In this month’s Insider Interview, we speak with Richard Strauss. Richard is president of Strauss Media Strategies, which has been guiding communications efforts targeted at radio and television for 23 years.
A lot of communicators are focused on harnessing the power of social media these days, but you’ve tied your business to media that have been around for decades—radio and television. Why have you taken this approach?
The mediums of radio and television have a been a little bit forgotten in the PR community, and I think that’s been a mistake. As one looks at the value of radio and television outreach, these mediums are effective in an overall communications strategy. Most people overlook the fact that the broadcast community has an extremely vibrant and active digital footprint, too, including social communities on platforms like their websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts. These communities complement the traditional broadcast space to make an overall package that shouldn’t be overlooked by any PR professional. In essence, the old equals the new.
But isn’t television and radio expensive?
In short, no, they are not expensive, especially because our company guarantees our bookings or the client doesn’t pay. Also, organizations with limited budgets often feel they have to choose between broadcast and digital outreach, but by doing broadcast you’re getting digital, as well–a two-for-one! I think there are many different advantages to doing broadcast outreach, which justifies the investment. By conducting radio and television interviews, you’re also influencing editors in the print space. We’ve found by doing radio outreach ahead of other pitching—to high-level newspapers, magazines and blogs, for example—there is a heightened awareness from those radio interviews and the print pitching is more successful. Print editors will say, “I heard that story on WTOP coming into work, so sure, I’d be happy to talk to you about that.” It sets up the print reporters to be more inclined to cover your story.
How has your firm successfully used radio outreach recently?
One benefit of radio medium is that it’s immediate. After the recent resignation of former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, we had a client who wanted to react. We booked 18 interviews, all high-level networks and top markets, in a matter of several hours. This environmental client was able to dominate the radio air space with their reaction to the resignation.
You graduated college in 1992 and by 1993 were employed at the White House, as its first-ever radio outreach director. How did that opportunity arise?
Hard work, perseverance and being in the right place at the right time. I withdrew from UCLA in my senior year. I went to the registrar’s office and they literally ripped up my registration card in front of me. I suspended my enrollment and flew to New Hampshire in the early days of the 1992 Democratic primary with a return ticket marked for two weeks later, which I never used. I was unsure of what the opportunity would be, but I ultimately ended up staying in New Hampshire for a month, the campaign for a year, and the White House as the nation’s first-ever radio director for three years (and later eventually did earn my degree from UCLA).
What inspired you to make this risky move?
As a high school radio reporter at my local Modesto, California radio station in 1988, I missed an opportunity to cover the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, so I credit my late father for discovering a guy named Bill Clinton. After doing research on Clinton’s background, which I found impressive and inspiring, I decided to take the risk. I also obviously had an interest in media, journalism, politics, and communication, which ultimately led to PR, and I just decided to go for it. I ended up working in six different states and in D.C. for the campaign, and ultimately got an invitation from both George Stephanopoulos and my boss, Jeff Eller, to join them at the White House.
Why did the Clinton administration want to focus on radio?
I give credit to President Clinton and his senior communications advisors. I think it was so important for President Clinton to have the opportunity to speak directly to the American people, and past administrations did not focus on radio. To his credit, Clinton understood the value of radio and overhauled the modern-day Saturday morning radio address. He delivered the address live every Saturday, whereas past presidents would conduct the address intermittently and more often on a taped basis, several days in advance. This let the White House break news during the Saturday morning radio address, which we did prominently several times.
But that was more than two decades ago. Is radio still a strong format for sharing news?
Radio had and continues to have strong and loyal audiences. And if you look at some of the all-news radio stations that exist in our country, a single interview can run five or six times in a day or more, so the reach is extremely strong. Additionally, radio is such an easy medium to conduct interviews—all you need is a phone. Back in the White House days, senior staff could do interviews from bed, sipping coffee and reading the paper. That’s still true today.
How have streaming services like Pandora and Spotify and podcasts changed the game?
In many ways, the introduction over the years of streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify has taken some of the FM music audience away from traditional terrestrial radio, especially among the younger generation. However, since most music formats aren’t conducting news interviews anyway, there hasn’t been an overwhelming negative effect on the PR industry. When looking at podcasts as well as the dominant satellite radio player Sirius-XM, these services only expand and amplify the shows found on traditional terrestrial radio and give the PR professional more exposure for their targeted radio interview bookings.
Radio and television are broad mediums. How can a communicator craft targeted outreach using these channels?
Radio offers the opportunity to specialize in terms of prominent shows that cater to various demographics, such as the African American community, Spanish language community, older Americans, and by gender. Any public relations practitioner looking to reach populations in markets in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California, for example, that aren’t reaching out to Spanish-language radio and television are missing out on huge opportunities for PR influence. Similarly, in states with high African American populations, if PR professionals aren’t looking after African American radio on a local and national scale, with all of the prominent nationally syndicated African American shows, they’re also missing out. And that’s not to mention all the speciality shows on radio tied to gardening, healthcare, high tech, finance, and so forth.
Since the Clinton days, how has the way public relations professionals interact with radio outlets changed?
For one, I think it’s important for practitioners to include in their pitches the social and digital elements that help radio stations create engaging social posts. They should take care to send items like high-resolution photos representing the organization, the organization’s logo, and directly pitch them to run the content on their station websites. In essence, you’re giving them a silver platter of content for their many digital platforms and helping to make their jobs easier.
Number two, I think it’s become a little more difficult to book interviews because of consolidation and tightening budgets in radio. There are fewer people to pitch to, so it’s perhaps now more important than ever to have a firm such as ours that specializes in radio outreach (or someone who does their homework in advance) to ensure they’re approaching all the right opportunities.
Number three, in some ways radio hasn’t changed, but with the introduction of other forms of media, communicators have so many additional PR outreach opportunities, and radio has been pushed to the backburner. However, radio audiences are huge. An organization shouldn’t overlook national NPR or WAMU, the local D.C. NPR affiliate, for example. National Public Radio is vibrant and has an extremely strong following. Station like WAMU or WTOP here in DC also have huge ratings numbers.
I’m curious about the audio releases, one tool your firm uses, and how a communicator might add these to his or her repertoire?
An audio news release or ANR, as it’s known in the industry, can be an effective PR tool. The ANR allows the client to get their message on radio stations and shows when they have limited spokesperson time availability to conduct a bunch of time-consuming interviews. Also since the PR team essentially writes the script for the ANR entirely, an ANR is especially effective for a client that needs to completely control the message. Finally, the ANR can be further targeted toward certain ages, races, languages, and geographic areas.
How can communicators learn more about opportunities in radio and television?
It sounds trite, I know, but a simple Google search of radio and television outlets in a particular media market or a certain topic for a nationally syndicated show can yield successful results and a trove of information. Additionally doing your homework by calling to stations and introducing yourself to the appropriate reporters and assignment editors can help uncover significant opportunities. Finally, of course finding a person or firm, such as ours, that specializes in radio outreach will bring excellent results.
In a few words, what’s the future of radio?
In the short term, radio, at least in all forms, is strong. Radio is a surviving medium that has evolved and reinvented itself to survive over time. When AM radio was threatened, FM radio was introduced. Then, years later, AM radio achieved a strong revival and comeback. Today, the way people listen to radio is constantly changing, but in the end, radio is still radio, no matter how it is heard. Streaming services such as the TuneIn app, that allows the listener to listen to prominent radio stations throughout the country and in web-enabled cars, allow the listener to further have access to the radio airwaves. I’m confident the radio medium will continue to survive over time, just perhaps in continuing different forms.