I spent 20 years of my working life at the BBC, all of it in local radio, so I know a thing or two from the BBC's point of view about what they're looking for in a good interviewee.
The good news is that as a business owner there are many opportunities for you to get involved in BBC Local Radio as a contributor, but you must follow these rules if you want it to be a long and fruitful relationship.
I have personally worked with three ‘celebrities' (in that they are well-known nationally) who started life on BBC Local Radio programmes and who went on to get TV appearances, book deals and national coverage directly as a result of ‘humble' beginnings as a BBC Local Radio contributor.
Of course, to a certain extent they did it on their own … they were great on air, they fitted in well with the teams, they were what you'd call ‘naturals'.
But there are some things that you can do to swing things in your favour – then the rest is up to you!
Tip 1: Don't Be A Radio Snob
Some people have the attitude ‘Oh, it's only local radio'.
Many of the national presenters who you see and admire on your TV screens began their working lives in local radio or regional TV.
And most of them will tell you what an excellent training ground it is.
So, never disregard it as ‘just local radio'.
I've worked with BBC teams who picked up national and international awards in local radio.
So get over it, and embrace your BBC Local Radio station … it is a hidden gem, as I will reveal later!
Tip 2: Work Out What You Want To Do
There are several opportunities on most BBC Local Radio stations.
Make sure that you listen to the output first (it is a basic courtesy after all!) and then see if your local station does any – or some – of the following:
1) Daily, breakfast show newspaper review
2) Sunday religious papers review
3) Mid-morning topical conversation sequences
4) Mid-morning ‘talk to the expert' slots
5) Tea time programme business slot
These are pretty standard interview opportunities on any BBC Local Radio station, and of course they all need ‘talking heads' to discuss issues on the news programmes too.
Tip 3: How To Get Known At Your BBC Local Radio station
There are a number of approaches that you can take to make an initial contact with your local station.
Whatever you do, please remember that people are very busy and do not telephone the ‘only call this number if you have an urgent news story' number.
Do that and you'll have a very short-lived career on radio!
You're best avoiding cold calling too.
Instead, telephone the main switchboard (not the on-air phone in number!) and ask for the email details of whoever is most appropriate:
1) The Breakfast Show producer [Usually on air 6am-9am, weekdays]
2) The Mid-Morning Show producer [Usually on air 9am-midday, weekdays]
3) The Sunday Breakfast Show producer [Usually on air 7-9am, Sundays]
4) The Drivetime Show producer [Usually on air 5-6pm, weekdays
All BBC staff members have an email in the format firstname.lastname@example.org and they go directly to the named person.
You then need to send an initial email contact and/or press release making a specific contact with that person ie:
Dear [Breakfast Show Producer],
I listen every morning to the BBC Radio XYZ Breakfast Show and would like to be considered as a potential paper reviewer.
Keep it brief, summarise your credentials and follow up within 7 days if you don't get an acknowledgement.
Usually, if interested, you'll get called in for a chat or a coffee, just to assess if you're a good talker and to brief you about how things work.
Tip 4: Never, Ever, Ever Plug Your Product!
Plugging your product on BBC Local Radio will be the kiss of death to your radio career.
Do not, under any circumstances do it.
The BBC is not allowed to give free access to people plugging their products, if you are rude and ignore that, you won't get invited back again.
Don't try and beat the system either.
I once worked with a man who was heavily briefed about a project which would have given him superb coverage of his event.
He thought he could beat the system, kept dropping in sponsor mentions and inappropriate plugs, and everything he recorded went in the bin.
Talk about a blown opportunity!
The coverage he was being offered – if he played by the rules – would have cost a fortune on independent radio.
Follow the ‘no plug' rules … you can't beat the system!
Tip 5: Be Clever With Your On Air Branding
The trick to getting in your ‘publicity angle' without getting thrown off the radio, is to consider how you're going to be be introduced on air.
A producer will always ask you how you wish to be introduced.
This is where you get to give a plug – without being commercial.
Fred Bloggs, from XYZ Plumbers
Freda Smith from FabulousFlorists.com
Bert Jones from ‘Good Boy' Dog Training
You get the idea …
But never ‘Fred Bloggs, from XYZ Plumbers, The Number 1 Plumber in Preston!‘
See the difference?
One is too commercial, the BBC won't let you get away with it, it's an unsubstantiated value judgement – and a plug!
The other is factual – it just states where you're from and what you do.
Tip 6: The Clue Is The Word ‘Local'
It's not worth contacting local radio stations unless you have a strong local angle to offer them.
Just saying that ‘Lincolnshire readers will love this book' is useless if the book is all about Cumbria.
Items that are offered to stations should have a strong local angle or hook.
Now of course, if it's you who provides the local element, that's great.
You might live locally, have been born locally, work locally or have been schooled locally.
Producers will not be fooled by some tenuous connection, believe me.
An experienced producer has seen all the tricks and knows all the games.
So do your homework – what's local about what you're offering?
If the answer is ‘nothing at all' you're probably wasting everybody's time.
Incidentally, please check the transmission area of your local radio station too.
You can see a collection of maps here.
Once again, it shows that you've done your research if you have a firm grasp of where the station actually broadcasts and if your proposed news feature falls within the correct boundaries.
Tip 7: Understand How This Works
Most people think that they'll be on the radio and the phone will ring off the hook.
Certainly I have known this to happen on many occasions in my BBC radio career, but most of the time it doesn't.
It's like a viral video … it'll happen when it happens, you can't really stage manage it.
So how does this work then?
Appearing on BBC Local Radio will build your expert status in the eyes of the listener.
They will perceive you as the go-to person for whatever it is that you do.
You, in turn, will be able to boast ‘BBC Radio XYZ's Social Media Expert' – or whatever it is that you do.
People will recognise you more – in connection with your business – and it will be an excellent conversation opener.
In turn, depending on what it is you do and how good you are on the radio, you'll find that the producers ‘pass your name around', and you start to get calls from other programmes.
You might be invited in to talk about the budget's impact on small businesses for example.
If you behave yourself, and don't break the rules on commerciality, it might even lead to appearances on national radio too – or regional TV.
I know many Local Radio colleagues who moved on to BBC Radio 4, Five Live and Radio 1 Newsbeat.
Where do you think they go when they're looking for that ‘difficult to find' interviewee?
They telephone their chums in BBC Local Radio and ask for ideas – or they just raid the PC-based contacts database directly!
Don't start the interview with ‘How are you?'
It's pointless, it messes things up for the interviewer's first question and it's pointless.
Here's the typical exchange:
Presenter: ‘With me now is Fred Blogs from XYZ, good morning …'
Guest: ‘Good morning, how are you?'
Presenter: ‘Great thanks, now tell ne about ABC …'
It's pointless and it spoils a sharp start to your interview.
What do you think the presenter is going to do, tell you about their headache and the problem they're having with refuse collections?
Just say ‘good morning' and wait for the first question.
Press Release Tips
If you send a press release, here are some top tips … but the key thing to remember is (and I'm sorry if this is a blow to you!) most people don't care most of the time about things that you think are important in your business.
So don't waste your press releases to BBC Local radio – keep your powder dry, make sure the producers look forward to seeing your stuff, rather than just deleting it without even casting an eye over it.
1) Link it to something topical or in the news … give it a great ‘angle'
2) Does it pass the ‘does anyone else care about this' test? If it doesn't, don't send it.
3) Make sure your headline entices and interests … if it doesn't, you're dead in the water
4) No more than a page – producers don't have time. Use a nice size font and lots of line breaks. Producers have the attention span of a gnat – they want you to paint a picture fast and get to the point.
5) Give multiple ways to contact you – phone/email/mobile – and make sure you don't go on holiday 5 minutes after you send out the press release (yes, people really do that!)
6) Don't hang around if they try to contact you – radio is fast-moving and high pressure, it's often ‘first past the post' with guests, leave it too long and you'll miss the boat.
Who Knows Where It Could Lead?
So who were the celebrities that I have worked with, who started doing exactly what I have described here on BBC Local Radio?
Well, one is Jan Fennell who wrote – among many other books – ‘The Dog Listener'.
If you look in the back cover of that book, in the acknowledgements, you'll see I get a name check in there, though my name is mis-spelled as ‘Teage' – my own ‘moment of fame' dashed 🙂
Jan started coming onto our Mid Morning Show, which I co-presented at the time, she was ‘discovered' by regional TV as a consequence, the ‘Mail On Sunday' did an article on her, she went on to get a TV Show and then a multi-book deal.
All from starting out on BBC Local Radio.
Jan did so well because she was a fabulous guest – we always had a great laugh whenever she came into the studio, and the audience loved her.
Mark Hill, ‘Britain's Favourite Celebrity Hairdresser' started his celebrity life as a newspaper reviewer at BBC Radio Humberside.
I also presented their Breakfast Show for a couple of years and Mark was always a natural, great fun and a very entertaining talker on air.
He's now regularly on national TV and has his own range of hair care products.
The final celebrity that I have worked with, who became known as a direct result of Local Radio, is Rachel Green, a TV Chef.
Rachel wanted specifically to get on TV, but was advised about biding her time on Local Radio as her starting point … and it seems that turned out quite well for her!
So, stick to the rules, do your homework and become a friend to your BBC Local Radio station.
They always need good, high quality guests and if you're great on the radio and a safe pair of hands (ie you don't keep plugging your stuff!), who knows where it might lead for you and your business?
Find out where your BBC Local Radio station is – click HERE