In changing broadcast climate, influence must trump numbers

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with sales executives from a broadcast PR firm. We discussed the trends they are seeing from clients and across the industry as a whole.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with sales executives from a broadcast PR firm. We discussed the trends they are seeing from clients and across the industry as a whole.

It certainly is not a secret that the broadcast PR industry has faced serious challenges over the past few years, due to the increasing scrutiny of outside video content by newsrooms and the rising popularity of Web video.

As TV stations across the country have grown wary of using VNRs and SMTs - or, as some have done, banned outside video content altogether - many companies in the sector have taken steps to diversify their offerings. It's probably a misnomer to call these companies "broadcast" PR firms at all because their services have evolved into something much more - providing online video, podcasts, and blogger outreach, along with the traditional broadcast services.

Certainly there are corporations and agencies that have already embraced this new "broadcast" strategy, but they still seem to be the exception rather than the norm. With any change, there is resistance. It's often the same old argument that acts as a barrier to progress.

At the meeting, one executive bemoaned the fact that some of the company's PR agency clients are reluctant to embrace Web video projects as part of an overall broadcast strategy because such work doesn't result in the "big numbers" that traditional broadcast placements can still provide. Their argument is that it's those large impression numbers that will ultimately satisfy the corporate client. Frankly, this type of thinking represents a step back for all PR practitioners. That some in the industry still only rely on impressions as a true measure of a campaign's success - when PR has fought to prove its ability to change behavior and even affect sales - is nothing short of ludicrous.

The PR industry simply has to let go of this "numbers game" mentality. While not every Web video can be a YouTube sensation - drawing millions of viewers and thousands of comments - as has been said countless times before, the Web offers a chance to do something far more important - reach a niche audience with a highly targeted message.

Although broadcast can still offer the opportunity to reach millions of viewers with a healthcare SMT or b-roll on the latest video game release, there's no guarantee that the message will actually resonate with the audience viewing the local morning show or the 11 o'clock news. But if video is posted to a Web site where people are likely to be looking for specific information, it can have much more of an impact - especially on consumer behavior, which is the likely goal for any campaign. It shouldn't matter that only 10,000 may have viewed that video if those people are more likely to take action than the millions of their TV-viewing counterparts.

Broadcast PR companies have an obligation to educate their clients about the benefits of a multi-faceted video strategy. But PR agency clients should not need reminders that influence trumps the numbers game.

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