If anyone doubts the significance of broadcast public relations
it’s worth considering the effort invested last month by that master of
all things PR, Richard Branson.
For several days our TV screens were dominated by huge propane gas
canisters shaped like Virgin Energy drink cans, while Branson’s face -
let’s face it an integral part of Virgin’s brand equity - popped up with
startling regularity at subsequent challengers’ balloon launches.
Television and radio exposure for the Virgin brand was consequently
In a PR industry traditionally dominated by former print journalists,
many now argue that broadcast PR has come of age and is subject to the
same strategic considerations that have evolved for press relations.
Medialink’s most recent research shows that 72 per cent of people get
most of their news from television rather than print media. And the
company’s new year announcement that it has appointed former editor of
ITN News, David Mannion, to spearhead a new international consultancy
service may prove a watershed for the sector.
Mannion has been brought in to head a panel of broadcast consultants
located throughout the company’s 17-country network.
Medialink’s international senior vice-president David Davis says the new
service has been created to meet the increasing demand from clients for
advice on the development of broadcast strategies and planning.
’Clients are now coming to us and saying that they want to understand
television as part of their wider PR strategies. We have carried out a
number of ad hoc consulting assignments and are presently talking to
eight other major clients,’ claims Davis.
Medialink’s consultancy portfolio already includes the launch of the
Stewart Ford racing team’s new Formula One racing car during
The event it masterminded attracted 30 broadcast journalists and
achieved audience figures of 90 million viewers in Europe and
Medialink’s biggest global competitor Bulletin International tells a
’Analysis of our sales over the last two years has shown that strategic
consultancy has doubled year on year over this period,’ says chief
executive Anthony Hayward.
’Although some still have the perception that we’re just video news
release providers, VNRs are just one of many tools that we bring in. The
overall trend is that we are contacted more and more by large
multinational corporations looking for advice.’
Hayward says Bulletin’s strategic relationship with clients Rhone
Poulenc and the Ford Motor Company has developed to a point where it
links these companies directly to specific broadcasters, enabling
journalists to access a ’taster’ of the footage held on their
’The connections are achieved either through ISDN lines or modem,’ he
With a logical progression towards actual footage being transferred down
such lines, Hayward points out that the Internet is fast becoming a
broadcast medium itself.
But apart from new technologies, what else is driving this growing
client demand for broadcast consultancy?
Hayward believes his clients - whether in-house departments or PR
agencies - are rightly concerned about the changing broadcast
environment. ’With the expansion of channels there will be more
opportunities, but there will also be more threats because of an
increase in business and financial reporting,’ he explains.
Hayward also says that many corporate affairs teams over the past year
have realised that they don’t have the resources to deal with this
environment and are seeking specialist advice in corporate affairs,
brand building and crisis management.
UK company The London Bureau is another broadcast specialist to
reposition itself as a television consultancy.
’Television’s usage of contributed footage is rising because of
structural changes,’ says managing director Stuart Maister.
Nevertheless, Maister’s attitude is that the role of VNRs should not be
’We haven’t thought of ourselves as a VNR provider for a year and a half
now. In fact we’ll often tell clients that they don’t need a VNR as it
provides no added value. While they’re good sales tools, the real thing
you buy is consultancy,’ he says.
Maister says he wants to be judged by overall type and level of coverage
achieved for clients. He gives the example of the last year’s launch of
the Persona contraceptive: ’We produced a VNR but also provided a lot of
stuff that TV companies could film themselves.’
He adds: ’Clients are now retaining us on a monthly basis to provide
input into TV planning. We can conduct television audits whereby we
analyse what is interesting about a client to a TV broadcaster and
develop a ’calendar’ of opportunities. We will also develop the
relationships between clients and TV producers.’
And it’s not only TV consultants who are facing an increasing demand for
strategic advice. Howard Kosky managing director of radio specialist The
Market Tiers says: ’A couple of years ago we were used purely as a
facility but now around 30 per cent of our clients ask for strategic
Kosky believes that, until a year ago, the relationship between radio
broadcasters and PR consultants lacked mutual respect, but that this is
’As PR people make more effort for the medium and realise that producing
a tape is not sufficient, so radio becomes more open to PR,’ says
’To generate radio coverage you now need to be smarter. It’s not just a
case of people sitting on the telephone selling in a story. You have to
understand the differences between national and regional radio and know
what the programmer is looking for.’
For this reason Kosky advises sitting down earlier in the planning
process and building radio into the overall broadcast strategy,
something which the agency has done with clients such as the Sports
Council for its national stadium scheme and AA Home Assistance.
’We have monthly meetings with the AA Home Assistance management board
and the whole PR team. We know if something is happening in a particular
region and can act upon it. Radio agencies are moving away from just
national activity and localising their efforts,’ he says.
So should PR agencies be worried about all these specialists muscling in
on their traditional consultancy territory?
Martin Loat, managing director of Propeller PR, believes not: ’We can
work with broadcast specialists to provide new opportunities. It may be
that we even sub-contract the TV side of campaigns.’
Although Loat does warn: ’TV specialists should be savvy enough to let
PR companies front up campaigns with their clients and not try and steal
Loat believes clients have been slow to take suggestions by their PR
advisers to take broadcast more seriously and there is an increasing
opportunity to provide good footage, particularly on an exclusive
’Television PR requires a different attitude of mind. Strict ITC codes
make it a real challenge to achieve good coverage for your clients and
broadcasters retain a lot of resistance to PR. One needs to find that
middle ground between news credibility and branding. This is where
specialists can help,’ says Loat.
Bulletin’s Hayward agrees PR agencies shouldn’t regard his company’s
increased consultancy services as a threat: ’We work closely with
Shandwick in Asia on the Digital and Mastercard accounts. PR agencies
just aren’t set up to reach world-wide TV broadcasters within the hour
and this is our expertise.’
Maister says: ’I see our work dividing down the middle between direct
clients and PR companies. Many agencies now call us in to pick our
brains or use us for pitches. We can add value as part of the PR team
because we have a constant relationship with the broadcast media.’
He adds: ’We must be fed with good stories to keep our relationships
with the television companies alive, and in this sense PR companies are
CASE STUDY: WORKING AGAINST THE CLOCK ON CABLE MERGER
Ideally, of course, a major PR launch - including the broadcast element
- is carefully planned well in advance. But sometimes time is a luxury
one just doesn’t have.
In October last year global telecoms giant Cable and Wireless announced
that it was merging the UK operations of Mercury, Nynex Cable, Bell
Cable Media and Videotron into a broad group called Cable and Wireless
Cable and Wireless’ in-house team and PR advisers Brunswick immediately
recognised that a deal of this size (worth five to six billion pounds )
and of this type - involving telecoms, new media, cable and satellite TV
distribution - was going to be of immense interest to the broadcast
Despite having only four days’ preparation time, Cable and Wireless and
Brunswick developed a clear strategy with broadcast PR as a key
The challenge was to distil the corporate position, and then to
integrate the appropriate messages for each type of media, not only
conceptually, but in a way that meant the right spokespeople were
available at the right time.
Brunswick briefed independent production house Remvision to produce a
video news release (VNR) that could be distributed electronically as
soon as the announcement went public.
As a global company this meant instant distribution to an audience
spanning the US, Hong Kong, the Far East, the Caribbean and Australia,
as well as the UK.However the VNR was only part of the story and efforts
were made to make a limited number of spokespeople available to the
broadcasters’ individual needs.
The team deliberately set out to avoid corporate jargon in favour of
straight talk and developed messages that enabled chief executive Dick
Brown to deal with business issues in his own language. Despite the
scale of the task, the whole shebang was over within less than 48
’We received a lot of incisive coverage, and on all the main broadcast
channels in the UK,’ says a Cable and Wireless spokeswoman, ’There was
also widespread use of the VNR footage, including the early BBC
She adds: ’Although it was a UK merger and the prime focus was on those
media, we were very pleased with the level of interest from the US and
around the world. For example when CNN received our release, they
immediately requested an interview with Dick Brown.’
Brown himself emerged as a highly competent communicator and the force
behind the deal. One sure sign of a well executed campaign.
CASE STUDY: ABBEY NATIONAL GAINS AN AUTHORITIVE FOOTHOLD
During last autumn’s budget, Abbey National put forward its chief
economist as a TV commentator achieving valuable profile and
Now Chris Wermann, Abbey National’s group PR manager, has ambitions to
build on this with the aim of becoming the pre-eminent financial
services company in broadcast PR. ’In the past we’ve worked with
Electronic Media Relations to develop our radio PR and now we’re doing
the same with television,’ says Wermann.
Abbey National was the first building society to convert to official
bank status and is looking at ways in which it can influence analysts
and institutional shareholders.
The company recently teamed up with Medialink to develop an overall
broadcast strategy including a weekly TV news intelligence service. The
agency also strives to create live interview opportunities for
spokespeople and help business and economic TV broadcasters gain a
better understanding of the bank.
Wermann sees the TV challenges facing the bank’s in-house department as
First there is the potential myriad of new programmes as television
undergoes a revolution in channels and technology. And then there is the
difficulty of explaining sometimes complex financial products or
services via a medium which has a tendency to rely on snappy
catchphrases and soundbites.
’The benefit of using a broadcast consultancy is that I don’t have time
to monitor the new TV stations starting up and their content. They can
take all that away from me, as well as setting up briefings and
developing the right strategy for the particularly message we want to
convey,’ says Wermann.
He points out the mutual benefits of closer relationships: ’Broadcasters
such as EBN and Bloomberg don’t yet have a big presence in UK
broadcasting and need good material to build their viewing figures.’
Abbey National’s third challenge is therefore to develop the right
content for the target broadcasters. To this end the bank is developing
monthly surveys which it believes have potential as PR platforms.
’With Medialink we’ll be looking at how the survey results can be used
to generate the right TV pictures,’ says Wermann. ’The position I’d like
to be in a year from now, is the company to which TV companies come for
comment on various financial issues,’ he concludes.
EVALUATION: DETERMINING THE WORTH OF COVERAGE
Broadcast specialists, like most players in the PR mix, face the
difficulty of effectively evaluating what they have achieved on behalf
Only, in their case, the task may have a steeper gradient as even the
initial monitoring stage can be a long way from foolproof. However all
this may be about to change.
’There is an increasing requirement to prove the use of our service,’
says Neil Ormsby commercial production executive of WTN. ’This can be
done through a combination of monitoring agencies and station
By ’station liaison’ Ormsby means a team of people ringing round the
stations to which material was sent and asking them whether it was
It’s a highly labour-intensive and inconclusive process at the best of
times and Ormsby admits it is even more difficult to do in Europe than
in the US. He hints at how things are likely to improve.
’We anticipate a development in that area later this year. In the US
systems such as Sigma and Lumatrack are used to track coverage
electronically and we now have an exclusive arrangement with another
provider to achieve the same for the Europe and Asia markets,’ he
The US systems rely on encoding the contributed footage with a
’watermark’ that can be electronically monitored. So each time footage
is broadcast on air, the watermark can be automatically tracked and sent
to a computer which collates the information.
Medialink’s international senior vice-president David Davis says his
company created new technology for electronic tracking in the US and
that Medialink is also working on a similar system for Europe this
The London Bureau’s Stuart Maister is more sceptical: ’We are looking at
electronic monitoring, but I have a problem with that. You shouldn’t
only judge an agency by how much footage is used. It’s too VNR focused
and not strategic enough.’
Maister says the London Bureau has an exclusive arrangement with an
independent media buying agency which he believes gives a good
measurement of success.
’As TV specialists, this company knows exactly how many people watched a
particular programme,’ he says.
However Maister concedes that this still doesn’t provide qualitative
analysis of coverage.
Howard Kosky managing director of The Market Tiers believes the
difficulty in quantifying coverage has been a key reason for radio’s
lesser status in the PR mix: ’Although it’s improved, radio monitoring
is still an issue.
It’s still not fail-safe.’
He adds: ’Displaying a page of newspaper clippings still has more impact
on the client.’