FOCUS: BROADCAST PR - Transatlantic crossing - UK broadcast PROs are learning from their US counterparts. By Juliette Garside

For clients looking for visual broadcast PR support, or PR consultancies trying to decide which broadcast agency to recommend to a client, one of the key things to look for is the ability of the people who make your video news release (VNR), or organise your web cast, to reach as many news editors as possible, and to monitor which stations actually end up using the material.

For clients looking for visual broadcast PR support, or PR

consultancies trying to decide which broadcast agency to recommend to a

client, one of the key things to look for is the ability of the people

who make your video news release (VNR), or organise your web cast, to

reach as many news editors as possible, and to monitor which stations

actually end up using the material.

Until recently the choice of UK broadcast PR agencies with the size and

reach to distribute and monitor on a significant scale would have been

limited. With a few exceptions this country’s VNR producers have tended

to be small and UK-focused.

However, in the last two years a couple of international news

distribution organisations have joined the party. In 1998 Medialink, a

dominant player in the US, which had a small London production facility,

but had mainly concentrated on distribution and monitoring in the UK,

acquired broadcast PR and production agency the London Bureau.

And, in April this year, United News and Media subsidiary PR Newswire,

which already distributes press releases to 135 countries in 25

languages, teamed up with United Television News to launch a commercial

production unit.

PR Newswire will use United’s news gathering crews, reporters, studios

and post-production facilities to make VNRs, and distribute them via

Meridian’s television operation in Southampton.

The new entrants are bound to shake up the VNR market in the UK, which

so far has been slower to evolve than in the US. Although the standard

of broadcast PR here is in some ways higher than in the US, comparisons

with the States can tell us something about how the UK industry is

likely to develop over the next few years.

One of the main differences between the US and the UK is


While it is standard practice to measure VNR exposure in the States,

over here only three of the companies we contacted could provide us with

details of their top VNRs in terms of audiences during 1999 (see


The use of VNRs on both sides of the Atlantic is linked to the

development of television. At the beginning of the 1980s, when the UK

was just discovering VNRs, there were three TV stations: BBC1, BBC2 and

ITV. Channel 4 didn’t launch until 1982, and there was no breakfast TV

until 1983. By comparison, the US had 701 TV stations in 1976 (today’s

figure is over 1,200, with about 700 of those producing news). The UK

market has changed rapidly since the arrival of Sky and cable. There are

now five terrestrial channels, and over 200 cable and satellite


Producing VNRs in the US is still more cost-effective. With a minimum of

tweaking, far larger audiences can be reached than in the UK. Medialink

Worldwide executive vice-president Mark Manoff says: ’In the US there is

some regional variation but with some tailoring the same story can suit

a news editor in New York just as well as a news editor in


In Europe, the process becomes very expensive when companies try to

contact broadcasters in other countries. Tapes have to be re-recorded in

different languages, and cultural differences taken into account.

Monitoring their take-up becomes a logistical nightmare.

Perhaps because of the logistical difficulties, UK VNR makers have been

quick to take advantage of new technologies like the web. To grab the

attention of news editors, Quadrant Broadcast, which was set up three

years ago as part of the already established agency Quadrant PR, used to

distribute a diary of upcoming events and releases, as well as faxing

and calling them nearer the time. Now editors are alerted through

e-mails to the presence of a web page - either set up specially for the

client or on Quadrant’s home site - where they can find scripts,

sometimes in several languages, lists of what footage the VNR contains,

and duration times for particular shots.

Phoenix TV, set up last October by key figures from World Television

News’ VNR production arm, uses web sites to preview its videos. Phoenix

likes to use the internet because news editors can have immediate access

to it, whereas it is often difficult for them to physically get hold of

a VNR at short notice.

The web is not only being used to promote videos, but as a broadcasting

platform, to some extent bypassing the traditional VNR. Avid web users

include Martin Brodie, head of international broadcast media at

Rolls-Royce plc, the aerospace, marine and energy group which is now

separate from the car manufacturer. Brodie’s firm attends the major

international airshows - Paris, Farnborough and Singapore - each year,

and at each one it installs its own broadcast facilities with the help

of its agency, Bulletin. Thanks to these facilities, Rolls-Royce can set

up remote interviews and organise webcasts.

’If you had asked me four years ago whether I was going to do a webcast

of the chief executive on results day, I would have asked what a webcast

was,’ says Brodie. Rolls-Royce did its first webcast last year at the

Paris airshow. Brodie says Rolls-Royce spends around 10 per cent of his

VNR budget on evaluation, but it seems he is the exception.

VNR companies in the UK accept that they have been slow to invest in

measurement and evaluation. According to Phoenix director of sales and

marketing Rex Jenkins, only a third of his company’s VNR projects are


Peter Sibley, who co-founded VNR business World Television in 1991,

says: ’It is expensive. You have to have big clients who want to spend

the money on monitoring as well as production. Many just want to spend

their money on making the best VNR they can.’ He adds that big

organisations such as World Television client the Red Cross have their

own monitoring arrangements in place already, and rely on those rather

than commissioning special research from the video maker.

There are exceptions which show the value of investing in measurement

and evaluation technology. Medialink has developed proprietary

monitoring systems, and its clients on the whole do ask for evaluation,

as do Bulletin’s.

Jeannette Riley, issues PR manager at Iceland, has worked with Medialink

on a project basis over the last six months to promote its ’food you can

trust’ and internet home shopping campaigns. She says: ’Evaluation is

important because it allows you to report back to the board and give

results in a targeted and clear-cut way.’

Evaluation is standard in the US. There, Medialink sells an element of

measurement and evaluation as part of every VNR package: you can’t pay

them to make a video without finding out whether it worked or not.

At the root of Medialink’s success is its investment in


The agency has exclusive arrangements with news wire services to feed

text information into just about every newsroom in the US, and has a

similar distribution arrangement with Associated Press Television News

(APTN) in Europe. Broadcast journalists are alerted via the newswire to

what VNRs are on offer, and can then download them from a satellite.

With 700 channels broadcasting news in the US, such a network is

essential when executing national broadcast PR campaigns.

As well as producing VNRs, Medialink organises satellite media tours,

where the client representative can talk to journalists from a number of

channels in succession from one studio location.

Medialink signed a special agreement 18 months ago with ISP Yahoo to

facilitate distribution. Videos carry too much information for most

computers, but Yahoo compresses Medialink’s VNRs to make them readable

on the average PC.

One of the company’s most successful activities is monitoring, which it

includes as an element of every VNR package. But the company does not

just monitor its own broadcast work. Last year it acquired print media

monitoring agency Delahaye group, so that it can now offer monitoring of

all media as a standalone service.

Jenkins says: ’There is still a considerable stigma attached to VNRs and

a number of production companies try to give them other names.’ Bulletin

staff are banned from using ’VNR’ to describe what they do, and refer to

’broadcast’ projects instead. Apparently news editors will never admit

to using VNRs, but are quite happy to say that they use ’company

hand-out material’.

The BBC Producers’ Guidelines, which have been adapted by other

channels, state that: ’We do not normally use any extracts from (video

or audio news releases) unless we are incapable of gathering the

material ourselves.’

Where extracts are used they must be clearly labelled as such. Material

from press conferences the BBC has been deliberately excluded from is

frowned on, as is the use of interviews and sound clips. The BBC will

only use commentary or incidental music to show how the supplier

promotes itself, and producers will not accept any editorial


But most VNR producers welcome the high standards they have to meet.

Fenwick says: ’The industry has grown up in that we won’t send things

that are a barely disguised commercials.’

The quality of UK productions can also be explained by looking at the

origins of companies like World Television, which was born out of

Greenpeace’s international film unit. In the early-1980s Greenpeace was

making between 20 and 25 videos a year, because it was taking direct

action in locations that were difficult for news crews to meet. The

organisation was not producing corporate puff, it had a genuine message

to get out.

The challenge of getting broadcasters to use VNR material may also

explain why UK broadcast clients work more strategically than in the US.

Bulletin UK MD Lucy Tilbury says that 70 per cent of her clients work

with the agency on an ongoing basis. By contrast, 80 per cent of

Medialink’s clients in the US work on a project basis. Tilbury says:

’The US market tends to be more project-led, and you tend to find that a

lot of the work that is done is what we were doing five years ago


The explosion of broadcast media outlets and the arrival of larger

operators like PR Newswire and Medialink bodes well for VNR producers

and those who want to invest in broadcast PR. But the multitude of

languages in Europe and the lack of a major pan-European broadcaster

which covers the UK mean that reaching big audiences - and proving that

you have done so - remains complicated and expensive.


1. Client: Malaysian government

Title: Launch of Sepang Formula One circuit

Est audience: 500 million

2. Client: Philips

Title: ATL announcement

Est audience: 150 million

3. Client: Glaxo Wellcome

Title: Relenza issue

Est audience: 89 million

4. Client: Motorola

Title: Motorola at Telecom 99

Est audience: 70 million

5. Client: Group Lotus

Title: Lotus at the Frankfurt Motor Show

Est audience: 55 million

6. Client: Aventis

Title: Rhone-Poulenc - Hoechst merger

Est audience: 53 million

7. Client: : Nike

Title: Launch of Nike Town

Est audience: 46 million

8. Client: Rolls-Royce plc

Title: R-R at Paris Air Show

Est audience: 46 million

9. Client: Castrol

Title: Castrol and BMW partnership

Est audience: 32.5 million

10. Client: Philips

Title: Semiconductor plant announcement

Est audience: 15.5 million


1. Client: Ford

Title: Ford/Volvo merger.

Est audience: 270 million

2. Client: British Airways

Title: BA London Eye

Est audience: 246 million

3. Client: Brunswick

Title: Deutsche Telecom and Telecom Italia merger

Est audience: 230 million

4. Client: European Space Agency

Title: European Space Projects

Est audience: 175 million

5. Client: British Tourist Authority

Title: British Tourist Authority’s ’Movie Map’ - a guide to UK film and

TV locations

Est audience: 123 million

6. Client: Polygram Film International

Title: World premiere of Notting Hill

Est audience: 95 million

7. Client: : Park Avenue

Title: 2002 FIFA World Cup Logo

Est audience: 91 million

8. Client: Advanced Micro Devices

Title: Launch of Athlon Microprocessor

Est audience: 89 million

9. Client: Nissan Europe

Title: Nissan/Renault

Est audience: over 76 million

10.Client: Shell

Title: The Shell-ProNatura Canopy Research Title

Est audience: over 60 million


1. Client: Council of Europe

Title:Values or Frontiers (50th anniversary of COE)

Est audience: over 500 million in 41 countries

2. Client: Cardiff Bay Development Corporation

Title: Cardiff to the World (opening of the National Assembly for Wales)

Est audience: over 500 million, including China, Australia, USA and


4. Client: European Parliament (London Office)

Title: European Elections

Est audience: ten million

3.Client: Wales Tourist Board

Title: SMEs in Tourism

Est audience: 100 million (plus CNN World Report, Europe by Satellite,

Euro-News, Deutche Welle - no figures available)

5. Client: Welsh National Opera

Title: Billy Budd

Est audience: five million (plus all regional UK television stations -

no figures available)

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