Simon gave us a fascinating look into the inner workings of Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme, how it is perceived, how it is made and what makes it the most influential news programme in Britain in terms of setting the news agenda. He has been with Radio 4 since 2001 and has seen the show grow, as well as the evolution of its audience and its shift to multi-platform broadcast.
When speaking of people’s perceptions of business news, Simon said you could compare it to kids eating vegetables, meaning we know it’s good for us but we don’t always enjoy it! But whilst many listeners feel business news may be further down their food chain than consumer, sport or current affairs news, there seems to still be a huge appetite for it. This is especially true for Today, with the main business slot at 06:15 lasting around 12 minutes. Simon attributed the importance of this slot to a huge commuter focus and people waking up far earlier these days. It also means a greater opportunity for broadcast PR for the client with a strong business focus.
The producers behind the Today programme are continually monitoring their audience figures and demographics. According to Simon this is not just to remind them of the programme’s popularity but because audience perception makes the show and can ultimately break it. Never has a radio show been listened to so religiously but also drawn such comment (praise or criticism) from so far and wide. Reporting on stories that their audience have an appetite for and in a manner that they connect with is what matters most. They don’t shy away from hard hitting business stories or guests, but they like to keep the use of jargon, facts and figures to a minimum so that the audience doesn’t feel they are being dictated to or patronised.
With a reach of just over 7 million unique users a week and a peak audience of around 11 million, it is no surprise that Today is seen by many PR’s as the Holy Grail. However, Simon was at pains to stress that just getting your client on the show doesn’t mean success…
Just appearing on the show and landing what you deem to be your key messaging is not enough with the Today audience. Spokespeople need to be fully briefed on the show and the presenters. Failure to do so could see your spokesperson’s appearance stand out, and not in the right way. Even if you feel your messaging has been expressed, the interview may jar with listeners and have the adverse effect.
Spokespeople need to know the audience and it can stand out like a sore thumb if they are clearly unaware of what is going on. Today has an average age of 59 and although it has 16,000 new listeners a month, the majority of the audience is made up of dedicated listeners who know what they like. Language is critical, they don’t want to be patronised but also don’t want to get bogged down in heavy jargon or facts and figures from high powered CEO’s. The most important answers to nail are the first and the last as these are the two the audience most remembers. It is really important to know what is coming before and after your spokesperson’s interview so they know the context of the show at that time and can judge the tone correctly.
Here at Shout! we are happy to assist with your PR Campaign and regularly sell in all sorts of clients to the Today Programme. To see more about radio days go to Radio Days at Shout! And to find out about upcoming courses that we offer at please go to Shout! Workshops