Technology: Celebrity service spreads the word: Digital link-ups enable PR company to conduct live interviews for local radio stations from its own London studio

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AN INNOVATIVE public relations company has added a string to its bow by investing in technology that enables a digital link-up with local radio stations, through which the company can conduct live interviews for clients from its own studio in west London.

A series of interviews transmitted to stations around the country can save 1,000 miles of travelling and a week of a busy person's life. For example, Steve Cram, in just one morning, did 18 interviews between six and 12 minutes long for the Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund.

Simon Wynn and Nicky Mayhew, who run On Line Radio, have years of PR experience between them, although they worked independently of each other before launching this venture in November 1993.

Mr Wynn was working as a freelance PR consultant for the BT Swimathon when he first became aware of the potential of using British Telecom's ISDN lines to promote his clients. These are special digital telephone lines that were originally brought in to transfer technical data from one computer to another. By using special equipment, On Line Radio converts its interviews into a digital format that is sent via the telephone line to a radio station for broadcast as if the interviewee was in the studio.

'We were very successful at gaining press coverage in local newspapers,' Mr Wynn said. 'But I felt we needed to make more use of local radio. Our problem was that we couldn't visit 200 different radio stations dotted round the country. And conducting interviews from commercial studios using land lines or satellite links was far too expensive.

'A radio engineer told me that many of the local stations were buying these ISDN lines, and once I discovered that new digital broadcasting equipment was becoming available I was convinced this could work.'

Andy Peebles, the Radio 1 disc jockey now working for BBC Radio Lancashire, said: 'From the point of view of technology, an ISDN line is a tremendous time-saver. Most sporting stadiums now have them, newspapers have them, and it would be worth a number of large companies looking into acquiring one so they can have instant and perfect quality contact with radio stations.

'I have worked with On Line several times, and it is certainly an efficient way of presenting information for radio.'

What On Line Radio offers, on top of the ISDN facility, is the PR back-up to arrange the interviews and gain maximum exposure. Mr Wynn and Mr Mayhew offer an unusual assortment of skills from public relations and marketing to knowledge of modern technology, troubleshooting and acting as nanny to the interviewees.

'We send the radio stations a concise breakdown of what we have to offer,' said Mr Wynn. 'We fax over one sheet of information, using a multi-faxing company, usually overnight and often have calls back first thing in the morning. The problem with working from home, as well as the studio, is that sometimes we are called at 5am to set up an interview that morning. We can turn a story around within 48 hours - or quicker if necessary.'

Many syndicated taped PR interviews, which are circulated to stations are so heavily overbranded (a product name being slipped into every other sentence, for example) that they are cut down severely or never used at all. On Line Radio, by exercising journalistic control over its interviews, can offer stations something that is not too product-orientated. Another advantage is that Mr Wynn and Mr Mayhew know exactly when and where their clients have been mentioned, without having to chase up the respective radio stations.

'One problem we faced early on,' said Mr Wynn, 'was that the IRN and BBC used different equipment, like videos being either Betamax or VHS when they started. So we had to buy two boxes of equipment. And we have a third one which can enhance a normal telephone line should the other two not work. In all, we have spent about pounds 12,000. We also have a mixer and recording machine so interviewees can take away copies of their interview.'

Over the past eight months, On Line has obtained air-time for a variety of clients, including Carmen Silvera of 'Allo, 'Allo, who did interviews for Help the Aged, and Lionel Blair, who broadcast at 15-minute intervals one morning in June over eight radio stations about a gala concert at Sandhurst - selling nearly 12,000 tickets.

'We aim to do all the legwork,' said Mr Wynn, 'so stations know that what they are getting from us is kosher. We will only take on stories that we know the programme's makers will find worth using, and we can guarantee the quality of the interview.'

(Photograph omitted)