Tune Into a Great Publicity Tactic

Aug. 1, 2010
Virtually every HVACR contractor can get air time at a radio station. The secret is to follow steps that raise the likelihood that a radio host will choose you over others with the same idea.

When contractors think about a public relations campaign or other ways to generate publicity for their businesses, they often envision a television appearance, a newspaper or magazine article and photo, or a No. 1 Google ranking. But there's one major publicity vehicle that many neglect completely, although they probably hear it almost every day: radio.

Regardless of your technology bent, you probably own a radio. If you drive a car, there's a reasonably good chance that you listen to the radio.

The good news is that virtually every HVACR contractor can get air time at a radio station. The secret is to follow steps that raise the likelihood that a radio host will choose you over others hoping for the same exposure.

Target the Right Stations
You want to target talk and news stations. There are many other types, but these two not only use guests such as you, they need guests virtually on a daily basis to survive. Many will have syndicated shows, but almost all have some local guests.

How many talk and new stations are there? My newly updated database lists 10,623 AM and FM radio stations in the U.S. Of these, 1,929 describe themselves as talk or news stations (or both). These are your targets. News and talk shows are the bread and butter for people who want radio time. But use common sense. Pitching a show that deals with education issues is probably not your best bet. Look for consumer-related shows for a good fit.

To find stations, just visit www.ontheradio.net and enter the information for your service area. The beauty is that you can search not only by state but also by a ZIP code range of up to 100 miles. This works wonderfully if your service area bumps into other states.

I'm a bit of a fanatic that you don't pay to get on the radio. Some shows sell time for their "guests" to appear on a program. Don't do this. It's like buying an ad — which is fine if buying an ad is what you're doing. However, I hate it when people try to give the appearance that guests are really invited for their knowledge and expertise, and not as thinly disguised advertisers. You don't want to go that route when there are many free opportunities you can access. Think infomercials.

I strongly prefer broadcast radio to Internet radio. Many regular broadcast stations also transmit over the Internet, and that's fine. But listener numbers for stations that transmit only over the Internet can be tiny, and you want lots of listeners. I'm not saying you shouldn't appear on an Internet-only radio station: if you have nothing better to do, or for practice, it makes a lot of sense. But don't expect the phone to ring.

Making Your Pitch
Once you've identified a station you'd like to appear on, go to the station website to determine who the hosts are. The best person to contact is either the host or the producer. Big-time personalities have someone who actually schedules the guest. The hosts on smaller stations or those with fewer listeners serve both functions. Try to get on shows during drive time: 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. They usually have the most listeners. Try listening to the show a few times to get a "feel" for the host. Is he friendly, sarcastic, folksy? It allows you to better shape your own pitch for getting air time.

How do you contact a host or producer? Most experts agree that you must do it over the phone, and some say never leave a voice mail if you don't reach the host. They say you should keep calling back until you reach the host. I disagree. You should call and leave a message one time. After that, don't leave any more messages, but you can send an email as a follow-up to your phone message.

The Importance of a Script
Be prepared with a 30-second (or shorter) pitch about why you would be a great guest on the station. You must keep the message short, whether you actually talk to the host or leave a message. I always type up a script and read from it, and I recommend you do this, too, and practice it to make sure you sound natural. I test the script using a stopwatch to ensure that my message is no more than 30 seconds — which is an eternity in radio.

Let's say you’re calling when local weathermen are telling listeners to expect the first freezing nights. I'd suggest a script like this:

"Bob, this is Tom Peric and I'm a heating specialist. We're getting reports of the season's first freeze. Your listeners are going to crank up their furnaces and a lot of them aren't going to work. I'll share tips of how your listeners can find out whether their furnaces are working without spending a dime. Anyone can do it in 10 minutes. I'll also share some tips on staying warm and reducing their heating bill. And I can answer any questions listeners have about saving money on heating bills this winter. I'm at 555-123-4567. Again, that's 555-123-4567.

Remember, speaking quickly is acceptable to radio people. The first time I timed myself for the above pitch, speaking quickly, it took 28 seconds. Just speak calmly and clearly, and be sure to slow down on the phone number and repeat it at least once.

If you get the host or producer live or the operator asks why you want to speak to them, just say: "I'd like to pitch a segment idea." Then go into the script. That's it.

Remember, radio people gets pitches constantly, and they want pitches that are relevant to their listeners. What you're pitching is your expertise on a subject that's useful, relevant, and interesting to people's lives.

Audition Your Expertise With Enthusiasm
Your pitch, presented in person to the host, or left on voice mail, is your audition. You must exhibit enthusiasm and have information that listeners can use. Providing information demonstrates your expertise, and truthfulness, and you become top of mind to the listeners if they decide to ask for professional help. You don't have to speak like a British actor. But you must speak clearly, with some enthusiasm, and demonstrate an interest in your topic. Also, remember that most interviews are done on the phone, and you may never set foot in the studio.

Some people don't like the idea of calling cold, or simply recognize they make money doing something else — like running an HVAC company — and decide to leave their public relations and marketing to a PR pro. Just be aware that there's an opportunity here that's real, that works, and is free. It's your call.

Tom Peric is president of Cherry Hill, NJ-based Galileo Communications Inc. He has gotten millions of dollars in free publicity for his clients, including HVACR contractors. He can be reached at [email protected], 856/874-0049, or sign up for his free monthly publicity tips at www.wackydays.com.