Media Analysis: Sunday's platter of political giants

With the party conference season in full swing and the Tories looking like a genuine threat to New Labour, ITV has launched The Sunday Edition. Robyn Lewis asks how PROs should engage with Sunday political shows.

The broadcasters' battle to become the most talked about Sunday political show has just got interesting. The Sunday Edition, which launched on ITV this month, is the channel's long-awaited replacement to Jonathan Dimbleby's self-titled political offering.

It is again possible to spend an entire Sunday morning gorging on TV politics, kicking off at 9am with Andrew Marr's Sunday AM on BBC1; followed at 10am by Sunday Live on Sky News; and then there is ITV's new offering at 11am.

If that doesn't satiate, the afternoon begins with The Politics Show at 12pm on BBC1, followed by Radio 4's The World This Weekend at 1pm.

However, such a smörgåsbord of opportunity for PROs brings questions: which programme is most important? What is the best way to target each show? Are these shows still influential?

‘Quotes get picked up'
‘These shows are definitely still significant, not least because they are watched by all the influential political and media figures,' says Charles Lewington, managing director of Media Strategy.

He adds: ‘Getting an MP or campaign on a Sunday political programme can get your cause several bites of the cherry, as they tend to set the news agenda for the week. Quotes get picked up by the media wires and fed to journalists desperate to fill Sunday-night news slots and Monday's newspaper.'

But for some, the Sunday political shows are losing their influence.

‘I would say I target them a lot less than I used to,' admits Andy Sawford, Connect Public Affairs director. ‘The alleged dumbing down has affected them I think, although I do still watch Marr religiously.'

He adds: ‘Generally though, I would rather go for the Monday morning press or 24-hour rolling news - it's easier to get coverage for a start, as there are more items to fill. Or I would go for the regional broadcasters.'

For those targeting Sunday shows, it does, of course, pay to do some groundwork.

‘Generally the Sunday political programmes are separate from the rest of the current-affairs department,' advises Ed Owen, executive director at Euro RSCG Apex Communications.

‘That means you need to contact the editors, presenters and producers directly, rather than relying on other news-desk contacts you might have.'

SUNDAY AM

Presenter Andrew Marr
Slot Sundays, 9am
Channel BBC1
Editor Barney Jones
barney.jones@bbc.co.uk; libby.jukes@bbc.co.uk; brian.hollywood@bbc.co.uk

What is the show's agenda?
We aim to make an accessible, enjoyable programme. At the heart of which is an interview with a politician, but we try and touch other news issues and reflect something of the arts world as well.

Do you deal regularly with PROs?
Yes, of course. When we are trying to book politicians it usually involves approaching their PROs first, and we get a lot of approaches from them when it comes to featuring books and films and so on.

Explain the value of a news hook?
It does help if what you are pitching has a news thread, but having said that, there are some people who are interesting or controversial enough for us to cover even if they aren't in the news. If Madonna wanted to come on the show, for example, we'd definitely oblige because she's a fascinating person at any time.

How do you want to hear about ideas?
Contact the two producers or the editor directly by e-mail or by old-fashioned post (see contact, above). The telephone is fine, but having a bit of paper is always beneficial.

THE SUNDAY EDITION

Presenters
Andrew Rawnsley and Andrea Catherwood
Slot Sundays, 11am
Channel ITV1
Editor Rob Burley
E thesundayedition@itv.com

Please explain your format.
We split the show into three distinct parts. There's a long political interview; a topical section, where two guests - one of whom is usually a politician - discuss the big news issues of the weekend; and the final section, which we call The Sunday Supplement: that's a group of guests chatting about more general topics - this section is probably the most useful for PROs.

What's different about the show?
It's not traditional current affairs and we want to be more approachable than a heavy political show, but that doesn't mean we want to compromise on content. I think that a lot of people think that after the big interview the rest of the show is just filler. But I don't want this to be a show just for political junkies, I want other ITV viewers.

How do you want to hear from PROs?
E-mail, and make sure we have plenty of lead-time - three or four weeks is ideal.

... and the range of topics?
Nearly everything we do has to hook into politics/news. We do cover books and films but would only do so if there were a political slant, eg The Constant Gardener.

SUNDAY LIVE

Presenters
Adam Boulton
Slot Sundays, 10am
Channel Sky News
Editor Adam Boulton
E chris.howard@bskyb.com T 020 7585 4515
E katie.snape@bskyb.com T 020 7585 4513

What kind of show is Sunday Live?
It is different because it's a mix of news, sport, newspapers, discussion, and a few surprises along the way. The programme also goes on the road to present from where the week's big story may be, such as a recent trip to Jerusalem.

Please outline your demographic.
It's a broad audience, but one that is interested in knowing what's going on in the world. About half are ABC1s and 80 per cent are over 34. They're tuning in to see what's happening in the news as well as picking up on the discussion.

Which PROs do you deal with?
Because we interview many non-politicians - anyone from business to entertainment - we also deal with a number of PROs outside politics. The best chance of getting on to any of our programmes is to have an interviewee with something interesting to say, or someone whose knowledge or qualities are related to current news events.

What's the best route of contact?
E-mails are the best way to catch the attention of busy producers - with a follow-up call.

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