As the proliferation of TV and radio channels and the convergence of print, audio and video continue to revolutionise the world of journalism, all PR people need to have a grasp of broadcast techniques. Unfortunately, however, it seems many PR practitioners are lacking in this respect.
‘It’s very irritating that often we end up speaking to the most junior PR person, who either doesn’t understand what the story is about or hasn’t anticipated the kind of questions we’re going to ask, such as who the spokesperson is and whether we can send our own cameras,’ says Ed Campbell, head of home news at ITV News.
He is also frustrated by the logistical considerations that many PR people overlook. ‘Some of the big mistakes are not bothering to find out about broadcasters’ requirements, such as whether we need space to park a satellite van somewhere we can see the sky,’ complains Campbell.
Some major PR agencies, including The Red Consultancy and Porter Novelli, have avoided such headaches by hiring experts with journalistic broadcast experience in-house. Alternatively, there are the dedicated sector specialists. However, using the latter is not always a guarantee of success.
Emma Jeffs, senior PR manager at Yell, describes a disastrous experience she once had involving a survey her organisation was promoting on radio. ‘The agency involved was awful, as it hadn’t sold the story in correctly. So one radio station would only speak to our case study and refused to give any brand mentions or interview me,’ she says. ‘The consultancy also went for the low-hanging fruit, including Radio Jersey, when I’d specifically asked for the top ten ABC1 stations with national reach and told it that our firm doesn’t cover Jersey,’ she adds.
The major issue that irritates broadcast journalists is PROs who ignore the nature of the medium involved. ‘It doesn’t matter how interesting or sexy the story is, the first thing we think about is pictures. So PR people should always consider what visual opportunities they can set up for us,’ says Donald John McDonald, editor of news programmes for Scotland’s STV North.
Porter Novelli’s director of media, Laurence Lee, agrees. As the man behind adding a golden nose to the BA plane bringing Team GB back from the Beijing Olympics, Lee adds that the worst place for a press conference is a plain white boardroom. ‘The camera hates white and TV people are always looking to add pace, so it’s better to set things up in a working office, otherwise the chances are the journalist will say let’s take it outside, where there might be traffic.’
Another problem that bugs regional broadcast journalists is the lack of a local slant on a story, whether this means statistics, case studies or spokespeople.
‘You’d think it would be routine for PR people to set this stuff up beforehand,’ says McDonald, ‘but too often they don’t’.
This view is endorsed by David Oakley, consultant at broadcast specialist markettiers4DC, who says the key to good broadcast PR is planning.
On 2 December, his firm launched a campaign for NHS Blood and Transplant, encouraging people to donate blood platelets in the run up to Christmas. ‘We made sure we had 18 case studies across different TV regions in place – many including very premature babies whose lives have been saved by platelet transfusions. We also set it up so that crews could film at their local platelets donation centre, ask donors why they donate, and interview spokespeople from the National Blood Service,’ he says. As a result, the campaign was covered by two national and seven regional
Naturally, part of the problem for PR people is that broadcast news is highly competitive and time-sensitive. Unlike newspapers, national TV and radio news programmes tend to stick to a more limited core of six to ten news stories each day, so there is little space for PR stories. Moreover, while the planning desk of any broadcast news outlet may have its eye on the following week, most news editors are only interested in the next 24 to 48 hours.
‘Broadcasters are very demanding and as PROs, we need them more than they need us. So when they say they want an
interviewee in the next hour or at 6am the next morning, we jump,’ says Keren Haynes, joint MD of broadcast specialist
Shout Communications. She warns: ‘If PR people don’t grab the opportunities while they are there, there are plenty of others who will.’
Campaign Case Study: Dogs Trust
On 2 December last year, the Dogs Trust celebrated the 30th anniversary of its slogan ‘A dog is for life, not jut for Christmas’ and launched its annual festive drive to remind people not to buy dogs as gifts.
With 17 re-homing centres across the UK, the charity was keen to secure TV and radio coverage across a broad national and regional audience, so turned to broadcast specialist Shout Communications.
‘We don’t have a central London base so we sometimes miss out on opportunities and struggle with national TV and radio pick-up,’ explains the charity’s press officer Caroline Hook.
To provide an attractive hook for broadcasters, communications focused on an online survey of 5,000 UK dog owners and comparisons of dog trends between 1978 and today. Dogs Trust CEO and slogan originator Clarissa Baldwin acted as spokesperson, while the charity also put forward copycat parodies of its slogan that have appeared over the past 30 years.
As a result, Baldwin appeared on more than 20 regional and national radio stations to discuss the effectiveness of the charity’s slogan. The campaign also scored extensive TV coverage, including slots on GMTV and various regional BBC and ITV news shows.
‘Launching the campaign through a broadcast specialist gave us the confidence and support we needed. It also meant our in-house PR team could focus on its strengths and core areas including the regional and consumer print media, dog trade titles and vet press,’ concludes Hook.
Resourcing Case Study: Weber Shandwick
When former ITN senior news editor Nick Rabin joined Weber Shandwick as head of broadcast in 2006, one
of his priorities was to educate consultants about maximising broadcast opportunities for clients.
‘It’s a continual process, where I talk to our graduate trainees and go around all the practice areas looking at campaigns,’ he says. Meanwhile, Robert Anderson, who recently joined the firm from Sky News, works with account teams to drive broadcasting opportunities online.
Covering everything from the timeliness of stories, to the importance of setting up visual opportunities and helping broadcasters with graphics, the pair encourage PROs to view broadcast as a medium in its own right. ‘Rather than rehashing press releases intended for print, we encourage teams to think about the impact of broadcast media, how it is consumed and how news programmes are structured,’ says Rabin.
Other major areas of discussion include targeting and creating stories that resonate with particular audiences, programmes and channels.
As yet, the firm has not conducted any official tours of specific broadcasters’ newsrooms for training purposes, but Rabin encourages consultants to be constantly aware of deadlines, scheduling and the practicalities of what broadcast journalists need in order to get their pictures out.
Pointing to his firm’s recent broadcast success in unveiling TV chef Phil Vickery as brand ambassador for Aldi, he concludes: ‘It’s an organic way of building up knowledge here and getting people to know the market and who they want to reach.’
Broadcast PR: A useful glossary
Programming, typically on satellite channels, that is funded by an advertiser brand and ties into content that supports the advertiser’s product.
Footage that can be given to broadcasters to help illustrate a story, showing for example the construction of an event or manufacturing processes. It can also be used to provide broadcasters with stock footage of a company or industry to be held in their library. It is traditionally provided on digital tapes and is not delivered as an edited piece.
The technique of filming against a green (TV) or blue (film) screen to add a background or logo during the edit.
Simply another term for B-roll but is provided digitally for download through the internet.
High quality audio line that can deliver broadcast quality audio from a remote location. Can also be used to transmit data and voice over one line.
Audio or video files that are delivered over the internet. Podcasts can be subscribed to, enabling users to receive updates
and new content automatically.
Raw footage that has not been edited, rushes are the tapes/film/digital files in their original form.
A podcast that is exclusively video and delivered via RSS or iTunes.
Video content that is effectively broadcast over the internet. Webcasts can be available either as downloads or streamed content, enabling events such as press conferences to be made available to a wider audience.
Source: Weber Shandwick