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Marketing on the Cheap

Part 3 - Working with Radio

By Mike Polo

Radio is a great way to get the attention of people who make decisions on the spur of the moment. It's also a great way to get access to new audiences. But working the radio angle requires thought, ingenuity and imagination.

Pick your station(s) wisely

Today there are more radio formats than ever before... News/Talk, Adult Contemporary, Adult Alternative, Classic Rock, Oldies, Contemporary Hit Radio, Urban and many, many more. Each format appeals to a different demographic. A little research and thought will making choosing a radio station to work with easier. For instance, if you do cutting edge, avant-gard theater, I wouldn't recommend trying to work with a conservative News/Talk station. On the other hand, a company that specializes in old chestnuts and classic musicals might want to steer clear of the hard-core Alternative stations.

Focus on trying to reach people like the ones who already come to see your shows, preferably in the lower age brackets of that demographic. In general, again depending on the types of productions you put on, I would focus on a 30 - 60 age bracket. This puts you looking at Adult Contemporary, Country, Oldies and Classic Rock type formats.

When thinking about radio, remember one thing: unlike television, people usually listen to radio while doing other things, particularly driving and getting ready for work or school... you have to get their attention. Tailor your efforts with this in mind.

Public Service Announcements

Radio stations are required by federal law to devote a certain amount of time to Public Service Announcements (PSAs). These are free announcements, usually read by the announcer, although some are pre-recorded.

Call the station or stations you are planning to use and ask about PSAs. Find out what their requirements are and, most importantly, find out who to send to it to.

Write your PSA as if it were a commercial, but keep it short. Make sure you have the basic information in there... Who, What, When, Where, How Much, and a phone number. Some stations will re-write the information to their standards, but, by giving them something more than just the basics, you can sometimes influence how the information is presented.

Some stations, usually the smaller ones, or the ones with a higher committment to the community, will be amenable to providing studio time for you to cut your own pre-recorded PSA or will cut it for you. It never hurts to ask. In that instance, write your PSA ahead of time to the length you are asked. Make sure you've read it, out loud, for timing and flow. Don't abuse the privledge of using the station's studio by taking time to write or edit copy in the studio.

Buying Time

The major drawback to using PSAs to promote your theater is you can never be sure when they will run and you have no control over the placement or the number of mentions you get. Many stations have a large volume of PSAs, and rotate them throughout the broadcast day. You won't reach the same audience at 11pm that you will during morning drive. Buying time on the station is a sure way to get the time slot you want.

Radio time isn't very expensive on a per-spot basis, but its effectiveness is proportional to it's quantity. Depending on your budget, you may want to concentrate your runs in a specific day-part or limit your buy to single day. This is something to talk over with the Advertising Representative you speak to. Remember, the more specific the day-part or the time you want your ads to run in, the higher the cost.

Your Ad Rep will give you suggestions about the best way to schedule your ads to give you the best bang for your buck. He (she) will also help write your copy, if you so choose. Make sure you let the Rep know that you are a non-profit... some stations have a special rate or package for non-profits.

The Art of the Swap

For those of you who haven't listened to radio in ages, every station in the country, with the possible exception of some NPR stations, is doing a contest. Talk to the promotions director or the program director about donating some tickets or some other prize in return for some mentions on the air. These give-aways can be rolled into another contest, or may be set up as a stand-alone.

Public Radio stations also have some interesting avenues for promotion. After all, they are always looking for money through their on-air fundraisers. Season tickets might be a good premium for a challenge. Talk to the station's fundraiser or general manager.

Talk, Talk, Talk

Almost forgot about one of the more interesting ways to get some exposure... the Talk Show. Most News/Talk stations have at least one locally produced show that might be interested in booking the director and/or several cast members for an appearance. Stations with other formats will have some kind of community service forum type show to meet their public service requirements, but that kind of show usually ends up in the wee hours of Sunday mornings.

If you do get booked on a talk show, be sure to tease rather than give away the entire plot, with twists. Temp the listeners. Be wary of doing excerpts... copyright law pretty much limits you on that anyway. Remember that you are selling your show... be upbeat and entertaining.

Above all else, be prepared when you walk in. You may not know what the host is going to ask you, but you do know what you need to get out... the basic information: Who, What, Where, When, How Much and How Does The Audience Get Tickets. It's best to write this stuff down ahead of time and take it with you. That way you don't get trapped with a case of the "ummms". It also gives you something to leave with the host when you go, earning you at least a few more mentions.

What's Next

Next, we'll take a look at how you can use the World Wide Web to promote your theater.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

The Community Theater Green Room
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