Tuesday 14 October 2008

How Not To Get Radio Coverage Of Your Event

Cutlines: Dave Trafford outside Studio 1010 interviewing Minister Fonseca and pannist Joy Lapp at the Scotiabank Caribana City Hall launch 2008.
Cutlines: The crowd at the Scotiabank Caribana launch
Cutlines: The crowd at the Scotiabank Caribana launch

This Blog is nominally about how public relation people like me can help clients get that extra 5 minutes of fame. As this item will show, the Blog is also about what NOT to do when dealing with the media.

Getting publicity is not usually a difficult task. The "secret" is to really understand the event/persons/thing that is to be promoted and determine what aspects of the project will have some interest to the media. Media outlets do not all have the same interests in stories; so, a publicist has to match up the news worthiness of a project with the appropriate outlet.

Timely informing the proper media contacts by email and phone calls, coupled with an informative data package, does wonders for getting coverage. Reporters and Assignment Editors get to know publicists and usually will listen to their pitches ... and positively respond to their calls.

There is also a growing trend that publicists help create partnerships between media outlets and events/persons/things.

Media partnerships come in many different forms, but, typically it means free advertisements, story coverage ("good" coverage is not guaranteed by any means) and access to the people that matter are given in return for the media's name, logo and, sometimes their "stars" given top billing by the event/persons/thing that you are promoting. Often times the media outlets are given exclusive access over their competition.

For their part, publicists have to support the responding media by getting what they need, on time, and in a form that they need. That could mean a succinctly written, honest press clip, or, an interviewee that can perform well on camera, or a good voice on radio. In short, they must make good for their client in supporting the media partnership.

The annual Scotiabank Caribana festival depends on media partnerships. Television networks, radio stations and newspapers have paid monies to attach their name to a Festival that attracts over a million participants every summer. It delivers an audience that mainstream media has had difficulty in reaching.

For years CFRB has been a media partner with Caribana. It has given the parade cash donations, free advertising and live broadcast coverage of the parade. That relationship crashed and burned this year, and, as the publicist of record, it was my fault.

CFRB is a Toronto talk station and at first blush would seem to be an odd station to supporting a Caribbean Canadian event. It tends, at least in the high rating weekday mornings drive, to lean heavily to the right. Its prime time hosts are almost exclusively white and male. The one black host has a short Sunday shift when the ratings are very low. Both the CRTC and the broadcast standards association have received complaints from minorities -- blacks, Jewish listeners and even overweight Canadians -- about so called unfair comments made on air.

Despite that all, CFRB has been a strong voice for Caribana. It even went live – with our help – for four hours from the 2007 parade.

This summer things did not go well. This is what happened.

After getting verbal agreement from CFRB to be our sponsor. I arranged to have their broadcast truck - studio 1010 – to have exclusive radio access onto the City Hall property for the Scotiabank Caribana launch in early summer (not a mean feat, City Hall doesn't want heavy trucks on the patio).

CFRB promised to go live at noon and asked that Joe Halstead, the CEO of Scotiabank Caribana, come over to their booth for an interview at 12.02. We agreed.

The Square was bedlam. TV crews, reporters, and over 5,000 spectators crowded onto a space meant for 2,000. Loud Soca music boomed over the speakers and politicians jostled to get onto stage.

At noon Halstead was standing 50 feet from the CFRB truck. I sent him over for his interview. On his way, a Global TV crew grabbed him and started interviewing him live. I went over to extract him. By the time I got him to the CFRB booth to be interviewed by News Director Dave Trafford, the spot was lost. (Picture taken of Global broadcast wrap-up seconds after Joe left for CFRB http://www.stephenweir.com/gallery1/main.php?g2_itemId=474)

Personal apologizes to the news director and later the station's PR person, fell on deaf ears. CFRB did not formalize the partnership agreement and much of the support that was given in previous years did not occur (but their news team did cover events and there were in studio appearances by Caribana people including Joe Halstead). A 40-some relationship appears to be over.

What follows are 3 emails sent during the summer. The first is from me, to, a producer who had called to see if we were going to have our regular Thursday Caribana update on the CFRB noon package.

Stephen Weir: (The Launch Broadcast) didn't go well at 12.01. Dave (Trafford, news director) is pretty pissed. Sent Joe (Halstead) over for his inte'rview at CFRB and Global grabbed him. By the time their just "one minute" was up the (CFRB) interview was lost. Tried to apologize to Dave afterwards but ... Tourism Minister and musician (we brought on for the second interview) was great radio.

Thanks. Let me know about Thursday, ain't holding my breath on David chilling out

Dave Trafford saw that email and responded. This is the email a publicist never wants to get!


You certainly got the right read yesterday.

I wouldn't be so annoyed if this were something new. We deal with all the major festivals and their organizers and dealing with you is the most trying. Whether it's slack response or no-show guests, doing LIVE remote broadcasts from Caribana events present unnecessary stresses. I don't expect things to run perfectly, but I do expect that you don't just abandon us when things fall apart at your end. That's what happened yesterday.

Pointing Joe in our direction is not good enough. You should have delivered him as promised, made Halstead keep his commitment with us.12 noon is 12 noon...not 12:08 when I'm in the middle of another segment. Apologies and excuses are meaningless to our audience. The opening of our show didn't deliver as promised. It was an "on location" Caribana special...with nothing "on location" from Caribana! You made us sound weak.

We committed a full hour of LIVE programming to the event, based on your commitments, and you blew us off WITH NO NOTICE so the TV guys could get a 20 second quote from Joe. If our coverage of Caribana is not a priority for you, I'm happy to accommodate. I'm not interested in wasting time, resources and programming.

Dave Trafford
News Director
Newstalk 1010 CFRB
Astral Media Radio GP
2 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON, M4V 1L6

I responded a week later by email. My associate Alicia Sealey (a broadcaster who had been our voice on Radio Noon the year before) made several calls to Mr. Trafford. Neither of us got a response but, that is par for course when you are a publicist.


Got your email. Wanted to wait a week before responding -- time has a way of putting things in perspective.

First off, your email is right on. If I had it all to do again I would have taken Joe by the arm and dragged him to 'RB. I went through hoops with city hall to get the mobile truck on the plaza, and it was personally disappointing to loose the opportunity to have our CEO talk to your audience (and your numbers are way better than Global at Noon). Our CEO only had to walk 50 feet without me to make the interview. I can't believe he didn't make it. Joe Halstead is mortified; I sent him a copy of the CFRB letter. He did try to apologize, but you had left by the time he got off stage.

I have worked with CFRB on a variety of live broadcasts over the years, from the boat show to the gourmet food and wine show, to the home show and others that I have long since forgotten. So to say all those remotes went without a hitch would not be an accurate statement. But, because of the very nature of Caribana (run by a variety of committees and thousands of volunteers), our shortcomings are much more spectacular than the failings of events that are run by private industry. Sorry that this is the way it ends between CFRB and Caribana. Historically our festival and the station have had a strong relationship even though one would immediately identify your audience as being interested in Caribana.

In the early days Gary (Slaight - the former owner of the station) would write a personal cheque to Caribana's Caribbean Cultural Committee. The first time I met him was in 1999 when I came by the building to pick up one of those cheques. FLOW, which at one time Standard owned 25% of, donated monies as well to the parade and now, I believe gives support to individual mas bands in our parade.

The Festival Management Committee (representatives from the city, the province, the mas bands, the Calypsonians and the pan artistes and the CCC) is aware of your concerns and the end of your sponsorship. I have tried to remove the CFRB logo from our list of proud sponsors, but I am afraid it is too late. All of our print material deadlines have long since passed.

The City Hall launch fiasco does have a certain amount of irony for me. The last time Caribana worked with CFRB was at the parade launch in 2007. Your station was to go live for four hours from the route.

In preparation for the day I took parking passes, maps and press kits over to your host's Riverside home and briefed her on getting into the grounds. I drove her son around for part of an afternoon in preparation for his being on the line during the parade and reporting back to his mother. I had my staff seek out suitable interviewees (including Joe Halstead), and scheduled them to come on air during the parade.

The day of the parade I met your truck at Yonge and Eglinton and drove with them into the grounds to make sure they got on location without problems. We moved them around a couple of times until they got the spot they wanted within the confines of the judging area.

One of my staff members, Alicia Sealey, was to help on-air by describing the floats marching by to your host. Like me she has worked in radio and is comfortable behind the mike, but, up until that day didn't know how 'RB physically put a show together (what buttons to push, what spots to throw to etc)

Just before CFRB was to go on air, Alicia, our first guest and myself came over to your truck. Nancy (the PR director) meet us as we came across the parade route. She gave us the news. No host! Your host was lost/stuck in traffic. And, there was no one back at the studio that could take over ... So, Alicia put on the headphones and filled in. With Taggart's (sp?) help she did very very well.

Your host didn't have a cell phone with her, but, I was able to put out a call to our 300-security force and we did locate the missing announcer and bring her to the trailer. I can't remember how long Alicia was in the chair, but she says it felt like 24 hours.

Anyway, as you can see, with 'RB and Caribana, it isn't always the guest that misses their time check.

I hope you have a good summer. I have copied Nancy on this email. The Festival Management Committee understands why CFRB will not be covering the festival and again I do apologize again for not being able to remove your logos from our many banners and printed materials.

Stephen Weir

ps - not one for e-mails, but when I did try to apologize in person, but as you know you were not having anything of that.