Focus: Broadcast PR - Making waves/Broadcast consultancies have emerged from the background and found themselves being cast in the role of strategic advisers thanks to the growth of audio and visual technologies, says Nick Purdom

The complexity of the new broadcast mediums - such as the internet or digital TV and radio - are giving specialist broadcast consultancies even more power and even threatening the roles of some mainstream PR agencies.

The complexity of the new broadcast mediums - such as the internet

or digital TV and radio - are giving specialist broadcast consultancies

even more power and even threatening the roles of some mainstream PR

agencies.



Those consultancies which demonstrate real knowledge and understanding

of these new areas of opportunity are increasingly finding themselves

cast in the role of strategic advisers and many clients are choosing to

use a specialist broadcast PR consultancy for all of their PR needs.



This means that they have to offer the same high level of skills,

contacts and attention to detail that clients demand of mainstream PR

agencies.



’Ten years ago broadcast was very much regarded as an add-on and a VNR

was commissioned when everything else had been planned. Now we’re being

incorporated into communications planning at a much earlier stage,’ says

Bulletin International marketing manager, Joanna Hambly.



Broadcast PR companies are now positioning themselves as consultants,

rather than simply as facilities houses. ’Increasingly, clients are

asking for end-to-end solutions. We are able to give advice and

implement it,’ says Stuart Maister, senior-vice president at Medialink

International.



He estimates that about a quarter of Medialink’s work involves strategic

advice.



Group Lotus is one Bulletin International client which chooses broadcast

as the main way to disseminate its messages around Europe and does not

employ any other outside PR agency.



Each year the agency plans a PR programme around events such as motor

shows, as well as offering media training for company spokespeople who

will respond to the media agenda throughout the year.



Radio consultancies are also finding a strategic role. ’Clients that we

have worked with for a couple of years are giving us longer lead times

and involving us in creative work,’ says Simon Sanders, head of creative

services at The Market Tiers. Syndicated tapes are largely a thing of

the past in radio and, as Sanders says: ’These days we may develop five

different angles on a story, modifying the approach to individual

producers, researchers and presenters.’



Radio specialist EMR produces a detailed ’Factfinder’ containing

information about target audience, main objectives, key messages, other

marketing activity, USPs of the product or service, and significant

marketing history and achievements for each campaign it works on.



It also conducts a radio audit, checking competitor activity on radio,

presenters’ perception of the client and their position in the

market.



Armed with this information the creative team translates the brief into

a radio-friendly angle.



’Once the creative idea is agreed, EMR is ready to conduct the campaign,

and the client has a very clear idea of what the end result will be,’

says EMR managing director, Darren Adler.



Down-the-line interviews, in which a company spokesman can talk from an

ISDN-equipped studio directly to a number of stations as though actually

there, have become a staple of radio PR.



’Listeners would much rather hear their presenter interviewing someone

than a syndicated tape,’ says Paul Baker, MD of radio specialist

Bulletin Communications in Norfolk (no connection with Bulletin

International).



Like the mainstream broadcast consultants, radio specialists are aiming

to offer a one-stop shop. Bulletin Communications has an outside

broadcast unit which means it can provide facilities anywhere in the

country and, as well as the technical and creative element of campaigns,

will also handle fulfilment for competitions and all other

administrative work.



Digital technology and the development of more communications channels

is another force driving the growth of broadcast PR. The internet has

been around for a few years, but it is only now that people are really

starting to use it. Maister says: ’We see the internet as a big

added-value aspect to what we can do. In the US everyone is webcasting

on every kind of story, to every kind of audience as a matter of

routine.’



In Europe, Medialink has carried out webcasts for a pharmaceutical

conference in Rome, and for Shell’s third-quarter results. Last year in

the US the agency launched newstream.com, to deliver stories to news web

sites, and this month the service will be available worldwide.



Bulletin International also offers on-line PR alongside broadcast as a

matter of course. ’This means targeting suitable web sites among the

many thousands of sites eager to publish content supplied externally,’

explains Hambly. A Bulletin campaign in the autumn for Lotus shows the

power of the web. The campaign for its new M250 car targeted web sites

matching the profile of typical Lotus customers and generated 80

deposits for the car before it even went into production.



But the internet is far from being the only growth area. ’The explosion

of different platforms is only just beginning, with PC TV, interactive

TV and video on mobile phones. The opportunities for us are enormous

because the visual element is growing unbelievably fast across all

platforms,’ says Tessa Curtis, chief executive of broadcast at Shandwick

International.



Richard Pemberton, who heads the broadcast unit at financial and

corporate PR specialist Citigate Dewe Rogerson, believes interactive TV

and the digital revolution present one of the greatest challenges

ahead.



He is currently looking at an interactive TV module that will enable

clients to send broadcasters a package containing a corporate showreel,

interviews with company and third-party spokespeople, and links to the

company web site. Viewers can then call up this information while

watching a broadcast.



’A lot of clients are asking when they can jump on this bandwagon,’ says

Pemberton. ’I think in the long-term there will be a single interface

for broadcast and the web.’



As broadcast moves higher up the corporate agenda, agencies are having

to demonstrate its effectiveness, so monitoring and evaluation now have

a higher priority than ever before.



In radio, evaluation is still highly dependent on building good

relations with stations and relying on them to send tapes of material

used. According to Bulletin Communications’ Baker this is really the

only way that clients can get a proper idea of how successful coverage

has been for them.



He claims that traditional monitoring companies cannot hope to monitor

every single radio station in the UK and expense remains a problem, with

clients reluctant to pay for in-depth analysis and evaluation.



EMR has sought to overcome some problems by offering material to

stations on subscription. About 120 stations subscribe to the seven

themed programmes on subjects such as technology and finance it

distributes on CD.



In terms of television coverage: ’One of the problems with broadcast PR

is that monitoring has not been great,’ admits Maister at Medialink.



Monitoring is especially difficult if broadcast information has been

sent to a number of channels around the world. Last year Medialink

launched TeleTrax, an electronic tagging system to monitor broadcast use

of its footage. Medialink puts an indelible code on to every piece of

video it produces and has set up a network of ’listening posts’

monitoring the signals of 66 broadcasters across Europe - this is set to

increase to 100 by March. As soon as a broadcaster shows Medialink

footage, the company is alerted.



Medialink admits that at the moment, TeleTrax merely acts as a

supplement to existing monitoring agencies as it can only confirm that

footage has aired, not the tone of the content. But one of the benefits

of the system is that it works indefinitely, so that usage can be

tracked long after a story has died down.



Consultancies accept that merely monitoring the volume of coverage can

no longer be enough. Some broadcast outlets, such as digital TV

channels, attract much smaller audiences than traditional terrestrial TV

and clients will often still judge success in terms of audience

volume.



According to Hambly, evaluation has become more comprehensive as

agencies have pushed for a greater emphasis on evaluation of their work,

through initiatives such as PR Week’s Proof campaign. ’As agencies have

called for more recognition of evaluation of our work, this has created

a groundswell with clients demanding more comprehensive evaluation,’ she

says.



Pemberton has found that some clients can balk at becoming involved in

digital TV projects simply because of the relatively low audience

figures involved, but are very keen to pursue opportunities on

interactive television.



However, he is convinced that the situation will change within the next

two to three years once digital TV takes off.



Citigate Dewe Rogerson recently invested in Peaktime’s Viewtime, a

system which enables the popularity of TV items to be analysed by

showing when audiences switched channels.



’Not only can we provide clients with the actual number and demographic

profile of viewers they reached, but we can also use the system to

establish where and why they gained and lost audience,’ says

Pemberton.



It is true that the more broadcast channels arise, the more airtime

there is to fill. But with more channels, comes increased viewer or

listener choice and audiences are more likely to simply turn off, or

even worse, switch to another channel if a spokesperson does not appeal,

possibly damaging the brand in the process.



If broadcast PR consultancies are to usurp the mainstream agencies as

strategists, their challenge in the 21st century must be not only to get

their clients on air, but to change traditional client expectations from

a demand for high audience figures to a greater appreciation for the

quality of the message.





SPREADING THE WORD ON MALAYSIAN ECONOMY



Last year Bulletin International worked for the Malaysian government

organisation, the National Economic Action Council (NEAC), to develop

and implement a broadcast campaign to explain its new economic

policies.



Malaysia had decided not to implement the economic measures recommended

by the International Monetary Fund in the wake of the Asian economic

crisis.



Instead it decreed that no foreign investment could leave the country as

it sought to continue its economic growth.



No proactive communications had been planned to convey the reasons

behind this decision, but against a background of negative coverage the

NEAC hired Bulletin to position Malaysia as a successfully developing

economy.



’It was important that Malaysia changed international opinion rapidly.

Television was chosen as the lead medium because it was most likely to

have the fastest impact,’ explains Bulletin marketing manager, Jo

Hambly.



With Kuala Lumpur acting as the lead office, Bulletin’s network of six

offices around the world began a campaign to inform broadcast

journalists about the success of Malaysia’s economic reforms. Over the

course of the year of the campaign this involved 1,750 hours of

conversations with journalists.



At the same time Bulletin identified suitable high-level spokespeople,

both in government and in Malaysian companies, and gave them media

skills training.



Case studies were developed and background footage shot to help

illustrate some of the stories. The first Formula 1 Grand Prix to be

held in Malaysia was used as a hook to talk about positive economic

messages, and Bulletin supplied the first pictures of the new circuit at

Sepang.



Another case study featured one of Malaysia’s largest companies, the

Renong Group, which had successfully put together a restructuring

package to pay off its debts. The visit of President Clinton to the Apec

summit in Malaysia was also used as a peg for positive stories about the

Malaysian economy.



Bulletin’s work has so far led to more than 700 separate television

reports broadcast in more than 90 countries. Seven international

television networks have run stories on the Malaysian economy, including

CNN, CNBC and BBC World. There have been 18 hours of positive television

coverage on Malaysia.



’Given the scale of the task the campaign worked extremely well,’

comments Hambly. ’As a guide to the level of influence Bulletin

achieved, 42 per cent of the positive reports about Malaysia were

directly attributable to Bulletin and communicated the chosen key

messages.’



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