PR TECHNIQUE: Did your television broadcast really matter?

Getting a VNR or SMT on the air is one thing, but having an impact is another story. Sara Calabro looks at ways to evaluate the success of an on-air effort, beyond the ratings.

Getting a VNR or SMT on the air is one thing, but having an impact is another story. Sara Calabro looks at ways to evaluate the success of an on-air effort, beyond the ratings.

The costly nature of TV production leaves many clients wondering whether the thousands of dollars put into a VNR or SMT were well spent. Although Nielsen Sigma ratings are still the standard for what is considered a "successful" segment, vendors that offer qualitative - along with quantitative - analysis of when and where a piece ran provide much greater value. "The broadcast standard of 'more is better' makes sense if you have a product announcement that is of interest to almost everyone," says Mary Buhay, SVP of corporate communications for Medialink. "But often, that is not the case. Sometimes when vendors promise big ratings, those numbers don't necessarily translate into results." Looking beyond the numbers helps extract meaning from airtime. It brings the television PR sector one step closer to answering the question that continues to plague the industry: How do you know when placement really mattered? The answer, says Marina Maher Communications SVP Joseph Panetta, is when the results match up with the metrics set forth in the initial planning stages. "You don't find out after the fact how successful a VNR was," adds Panetta. "You already know going into it." Prior to production, vendors should brainstorm about all possible reasons that a VNR or SMT could go wrong, and then build criteria around such potential pitfalls. Contacting newsrooms before an angle has been finalized, just to run ideas by reporters, can help prevent spending money on material that is unlikely to be of interest. "If you start to get the same feedback from several stations, you know that is something you either want to avoid or make sure you include in your final story," says Panetta. Knowing beforehand what stations tend to air can help with targeting appropriate markets and demographics. "You need to be ahead of the game by identifying the media that matter," explains Buhay. Medialink's research arm has developed Delahaye Media Audit for the purpose of determining where and with which outlets a VNR or SMT would have an impact. The planning tool cross-tabulates audience size with consumer demographic information - such as what kind of car someone drives or where they like to go on vacation - to identify media targets. Michael Hill, president of News Broadcast Network (NBN), agrees that knowing your audience is vital in making a VNR or SMT a profitable investment for a client. "It is not about the gross number. Rather, you need to pay attention to the specific markets that were reached to determine whether a story had a real impact." NBN implemented this philosophy in a recent VNR for Cohn & Wolfe and its client Crisco that aired on a gardening show. Pitches for the release targeted specific markets heavily populated by women. Technological advancements are drastically improving the sector's targeting capabilities. Satellite feeds that come in at limited times and places in newsrooms are on their way to being obsolete. Technologies such as Pathfire's Digital Media Gateway, which delivers broadcast-quality video footage directly to the desktops of newsroom reporters, facilitates the process of sending VNRs efficiently to relevant recipients. Once a VNR or SMT has been produced in line with the client's needs and targeted at audiences the client is looking to reach, the vendor needs to analyze the garnered hits. "Audience numbers must be put into context when you are dealing with TV," explains Dan Johnson, president of DWJ Television. "When clients hear that they got placement in USA Today, they understand the impact. But broadcasting is somewhat of a concept rather than an object that clients can grasp the way they can a newspaper." In analyzing ratings reports (and in turn, communicating to clients what the results actually mean), vendors need to use a critical eye. They should look at what specific aspects of a piece actually aired to determine if the client's core message got across. For example, each time a teaser - a brief clip from a VNR that might be shown to lead into a commercial - appears, it counts as a hit. While that might get a brand name a few seconds of airtime, it isn't enough to convey a full news story. From the total tally, it is important to extrapolate the complete segments so the client is not deceived. Whether the story was conveyed in a positive light should also be noted when reviewing footage or transcripts from on-air segments. What portion of the news the VNR or SMT appeared in, and by which reporter it was presented should also be investigated when trying to deem a hit successful or not. "Viewers want to see a story about healthcare during the time that their local station allocates for healthcare," explains Panetta. "They are also more in tune and at ease when the VNR or SMT is being delivered by the beat reporter who covers that particular subject matter." While acknowledging that all of said methods of evaluating VNR or SMT success are helpful, Larry Saperstein, director of broadcast news services for West Glen Communications, asserts that the only true judge lies in return business. Citing his company's work with client Linens 'n Things on its "back to college" product lines two years in a row, Saperstein says, "It wasn't until they reapproached us the following season that we were able to determine what worked the first time." The first year, West Glen produced a series of VNRs about budget-conscious college students needing to stock up on supplies for the fall. They pitched the series during back-to-school season in markets such as the Boston area, where there is a large student population. West Glen learned that tying a meaningful message into timely news worked as a method of getting stations to pick up the segments. The following fall, West Glen produced a VNR that suggested being organized results in better academic performance - naturally pointing viewers to Linens 'n Things' line of organizational products. "Hearing from our clients that our approach from the previous year resulted in increased sales led us to employ a similar technique the following season," recalls Saperstein. "Without their feedback on how the VNRs affected sales over the course of that year, we would not have known that those hits actually mattered." -------- Technique tips Do have a clear understanding of what your client is looking to accomplish before production begins Do run story ideas by television reporters in the preliminary stages to get an idea of what is likely to be picked up Do evaluate return business. Having a comparison model is the best way to improve results Don't just rely on number of hits garnered to determine if a VNR or SMT was successful or not Don't use the same evaluation techniques for a VNR or SMT that conveys an idea or concept that you would use for a product launch Don't send all VNRs and SMTs out to every market. Pay close attention to targeting

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