Pitching Radio in the Age of Instagram: A Q&A with WCCO's Roshini Rajkumar
If you’re a Minnesota public relations professional seeking to boost the presence of your company’s lead executive, is there a more coveted spot on Twin Cities radio than News & Views with Roshini Rajkumar on WCCO Radio?
Regularly beating KFAN in the time slot each Sunday afternoon, Roshini discusses the latest news and politics from Minnesota and around the nation and globe. Now approaching her five-year anniversary as a host at the CBS affiliate, Roshini is also a columnist for C-Level magazine, author of the book “Communicate That: Your Toolbox for Powerful Presence” and a regular contributor for KSTP-TV’s “Twin Cities Live” and KARE-TV’s “Breaking The News." As a PR guy who himself has been a guest on her show, I’m a fan. In this interview, Roshini dishes on how PR people can pitch their clients to be in front of her microphone, why radio is still vital in the age of Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest; and how former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is one of her girl crushes.
In this age of blogs, podcasts, Instagram and YouTube, are radio talk shows still relevant?
“The latest survey numbers say that 93 percent of Americans listen to radio, so it’s hardly dying! What do I love about talk radio? All you have is the voice – radio is such an intimate experience for listeners.”
You’ve been a TV reporter for the NBC affiliate in Detroit and with the Fox TV affiliate in Minneapolis. How is being a news reporter different from being a talk show host?
“When I was a TV news reporter, I had to be neutral. That was the goal - neutrality. But on talk radio, I’m paid to have an opinion and ask people their opinions. My goal with my show is to eradicate ignorance – even if that means one listener at a time. Great experts – attorneys, doctors, scientists, newsmakers – help me do that. And I get to play myself. It’s me, unedited, full-throttle . . . just being Roshini.”
You are not a blonde, white Scandinavian broadcaster from Iowa. How has your cultural background impacted your career, Roshini?
“I was born in Sri Lanka and raised Catholic; most people in my home country were Hindus or Buddhists. Then my parents brought me to the U.S. when I was two years old – and I grew up in Edina, a very white, Nordic Lutheran culture where I was raised to take on what was in front of us but also celebrate Eastern traditions. I was one of the few people of color in my entire school. But Edina was also a community of excellence and challenge. Of course, when you’re South Asian, your parents expect you to go to graduate school and succeed. So a combination of the ambitious culture of Edina and my South Asian parents guided a lot of the drive in my DNA!”
What should PR professionals know about pitching a guest on your WCCO Radio Sunday afternoon show?“My biggest tip for PR people is: generic pitches never work for me. Less is more, think quality over quantity when you’re pitching your client to me or others. Know the format of the media outlet you’re pitching and understand its audience! I’m the managing editor, host and co-producer of my show. Lindsay Guentzel co-produces the show. I try to respond to every PR person’s email that I receive at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes I’ll forward your PR pitch to my producer and say, ‘I like this one.’ Or I may send your pitch to a producer of a different WCCO Radio show for which your interview might be a better fit.
I’m very intentional about topics I cover – it has to feel authentic to me. I sometimes ask PR people to tighten up their pitch, narrow its focus and re-send it to me in a few weeks. PR people should also understand that I want guests who spark listener participation – my phone and text lines are open. I want to bring listener perspectives to the show. I even read listeners’ Facebook comments out loud on the air.”
What are the elements that make a superb radio guest?
“Good question. An expert who talks with passion and authenticity. A person who isn’t trying to sell their product or brand, although I’ll be happy to plug your new book or website. A guest who thinks of their interview as a conversation. The best guests are partners with me – I’ve got a dozen regular contributors to my show, including political science professor Chad Murphy, who is great at adlibbing and promoting his segments on social media. Sports and business law attorney Steve Silton, who I’ve interviewed about Prince’s estate and legal issues, among many other topics. So here’s an example: Steve called me from Sundance during the #OscarsTooWhite controversy, and asked if I wanted him for a live interview on-site from Sundance. Basically, he helped me produce the segment! No wonder he’s become a trusted regular contributor.”
You are, to put it mildly, active on Twitter and Facebook. Testify for us about social media.
“First off, my producer asks each of our guests for their Twitter handle. Good PR people who schedule guests on my show will monitor when I’ve tagged their client on Twitter, and will retweet and comment on my tweets. Then, I retweet and comment on their Facebook and Twitter posts. It’s a great cycle. Plus I use the show link in my Tweets and Facebook posts; people can listen live during the show or go online afterward to get segment podcasts. Savvy PR folks take those links and use on their clients’ social media and other spaces.
I admit it: I’m a baby on the Instagram platform. But I love Twitter and I’m gaining more clarity on how I want to use Facebook to promote my guests. My advice about social media is straight forward: be intentional.”
When Prince died in April 2016, I was impressed by how you gathered his friends to honor him.
“You know, I never met Prince, although I’ll never forget a 1984 Christmas Eve concert of his that I witnessed. Prince died on a Thursday in 2016, and that Sunday, we did a one-hour tribute show with guests like Jearlyn Steele, who sang with him. And on the anniversary of Prince’s death this past April, we did an hour of reflection with J.D. Steele’s memories of Prince and a surprise call from a Sheriff’s Deputy who had pulled Prince over for speeding. When I booked former KMSP-TV broadcaster Robyne Robinson to remember Prince, the conversation led to her sharing her first interview experience with Prince, which ended with Robyne dancing onstage with Prince at 3:00 a.m. You can’t predict such a power-packed hour, but we strive to book the best guests so those moments are just waiting to happen. I truly value the PR folks who get this philosophy and help me make the magic."
Who are your favorite WCCO Radio guests so far?
“Oh my goodness – what’s most memorable is what it took to get those guests on my show. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was great. She’s one of my girl crushes and was coming to speak at the Humphrey Institute in Minneapolis. But she was only granting two media interviews ahead of her visit. Through much effort working with University of Minnesota PR, I got one of those two interviews. We pre-taped 10+ minutes with her because she couldn’t do it live. You must listen to the podcast of that show – the last question I asked Albright was, ‘what do you do for fun?’ She was thrown by that! It was not the question she expected.
And Arianna Huffington? She was here to keynote at WomenWinning and for her book tour for “Thrive.” I got 22 minutes with her live, which is a lot of time in TV and radio-land. What’s exciting for me about speaking with Huffington, Albright, Senator Franken, Alan Page, and other guests – I’m learning about them and their stories, right along with my listeners.”
The guest you’d love to book for your show?
“Oh, the Dalai Lama. In studio, not on the phone. He’s such an amazing, calm presence and . . . I’m a presence engineer. I’ve admired him, read him, watched him – he could teach me, and my listeners, so much.”
What’s your opinion on how CEO Oscar Munoz handled the forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines plane earlier this year?
“Munoz did not respond in a humane or human way to the crisis when the physician was dragged off that plane. Instead, Munoz responded with legalese, as if he was most worried about lawyers rather than the public. In each succeeding public statement, Munoz came off as robotic and stiff. My recommendation is, when a crisis occurs, leaders must step back and let the media know you’re reviewing the facts before you respond, and that’s hard in a 24/7 news cycle. But whenever you respond, do so with humanity and empathy.” Editor’s Note: Read Roshini’s counsel in “The One Technique Your CEO Must Know To Ace The Next Media Interview.”
You’re a “Presence Engineer” for corporate leaders. So tell us about charisma – can it be taught? Can introverts become charismatic?
“Some people have charisma in their DNA – both of my parents were charismatic people. But face it, nobody comes out of the womb ready to perform a TED talk. That said, I advise my clients to identify their strengths and blow them up during interviews or on-stage. Charisma is about how you show up for your life. You have to own your space, project your voice, recognize how you stand – but you don’t have to be loud or extroverted to be charismatic. Rather, you have to wrap your brain and soul around what you’re expert at, and then show passion, authenticity and intention. Now that’s charisma!”
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So, what are your thoughts on how PR professionals can guide their C-level executives toward a more charismatic presence with employees, media, analysts and other key audiences? Do you think it’s possible to teach a CEO to be “charismatic?”
Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.