Do radio days really suffocate creativity?

radio days

I remember reading this article back in 2014. I don’t recollect how or where or I came across it but I remember it bothering me. As an account manager, still cutting my teeth in broadcast PR I probably felt a bit attacked, maybe a bit embarrassed at the thought that the wider PR community would define me in the same condescending manner which the article was written.

Seven years on, stuff like that no longer worries me but the article still gets my back up. Why?

Because it’s an attack on my chosen profession?

Because it’s written from the perspective of someone that’s never worked a day in a broadcast agency?

Because the author felt they could dish out a kicking but then didn’t have the guts to put their name to their words?

None of the above. What really grates, is that so many of the issues the author writes about still exist today.  

The term ‘Radio Day’ has had a re brand, we now call it a ‘Broadcast Day’, and we still use capital letters but aside from that, seven years have passed and yet all the frustrations, issues and misconceptions that surround broadcast PR agencies, still remain. And that’s so frustrating.

In the same time it’s taken for Donald Trump to rise and fall, for Britain to have a referendum and subsequently leave the EU, no progress has been made to enhance the value of a broadcast day or to ease the common tensions that arise when PR’s work with specialist broadcast agencies. 

I know this because over the past few years I’ve sat on both sides of the table, as a PR and as a broadcast PR, and I have seen and heard and felt the tone of this article over and over again.

Now, it’s clear not everyone agrees with the articles sentiment otherwise there wouldn’t be so many broadcast agencies out there doing such good and valuable work on a consistent basis but the article made me think, aside from delivering good work on a consistent basis, what can I be doing to shift and challenge those common misconceptions associated with a Radio Day?

Well, before we get into that lets address a few points for context.

At the time of writing there are probably around 14 Broadcast PR agencies of some shape or form, some doing great work and others probably less so. Almost none of those agencies will start each year with retained clients, their success or failure depends on their ability to win business and then – most importantly – deliver so that each project ends with a happy client who may (all being well) return with more business down the road. It’s a hyper competitive market with no second chances. It’s do or die on every project.

So if all those agencies are pitching stories into broadcasters every single day against one another (some of them are even pitching stories in against themselves) as well as vying to find space among the general news cycle, it becomes clear how much a story must stand out from the crowd if it is to be a success.

And as everyone who works in PR knows, not every campaign can change the world. Some are just about sofas or toothpaste.

So what does a happy client look like? I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the years to work with some fantastic clients – people that valued my honesty, frankness and thought process when it came to making their campaigns work for broadcast. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lost prenty of business to competitors by being too realistic when setting KPI’s. I’ve been deemed as pessimistic or unenthusiastic when I’ve suggested ways of adapting a story to make it work better for broadcast, rather than just punting out the press release in its entirety.

All of these factors, plus the balancing act that comes with winning new business while simultaneously managing clients expectations, play a crucial role in understanding why things may not have changed that much in the past seven years and why BF media, as an agency, was borne out of an ambition to do things differently.

‘Community Stations on schedules’

Some community stations are fantastic. They are managed by ex broadcast journalists, have a massive market share of their region’s listenership and conduct excellent, professional interviews. 

Some are the complete opposite.

Some clients value in depth on air conversations that reach large audiences and land all commercial messaging.

Some clients like numbers.

In an uber competitive marketplace, where the success of your company relies massively on return business, your priority is to ensure every client walks away happy. Even if you have secured national TV & radio and a selection of high reaching regional stations, if your client loves numbers and you are 3-4 interviews short where do you turn? How do you fill the gaps?

You turn to community stations.

When I set up BF media I wanted to be as transparent with clients as possible, so one of the ways we address the issue of community stations is by speaking about them from the onset and seeing how clients feel about them. The good news is the majority of clients see the value in having community stations on a schedule but if they don’t, we won’t approach them and if KPI’s need to be amended to reflect this, we will make it clear from the outset too. It seems obvious, but by being open and giving the client options, we have seen first hand the difference it has made in terms of educating clients on the value of local radio but has also helped eliminate scenarios of having to increase interview numbers at the last minute in order to reach an arbitrary KPI number.

At BF media we try and be as honest as we can and we firmly believe that if there isn’t a way to make a project work and deliver the results a client is looking for, we will walk away and advise putting the money towards another activation. We much rather build trust with a client over time, even if it means not working with them, than deliver a poor campaign.

However, if you have done your job as a broadcast consultant and advised appropriately, there is no logical explanation as to why a client should receive a schedule full of community stations. And if you are a client that is on the receiving end of this, YOU SHOULDN’T PAY. Simple as that.

‘Radio Day’s are not a process that produces groundbreaking results’ 

To quote Anchorman’s Brian Fantana “60% of the time, it works every time’.

Of course broadcast PR’s don’t deliver groundbreaking results every day – anyone who says they do is a liar – but is the author here implying that there is another communications discipline, a superior version of ‘Sex Panther by Odeon’ that delivers groundbreaking results 99% of the time, every time? 

As far as I am aware, there wasn’t one then, seven years ago, and there isn’t one now.

But in terms of groundbreaking results, BF media has been going just a few months and we have already worked on projects that have revived stagnant sales by 900%, driven donations tenfold and increased petition signatures by 20%. 

Broadcast sets the agenda and moves the needle so as Champ would say “That is a scientific fact”.

‘PRs think about radio in terms what their client wants to hear’

True but that’s an integral part of being a good PR, to fully immerse yourself with the brand so that you are always ready to spot any danger or opportunity in the press.

A good broadcast agency is there to help the PR see how the brand fits within a broader conversation. We earn our money not by just pitching into the media but by helping shape the broadcast element of a campaign before it goes to the media – it’s a different discipline so requires a different approach. Our skill is striking the balance between the information the client wants to talk about and what everyday people want to hear about.

Perhaps the BF media motto should be “We’ve got the information, now let’s make some conversation”

‘I hope Broadcast PR’s use their skills to challenge PR agencies to do better’

And here we are back again at the competitive nature of the industry, where broadcast agencies don’t have retained clients so each potential project presents a very short window to build chemistry and gain trust before you consider treading the perilous tightrope of challenging a potential customer to do better.

Some won’t attempt it. 

And nothing changes.

Others will and as a result see their potential project ride off into the distance with a more malleable partner. 

And nothing changes. 

Striking the right balance to cross that rope and make it onto the other side requires a lot of trust in yourself and that the approach you are taking is for the long term benefit of not just yourself, your future client, but also the industry you work in.

Maybe not enough broadcast consultants have been taking that tougher option?

Maybe lots of people just don’t want to listen.

Maybe that’s why things haven’t changed that much in seven years.

I guess all that I, and the team at BF media, can do is stay consistent in our approach and continue to put on our free to attend events, that provide genuine and useful insight from the broadcast industry and hope that in seven years time some of these issues will no longer remain.