How often do you consider audio as a tool to help tell your organisation’s story?
by Ronnie Jones
As a radio reporter by trade, using audio in my comms work is something which comes naturally to me now; but it didn't at first. Find out below how a moment of inspiration completely transformed how I produced content for the media... a flash of inspiration which revolutionised how I worked.
When I worked as a press officer for the Ministry of Defence in the South West of England, I faced two ongoing issues which I wanted to tackle:
The changing media landscape, with smaller newsrooms and fewer journalists, meant that press releases weren’t being picked up as much as they had been in the past. This was simply because local journalists didn’t have the time to follow them up. They also weren’t able to leave their newsrooms as often as they had in the past to gather material. What they wanted - and needed - was more useable content, not just copy.
It took a long time to write and then get sign-off on press releases. I knew that this wasn't the best use of my time and effort, especially as the media didn’t always follow up releases. I wanted to be more efficient; to use my time wisely. I knew from my experience in radio newsrooms that I could turn around interviews and audio in next to no time.
I quickly realised that using audio - and Soundcloud in particular - was the best solution to both of the above issues. Using audio would give news desks what they wanted, reduce my workload, up my output and increase story reach. I knew I was on to something - audio had the added benefit of playing to my strengths as a radio journalist - but I didn’t anticipate the huge impact which audio would have on how I did my strategic comms job.
So I began creating audio content to tell soldiers’ stories and stories about the military units which I worked with and advised.
It worked, straight away.
You won’t be surprised to hear that radio stations - especially commercial radio - used the audio which I sent them (BBC stations have strict producer guidelines which makes it less likely that audio provided by press officers will be used). It meant that radio reporters didn’t have to contact me for interviews to get audio, like they had to in the past. It also meant that I didn't have to pester interviewees for repeated interviews. Everyone was saving time. Reach was increasing.
But I didn’t just provide interviews. I also gave radio stations sound effects to help them to bring the stories which I had sent them to life. It meant that a story which would have run mid bulletin (or not at all) when sent to radio newsrooms in 'copy' press release form, was now being run higher up in the news bulletin and in the news agenda, and featured more prominently as a result.
I didn’t stop there. During my initial trial of using audio as the primary means for engaging with local media, I had also come to realise that understaffed local newspapers were also desperate for digital - including audio - content, especially for their rapidly growing (and content heavy) websites. They also desperately needed quotes for copy for their traditional 'copy' publications, but had little time - or staff - to carry out interviews, and less time still to leave their newsrooms to record audio and then to edit afterwards.
So, I sent the same audio - and photographs (more in this in a minute) - which I had sent to radio stations, to local newspapers.. and sat back and watched what happened.
The audio from a few interviews, along with good quality photos - taken by the fantastic Army photographers who I worked with - would regularly be turned into double page spreads by local newspapers. I thought that newspapers might lift quotes for copy, but I hadn't expected this. Some papers would also use the audio to create multimedia versions of the stories online.
After this initial success, I started using audio for the vast majority of the stories which I sent to local and regional media. I got the same results. What started as a trial, revolutionised how I worked.
Readers and audiences were the ultimate winners. They were better informed than they had been in the past because the content of stories was more engaging and interesting.
As I mentioned above, imagery plays an important part in audio being picked up by radio and newspapers. What’s good about Soundcloud is that it enables you to attach hi-res images to audio. Add in a few paragraphs explaining what this audio is, and who is in the images (essentially what would have been in the opening paragraph or ‘notes to Editors’ sections of a standard press release), and that’s all you need. A package of usable content.
That’s the key with audio…. Unlike video, audio is re-usable.
I managed to increase the reach of one story (the Army-run 'Ten Tors' event in the South West of England) by hundreds of thousands in one go by using audio as a primary comms tool, along with photographs.
Radio stations and newspapers across my patch (the South West region of England) which hadn’t sent reporters to the event for years, started running stories on it again. Some stations which had never covered Ten Tors before, ran it in their news bulletins, on their websites and in their papers and magazines.
Interviewing soldiers and Officers on a regular basis also had the added benefit of providing free broadcast interview training. The regular practice of answering questions with a mic in front of them made a real difference. It made them better performers during interviews because they felt more at ease, but it also made them more inclined to do interviews in the first place…. No more scrabbling around trying to persuade/cajole people to be interviewed (we've all been there). Another headache removed.
Commercial radio and newspapers will use pre-recorded, edited audio content and will reproduce it, taking ownership of it to reproduce their own digital stories/content and traditional copy.
You have to make sure the audio is high quality, though. The audio needs to be well recorded, and edited. If the audio isn’t at least as good as the radio reporters/producers would have produced themselves, it won’t be used. Always make the audio as good as it can be. Tidy it up (take out the 'ums'), remove background noise, record it properly in the first place, find engaging people to interview whose testimony tells your organisation's stories.
The same is true for images, which I have found plays an integral part in making audio a success as a comms tool. The images need to be at least as good as in-house newsroom photographers (or journalists) can take themselves.
As always, relationships are key. News desks only accepted my audio because they knew me and knew that I would deliver for them. Keep your promises. Don't miss deadlines. I also took the precaution of warning my key newsroom contacts that I was moving to audio as key distribution tool in advance of 'taking the leap'.
Reach can be dramatically increased with this audio-focused approach.
Output can also be significantly increased and workload reduced - simultaneously.
This audio-centred approach also enables comms teams to generate their own in-house content for their social media and web platforms.
Being a 'good talker' as we say in the trade, will be even more beneficial today, with the rapid rise of podcasting.
Audio also works really well for internal comms campaigns. Drop the MD’s weekly email and get them on a mic instead! Need to send out a quick message to staff? Get someone on a mic! Need to share health and safety messages with staff? Find a powerful story of a near miss and turn it into an interview. People will take notice.
Comms teams may need up-skilling or training in gathering, editing and distributing audio; but this is clearly worth the investment… everyone will save valuable time and effort in the long run.
That’s it in a nutshell. Focusing on audio was the best decision I made as a comms professional.
Could audio work for you?
Ronnie Jones is a freelance broadcast journalist and communications consultant – you can contact him on Twitter at @bongoron
Image via The Smithsonian