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Seeding the Audience: A Different Approach to Talk-Show Publicity

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During publicity campaigns
for issue-oriented books, you can seed talk-show audiences. This does not mean
using a shill. There is big difference between a shill and a planted or seeded
supporter. A shill is usually obnoxious, tries to take over, and sounds
rehearsed. People who are planted in the audience participate in discussions
without steering them. They are real listeners/viewers who are part of the regular
audience and community. Many folks may be willing to do call-ins for books
about causes that matter to them. Parents home with small children, employees
on a day off, commuters with cell phones, and students are all possibilities.

 

Having a cadre of people call in
regularly accomplishes several objectives. It ensures that the airwaves and
cyberspace are exposed to the issue your book involves and that it gets regular
mention; it can engage hosts and audiences in useful conversation about the
issue; and when a host perceives interest in your topic, it can make bookings
easier for you to get. In addition to calling, your cadre can also fax and
email letters and questions about the issue to keep the book on media front
burners.

 

Remember that for every minute one
of your people is on the air, the other side is not. Even if your callers are
not great talkers, your viewpoint is the one being presented. Since the 1996
presidential election, various campaigns have used the talk format to help fill
the airwaves and the Internet, and the International Association of Machinists
and Aerospace Workers (IAM) has been training its members on how to call in to
talk shows for almost 10 years. They put the resources into the training, and
it has paid off for them.

 

Also remember that covering
forums, chat rooms, and the like is as important as being on the air. You can
look at ForumFind.com, chat.yahoo.com, Yahoo! Groups, and the AOL and Google
groups.

 

What to Tell Seeded
Supporters

 

Train your supporters, but do not
issue written talking points, which could be leaked. Have people speak in their
own words. Hosts can tell if callers are operating from a script or a sheet of
talking points.

 

When training the troops on making
calls, provide them with these tips:

 

Keep
lists
of stations and phone
numbers, talk programs and airtimes, and Internet addresses, chat rooms, and
forums. Find out ahead of time which programs are live, which ones are archived
on the Internet, and which ones have chat rooms. There is seemingly no end to
programs and chats to call or write to.

 

Call
in at the top of the hour and during breaks.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Calling very popular programs usually means you will
have to wait before you are put on the air. Many hosts or anchors love to talk
even if they have callers backed up. It is a self-promoting opportunity for
them to announce, “We have 10 lines blinking.”

 

Be
alert to a station’s demographics.

If a station is trying to reach young people, it might screen out callers who
sound older. Similarly, stations that target an older population might screen
out callers who sound young, stations targeting women might screen out calls
from men, and vice versa. Try to match the demographic of the station.

 

Draft
what you are going to say,
then
practice and shorten it. Write your comments from the heart.

 

Pick
a quiet place to make your call.

No kids, other conversations, or background music.

 

Once
your call is answered, turn off the radio or television
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> to avoid annoying feedback. You will experience a
short delay, so listen to the questions over the phone, not on your radio.

 

Turn
off your call-waiting.
It is very
annoying on the air.

 

Never
use a speakerphone,
and never have
someone on an extension of the same phone line.

 

Car
phones still usually get priority,

so tell the producer if you are on one, and be certain you are not in a
black-hole area where your service is sketchy. But if you were driving and
heard something on a show that made you pull off the road to call in, tell the
host, and you will be forgiven for the traffic noise.

 

Never
lie to a screener to get on the air.

Most hosts and producers will throw someone off immediately if they suspect
they have been lied to. If you have a different viewpoint, say so.

 

Address
the host, anchor, or chat room guest by name.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Make it obvious that you have been listening to them
or have been following the chat. Never call a show you are not listening to,
and do not just jump in on a chat and start expounding on your point.
Producers, call screeners, and chat-room managers are wise to such tricks.

 

Don’t
try to fool anyone
by calling
several times and changing your voice or giving different locations. In the
world of caller ID, this almost never works, even if you block your calling
number.

 

If
you are a first-time caller or chatter, say so.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Hosts love first-timers.

 

Say
something complimentary about the show,
but only if you can be genuine about it. You do not have to agree. You
can say, “I have a different perspective, but I find your show informative and
entertaining.” Don’t be or sound phony.

 

Relate
your personal experience to the topic.
If the discussion is about education and you’re a teacher, say so. If
parenting is the topic, there is no better expert than a parent. If job loss is
the issue then all the experts in the world do not equal one person who
recently lost a job.

 

Do
not read from notes.
Speak
naturally. Remember that your comments are part of a conversation or written
Internet discussion. You don’t read from notes when you are talking to a
friend—right?

 

If
you are going to ask a question, just ask it.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Don’t say, “I want to ask a question,” and then go
into a long monologue. Ask your question or make a statement. Again, speak as
you would in a normal conversation with a friend.

 

If
you can, back up your point.
If
you have statistics or supporting content from your book, use it. If you saw
something on television or the Internet, be specific about where you saw it.
The host and audience will be grateful for the information. Avoid vague gossip
or hearsay. Hosts will be all over it, and you will sound foolish.

 

Be
very careful about mentioning another television network,
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> radio program, or the call letters of another
station. Hosts do not like that, and neither do their bosses.

 

This
is a conversation, not a sermon.

Let the preachers preach, the hosts give monologues, and the news anchors read
the prompters. Your job is to be part of the conversation.

 

People
with unconventional views make the best callers.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> The standard party line gets overused and tunes
people out.

 

Do
not be offended if anchors or hosts are abrupt with you.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> They must keep the conversation flowing, the ratings
up, and the audience entertained. They are not on the air to develop a new best
friend.

 

Remember
a rule of assertiveness training
—you
can be a bit of a broken record and repeat your point, just don’t overdo it. If
the host tries to throw you off guard, stick to your point and do not back off.

 

No
one can argue with you about how you feel.
Remember, a feeling is not a fact, and it represents what you really
believe. Use personal examples—it is hard to argue with experience. Other
callers will be more accepting of your viewpoint if they can identify with your
situation. Be someone callers or Internet chatters can relate to.

 

Do
not insult the host.
It is not politic.
One guest on a recent radio show told the host he was an idiot. It did not go
over well, and it created a lot of tension among the other guests and hosts.

 

Seeding the audience is an ideal
method to steer the discussion in favor of your issue. It is also an
opportunity to hear what points the opposition raises. You will then be armed
with additional responses for appearances in the future.

 

Ellen Ratner, the bureau
chief of Talk Radio News Service, is the political editor and Washington bureau
chief of Talkers Magazine
(the trade magazine for the talk media industry) and an analyst on Fox News.
Kathie Scarrah is an independent television news producer. This article is
derived from their new Chelsea Green book, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Ready, Set, Talk! A Guide to Getting Your Message
Heard by Millions on Talk Radio, Talk Television, and Talk Internet
.
To learn more or order the book, visit www.chelseagreen.com.

 

 

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