reporter or commentator for a station in your area. If you play your cards right, you can turn into a station's local expert, who is called on whenever news relating to a specific issue arises.
Gary Millspaugh, executive director of the Allentown Rescue Mission in Allentown, Pennsylvania, knows the value of becoming a resource to a radio station. “I attended the Presidents’ Summit on volunteerism in Philadelphia, " he says. “I thought hard in advance about how to turn that trip into publicity for our rescue mission, which serves up to eight hundred homeless men per year, and has a 70-percent success rate in getting people out of the debilitating problems that led them to the streets. Our graduates get into jobs and a responsible, self-sufficient life. "
To turn his trip to the Summit into more than just a jaunt to Philadelphia, he called his contacts at major radio stations (he is meticulous, he says, in always nurturing relationships with key people in the local media) and he let them know that he would be attending the Summit and could offer first-person perspective. His efforts won him two rounds of publicity.
First, he got coverage prior to the Summit for being a local service-provider who would be going to the event. Second, he got publicity while he was in Philadelphia. After President Clinton's speech, for instance, Gary called one of the largest Allentown-area stations, and was put on the air during drive-time (the afternoon “rush hour, " when listenership is highest). “I basically became their on-the-scene commentator on the president's speech and the Summit, " he recalls.
This kind of vigorous courting of the media is “essential" for any charity that wants “to survive in the incredibly competitive world of nonprofits today, "
Gary argues. “The inescapable fact is that if you're a nonprofit or a charity, you're engaged in a competitive activity. You have to view it as competitive. As rough as it might sound, you're in a win/lose proposition. If you don't put your resources to a winning use, you'll lose-and be out of the business of helping others. "
If you're as successful as he was in winning an opportunity to become sort of a freelance reporter on a social issue, keep in mind some basics of radio journalism. Facts should be conveyed clearly and accurately. Keep your sentences short. Use words that carry color and meaning. Make the chronological presentation orderly and understandable.
THE GREAT WORLD OF TALK RADIO
In addition to the above methods of getting your message on the radio, there is also an entire world of talk radio that offers you instant access to the airwaves.
In fact, talk radio offers excellent possibilities for organizations with a socially significant message, especially if you have someone in your organization who can be seen as an expert in a field.
(Ironically, the more you appear on talk radio, the more you become an expert, as one's expertise usually gains a heightened status from being on the radio. )
One advantage of some talk-radio shows is that their audiences may be more affluent, with more money to invest. This observation should perk up ears among charities and nonprofits looking for donors.
But while talk-radio provides fertile ground for publicity, you should still remember that radio stations operate not to perform charity but to generate ratings so they can make money.
So they're not going to invite a spokesman for a charitable group on who has nothing interesting to talk about.
They're not going to devote their time to conversations about next weekend's fundraising car wash.
This means that your creativity is highly tested if you seek to get on talk radio, just as with all other aspects of promotional campaigns. When you contact a radio station producer to suggest focusing on something that has to do with your nonprofit cause, the producer is going to ask what's unique and interesting about your subject: What is it that will grab listeners and keep them from pushing another button on the dial?
That's the question you have to ask yourself about every idea you consider pitching to any media outlet. You have to be able to answer it again and again during your marketing efforts. If you can't answer it, you have no business doing promotion in the first place.
One wonderful advantage of radio today is that you don't have be in the studio to perform your part. You can be on the phone, calling from your office, car, or from across the country. You are simply “patched in" to the show, with the audience knowing nothing about where you are located.
Interviews on talk-radio programs can vary from fifteen min to an hour in length. On many shows, guests are also asked to take calls from listeners.
If you have an opportunity to be on a talk, how, it is useful to give your host a list of ten to fifteen questions that you would like to be asked.
Although there is no guarantee your questions will be used, many hosts appreciate having your questions supplied because they interview such a wide variety of guests that they can't be well-versed on all the subjects under discussion. Your questions therefore act as pointers and cues that make them look intelligent and knowledgeable.
On the other hand, be careful about getting too scripted. When an organization seeks to get on talk shows, it is best to choose the person among its staff or officials who is most knowledgeable and articulate about the group and its work and can ad-lib.
Many shows like to be flexible, taking a diversion from the announced subject. After all, nothing runs as smoothly when it's scripted. The worst shows are the ones where they just read off a list of questions. So be sure your spokesperson is comfortable talking on his or her feet.
Here are a few additional pointers for targeting talk radio.
Talk-radio producers are heavily worked, almost always busy lining up guests and arranging the logistics of each program. You might not reach a producer the first time you try calling. Persistence is usually required.
Look for the third part of this article, next week.
Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine Communications Office, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Guerrilla PR, 7 Life Lessons from Noah’s Ark: How to Survive a Flood in Your Own Life. He is available as a keynote speaker. He can be contacted by email: Michael@guerrillaPR.net
GuerrillaPR.net is a resource for people that want to get famous in the media, without going broke. http://GuerrillaPR.net