PR TECHNIQUE: THE COOPERATIVE SMT - Use the co-op SMT effectively Broadcast news producers have a growing appetite for satellite media tours. David Rovella reports on co-opting clients into package SMTs.

Valentine's Day and similar holidays have been the most popular type of events to anchor a cooperative tour. But the profitability of local news programming has boosted the television media's demand for filler, making cooperative satellite media tours (SMTs) a more broadly applied practice.

Valentine's Day and similar holidays have been the most popular type of events to anchor a cooperative tour. But the profitability of local news programming has boosted the television media's demand for filler, making cooperative satellite media tours (SMTs) a more broadly applied practice.

Valentine's Day and similar holidays have been the most popular type of events to anchor a cooperative tour. But the profitability of local news programming has boosted the television media's demand for filler, making cooperative satellite media tours (SMTs) a more broadly applied practice.

A smartly done co-op can penetrate markets better than other types of multimedia PR since they are presented as part of a newscast. They, therefore, lend the veneer of journalistic integrity in a way that video news releases do not.

'SMTs have grown because there is less prep work on the client's side than in a video news release,' says Doug Simon, president of DS Simon Productions.

'And, unlike single-client SMTs, a co-op has an implicit credibility to it that viewers will respect. Even though you have six products, it seems less commercial for each item.' He adds that video producers, whether in-house or at SMT speciality shops, will push PR people to accentuate the real value of the product in production.

'It (is sometimes) very tough for each participant to generate a segment on their own,' says Simon, explaining the value of co-op tours, which he has been producing for more than a decade.

Credibility is the foundation of a successful co-op, and it is pinned directly to the spokesperson pitching the products. 'Try to find someone who has credibility and knowledge of the issue, someone affiliated with the media,' says Simon. He adds that it is important that the spokesperson believes in the product.

Almost as important to a good co-op is staying on message. 'If you're doing an SMT on the best new gadgets for preventing your car from breaking down, and someone has something that may be a cup-holder, sure it's car-related, but it doesn't fit,' he explains.

Too many good products can present problems as well, says Mark Manoff, EVP of Medialink. 'If you've got five or six, and you have to get equal time for each one with the station asking questions, you've got to really move them along to get them all in,' he says.

Providing stations with sample questions can be helpful in managing the interview, but it's even more productive to develop a good relationship with station producers. 'If you work with them closely, you can pretty much anticipate where they're going to go,' Manoff says. Stations with tight budgets and lots of program time will be more amenable to SMTs, and will likely appreciate the help as long as they feel that they are managing the interviews.

Joan Auritt of New York-based SMT producer Auritt Communications says many of her clients approach her about co-op SMTs. Like Manoff, she emphasizes the importance of being selective. She says the number of products must be limited and the news value must be clear before she'll go forward.

In the studio, high production values are crucial. 'You have to have a good-looking set - all those refinements are going to be appreciated by the news producers,' Auritt says. For example, if an SMT includes a chef who will recommend a series of food products, the chef should be filmed in a professional kitchen setting, surrounded by the proper culinary amenities.

But Manoff, who says his company produces as many as 30 SMTs every month, thinks the value of cooperative SMTs has been overblown. With the exception of holiday SMTs, he believes that the connection between products is usually too superficial to justify a co-op. 'We see some very unhappy clients who are lumped in very briefly and feel they didn't get enough bang for their buck.'

However, Larry Saperstein, director of broadcast news services for West Glen Communications, contends that cooperative SMTs are cost-effective and help attract new clients. 'Rather than having two or three competing tours bidding for their air time, it makes more sense,' he says. To maintain the SMT's credibility, there must be a rational relationship between the products: gourmet food, wine and desserts for a Valentine's Day meal at home make sense. Including gift suggestions such as lingerie might stretch the theme a little too far.

And, Saperstein emphasizes, competing products should never appear in the same co-op.

Timing is another crucial element of co-op SMTs. Saperstein starts selling the SMT - specifically the credentials of the spokesperson and the strength of the news event - at least a month before it is set to air. Follow-ups and confirmation material are essential to confirming bookings, which SMT producers say are best done live, because they prevent stations from editing out client references or deciding later not to air the segment.

Simon checks back with stations to see if they liked the spokesperson and the SMT as a whole - a tactic that allows him to glean tips for future SMTs and gage the credibility of the spokesperson. He says it also increases the likelihood that the news producer will book his next SMT.

Finally, according to Simon, SMTs that are loaded with visual attractions, such as cooking demonstrations or electronic gadget tutorials, are more intriguing to news producers and their viewers. 'PR people can often be focused on your talking points, but they should be focused on the demo points - what can you show,' Simon says.



TECHNIQUE TIPS

1 - Do pick a spokesperson with obvious credibility, preferably a media-related personality who will be perceived as a fair arbiter

2 - Do emphasize production value when choosing a set for the co-op

3 - Do ask station producers what they thought of your SMT

4 - Do develop good rapport with station producers

5 - Do get your message out at least a month before the date of the shoot



1 - Don't give in to client interest in doing a co-op if the news peg is too weak

2 - Don't include products that are tangentially related to the theme of the co-op

3 - Don't include too many products

4 - Don't emphasize talking points at the expense of visually promoting the product or products

5 - Don't forget to provide TV station producers with sample questions for the SMT.



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