Sky presenters were thrust into the spotlight following political editor Adam Boulton's high profile on-air spat with Blairite spinner Alastair Campbell on 10 May, and news anchor Kay Burley's aggressive interview with electoral reformist David Babbs on 8 May. Burley was later heckled live on air while broadcasting outside Westminster, with shouts of 'sack Kay Burley'.
Sky News was also the driving force behind the political leaders' TV election debates and on 6 May launched the first UK news service in HD. The HD channel has premium panels that enable viewers to watch events such as speeches at the same time as text analysis from correspondents and experts appears on screen.
These new panels throw up a range of opportunities for PR professionals, points out Sky News executive editor Chris Birkett. As well as providing experts who can supply timely quotes or analysis for these panels, PROs can offer surveys that meet the news agenda or are graphically represented.
PROs would be forgiven for thinking that the 24-hour nature of the channel means the journalists need help filling the time. But Birkett says this is not the case: 'My big message to PROs is not to see us as an easy target. Do not assume because it's a 24-hour news show we need help to fill the time. We are never short of material.'
Sky News' ideal material is a story that has changing facts over a period of time. 'Stories attract big audiences if there is an expectation that the facts will change over time. For example, Michael Jackson's death got a big peak in viewers, but the facts didn't change after that point. The election drama that has played out recently, however, was evolving and that kept people interested,' he says. Pictures are also crucial, although remember to shoot any video content in HD.
The challenge for PROs is how to manage the hungry beast of rolling news, as well as the speed with which stories are broken and dissected.
'Rolling news means high immediacy and a constant need for updates. So whether your client is commenting on Northern Rock or BA strikes you need to monitor the news and be sure you are contributing with new angles and views not already covered,' says Lansons Live's head of broadcast Pernille Taylor.
'A story will keep evolving until there is nothing else to say, which means that a story can be over and done with by midday. This means that in your pursuit of coverage for your client, speed is of the essence,' she says.
PROs should not forget Sky News' website, which leans towards video content. A nightly slot on the broadcast channel discusses the most popular web stories of the day, providing a good opportunity for PROs to get broadcast coverage through an online route.
Viewing figures: Five million monthly average
Unique users: 9.3 million (March 2010)
Available to: more than 145 million people in Europe alone
Global viewers include: Middle-East, Asia, Africa, New Zealand and Australia
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for breaking news, or email@example.com for events. For website email firstname.lastname@example.org A MINUTE WITH ... CHRIS BIRKETT, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, SKY NEWS
- Why launch an HD channel?
It was an opportunity in the news market and we have always done things first. We had the news channel ticker first and we pioneered presentation in the field. We launched our iPhone app very early on, and now there are 1.6 million people using it.
- Sky News prides itself on being first, but is it also accurate?
It's an absolute myth that we get things wrong more times than other channels. If you look at the analysis you'll find that we make no more errors than our rivals do. And news channels are no less accurate than news bulletins.
- When are your deadlines?
We don't have any. That's the nature of rolling news. You can give us a good story a minute before, but it would have to be a major news story. If something is under embargo, give it to us the day before. PROs need to be good judges of whether a story is worthy of the national news.
- What advice would you give to PROs who find themselves under the spotlight?
Don't leave a vacuum. You've got to be as quick as the journalists. We're demanding, so you need to feed us. Leaving a vacuum allows speculation and ill-informed opinion to breed.