With the much publicised arrival of SkyDigital and BBC Digital,
broadcasters are promising a new media world and the potential number of
new media outlets for the PR industry is awesome. At the same time,
digital promises to bring the three broadcast media - television, radio
and the internet - ever closer together.
Already, the Chris Evans breakfast show on Virgin radio is broadcast on
Sky One, and integrating internet services such as BBC Online with the
digital revolution, is much vaunted by broadcasters. Stuart Maister,
senior vice-president of Medialink International, says that those
dealing with the broadcast media now need to realise the boundaries are
’You can no longer ring-fence information to one medium such as
television,’ he says. ’You have to cater to this ’trimediality’ and
integrate your strategy.’
To illustrate the point, Maister cites an exercise undertaken by his
agency for the Jordan Grand Prix team in January this year. To launch
the company’s new Formula 1 car at the Royal Albert Hall, live
interviews with team boss Eddie Jordan and drivers Damon Hill and Ralph
Schumacher were broadcast on TV and radio. These ranged from BBC TV and
Radios 4 and 5 to Sky, IRN and Capital Radio. In collaboration with PA
New Media an internet site was also set up to provide simultaneous
launch coverage on the world wide web.
Maister says: ’The content of this new media world will remain the same,
but the name of the game will be customising it for the different
Alan Hardy, head of Broadcast services at Two-Ten Communications, the
commercial arm of the Press Association thinks that this outlook may be
His company offers a range of broadcast packages and will soon be
offering audio facilities on its internet site for clients. However, he
feels that a blanket approach may not be the right way forward in every
’You are not necessarily going to find that a story is interesting or
works in all media,’ he says. He underlines the point that no matter how
fascinating the facts, TV still needs something to show and radio
something to talk about.
However, he is excited at the prospect of improved internet
communications acting as another channel of communication with
journalists. ’This is just the beginning,’ he says. ’In the future,
radio will be able to download broadcast quality audio from the internet
and further ahead, TV will probably do the same with broadcast quality
video. But it will be a long time coming.’
Just how long before digital is widely accepted by consumers is the
burning question. However, as with the change over from black and white
to colour television, most experts talk in terms of at least ten years.
Nick Harta, joint managing director of internet consultancy 4DC says:
’It’s similar to the introduction of video recorders in the late-1970s.
It’s all a question of consumers feeling confident enough to take the
next step forward.’
As an internet specialist Harta thinks it will be interesting to see how
the marketing of web activities on digital TV is handled. He has great
expectations of the introduction of web channels in parallel to
programme channels and the whole area of interactivity, from home
banking to information services. But he also highlights the change from
broadcasting to narrowcasting.
’At the moment an internet site caters to a global audience,’ says
’But we will see very niche interests and more localised
With increased editorial opportunities from a proliferation of
specialised channels, it seems that digital broadcasting will bring a
host of PR opportunities.
However, there are those that view the future with caution.
Ian McGregor, broadcast director at radio specialists Airtime
Communications, points out that as the editorial side of radio is
expensive to produce, many new stations will be totally automated and
play continuous music.
In addition, he points out that in the UK, links between radio and the
internet are currently inhibited by cost. ’Unlike the US where local
calls are free, in this country listening to the radio via the web
involves paying your telephone bill,’ he says.
But, while many may see convergence as the ultimate goal, the evidence
is that Maister is correct in his identification of trimediality. The
three broadcast media will continue to intermingle very closely, but
ultimately remain separate. Karen Brooks, director of radio consultancy
The Market Tiers says her agency is increasingly asked about multi-media
campaigns, but sees no future in diversifying into other broadcast
mediums. ’The reason we haven’t broadened our activities is that there
are so many radio stations out there aimed at a variety of niche
markets, you need to have specialist knowledge to treat them in an
individual way,’ she says. Brooks sees the arrival of digital radio and
the further fragmentation of the market as justifying this approach.
However, others view the opportunities of digital TV as a PR
Richard Cobourne, a lecturer in PR and media relations and producer with
Cardiff-based corporate communications company On Screen Productions
thinks that cost will provide the key. ’With budgets on individual
programmes falling and the advertising pot not getting any bigger,
commercially backed programmes will need to be funded,’ he says.
He thinks that this will lead to huge opportunities for companies to
provide broadcasters with programmes they have made themselves. ’If you
supply the material in the right format, to the right niche audiences,
budgets will dictate that channels will more than likely broadcast an
entire programme.’ He adds: ’Companies will have absolute control of the
content and be able to get their messages through.’
Most recently, his company has untaken this approach for a petroleum
client by creating a series of half-hour VNRs on energy efficiency. With
an editorial balance designed to keep both the broadcaster and the
client happy, Cobourne is currently targeting suitable satellite and
But, his equation of the future of television with the recent explosion
in the specialist magazine market, suggests a possible flaw in
Cobourne’s theory. Just as a publication on a low budget is unlikely to
publish a lengthy press release verbatim, it seems unlikely that TV
channels will let PR people take over their programming. ’VNRs will only
ever be a tiny part of the mix,’ says Tessa Curtis, managing director of
’Just because a programme is low budget, that doesn’t mean journalists
are going to lower their standards.’ Instead she thinks tight finances
will lead to more studio-based discussion.
Curtis also highlights that the push towards more programming will
inevitably lead to more recycling of material. Not surprisingly, she
thinks this will make it all the more important for people to turn to
’Steering the course and building relationships will become a much
harder task,’ she says. ’As more broadcast journalists work shifts and
change around, you need to understand the proccesses of making
programmes and which desk or chair to hit.’
For the future, she thinks that PR people need to realise the
opportunities of journalists increasingly working across all the
broadcast media and having the capacity to make a story appear in other
It seems that for the next few years at least, broadcast PR will be a
much more complicated and sophisticated process as digital finds its
As Curtis says: ’The broadcast media can’t be sidelined or ignored any
more. Companies that don’t get involved in broadcast PR within the next
year will be flagging in the communications game.’
THE ARCHERS: WORKING YOUR WAY INTO THE STORYLINE
At a time when the highest weekly viewing figures on terrestrial TV are
for soap operas, what could be better for achieving widespread awareness
than incorporating a cause or campaign into the nations favourite
dramas. However, on radio at least, achieving this objective seems to be
more a case of luck than design.
Radio 4’s daily slice of rural life, The Archers, was originally
conceived over 50 years ago to help educate and inform the agricultural
community of new farming methods, following the second world war. Today,
the Archers’ family farm Brookfield, is still very much at the heart of
the show, but storylines have moved on to reflect a greater demand for
Indeed, with a base of 15 million loyal fans, including royalty, and a
healthy diet of everyday scandals, the farming community is only one
section of the community tuning in.
Earlier this year, to raise awareness of The British Horse Society’s
(BHS) Root out Ragwort Week, an initiative to raise awareness of the
weed as a poison to horses, sheep and cattle, the organisation’s press
officer, Nichola Gregory sent information to The Archers. Gregory says
the point of this exercise was to reach the general public, rather than
the already well-informed farming industry. In August, this resulted in
one of the characters setting out to pick ragwort.
’The Archers don’t fall for the PR line I’m afraid,’ says Gregory. ’But
I have a policy of keeping them continually up-to-date on what we’re up
to.’ This has resulted in the society advising the show. Most recently,
a character decided to undertake the BHS assistant riding instructors
exams and Gregory informed BBC researchers on what was involved and a
But issues that do make it into the programme need to be relevant. A
spokesperson for The Archers says: ’The idea of the drama is to be as
true to life as possible and the issues that are discussed are those
that would normally be talked about in farming or household
People should remember that the story-lines are thought up by the
writers, producers and researchers.’
It is also important to note that although the BSE crisis resulted in
some last minute editing of the script, for the most part the show is
recorded three months in advance. It seems The Archers plays its cards
fairly close to its chest. But Gregory insists that persistence pays
’If you’ve got a good story and know how to tell it, you can get it
anywhere,’ she says. She also confesses that as a huge Archers fan
herself, getting the Ragwort story into the programme’s plot is the
highlight of her career.
ONDIGITAL: REACHING OUT TO A NEW MEDIA AUDIENCE
Ondigital, previously British Digital Broadcasting is backed by Granada
and Carlton television companies and is the UK’s first digital
terrestrial television provider. Broadcasting since 15 November, the
company gives its customers a choice of 30 channels covering news,
sport, drama and entertainment.
For the announcement of its digital offering on 28 September Ondigital,
recognised that broadcast and new media were a key audience. It asked
Bulletin International to put together a broadcast support strategy that
enabled the company to reach target audiences through television, radio
and the internet.
Ondigital’s goal was to generate brand awareness and inform the public
that digital terrestrial television offers choice without the need for a
satellite dish or cable connection. In addition, the company wished to
publicise that for as little as pounds 6.99 a month, Ondigital’s
’plug-in-and-watch’ set-top box would let viewers tune in to a range of
Bulletin offered journalists background pictures, showing Ondigital’s
licence victory, the unveiling of the new logo, and a promotional clip
of the company. This background tape also enabled broadcasters to
illustrate how digital TV would work. Footage explained the whole
process from the set-top box and terrestrial TV transmitter at Crystal
Palace to roof-top aerials and people watching digital TV.
However, this information was not restricted to just television and
radio news rooms. The online editors of the BBC, ITN and other broadcast
websites were also targeted.
On the day of the launch, Bulletin filmed the event at London Television
Studios, edited the footage on location and fed the pictures to
The company also organised other TV crews at the event and arranged a
hectic schedule of TV and radio interviews for Ondigital spokespeople,
including chief executive Stephen Grabiner.
This achieved massive broadcast and new media coverage reaching an
audience of 93.5 million people via more than 78 reports. Bulletin
estimate the story gained over two-and-a-half hours of broadcast
interest ranging from The Big Breakfast and BBC news programmes to local
In addition nearly five million viewers had access to the story on the
internet. ITN Online and the BBC Online Network featured video reports
and text reports appeared on the PA and Sky News web sites. This
information was accessible over the internet for several days. Audiences
were also able to access BBC News reports, Radio 5 Live and other
stations live on the internet in real time.
RADIO: GETTING YOUR CHRISTMAS GIFTS MENTIONED ON AIR
In the run up to Christmas, the competition to get radio coverage for
festive gifts and products is ferocious. Obviously, for more expensive
goods, above the line activity or organising a promotion can be a
But, with smaller stocking-filler items, endorsement gained from
editorial air-time is vital. After all, during the daytime, the power
and reach of radio is enormous. Recent RAJAR figures indicate that over
80 per cent of the adult population, listen to more than 20 hours of
radio a week.
So how can PR people, best ensure their product gets a mention? At
Virgin Radio, what succeeds or fails is very much down to the individual
DJs and producers according to Russell Millard, the station’s head of
However, he says that cheeky items or things attached to good causes
tend to go down well. He recalls that last December a PR agency sent
Virgin a Tellytubby doll that achieved good coverage by being auctioned
for charity on air.
Among the not so great ideas, his top gripe is with PR people who ignore
the audio nature of the medium. ’Why do people think a radio station is
going to be interested in someone in a silly costume handing out
goodies?’ he asks.
But while commercial radio has a relaxed attitude to endorsing products
on-air, approaching BBC stations is more tricky. ’Unless a product or
service has a particular benefit, most BBC producers are very wary of
anybody bearing gifts,’ says Jerry Johns, head of press and public
affairs for BBC Radio English regions. However, he acknowledges that
there is not a total ban. ’A really imaginative approach will work,’ he
says, ’but it needs to be a clever idea, rather than a gimmick.’ As
local radio is predominantly speech-based Johns also points out that
products such as toys are likely to fare better, if company is willing
to have them put to the test on air.
But Karen Brooks, director of radio specialists The Market Tiers says
the overriding rule for getting mentioned on radio, is to use the medium
properly. S he says that in terms of packaging for give-aways, how
prizes look is low on the agenda. ’If you have lots of little products,
use the strength of the medium and put them in a bag, so listeners can
hear the DJ rummaging around on air,’ she says.
For the past five years, her company has created a 12 days of Christmas
package for radio stations around the UK. This includes a selection of
prizes from clients, such as Our Price and Cheatwell games. ’The reason
it is so popular with broadcasters, is they get a complete package of
competition suggestions and prizes they can run straight on air,’ she
says. Over the next month, the company expects the idea to be taken up
by over 70 BBC and commercial stations around the country.