Held at the Innovation forum, University of Salford
Phil Shepherd, the CMA’s Chair opened the conference alongside the Director, Jaqui Devereux, with an update on recent activity and the state of the sector. He acknowledged the CMA was a broad church where a ‘bottom up’ approach means they potentially have a lot of reach, but they needed to concentrate on growing their membership. It had been a difficult year for for those looking for funding with many grants being withdrawn.
Headline news items over the year were:
- The introduction of free traffic reports for all member radio stations
- Euronet, the EU wide social news for radio project who were funding some UK production covering local social issues
- The Make Media centre, a project based on wider media engagement and based within Media City in Salford, would still be going ahead despite funding cuts
- Progress was being made with local community television
- A revised memorandum with the BBC had been achieved
- The community radio sector continued to grow with licensed stations now over 200. The importance of social gain was stressed, particularly with regards to funding and with the concern about funding growing, there was a need within the sector to revisit the charter and review the motives for doing community radio.
- Content remains key and is a product which has currency; it is also how community radio is judged so greater attention needs to be paid to producing quality content.
- When Ed Richards (CEO Ofcom) discusses the community radio sector as ‘a real success’ in the Ofcom annual report, the CMA and wider sector needs to capitalise on this positivity.
- The coalition government has scrapped the concept of regional news consortiums and this could be an opportunity for community media to get involved with local newspapers to form businesses and shape this fledgling sector.
2. Session One – News and updates
This session expanded upon the main headline news discussed in the opening session. A parallel session ran, presented by Tamar Millen, which launched the new arts and funding strategy.
Euronet – Briefly, this was a European programme where stories based on social issues were recorded and distributed. Presently, UK stories were being recorded by a partner in the Netherlands however funding and partners had been found in the UK to provide a more appropriate source.
Make Media – the major project which had been envisaged (a media centre at the heart of Media City which would be a studio hub, meeting place, research centre, services creator and flagship for community media) had been scaled down to a quarter following the withdrawal of funding from the regional development agency. Salford City Council and the ERDF funds were still available and the project was being reconfigured to meet this new budget.
Traffic News – Andrea Day from Traffic link was pleased to present the potential for the traffic news updates which were being made available to England only CMA members for free. The aim was to provide regional content with audio from the Highways Agency service via the internet. All audio must be credited to the Agency but could be edited and these files were available as MP3’s. The service is augmented by REGIS, an information browser providing local streams suited to the scope of community radio. The initial agreement was for two years after which it was unclear whether the service would revert to being charged for.
Promotion and publicity – A presentation was given by Michael Fryer, Radio Teesdale, on using publicity to maximum benefit. Community radio in particular already had a clear USP; its uniqueness. Stations who didn’t promote themselves were liable to have the moniker as the community station stolen by commercial competitors. Promotion raises awareness, helps to recruit volunteers, generates advertising sales and updates sponsors about the station. Michael gave the following advice:
- Have one person dealing with PR as this helps to keep consistency of material and message
- Look at the hyper local to regional news outlets to exploit for publicity such as church and club magazines, local newspapers, regional press and radio (less likely but you can occasionally push larger stories there). Contact the local BBC station manager to see if you can work together.
- Keep your contacts up to date with station news and ensure the content you send is suitable for that particular audience. This includes writing several versions of a press release depending on where it is being sent.
- A useful exercise is to look at a recent news story and picking the six major key words, rewrite it from three different angles to get to grips with appropriateness and language.
- Sponsorship can pay for printed programme listings which can be used as promotional tool; this helps to build listenership faster.
- Don’t stick to the traditional boundaries, be dynamic. Work with your local paper and if you have a story, broadcast it first and then pass it on. Weekly papers need stories which are less time sensitive and to make their life easier, write press releases in the style of the recipient. Your words are more likely to be copied and pasted as the story content. As a guide, a press release should look like this:
Dylan Jones of Voice Radio – gave a presentation on their strategy which has proven particularly successful for fulfilling their aims and enabling sustainability. Voice FM is currently an internet only station in South Wales which works with young people and concentrates on working with school to provide radio and soft skills training.
Their approach has been to equally concentrate on business, community and education to hit the social gain requirement. Voice involves a business in writing their ‘infomercials’ which engenders a sense of ownership and commitment. Their research into local and national initiatives has built effective partnerships to work with schools and generate income. Dylan announced to conference that Voice has been granted space on the Newport/Cardiff DAB multiplex and would commence broadcasting soon; an FM licence remains a priority. Dylan has made his presentation available for download with this report.
3. Digital skills for the digital workforce
Jaqui introduced the concept of ‘Make Media’ through a discussion on the rise of digital media skills as essential to the workplace. She was hopeful Make Media would go ahead, particularly the Generator project which was about community media organisations providing services to small and medium businesses for media education and development. This would add to sector sustainability. She then handed over to Alison Surtees from Creative Industries Salford to round up the concept to delegates.
Alison explained that the Make Media project was primarily meant as a centre of excellence for community media and it was hoped that this project would encourage other similar projects to start around the regions. As such, despite the reduced budget, the studio facilities were still on the agenda. The Generator project is intended to be about capacity building the sector and developing skills to sell to companies providing new revenue streams. The Make Media Toolkit would bring these concepts together as a set of skills and knowledge to share good practice. The Firm project would also still potentially run to enable the sector to utilise the skills of university researchers for projects which demonstrate community media deliverables. Despite the loss of the RDA money, Salford City Council and Salford Regeneration were still behind the project however it meant the scope becomes regional rather than national.
Those in the community media sector already were well placed to be digital producers. Community media is also cheaper and able to demonstrate added value so it was hoped the project would encourage more contracts to come to the sector.
Some delegates were hostile to the concept of a centre being placed in the North West and questioned the rationale. Alison was clear that this was intended to be the first of many similar projects and that regionally, everyone should have access to a local community media centre.
4. The Community Radio Fund
Richard Hilton, one of three panel members, recounted the most recent application process and shared common mistakes which were still happening. The Community Radio Fund was an important amount of ring-fenced money which was administered very well by the team at Ofcom. The quality of applications had been surprisingly poor though £200,000 had eventually been allocated. As had been iterated before, the panel especially favoured joint applications which were able to demonstrate multiple beneficiaries and collegiate working. Richard advised the following:
- Panel members often check to see if your station has filed recent accounts with Company’s House. Not doing so can show a lax attitude to finances.
- Give a round number for the amount you are requesting.
- Your brief overview of the station really needs to demonstrate passion and energy for what you’re doing. Too often these statements have been dull and/or unclear so members wonder if that’s your attitude to your station.
- The amounts requested from the fund are often very unrealistic; the panel will not typically give out £40,000 to individual projects. Look at past grants which will show the amount given and the type of project as they are often about increasing sustainability, enabling fundraising or sales.
- If your request is for funding a role you need to provide a clearly laid out job description. They frequently receive applications for a ‘fundraiser’ when the job is something else entirely. Shoehorning a role into what you think the panel wants to see will be very obvious.
- The panel see a lot of copy and paste in applications where the station is reapplying to the fund for a very similar project. If your project was rejected last time, get feedback as to why and carefully rethink your approach. Copy and paste betrays a generally lazy approach.
5. Regional, sub regional working and discussion
CMA members for each region gave a small update on their progress over the past year. A conversation, facilitated by Phil Shepherd, took place about the possibilities of instigating regional and sub regional working. Some felt that the often rigid concept of region could be redefined by needs, interests and commonalities. Others didn’t gain much from the trial of regional working before and felt that some guidance, chairing or set of aims might help. It was requested the CMA look into this. Eleanor Shember-Critchley from Radio Regen briefly discussed the Community Radio Toolkit (www.communityradiotoolkit.net) and suggested members to get in touch if they would like to use the private areas of the site and forums to help facilitate regional working.
Members were reminded about the Get Media website for sharing content and to get in touch with Jaqui of there was a particular reason for its under use.
Phil requested the CMA staff prepare an action plan to be shared with members about the points discussed during the day.
The conference closed at 16:30.