How charities should be using local radio

You will speak to more people during a local radio interview than you will meet in the rest of your life. This is one dinner party fact worth contemplating when considering whether or not to approach your local BBC or commercial radio station to promote your charity’s work or to comment on government policy.

In fact, any interaction with the media is a great way to get a charity’s messages across to thousands of people at once.

An interview is a chance to change perceptions, raise awareness of the work you do and encourage more people to volunteer or support a particular fundraising event. The credibility a charity generates when one of its spokespeople is heard on the radio is far greater than from advertising.

A charity viewpoint

One charity undertaking a lot of radio interviews is Sue Ryder which is keen to boost its presence regionally.

PR manager Paul Martin says radio is a fantastic platform to engage with a huge number of people. “People listen to the radio on a multitude of devices these days at home, in the workplace or on the move in their car or on public transport,” he says. “Radio is an effective way to capture the attention of the public and increase awareness and understanding of who we are and what we do.”

Yet being able to give a great radio interview does not come naturally to everyone and can be quite daunting. But as the charity market becomes increasingly crowded and competitive it is crucial spokespeople can give scintillating interviews to generate free publicity in difficult times.

Martin says he would not send out members of his healthcare, fundraising and retail teams to speak on the airwaves without any media training.

"We feel that it is very important to get the training right so our media spokespeople are comfortable, confident and equipped with the right skills to deliver compelling and memorable interviews,” he says.

Being asked to do a radio interview on behalf of your charity can certainly be scary but with plenty of preparation it is a publicity opportunity you should never turn down.

The power of radio

Radio is such a personal medium and therefore perfect for telling a charity’s story through powerful real life examples. Don’t be afraid to use your own experiences as a great case study.

You want to get to that point where someone is sitting in their car in the car park at work listening to you on the radio. They know they need to go into the office but what they are hearing from you is so compelling they must hear the end of your story.

Radio allows you to create something incredibly memorable. Talk about real people you have helped so listeners can visualise the impact your charity has made. Radio allows you to paint a picture in people’s minds.

Your media and PR team will guide you as to which programmes you should be appearing on. It might be a breakfast or drivetime show to discuss a breaking story which affects your charity’s cause or it could be a softer BBC local radio afternoon phone in where you are taking calls or promoting a forthcoming event. Whatever the programme, make sure you familiarise yourself with it beforehand.

Be prepared

Preparation is crucial. You must be clear on a number of points:

• Why are you doing the interview and are you the right person?

• Who is your audience? Who will actually hear what you have to say?

• Be clear about your objectives from the interview? Is it to recruit more volunteers or get more donations, for instance? Tailor your answers accordingly?

As they say in the army, time spent in planning and reconnaissance is never time wasted. This is especially true when a crisis situation strikes and the media will want to ask your charity some difficult questions. Your PR team needs to know that you can deal with the heat because a bad news story has the potential to damage your charity’s brand and reputation.

How it works

Radio interviews can be live or pre-recorded and there are advantages to both.

A live news interview is usually about 90 seconds but what you say is what the audience hears. With a recorded chat the final edit might not convey the messages you wanted to, but the interview itself would be longer at about three minutes and you can re-record any answers you are not happy with.

Radio interviews can take place in a local studio - a cheaper option for the broadcaster - or on location at an event or at your premises to give more context to the story.

If you agree to take part in a telephone phone-in to discuss a particular theme or topic make sure you practice answering any difficult questions that might come up. Prepare some context-setting answers for obscure questions to help the audience understand why the charity acts in a particular way.

There will be a number of different people involved in putting together a radio programme so it is helpful to understand who does what.

It is usually the producer who decides who gets interviewed while the editor determines how much weight is given to each story. A reporter will interview you on location.

Performance is key

During the radio interview itself it is important to try and relax even if you are feeling nervous. Just take a deep breath and slow down your speech. We can all talk too fast when the nerves kick in. Trust your knowledge of your subject and your expertise.

Obviously the radio audience will only hear your voice so be enthusiastic as this brings the journalist and his audience along with you. A radio interview can also be mentally tiring so turn your energy levels and your voice tone up slightly.


• SMILE. It builds warmth with the presenter and the audience and helps you to talk in a more engaging way. We can hear a smile on the radio.

• BE AWARE OF YOUR HANDS. If you are nervous put your hands on your knees or lap. It will stop you shaking. Or one hand on your lap and the other on the desk to help you make your points. Keep your feet planted flat on the ground.

• MAKE AND MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT. If you find this difficult pick a spot just left or right of the interviewer. If you have to break eye contact always do this by looking down.

• BODY LANGUAGE IS CRUCIAL. How you sit and your posture tells the interviewer a lot about your frame of mind and indicates how they should handle the interview. Lean forward slightly to close the gap between you and the interviewer. If you lean back this indicates you are trying to distance yourself from the interviewer and his questions.

• MENTION THE CHARITY NAME. But don’t do it too often or you won’t be invited back. Use phrases such as "We at (charity name) are doing this…", "At (charity name) we are seeing this a lot…" etc.

One final tip is to think of your time on the radio not as a media interview but as a presentation. You are presenting your charity to thousands of people. You never know, you might start to enjoy it.


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