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 listsof 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.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 televisionto 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.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 anyoneby 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.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.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,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.The standard party line gets overused and tunes people out.
- Do not be offended if anchors or hosts are abrupt with you.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.