Pitching Radio: What to Know and Getting in the Right Frame of Mind

By on Friday, July 6, 2012
Photo courtesy of eHow

When nonprofits start thinking about how to pursue news coverage, they often think of television and its impact first. But they might be overlooking a great medium in their local community – radio. While many have trumpeted the death of radio – it’s thriving today. A story last month in Nonprofit Quarterly noted that radio audiences on the AM/FM dial expanded by 5% last year. So how does your nonprofit reach out to the local radio station to partner? Here’s a few tips to get started:

Understand the station and how it structures information before you call and ask for them to work with you on a project or story idea. It’s commonsense to do this, but it’s often overlooked. Having only vague familiarity from occasionally hearing the station in your car is not good enough. Go online to the station website. Look at the schedule for the station. Look at the show pages and the contact page. Key things to find out:
– does the station have a news staff (even if it’s only one person) that does original reporting? If yes, what kind of stories do they tend to do?
– does the station have a morning show done in-studio in your community with local people?
– does the station produce all of its own programming, or does it import some of it via satellite or network feed (e.g. if it’s an NPR station, is it running All Things Considered or the Diane Rehms show, which are taped elsewhere)?
–  does the station have posted online any information to help you figure out who to contact about what you want to do? Stations will often list who to call for contests and promotions, as well as who to call for news stories – and they are often not the same people.
– do they do remotes where a team from the station attends an event in the community and broadcasts live – or do they never do things like that?
Figure out what you want to pitch to the station. Before you call or email anyone at the station, you need to know what you are asking for. Do you want to suggest a story idea for a news story that is timely, has a news hook and includes your organization? Would you like for your organization to be interviewed and be part of the weekly community organization feature that happens on their morning show? If it’s a new story, you need a strong news hook to what you plan to pitch to the station’s news staff – a tie in to a current news story, something new or interesting in the community, a need you are trying to meet that hasn’t been met or is facing hurdles, or a significant change you are trying to make in the community (remember to cite a few statistics if you can).
Determine how best to approach the station staff. Sometimes stations will clearly spell out how they want to engage with nonprofit organizations from the community holding an event. I’ve seen stations with online web calendars where nonprofits can go in and submit an event for inclusion on the calendar. Yet that may not be the level of exposure a nonprofit wants for an upcoming community event. Realize that often faith-based and public stations engage in fundraising (just like your nonprofit does) to stay on the air. Sometimes these stations will have very specific policies about how they can engage with a nonprofit organization holding a fundraising event.
If you want a public service announcement – ask the station to partner to raise awareness about an issue and follow the policies spelled out by the station. Radio stations sometimes have clear public service announcement (PSA) guidelines posted on their websites. Realize that providing PSA air time is a community service – not an entitlement for every nonprofit in town to get free advertising. Stations are bombarded with requests for PSAs from nonprofits – and receive far more requests than they can ever air. Many stations also get national PSAs from the Ad Council and the numerous campaigns it does every year  to raise awareness about critical issues. Get your foot in the door by having a compelling reason why you want a PSA (e.g. your nonprofit is serving a demonstrated unmet need in the community) and follow the policies posted by the station. If the station will only accept professionally-produced PSAs in a particular format and does not read announcer copy on air, then you should have a professionally produced audio PSA ready to share that fits their desired format. Some stations will allow nonprofits to come in and record PSAs. I actually did this when I worked with a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in the early 90s while in college. It was  fun to record our own PSAs and encourage the community to support our efforts, and we got to meet all of the station staff. It’s important to remember when requesting PSA air time – that you are asking for air time to raise awareness about an important community issue and inspire the community to get involved, not for “free advertising” for your nonprofit.
Plan when to call and get in the right frame of mind. It makes sense that you would want to call the right person to talk to, at a time when he or she is working but not on the air. If you are calling the morning show staff to talk about inviting one of their personalities to come and talk for your nonprofit event – during the show is not the time to call – late afternoon is not good either because at that point, the morning show staff is often on its way home – about a half an hour to an hour after the show is off the air is usually a good time to call. For news staff – if they tend to push out live news during the morning rush hour – wait until later to call them if you don’t have breaking news or something that requires any time to discuss. As always – remember that you want to build a relationship with the station and the person you are talking to.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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