VNRs: Top of the VNRs - PRWeek reviews the UK-generated video news releases that dominated TV screens

TV is more popular than ever as a source of news for UK


More than 70 per cent cited it as their preferred world news source in a

survey conducted by the Independent Television Commission. Added to the

proliferation of online channels, it is no surprise that broadcast PR,

one of the youngest arms of the industry, is increasingly important in a

client's marketing armoury.

For the first time, PRWeek has taken a look at which VNRs have achieved

the most coverage in terms of viewing figures from some of the UK

market's major players.

Broadcasters themselves showed a marked reluctance to comment on their

use of VNRs and wouldn't go on the record. The BBC, for instance, states

that it doesn't use them, though in many instances, especially those of

entertainment and sport, it obviously does.

We contacted all the major broadcast specialists and in-house units

within PR consultancies, for their Top 10 from June 2000 to June 2001,

and PRWeek has showcased each of their top scoring VNRs based on the

agencies' viewing figures and reach.

Some names you might expect to see in the chart aren't there. For

example, PRNewswire cannot provide us with viewing figures because of

client confidentiality.

There are also questions raised about the rise of VNRs and the formal


Of the bigger in-house units, Edelman broadcast manager Emma Hart says

it has not been running long enough to provide an annual Top 10. She

says, however, that the traditional edited VNR is losing favour and have

been largely replaced by live-to-air interviews or a presenter intro and

an 18-25 second soundbite.

Two of the in-house teams PRWeek contacted - Weber Shandwick Broadcast

and Fleishman-Hillard - say they cannot provide us with figures because

VNRs are only a single tool in their broadcast service. They believe the

success of a broadcast campaign cannot only be viewed in terms of VNR

viewing figures.

At Weber Shandwick Broadcast and Interactive, head of visual

communications Dagmar Schluter, who has a background in broadcasting,

confirms the new breed of broadcast PR is not always and not only about

providing pictures, but increasingly about 'providing opportunities for

broadcasters' to film and interview. Moreover, she says the company

would never recommend a straight promotional VNR, or A-roll, for

broadcast purposes but simply a B-roll of loosely edited footage that

would be hard for the broadcaster to organise themselves and may be

useful background to the story.

As a former BBC and ITN journalist, F-H associate director Jonathan

Hawker says there's increasing reliance on the phenomenon known as

reporter involvement.

This is when the reporter is seen asking a question or on the location

of a story beyond the normal piece to camera.

It is a way of showing viewers that this channel's reporter is in the

thick of the news, even if they are only doing an interview to wrap

together with agency footage.

Like many of the companies whose work is profiled here, broadcast

specialist Bulletin also says it does not produce VNRs, but 'multi-media


Managing director Chris Foulerton says, 'The service offered to

broadcasters does need to get better, more focused and tailored. VNRs

can't do the job on their own.'

Despite debate, the sheer quality of work featured, and its considerable

reach, shows that there is still considerable life left in VNRs yet.


Consultancy: APTN Productions

Client: Campaign for Racial Equality

Campaign: Would I?

Audience Reach: 21 channels

(no viewing figure available)

Key UK channels: All

When the Campaign for Racial Equality, launched its latest TV

advertising campaign 'Would I?' it wanted to ensure maximum exposure by

producing a VNR to accompany the groundbreaking ad, featuring

celebrities such as Chris Evans, Mel B, Peter Stringfellow and David

Seaman undergoing a skin colour metamorphosis.

APTN produced a 15-minute VNR feed with celebrity interviews and the

creatives used in the campaign, from post-production house The Mill,

which is well known for its special effects, featured in the film


The tape was one of the few UK-only VNRs produced by APTN in the past

year. It was officially unveiled at 11 Downing Street in the presence of

Tony Blair and generated a great deal of interest from broadcasters,

with across the board coverage by most UK channels.

APTN had to organise two other local feeds to deliver the material, and

the topic even slipped into the press, with The Mirror asking for a copy

of the VNR for its front page.

Assignment manager Bart Stobart says the VNR worked well for a number of

reasons: 'Broadcasters were keen to show the ad anyway, and part of the

package was giving them access to it. But we also provided footage of

the production companies involved and the techniques used behind the

scenes.' Small broadcasters in particular were happy to use the VNR as

they could not have filmed the background material themselves.


Consultancy: Arnold Broadcast

Client: Port of London Authority

Campaign: Twinning with Spanish port

Audience Reach: 6,500,000

Key UK channels: London Tonight, Meridian Tonight

This VNR was produced by Arnold Broadcast to cover the twinning of the

Port of London (PLA) with the Spanish port of Algeciras, near Gibraltar,

in March this year. The partnership represents the port's attempt to

improve its position in the global market. It contained pictures of the

Port of London and the Thames, as well as a tape of the handshaking


London Tonight and Meridian used the first part and covered the ceremony

themselves, but for the likes of Sky and Spanish TV, the second tape was


A VNR was used for this story because it was very visual, with very

strong pictures. It was also to do with the big story of the

revitalisation of the Thames in general.

One of the obstacles to the success of the story was that the

regeneration angle of this part of the Thames had been announced six

months previously, and footage was already in broadcasters' libraries,

so Arnold positioned the story as being about a tangible step closer to


Having the PLA as a client was an advantage for the consultancy, since

head of port promotion Geoff Adam is a former journalist, so knows

exactly what he wants and there are no communication problems.

Sky was especially pleased with the package, as the VNR enabled them to

cover an event which they did not have the resources to send a crew to


The Spanish broadcaster even telephoned to check that they were able to

use the pictures for free, as they were such high quality.

Arnold has the advantage, like many of the most successful consultancies

in this sector, of being run by a former broadcaster. Managing director

Tim Arnold was a the first news anchor on Sky, and a BBC reporter in

Northern Ireland.

As a result of the coverage on London Tonight, and Meridian the BBC

picked up the story and ran it with its own archive footage, whereas the

UK national press ignored the story.


Consultancy: Bulletin

Client: Motorola CeBit 2001

Campaign: Motorola at CeBit 2001

Audience Reach: 50,000,000

Key UK channels: BBC, Channel Four, ITV, Sky News

Bulletin carried out the Motorola CeBIT 2001 broadcast project in March

2001. IT involved broadcast support for mobile phone manufacturer

Motorola at CeBIT 2001, one of the biggest annual world telecoms


Its aims were to help the client dominate share of voice from the event,

since all its competitors would also have news announcements at the same

time. Specifically, Motorola wanted to raise awareness of its leadership

in GPRS, the next generation of telecoms technology, by bringing out a

mobile handset ahead of the competition.

The broadcast package was used in 20 TV reports in the UK and across

Europe, totalling 60 minutes' coverage.

Bulletin put together background material and pictures of products at

the show, along with interviews with senior executives about the client

and the new technology, which was fed from the show.

The consultancy went beyond the obvious use of a broadcast package,

turning the material into an internal communications campaign by

streaming the video onto Motorola's intranet so the company's employees

worldwide could see what it was doing at the show. The future

technologies material was also sold into in-flight entertainment


Bulletin MD Chris Foulerton said the package was a success because the

topic was very visual, and as well as providing background material it

made sure senior staff were available for broadcasters to shoot their

own coverage during the show.


Consultancy: Firefly

Client: ICL Census

Campaign: Census

Audience Reach: 6,242,000

Key UK channels: BBC, ITN, Sky, Carlton, Granada

Firefly's broadcast department was set up in February this year by

former broadcast journalists with 30 years' experience behind them. Head

of broadcast services Keren Haynes says the team does not often

recommend the use of VNRs, but the tape it produced for leading IT

service company ICL was an exception.

It featured a demonstration of a scanning machine the client was using

to process the information from this year's census. Footage included

forms being processed, the handwriting technology being used, and client


The consultancy predicted that although the census would generate

enormous broadcast coverage, broadcasters would not have the resources

to go all the way to Widnes to film the machine themselves.

Haynes used a cameraman she used to work with at ITN, Paul Keating, to

ensure the tape was perfect TV news material, and used the cameraman's

name to help with the sell-in to broadcasters.

The tape was used on at least 11 TV stations in April and has been

repeated since. The UK channels included BBC Breakfast, One O'Clock

News, and regional news; ITN's lunchtime, 6.30, News at Ten and regional

bulletins; Sky; GMTV; and Channel 5.

Apart from the viewing figures, the VNR can be judged as a success

because the subject matter was not a classic broadcast story. It was a

very dry technical story, and yet managed to hit all the national TV,

and many regional radio, stations.

PR manager ICL Daniel Bausor says of the VNR: ' ICL's work is often not

seen by the general public. By dovetailing our work on the processing of

the Census forms with the actual Census Day, we estimate that the

publicity we received was quadrupled and we were, therefore, exposed to

a much larger audience.'


Consultancy: Medialink

Client: Ericsson

Campaign: Launch of Ericsson T20

Audience Reach: 408,958,350 (Europe/Asia)

Key UK channels: Sky News, CNBC, CNN

Ericsson's T20 mobile phone was the first phone to use Bluetooth

technology, and offered a whole raft of technological features,

including enhanced WAP capabilities and wireless applications. The

launch of the product was aimed primarily at the burgeoning Asian

market, due to its hunger for all things technological, and the product

was therefore launched in Singapore.

Footage was shot both in Asia and Europe, with the focus in the former

on Asian respresentatives of Ericsson and featuring Asian people using

the product.

The European aspect to the launch was filmed in Europe and featured

people getting on commuter trains making calls and using their laptops

to access the internet. While in Europe the VNR generally hit the

business news, in Asia lifestyle and general news, as well as business,

broadcasters picked used the story.

The VNR was Medialink's most successful ever, due in main to the massive

pick-up of the story in China. The client's branding featured heavily in



Consultancy: The Television Consultancy (TVC)

Client: Mastercard/MOBO

Campaign: Mastercard/MOBO Awards

Audience Reach: 32,650,000

Key UK channels: BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News and MTV

The MOBO Awards were held on 6 September 2000. TVC were commissioned to

create and distribute a two-part VNR, one announcing the nominations and

the other the event itself, including footage of the winners. Channel 4

was to broadcast the event as if live on the 8 September, so TVC's job

was to get as much coverage on other channels leading up to and

following the programme.

Key moments of the event were filmed for distribution by two


This included coverage of celebrities arriving at the event, footage of

the performers and interviews.

At midnight on the night of the ceremony the footage was rushed to the

editing suite and edited furiously to be ready at 3am for breakfast TV

usage. All broadcasters had been contacted prior to the event to

establish when their deadlines for footage were. Some broadcasters asked

TVC to personalise comments - such as Craig David greeting viewers of

BBC's Newsround.

Following the initial news coverage, programmes with longer lead times

were provided with footage.


Consultancy: World Television

Client: MTV

Campaign: MTV Europe Awards

Audience Reach: 16,000,000 (UK)

Key UK channels: BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Sky.

World Television specialises in global distribution, with an exclusive

partnership with Reuters and a multi-lingual media relations team.

The MTV Europe Music Awards were held in Stockholm in November 2000, and

World Television produced a preview VNR as well as a tape of the main

show. The tape featured edited highlights of the awards ceremony for use

on TV programmes.

It was particularly successful because it covered a popular and very

visual event, but the broadcast PR team also made things easy for

broadcasters, as the event was sold in before it happened by the media

relations team at the consultancy.

The speed of delivery also won the VNR substantial coverage, as edited

coverage was made available during the evening awards thanks to World

Television having full broadcast facilities on the site, as well as an

option for a live satellite feed.

The company often supplies copies of tapes to clients' in-house comms

teams so they can distribute them to contacts, but on this occasion it

sold the story in and managed the satellite service direct to


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