Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Take Advantage of The Phone In

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that Phone in programmes are for the insane.

Broadcasters know it, producers know it, and the listening public suspect it; because only extreme views are shared. It's like getting into a taxi and expecting a level headed discourse on the banking crisis that accepts it's partially our fault due to our acceptance of an extreme consumer society and our inability to differentiate between 'want' and 'need'.

The problem starts when a lazy producer thinks 'what's everybody talking about?' and comes up with the easy hit of 'Do you think [insert obvious shouty subject here] or [insert opposing view here] I'd love to hear what you think.'

They don't want to hear what you think, they really don't.

What they want is entertaining radio filled with opinions that get people cross and make them call some more. The full switch-board on a phone in isn't because they have asked an interesting question it's because they've asked an easy question.

So where do you come in?

Where does your business fit in with this vast swathe of lunacy?

Well, here's the thing, after a few weeks producing a phone in programme you yearn for a normal caller; a caller who doesn't have flecks of foam at the corner of their mouth. So when you receive a call from a business person who is measured and intelligent, who can use the right "journalist whispering" language, the heart beat quickens and you really want them to go on air and explain it for all the crazies out there.

The great thing for the business is that you get more exposure, you get the name out to a possible audience of hundreds of thousands and you are remembered by the producer... then the next time they need a business person who can talk fluently they know who to call.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Louise Mensch Made My Life Better.

This morning I was lying in the bath thinking about Louise Mensch MP...

I was listening to The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 and a representative of the PCC was interviewed to respond to Mrs Menschs' Comments on the Sun newspaper publishing pictures of Prince Harry playing naked pool in Vegas.

As I lay in the water (wondering when the electrician was going to come to fix the shower) I thought "Oh good Louise Mensch is cross about something, I now know what to support today" and I paused... 

You see, Louise Mensch has for a long time been my barometer for right and wrong; if she thinks it's right then it must be wrong, phew I don't have to form my own opinions today, I've got one ready made.

I paused... and thought a little more. 

I'm against child slavery, war, and famine, and you know what, I bet Louise Mensch is too. Oh, this felt a little radical, could I be becoming a Tory in my middle age? Had it finally happened? I hit 38 and now I'm in tweedy decline?

No, I just started thinking.

The problem was I was caught up in my liberal "default narrative". "Conservative views and conservatives are evil" and that's all there is to it. When I go into organisations I make sure that we cover their "default narrative" we break into groups and discuss it from different stakeholder viewpoints, we examine how opinions about related matters can change default, and how the default from inside organisation is never what it is from the outside.

Mrs Mensch I apologise, next time I'll listen without the baggage or your default, I'll listen with an open mind, and if we all did that then I wouldn't need to train people.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

No one gets it right

It's a very simple job, you take time, you research and you build drama around that setting. "ER" did it for American Health Care, "The Bill" did it for the British Police, but no one ever gets radio right. Ever.

I've just had the misfortune to listen to "The Archers" on BBC Radio 4 and their portrayal of a local radio presenter was so wrong it hurt.

If they carry on like that they'll have to have the Police saying "'ello 'ello 'ello, what's goin' on 'ere then".

So what's wrong with the radio industry (particularly LOCAL radio) as shown in drama?

1) Presenters are not stupid - In the BBC most people are graduates with post graduate diplomas in journalism. Or have started in Radio at a University; because it's the only place you can be an amateur these days. However they often become cyphers for a story so they always present from the point of view of an idiot. Commercial DJ's live and die by RAJAR figures, if you're stupid then you don't survive, you need to be a chameleon, working a subject from all angles.

2) Very few people, and I really mean VERY few people have a 'radio voice'. Fashions change, and what used to work for Tony Blackburn no longer works for the radio audience. Listen to any local and you'll hear someone talking to you... that's what they do. There may be occasions that it sounds "Radio" but you try telling an empty room what song you were just listening to and you won't sound normal either.

3) They Con people into giving interviews and then unmask them - Yup, Eddy Grundy in "The Archers" has just been made a laughing stock in a scenario that wouldn't have happened because of producer guidelines on fair dealing and briefing guests.

4) Presenters are well paid. Your average BBC Presenter is paid on the same scale as the producer, or a journalist in the news room. There are some exceptions, but in general it's less than you'd expect. Commercial radio, unless you're on a networked Breakfast Show can be minimum wage... I have been there... some are very well off, but the majority? Average to middling.

Minor rant, but it annoys me that with even a tiny bit of research the industry could be represented in a much better way.

Notice I didn't mention Partridge? Comedy always gets closer to the truth.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

3 Things PRs Needs To Know.

I was a Senior Journalist, a programme producer, a presenter, and a manager during my 16 year career in the Broadcasting industry. Through that time I identified the 3 things that PR Professionals either don't know or were told years ago and have forgotten.

They are simple, and here they are...


There, I've said it. Every single press release that appears in the inbox tarnishes the soul of the person receiving it and there's nothing that you can do to change it.

It's all to do with the volume going into any reasonably sized news room. The quality threshold for you sending it will be high, their quality threshold for actually doing anything will be far higher; it's a question of scale.

So how do you attempt to get round this, either raise your standards (well that's quantifiable and easily achievable) or you don't send press releases... erm, what?

How about, and this is a break from the norm, that you call your contacts and ask them when the best time to call is, engage them in a conversation that benefits both of you. You may have been sending things to the wrong person for years; I wouldn't deal with companies that called whilst I was on air, if they couldn't work out that I was unavailable between 9 and 12 due to being on the radio then they couldn't have anything that would interest me.

The other reason why Journalists don't like PR Professionals is the memory of the day when they encountered a bad one...

A demanding one...

A 'we're doing you a favour, sunshine' one...

Here's a couple of my favourites...

1) During an interview with Raymond Blanc (he was in a studio elsewhere) he broke off half way through an answer he was giving and said, "oh, I'm sorry I've just been told to let you talk more". I had made no effort to interrupt him, I was delighted how the interview was going and transfixed by his passion, but the PR with him in the studio had decided that he needed to talk less. I replied that the listeners could hear me any day and that I was facinated by what he was saying. The PR in the studio had made me cross and added to my work; I'd have to edit the middle of the interview out.

2) We had been trying to secure an interview with Richard Hammond for months. His PR department were saying 'yes', then 'no' then 'we'll get back to you' I was on-air when the call came through that Richard could do a 5 minute phone interview in the next 10 minutes if we still wanted it and that was the final offer. We said yes, and I started plugging it like mad, telling everyone that we'd have him in 10 minutes. They had insisted that they would call us. Half an hour later we got the call. 'You only have 5 minutes, Richard will bring the interview to an end, don't ask about the crash, he doesn't talk about that any more'. 20 Minutes later we were still going, he'd spoken about everything he wanted to, everything that we wanted to and lots of stuff in-between. The PR had, again, got us all a bit cross.

OK, so these aren't huge problems and I'm being a moaning Presenter, but they make you wary of dealing with the PR industry. Instead of helping the journalist and alowing the media to have an adult conversation about what we want compared to what is offered journalists are treated like irrational hyperactive children who can't be trusted. The vast majority of journalists aren't there to cause problems or try to uncover scandal they just want to do their job and go home.


Journalism is a job, it's not a calling or passion, it's a job. In the early days it may start out as something that really drives a young reporter but by the time you've interviewed the 'Local Woman 100 Years Young Today' and found out from the couple 'Married For 60 Years' that the to a happy marriage secret is not stabbing each other in the throat, it all becomes a bit samey.

A news/broadcasting organisation is like a factory. They produce a product made by people with impossible deadlines and angry bosses. They have to hit their targets otherwise the paper is thin or the TV has to go to the test card. They don't want to catch you out, they don't want to make a big song and dance about it, they just want to get the content and go home before it all starts again in the morning.

However... (and there is always an 'However') That doesn't mean that if you try to fob them off they wont bite. Journalists don't like to be given half a story, they can smell a 'real' story like a big lad can smell a Greggs, and there is no stopping them if they catch a whiff. They all like to get the stories that seem hidden, so be honest with them and they will leave satisfied, all full of tasty tasty news.... Sorry I'm still thinking about Greggs.


For about 8 years I put together a market leading Mid Morning Programme. We were 60/40 speech/music so there had to be around 3 stories an hour along side the things that I had to do like News, Travel, Weather etc. For 6 of those years it was me and an assistant that did the whole thing. 2 people making 15 hours of radio a week and within that finding 45 stories a week. Some of those we could get from other members of the news room, but the vast majority were self produced, recorded and edited. So when we were presented with a story that was an 'easy hit' we'd jump on it. It simply meant that we could then use our remaining time to concentrate on the more difficult content.

When I say 'easy hit' I'm not talking about Christine Hamilton talking about British Sausage Week, because no one in their right mind would ever use that (lots of people did I'm sad to say).

The 'easy hit' needs to be pitched correctly. You can't just hand it on a plate as most journalists will just see it as a 'puff piece'. If I were pitching I'd get into a conversation about how I could help it to happen. The Journalist would give the parameters and I'd offer the plan and meet somewhere in the middle. It's content that's interesting enough and it's content that requires little leg work for the journalist.

I did a course a little while ago and one of the delegates said that they do all that, just run around making journalists lives as easy as possible but they weren't taking the stories. Nothing will help if the story is wrong... not wrong for you, but wrong for them.

How do you make it right?

That's for another blog...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Still Authentic

There are some real winners when approaching a journalist with a story, and one of them is authenticity.

Whose story is it?

The case study is used by every charity organisation; the spokesperson describes just how the charity has helped a specific person and how you can help too. What the good charities, the clever charities do is let the people speak for themselves, let the journalist into the lives of the case study. They get the authentic voice rather than a voice filtered through a spokesperson.

It can work for business just as well as charities, you just need to identify the owner of the story, the person that has the most authentic voice... for example I've been working with an organisation that helps people build their businesses. It's a fascinating group of interconnected projects that really help entrepreneurs. The problem is the stories aren't theirs, they are their clients.

So what do they do?

They facilitate.

They give their clients the chance to tell their stories. The clients become the authentic voice of their own companies and the stories are the authentic voice of the umbrella organisation that facilitated it.

Recently there have been some truly bad marketing and advertising campaigns that get actors to play the part of customers, or of real people who consume a product. They are without exception irredeemable bad. The recent "Philadelphia Cheese" campaign featuring an annoying woman telling us to hide sweetcorn under cheese  is one of the worst ads ever... In my head.

We can tell if it's not authentic and push against it if it isn't.

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