By Debra Zimmerman Murphey
In the world of Atkins-crazed consumers, think of Maury Tobin’s approach toward radio news and public relations this way: Tobin has taken the carbs out of the PR meal and left the meat.
“Clients will call me with a campaign and want me to get them hits in the radio marketplace and instead of promising them results on projects that lack the critical elements, such as timeliness or an interesting angle, I help them tweak the campaign and I think the way a reporter would,” says Tobin. “That way when we call radio newsmakers, we’ve eliminated a pitch that rings of commercialism and can approach journalists with stories that are fresh, meaningful to their listeners, and answer the why-should-I-care component.”
In sum, think “We Make It News” – Tobin’s company mantra. “I like to think of my PR philosophy as smart pitching, sans the hefty hard sell,” says Tobin.
Over ten years ago, after being disappointed with how some radio public relations vendors operate, Tobin started his own Radio Media Tour business (Tobin Communications, Inc.) with nothing more than a dream and a handful of contacts. Tobin’s venture took root without the seed money or family funding that many small businesses are guaranteed.
Despite this and bolstered by the knowledge that in the age of technology, starting a successful company in his two-bedroom apartment wouldn’t amount to just a pipe dream, Tobin turned his goal into reality on Sept. 15, 1996.
This was a watershed time for then 28-year-old Tobin. He had been laid off from a radio media firm (now one of his main competitors) and was finishing graduate school (Tobin has a Master’s Degree in Public Communication from American University in Washington, D.C.). But by going it alone, Tobin recalls, he could ensure clients that the messages and stories they pitched to the media would address two key elements – newsworthiness and positioning information based on how media pros think – that many PR vendors overlook in their rush for publicity.
Another impetus for this life-changing move was Tobin’s professional experience. He had worked on national and regional political campaigns and was a pro in the realm of public policy and garnering grassroots publicity.
TOBIN ON OVERDRIVE
To know Maury Tobin is to know someone who is passionate about what he does and savvy about understanding the exchange between the media, the public and those who influence what makes it on journalists’ radar screens in the era of 24-hour and talk-show news. For instance, Tobin has convinced pharmaceutical clients to sometimes forgo doctors as primary spokespeople and allow patients to share with millions of radio listeners how a medication changed their lives.
Even though Tobin was an early fan of the reach of the Internet and knows cable TV news is a hot media (and therefore PR) commodity, Tobin embraces the vast power of radio without hesitancy. “Radio is a staple for many news consumers who commute, want an issue parsed and examined beyond what TV delivers, and need to know what is happening immediately in their local and regional communities,” says Tobin. “The latter is something that print news outlets can’t deliver on-the-spot.”
TOBIN: TAKE HIM OR LEAVE HIM
TCI clients appreciate it when radio hits translate into cost-effective PR and a rapport between spokesperson and reporter. “For over seven years, Maury and his team at Tobin Communications have expertly guided a number of my clients through countless radio interviews. Tobin Communications’ media tour service maximizes the time of busy executives by bringing the radio stations to them and when two hours spent on the telephone yields millions of media impressions, most consider that a morning’s work that was well spent,” says Chris Kelley Cimko, managing director of Burson-Marsteller in Washington, D.C.
Adds Edelman senior account supervisor Michelle Emick: “Tobin Communications is my first call when I need to conduct a Radio Media Tour. Maury and his team have been able to secure interviews for my clients in key markets, positioning my spokespeople as credible decision-makers and problem-solvers on critical issues. My clients’ enhanced visibility among their stakeholders and the communities they serve keep them coming back for more.”
Tobin is a CEO who is the touch-point for his clients, ensuring that their needs, queries and expectations will not be simply or quickly passed on to a junior staffer lacking savvy and media know-how. He talks about this pitfall while sitting on a summer morning in his second-floor, home-based office in a rural, waterfront pocket outside of Washington, D.C.
In the background buzzes an interview Tobin is taping for a client. The quintessential multi-tasker, Tobin smiles when he hears the spokesperson’s ease and muses about which radio hosts he needs to contact to send them background materials for an upcoming interview while also logging onto the Drudge Report Web site for the second time in the day. To keep his news sense honed, the site is one of a list of about 10 Web destinations — including msnbc.com and washingtonpost.com — Tobin visits when his business day starts at 7 a.m.
Tobin is used to early starts because of the morning drive radio slot when many of his clients make airwaves with news that helps Americans stay informed and educated, for example, about the latest drug or the efforts of trade groups dealing with policy and social issues.
A list of recent and past “notable” TCI campaigns might rival in length the list of millionaire contributors to the Bush and Kerry campaigns, but here are some of them:
- Olympic running legend Gail Devers talking about her battle with thyroid disease in a grassroots educational campaign.
- The National Institutes of Health’s campaign to inform Americans about the dangers of alcoholism and a society that ignores the influence of alcohol on a widespread scale.
- Andrew Kiener, a New Yorker who is successfully fighting HIV, educating Americans on behalf of Abbott Labs, maker of AIDS-fighting medications.
- The American College of Gastroenterology promoting the need for Americans to get colonoscopies in the prevention of colon cancer.
- Several campaigns for The Humane Society of the United States to promote various issues concerning animal health and well-being.
- A project with Tiki Barber, a star running-back for the New York Giants and spokesperson for a campaign to stop smoking among New Jersey youth.
- Astronaut Major Gen. Charles T. Bolden, America’s second African-American in space, talking about his work to raise money for the families of the Columbia Shuttle Disaster.
- A public affairs campaign with Paul Oakley of the Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Energy (CARE) informing the public about efforts to promote a comprehensive energy policy for the United States.
- Work for The Steel Alliance’s “Nerves of Steel” campaign, which increased traffic on the group’s Web site and educated consumers about the advantages of steel.
Debra Zimmerman Murphey is a VP with Tobin Communications and a former senior editor of PRNEWS.