Tips for promoting your news website or book on the radio

When you achieve a leadership position in the journalism business – whether that be within a newsroom or running your own publishing business – promotion becomes an indispensable part of your work duties. You’ll need to become a spokesperson for your efforts – and that includes appearing on radio and television programs to promote your work and the brand name of your publication.

In my experience, many reporters freak out at the thought of becoming a source. Especially a source on camera or on a live mic. But you don’t need to be nervous or feel intimidated. You’re a communications professional, after all. If you feel comfortable asking questions, you should feel comfortable answering them, too.

Or, at least, you should feel comfortable with learning how to answer them. That’s what we’re going to talk about today, and next week, here on OJR. I’ll be listing some of my tips for writers and editors who need to appear on radio and television to promote their work. We’ll start with radio today, and add some television-specific tips next week.

First, you need to get the gig. Use the contacts you’ve built during your career. If you’ve got a project, a site or a book that you think would be of interest to the audience at a particular show, reach out to the people you know at that program and offer yourself as a guest. Keep the focus on the audience, though. Don’t “pull strings” or call in favors to get on shows where you or your work isn’t a good match. That won’t help you build readership or sales, and will only damage your relationships with colleagues. (Not to mention their relationship with their employer. No one wants to be the one responsible for booking a bum guest.)

  • Do some research in advance of booking. Know who the host is, what the show’s about and who listens to or watches it. This is especially important when you are called or emailed with an invitation from a show you don’t know. I have no interest in being the subject of a live verbal assault, or of supporting with my presence shows that engage in verbally assaulting their guests. Nor do I have any interest in appearing on or supporting shows that actively seek to mislead the public. (It’s for those reasons that I have a standing policy of refusing invitations to appear on Fox News. And yes, I have been invited to appear on that network multiple times in the past.)
  • Keep your landline. Best case scenario is that you’re invited down to the studio for your radio appearance. You’ll enjoy the best sound quality, and you’ll get to look your interviewer in the eye as you speak. But most of the radio segments I’ve done have been over the phone. That’s pretty much the only reason why we’ve kept our landline at home. It provides the best vocal quality for radio interviews. Many stations will insist on conducting their interviews over landlines. If you don’t have one, they might choose a different guest, instead.
  • Prepare some anecdotes or fun facts that people can – and will – remember. Think of people talking in a bar here. You want to give them two, three, or four easy-to-remember facts or anecdotes that they can use to spread the word about whatever it is that you are promoting. Long, involved dialogs don’t work for this format. Find the sharpest data you have, and rehearse them so that you’ll be able to stick to those points.
  • Stretch before you go on. Fight nervousness by getting your blood moving with some simple stretches before you go on the air. Don’t overwork yourself to the point where you get winded, though. You just want to get your body relaxed and melt any physical tension that could harm your performance.
  • Thank the host by name when you start and when you end. If you are working with a producer who’s prepping you for the interview, make sure you ask for the host’s name or hosts’ names before going on, if he or she doesn’t tell you first. Addressing the host by name helps get you into the conversation and makes you sound like a more courteous guest to the audience. Remember, the audience knows the host better than they know you. If you make yourself sound like an old friend to the host, they’ll be more inclined to think of you as a friend, too.
  • Speak a bit louder than normal, a bit slower and with a bit more energy. You want to sound like a friendly, sympathetic, engaging person – someone a listener would want to hear talking. I try to remember to remind myself to move my eyebrows when I talk on the radio. I find that helps me to better animate my voice.
  • Speak in plain elementary-school English, always. Never use industry jargon or acronyms when you’re making a public appearance. Keep this in mind when you’re selecting those facts and anecdotes you wish to highlight. If you’re the office champion at Buzzword Bingo, you’re going to need to do some practicing not to sound like the boss everyone hates when you go on the air.
  • Number, rank or flag important points when you speak. Every second that you are speaking, the host and the audience are making decisions about whether to cut you off or tune you out. Buy yourself additional time by signaling when you’re about to say something important. Introduce your points by saying something like “Here’s the really important thing,” “There are three keys to that,” “The most important factor is” or something along those lines. Phrases like that signal to the host or audience that something good’s coming so they better stay with you.
  • Never, ever, ever get angry – no matter how much you feel provoked or misled during an interview. Again, try to avoid going on shows where you’re likely to be harassed or attacked. But if you feel challenged, rise to it by keeping your cool and making the best-supported point you can. Get angry and the audience will find it easy to turn on you. Never take that bait.
  • Try to mention your publication title or URL at least three times during the interview. You’re there to promote your work, after all. Even if you are commenting as an expert on your beat and not specifically to promote a new title, remember that your affiliation helps establish your credibility as a source. If the host doesn’t mention it, find a way to work in it. But your references must always be natural and fit within the context of your points. Don’t oversell – that kills your credibility with the audience.
  • Even on radio, eye contact remains important. Here’s a trick I learned from my wife. She often goes online and finds a picture of the person she’ll be speaking with over the phone, then keeps it on her computer screen while she’s talking. That helps you to remember that you’re in a conversation with a real person here, which will help you sound more natural on the air.
  • Remember, as always, that your audience knows more than you do. Don’t talk down. If you are taking questions from the audience during your appearance, don’t neglect to thank, reassure and even flatter your questioners. (That goes for the host, too.) Again, you want to come across as a pleasant, engaging and friendly person, no matter what subject you’re discussing.
  • Don’t get angry, frustrated or upset when you get cut off. Time’s short on the air, especially on commercial radio shows, which have a frenetic pace compared with public radio. Plan your points. Keep ’em short. Hit ’em quick, and be happy you had the time you did.
  • Next week: Tips for handling a TV appearance.

    About Robert Niles

    Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at