Broadcast PR: PROs miss a trick on digital

Do clients and their PROs understand the value of targeting niche digital channels? Alastair Ray investigates.

The media landscape has changed. According to Ofcom, more than 50 per cent of UK homes have access to digital channels, which means that viewing time is now spread among more outlets than ever.

With so much choice it can be difficult to assess which channels are worth targeting. The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) is the obvious place to source audience data for TV. Yet the value of niche channels may not be in the pure numbers but in their ability to hit smaller groups defined by age, interest or attitude.

In radio it can be more complex. Many stations, particularly the national ones, are signing up to be measured in the quarterly Rajar figures, but some still go unrecorded.

The challenge for PROs is also to understand programme distribution.

A show such as the BBC's Click Online can be viewed on BBC News 24 and BBC World. There's a cut-down repeat on BBC 1 and BBC 2 and it also airs on British Airways' and United Airlines' in-flight TV and the internet.

GWR's Planet Rock can be listened to via satellite and cable TV as well as on DAB radio and the internet.

Digital radio is less developed than digital TV but, nevertheless, there are now more than 500,000 sets in the UK and many stations are also distributed via TV. Forecasts suggest that by 2010, this will increase to 17.5 million.

With all this activity going on, the question is whether the PR industry has grasped the full scale of opportunity.

Cohn & Wolfe associate director Charlotte Arrowsmith believes digital channels are still quite underrated as people have been used to targeting channels with large-scale audiences. But, she points out, some TV stations are already hitting key schedules. For finance and business specialists the value of the likes of CNBC and Bloomberg is well established. And the BBC has fed itself well into the psyche of the British public by promoting its services via the monkey mascot.

Elsewhere, Broadcast Media Services director Andrew Ogden says his firm has targeted Primetime, Saga's national digital radio station for the over-50s, for a client that needed to hit an older audience. But, he adds, for many campaigns the new TV and radio stations rarely make the schedule: 'If you're working on more general issues (than business) then digital radio and digital TV is still low on the agenda for clients.'

Yet some in-house teams are now reassessing the role that digital TV can play in the PR plan. Rachel O'Reilly, head of PR at Tui UK, the home of Thomson and Lunn Poly, says once where the firm may have been reluctant to invest in sending a crew away for a week's filming, it would now be more open to it. One reason is that it has just launched its own TV channel, Lunn Poly TV, and is sponsoring the weather on Sky.

Changing attitudes

The demise of many terrestrial TV favourites such as Holidays on a Shoestring and Summer Holiday has also had a major impact on changing attitudes. 'Now we've got a TV channel, digital is going to be more important to us,' O'Reilly adds.

At IPC ignite!, the recent launch of men's weekly title Nuts was an occasion when mass reach was required, explains PR manager Nicola Woods. She says digital channels can be an excellent way to build awareness for smaller titles and editorial specialists. 'Not wanting to put digital TV down, it's the difference between working with national and regional press (in terms of) the stories they will demand or the profile of people that they will have on them,' she says. 'Digital channels can be important in building up the profile or staff.'

Brazil PR founding director Richard Leonard believes the trick with digital TV is to select the channel that works for your client. He points out that there are some good channels but there's still plenty that don't make the mark. And, if you want to work with the digital news channels, you have to be prepared to respond quickly at all hours. He cites calls at 4.30am with clients appearing an hour later: 'These channels are round-the-clock. That means taking calls at 3am when required.'

But the sheer number of new channels means that PROs will have to work harder to understand a broadcast environment that's become as complex as print. But for some clients, there are going to be an increasing number of opportunities in digital TV. The amount of business coverage is growing and that has to be good news for B2B practitioners. However, clients may be sceptical that their agency is just targeting TV because it's the 'glamorous' option. 'Their concern with small channels is that there's going to be a lot of agency time wasted on it,' says Leonard. But some channels have achieved client cut-through. The former Computer Channel, now known as .tv, was a real hit for tech brands until it closed in 2001. 'Clients seemed to really love being on the Computer Channel,' he adds.

The key issue remains whether these digital outlets will hit clients' target audiences. It is down to PROs to persuade clients of the power of the digital revolution.

HOW TO TARGET DIGITAL CHANNELS

RICHARD TAYLOR, BBC CLICK ONLINE SERIES PRODUCER

What type of audience do you attract?

A wide demographic from teens and early 20s to CEOs of big companies as well as people just starting to understand the internet and computing.

How much attention do you get from PROs?

We get calls daily trying to pitch interviews, but there is almost a total lack of understanding of what the show is.

What sort of approach is most likely to work?

We'd like to hear 'here's a story, here's an image, here's how I think it could come together visually'- that's the kind of approach I appreciate.

How many approaches are successful?

Maybe one in ten. We are a tight team, on a small budget with limited resources. If PROs want to exploit that, they need to raise their game significantly.

NICK PIGGOTT, GWR GROUP DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER

What stations are you responsible for?

Planet Rock, Core and The Storm, which can be heard via DAB, the internet, Sky or cable TV.

Are these mass-market or niche stations?

For the first time we are launching stations that are very targeted.

What sort of programming do they carry?

Features, news bulletins, entertainment packages.

Who is your audience?

According to Rajar, Planet Rock gets about 250,000 listeners a week.

Have you worked with any PROs?

We did some stuff with Jack Daniel's on Planet Rock. People who sent in their favourite classic rock tracks and were played received a bottle of Jack Daniel's.

VINCE MCGARRY, SKY NEWS FORWARD PLANNING EDITOR

Have you been targeted by PROs?

People pushing pressure groups and products are obviously different from people in government departments; we work with both to strike a balance of what we can broadcast. But not enough PROs seem to be aware of upcoming news dates.

What's the best way for PROs to get in touch?

Send emails to news.plan@bskyb.com, or hard copy releases to forward planning editor, Sky News.

How much notice do you need?

At least a week - it means if we need to do pre-filming, we get a better chance of developing the story.

Should PROs take a different approach with you?

(As a rolling news channel) we need to choreograph a story across the day - so it needs constant new pictures and elements to stop viewers getting the 'seen it already' feeling.

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