A CERTAIN client whom I know is tremendously proud of his radio program. He may well be. He is spending millions to make it a good one. He employs the best available talent. He uses the largest and best of the chain networks. Each year his bill for both talent and stations would make a respectable payment on the national debt.
According to what figures he can lay hands on, his program is well received over the air. But he is not contented. In the club car on which he rides to town every morning is another radio advertiser with a lesser program. At least advertiser number one thinks it is. The talent isn’t as costly, the network isn’t as large as the one he uses. Yet advertiser number two is eternally bragging about the large number of fan letters he gets. Advertiser number one isn’t to be outdone, so he finesses things so that his friend brags first. Then he tops him with figures on fan mail but in his secret heart he knows himself for a liar.
I think if P. T. Barnum were alive today, he would solve the problem for advertiser number one. He was the world’s first real publicity man. Or at least the first really big publicity man of modern times. It was Barnum’s edict that any publicity was good publicity. Maybe it was to a showman who charges admission, but to one who gives away his entertainment as sugar-coating for salesmanship, good publicity is the only kind to be considered. But Barnum is dead, so we shall have to go on with merely the memory of his triumphs to guide us.
Now the getting of this publicity is not, as so many advertisers seem to think, a black art. It is based upon the same sound principles as govern advertising in all its branches. And here let me say that advertising and publicity are not the same. Far from it. The technic that is successful in advertising will kill publicity more quickly than anything else.
These publicity principles are the same as those which govern the selection of all news. In other words, human interest.
Any radio advertiser who does not set aside a certain sum from his radio appropriation for publicizing his pro-gram is losing the greatest single opportunity there is for building his audience.
If he does not believe me, let him look for a moment at the procedure followed by theatrical people who control the destinies of the Broadway stage, “the road,” and the movie industry.
Probably the greatest single factor that has built up the business of entertainment to the pinnacle it holds today is publicity. Certainly news about the stage stars, the directors, the producers, the studios, Hollywood, and similar topics has placed the industry continually in the public eye. It has continually whetted the interest of the great masses upon whom the movie and theatrical industry depends in no less a degree than the radio industry.
What the radio industry needs at present is a group of publicity men who can dramatize their industry in the way clever publicity men dramatized and still dramatize and continually dramatize the plays, the musical comedies and the silver screen. The lack of good publicity, the lack of any ordinarily intelligent effort on the part of sponsors of programs, is making radio lopsided.
There is a certain amount of legitimate news in every radio program. Everything that is human is a possible source of news. The human race is most interested in itself. Man’s greatest interest is man.
Possible news in radio programs can be gathered from the performers themselves, their careers, their hobbies, the odd things that happen to them, their home life, their likes and dislikes, how they got that way, why they think radio is the perfect career and similar topics. The director of a program usually has half a hundred good stories up his sleeve. Probably he won’t know a half dozen of them but a clever publicity man will. Under his skillful digging and probing they will emerge half-shamefacedly like so many naughty children. And the director himself will look at them on paper in much the same surprised way as the captain of an ocean liner looks askance at a stowaway.
After the director, there is news material in the compositions played, the career of the composer, any odd tricks of composing, the inspiration of the music, the occasion of its first presentation or any of dozens of possible angles from which a good story can be gathered, prepared and launched on its way to the newspapers.
Nine times out of ten, there is a good story to be obtained from time to time by having a quiet chat with the announcer. If the publicity man can win his confidence, stories sometimes come out of nowhere borne on a chance remark that is freighted with news possibilities.
Even the musical arranger, the fellow who modestly stays behind the scenes and is observed only at rehearsals, may have a story in the way he writes the various instrumental parts which, blended together, make the musical composition the strikingly beautiful and arresting thing which it is.
There are stories to be gotten even from the control room man, that granite-faced, unfeeling individual who barks backward through the microphone at rehearsals and who is, after all, the man most eagerly kowtowed to by directors and advertising agency men alike. Some-times he will reveal himself as really human and perhaps under the influence of one of the client’s fine cigars will unbend enough to reveal anecdotes from his past or give the low-down on some unnoticed incident that makes good news. Even some control men have been known to unbend enough to tell about the time Senator Windbag spoke on such and such an hour. The senator takes some time to get warmed up and didn’t realize that five minutes over the air means four minutes and fifty-nine seconds. Forgetting this important fact the senator did not get warmed up until ten minutes had passed and was going good at the fifteen-minute mark. He never knew that the control room man calmly blanked him off the air when his time was up and nonchalantly let the program go on.
Who should serve as publicity men? Certainly not advertising copywriters. Many of them fancy themselves as Jack of All Trades. “Sure,” they tell the client, “just leave it to us. We’ll take care of all the publicity for you.” They do, all right. The releases they write sound like their ads. “Bologney,” yells the radio editor, either throwing them in the wastebasket or tossing them ceiling-ward on the supposition that what sticks will be printed in the paper. If you want a liberal education in publicity, go and sit beside a radio editor when he opens his morning mail. You will learn two things: a lot of new profanity with which you can awe your luncheon companions, and just how awful most publicity releases can be.
The ideal publicity release is a pithy news story which confines itself to facts, jumps immediately into its story, tells it quickly without the use of adjectives and when it finishes, stops. By that, I mean it tells its story without trying to embroider the facts, and stops when it has said its say.
The publicity man who learns this early in his career has the way smoothed for him by half. He wins the confidence of the men he is striving to please. These are the editors who decide what is of sufficient value to go into their papers. If they know his work, if he plays fair and square with them, he is sure of a job unless some account representative doesn’t like the kind of neckties or socks he wears and runs and whispers things in the client’s ear.
“Attempts to persuade newspapers to print anything but news or features with a genuine appeal to their readers are useless,” says John Bakeless, an authority on publicity. “.. . worse than useless, in fact,” Mr. Bakeless continues, “since they create in newspaper men’s minds a suspicious attitude which may mean that all future re-leases will simply be tossed into the wastebasket unread. The gravest error the inexperienced publicity man can make is to suppose that newspaper offices can be so deluged with paper that in sheer desperation they will print something. Editorial wastebaskets are always large.”
Again the question arises, “Who shall prepare these releases?” Mr. Bakeless hits the nail on the head when he says: “No releases should ever be written except by a writer with newspaper experience, preferably as both reporter and news editor. I once saw a fairly expensive publicity campaign ruined by the stupidity of a magazine owner who insisted on printing a list of eighty-odd celebrities and near-celebrities who were nominally cooperating with the magazine, in the lead (first paragraph) of the story. Every news editor in the United States promptly threw the story into the wastebasket. The money which the release cost might just as well have been thrown down the drain; the magazine’s reputation for sending out printable publicity suffered permanently in consequence.”
If you substitute radio sponsor for magazine owner in the above paragraph you have an idea of what happens all too frequently when publicity is released under the direction of a client who does not always know what publicity is all about. In other words he does not make the necessary, sharp distinction between advertising and publicity.
Now the newspaper exists by giving its readers the kind of news which they want. Readers want to know what is on the air. There is a great wealth of free entertainment material that is theirs for the twisting of a dial.
Consequently they desire some means of knowing what awaits them. Realizing this, the newspaper finds itself between two fires. On the one hand it is publicizing a competing medium. On the other it has hundreds of thousands of readers who clamor for this type of news. Many papers have met the problem by deleting the name of the sponsor and merely telling their readers that such and-such entertainment starring so-and-so as artist is heard at a certain hour over a certain station or network. Many sponsors have objected instead of leaving well enough alone. After all, they are most interested in capturing their audience with the entertainment value of their program. Once having gotten the listener’s ear, the sponsor can tell him the virtues of his product and he has gotten across his sales message which is why he went on the air. Therefore the publicizing of the artists publicizes his program.
This deleting of trade names by the newspapers and the closing down of free space is traceable directly to the current business depression of 1929-32.
One publisher of a famous newspaper said to me one day:
“We have cut down on radio just as we have on automobile publicity and business publicity simply because our revenues have been falling off. Why should we spend our money in having free publicity set into type when there isn’t enough paid advertising space to make it profitable for us?”
Then he went on to tell his grievance on another score and in this respect he probably was expressing the thoughts held by hosts of other publishers.
“We have cut down, for example, on automobile publicity because most of the stuff we were getting, boiled down to its news value would average a few sticks of type. Who in the devil among our readers cares if John Smith, president of the Hoopla Motor Car Company, says the Hoopla Eight is the greatest car in Hoopla history? If the automobile companies, like some other companies, would get busy and send us some real news, the kind we simply can’t afford not to print, they’d be doing them-selves a great deal of good and would find that the public respected them a lot more for it. Let the extravagant claims go into the advertising columns where they belong.”
Try and get radio publicity by similar tactics. Then count your clippings, total your costs for postage stamps, mimeographing and stenographic service and decide on how many hundreds of dollars each one has cost you.
It is fair to suppose that when the business pall lifts that there will be more and more space devoted to radio and that the clever advertiser will take advantage of his opportunities, making his press releases welcome to the editor by having them newsy, short and well-written.
This cutting down of newspaper space is bringing a host of new publications into the radio field. These are the fan weeklies and monthlies which offer a fertile source of publicity for radio programs. These periodicals are addressed to special audiences and while their circulation may be limited, the interest of their readers probably is out of all proportion to their coverage.
The alert, live, publicity man will earn his salary many times over by writing special articles for these magazines in which his client’s program is presented in an attractive manner with lots of human interest material about the performers. Human interest material makes the publishing world go around. It is responsible for the success of such magazines as the American, the movie fan magazines, and the confession magazines. Consequently the same rule holds good for material about the radio stars.
If I were an advertiser starting on the air and possessing a publicity background laboriously acquired through trial and error, how would I go about it to get the best results for my program?
First of all, I should acquire the best talent available for the kind of program I was sponsoring. If, for in-stance, I had a popular program using, say, such a dance band as Leo Reisman’s and a guest star each week, I would feature the guest star of each program in the publicity each week. Nor would I be content with simply releasing a routine story to the newspapers. I would use every means possible to get publicity by means of pictures. Few publicity men have any “art” sense at all. By “art” I mean the ability to select photographs that are attractive and which at the same time will reproduce well.
On a certain account handled by the advertising agency for which I once worked, we got so much space with good art on different guest stars each week that other clients of the broadcasting company complained that we were getting far more than our share of space. The retort to this complaint, as made by several nationally known radio editors, was, “Send us better pictures and you’ll get the same break.”
There are certain definitions to keep in mind in sending pictures to the newspapers. First of all, they must be attractive. One safe rule is to get a good picture of a pretty girl wherever possible. Editors of every department can usually get a girl into a layout if she be pretty. Readers like to get a vicarious thrill from looking at feminine pulchritude at its height.
And for heaven’s sake, send close-ups. A good head or a good “leg” picture should not be taken from twenty feet away. The pictures should be clear enough to repro-duce without a smudge no matter how temperamental the stereotyping department of a newspaper may be. Next to having your program featured in the box, “Best Programs for Today,” the best thing is to have a nice, striking photograph of whoever your performer may be.
In addition to sending out the best-written release each week, I would augment it with a number of short, catchily written short paragraphs revealing the personal side of the stars of my program. Some of them would deal with anecdotes, some with hobbies, some would be a little romantic. Anything legitimate that makes interesting copy would be grist to my mill.
But I would not sit back and rest there on my laurels. In publicity there is mighty little rest. You have to be as alert as a fox to grasp any opportunities for publicizing your program. Sometimes you will get an idea at the oddest moment and, jotting it down, you will find it the basis of a story that will perhaps win widespread attention everywhere.
But there is a great deal to publicity outside the written word. Successful promotion through this medium requires certain quirks of personality that often are the direct opposite of those required for a good advertising man.
A good publicity man is never austere, never cold-blooded. He must possess the ability to mix, He must have the facility of calling people by their first names. He must be sincere and friendly and above all, he must keep his word. If spot news comes up he must know the different men on the metropolitan newspapers so well that he can telephone them, and they in turn must be able to trust him enough to see that the story, if it be worth while, is accepted without their having to waste precious time confirming what he tells them. The publicity men who have made niches today for themselves are those who are not only good newspaper men, who know news and how to present it attractively but who are experts as well in the ticklish business of human relations.
The question of publicity is still so new to advertisers that they have had little time or opportunity to familiarize themselves with the best means for obtaining it. Consequently they often are content to follow the groove, getting a certain amount by routine methods by leaving a richer field untouched because of lack of knowledge as to how to proceed.
Many leave the publicizing of their programs to the publicity departments of the broadcasting companies. These departments are doing a fine job but they are handicapped as are all departments which handle so much material that they can give but cursory attention to one account. They were organized primarily to give publicity to themselves through publicizing features that are carried on their networks.
It can be readily seen that under the system employed by the broadcasting companies there is not the necessary flexibility of operation needed if full advantage is to be taken of the different “breaks” in the news.
Often a good publicity man retained to handle a radio account can be of incalculable value by acting as contact man between the client and the broadcasting company’s publicity department. Even though such a department does not have the flexibility of operation that a publicity firm may have, it nevertheless can frequently carry a story that is of great benefit to the client and to itself. The alert publicity man will use this service just as he uses the services of the syndicate for disseminating a good news story favorable to his client. But such a story must contain news. Here again the uncertain factor in the equation is the caliber of the publicity man. If he is alive to his opportunities, if his nose for news is as keen or even keener than it was in the time of his “by-line” days on a newspaper he will be of incalculable value to an advertiser.