Everything you need to know about pitching the BBC’s Today programme
BBC Radio 4 is among the most illustrious news outlets in the UK – so much so, that in the event of nuclear war, Britain’s submarines are told to listen out for the broadcast of Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, to determine if the nation has survived. In addition to submarine commanders, the show regularly reaches six million listeners in the peak 7am to 8am hour. Listeners trend older, and the show is tuned in to religiously by government employees. So, if you’re trying to get your message in front of the 10.1 million people that listen weekly, an early appointment at Broadcasting House studios might well be the ideal option.
Henry Jones is the business editor for the Today programme (as well as Wake Up to Money on BBC Radio 5 Live). He has over a decade’s experience making news radio at the BBC and oversees the editorial direction for the business slots on Today, which are at 6:15am and 7:15am.
There are also five key presenters of Today who you should be aware of.
Firstly, there’s Amol Rajan. Before joining the BBC, Amol was the Editor of The Independent – actually the youngest editor of a broadsheet title in Britain (he was 29!) and the first from an ethnic minority.
There’s also Justin Webb, whose second job for the BBC was as a reporter for Today! He’s a bit of a globetrotter, too. He’s covered news from all around the world but has a special interest in America, and he helps the host BBC’s Americast podcast!
Mishal Husain should be no stranger, as she’s presented the Today programme for nearly a decade! She is also the Sunday presenter for BBC News at Ten and BBC Weekend News and has won many awards for her work. She holds senior figures from the world of business and politics to account and takes no prisoners!
Another journalist who should be on your radar is Martha Kearney, who also has an impressive resume. She’s covered every election since 1987 and interviewed every UK prime minister since!
Last but not least is Nick Robinson. Before presenting the Today programme, he worked as Political Editor for the BBC, and before that, he worked in the same role at ITV. Alongside the Today programme, Nick hosts Radio 4’s Political Thinking every Saturday.
What to pitch
Decisions about what to cover are made in the central planning department for business, which determines coverage across radio, TV, and online, making it the ideal place to send your story. The team meets at 11:30am every morning to discuss the agenda for the next day’s show.
If you’re thinking of making a major announcement, they can organise an appearance around 7:15am, when most listeners are tuning in. And they’re serious about making it quick and easy to contribute if you have news: the chief executive of Whitbread was on the show just three minutes after the company made the announcement that they were selling Costa for example.
The Today programme mostly speaks with CEOs but will talk to anybody who knows their story inside and out and can talk about it in an engaging way, and in terms that listeners can understand. That means business leaders, from start-ups and small businesses to the FTSE100 – no business is too large or too small.
The BBC has a ‘50/50 initiative’ to get representation of women across its programmes up to half, so they recommend putting forward qualified female commentators whenever possible. And finally, don’t be offended if the interview gets pushed at the last minute, that’s just the nature of covering the news.
Previous business editors at the programme claimed they always read emails and took phone calls, but they’re naturally incredibly busy, so keep it to a few sentences and don’t call just to check-in. They want to know what you’re pitching right away. Do your homework before you call; they can be persuaded by someone who knows what they’re talking about and can discuss it in a compelling way.
Sean Farrington has said that most PR people don’t know enough about the details of the business to be able to answer the types of tough questions he likes to ask. They do talk to analysts, consultants, and lawyers, but usually in the less high profile 6:15am slot, not the high listenership 7:15am slot.
Interesting stories and interviews for the team include anything related to negative interest rates, internet disruption, social rights and women at work. They’re also looking for forward-looking content about central bank independence, advertising, and the city of London. However, they don’t have an overarching agenda, so if you think you have something they might be interested in, give it a go. They advise not trying to be overly clever with your angle and emphasise the importance of an exclusive story.
The Today programme looks for stories that will affect lots of listeners. An effective story they ran was the secret gold transfer from the Bank of England to Poland. Everyone had a stake, and it was an interesting story.
You’re on! Now what?!
If you make it on to the show (congratulations!), they want simple, specific answers to their questions. No nonsense, no jargon, just authentic, honest responses. Sean’s number one tip is not to overprepare: if you come across as genuine and really try to answer the questions, it doesn’t matter if you seem unpolished. He also noted that once people overcame the nerves of their first appearance, they always wanted to go again.
If you’re looking to get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org – but don’t call to ask whether they received your email.
If you’re interested in sharing your story on the Today programme but feel unsure of where to start, we’re here to lend a helping hand. Get in touch!
Written by: Jasmin Martin, media relations executive at Definition.