BBC Radio 4 is among the most illustrious news outlets in the UK – so much so, that in the event of nuclear war, Britain’s submarines are told to listen out for the broadcast of Radio 4’s flagship Today Programme, to determine if the nation has survived. In addition to submarine commanders, the show regularly reaches seven million listeners in the peak 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. hour. Listeners trend older, and the show is tuned in to religiously by government employees. So, if you’re a CEO trying to get your message in front of the right people, Radio 4 might well be the place to go.
Our media relations consultant Ben was lucky enough to hear from both Dominic O’Connell and Katie Hope about how the news gets made, and what you can do if you want to get your story on BBC Radio 4 or online.
Dominic is the Business Presenter for the Today Programme. He appears on the show Monday to Thursday at 6:15 and 7:15 am, interviewing experts and chief executives from some of the world’s leading companies. He also appears on other BBC outlets and contributes to their online business pages. Katie is the business editor for the Today Programme and BBC Business Online. She has been with the BBC for six years and runs the daily business news coverage, including deciding which topics and guests make the cut.
Decisions about what to cover are made in the central planning department for business, which determines coverage across radio, TV, and online, making it the ideal place to send your story. Katie meets with the business unit at 8:40 every morning, and the central business unit at 10:00, they review the papers and wires for stories and consider bids for guests.
If you’re thinking of making a major announcement, they can organise an appearance around 7:00 am, when most listeners are tuning in. And they’re serious about making it quick and easy to make an appearance on the show if you have news: the chief executive of Whitbread was on the show just three minutes after the company made the announcement that they were selling Costa.
Dominic says that the Today Programme mostly speaks with CEOs but will talk to anybody who knows their story inside and out, and can talk about it in an engaging way, and in terms that listeners can understand. That means business leaders, from start-ups and small businesses to the FTSE100 – no business is too large or too small. The BBC is currently undertaking a ‘50/50 initiative’ to get representation of women across its programmes up to half, so they recommend putting forward qualified female commentators whenever possible. And finally, don’t be offended if the interview gets pushed at the last minute, that’s just the nature of covering the news.
Katie always reads emails and takes phone calls, but she’s incredibly busy, so keep it to a few sentences and don’t call just to check in. She wants to know what you’re pitching right away. Do your homework before you call, she advises, because she is always persuaded by someone who knows what they’re talking about and can discuss it in a compelling way. Dominic adds that most PR people don’t know enough about the details of the business to be able to answer the types of tough questions he likes to ask. They do talk to analysts, consultants, and lawyers, but usually in the less high profile 6:15 am slot, not the high listenership 7:15 morning slot.
Dominic and Katie mentioned that they’re interested in stories and interviews about the negative interest rates, internet disruption, social rights at work, and women at work. They’re also looking for forward-looking content about central bank independence, advertising, and the city of London. However, they don’t have an overarching agenda, so if you think you have something they might be interested in, give it a go. They both advise not trying to be overly clever with your angle and emphasise the importance of an exclusive story.
The Today Programme looks for stories that will affect lots of listeners, or even the entire country. An effective story they ran was the secret gold transfer from the bank of England to Poland. Everyone had a stake, and it was an interesting story. BBC Online, meanwhile, accepts a broader range of topics and styles. The story ‘I rent one item of clothing a month’, for instance, was led by a personal narrative with a secondary discussed of the business trend of sustainability fashion. It was an enormous success, and 35% of readers were between 16 and 24, and half were women. The website typically gets more than one million readers, with spikes for stories such as Uber’s licensing troubles of up to three million.
If you make it on to the show (congratulations), they want simple, specific answers to their questions. No nonsense, no jargon, just authentic, honest responses. Dominic’s number one tip is not to overprepare: if you come across as genuine and really try to answer the questions, it doesn’t matter if you seem unpolished. He also noted that once people managed to overcome the nerves of their first appearance, they always wanted to go again.
If you’re looking to get in touch, send an email to the BBC Radio 4 address or directly to firstname.lastname@example.org, since she reads them and circulates them to the team – but don’t call to ask whether they received your email.