Problem: at the height of the season, tourism on Hawaii is dropping, due to reports of flooding on the island. But, the tourist spots are as dry as ever. How can the Hawaii Visitors' Bureau quickly and effectively get the message out that all's well in paradise?
Solution: the HVB president stands on the beautiful, sunny beach of Waikiki and shows the tourists, live via Satellite Media Tour (SMT), that it's safe to venture to Hawaii.
That SMT was transmitted, primarily via weather broadcasters, to Hawaii's major tourism markets. It communicated the immediate message that vacationers should keep their plans to travel to Hawaii, notes Sally Jewett, president, On The Scene Productions, the LA-based media company that produced the Hawaii Visitors' Bureau's SMT.
More and more businesses and industries are banking on SMTs to effectively communicate their PR message, as quickly as possible to specifically targeted markets.
These personalized messages have been used to launch new products or services, explain new medical treatment, and provide expert commentary on issues like public debate or entertainment.
Proven success has helped to launch SMT to a prominent status on PR executives' palates. Most broadcast media specialists who talked to PRWeek report that their SMT business has grown substantially in the last year. 'Our SMT business has gone up about 40% this year,' notes Mike Hill, president, News Broadcast Network, New York. 'Since 1996, SMTs have grown more rapidly than Video News Releases (VNRs), even though we still do more VNRs,' he explains.
This is due to a 'rising level of consciousness about the effectiveness of SMTs,' says Greg Jones, vice president, marketing communications, MediaLink.
And that effectiveness can almost be determined before the SMT airs. 'A successful booking makes a successful SMT,' Jones says. If you've done your homework, the SMT will promote itself once the airing begins.
Amann & Associates PR recently pitched an SMT to the Reynolds Consumer Products Division, because 'we knew the results could be terrific,' enthuses Elinor Mutascio, vice president of the Richmond-based firm. 'You just can't purchase the benefits you get from a successful SMT.'
Following Reynolds' SMT, entitled 'Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich Ideas,' it received 3,091 calls on an 800 number that was aired during the program, reports Mutascio. The company also received 10,571 hits on its Internet site as a result. DS Simon was the SMT supplier. (see sidebar)
Progress in SMTs
Originally, SMTs were shot mid-day with one spokesperson and one camera in a single studio. Today, they are being transmitted at various times of day from different locations using multiple cameras. And, SMTs are going co-op, interactive, international, multi-media and directly to the consumer.
'It's important to offer reporters something beyond the 'talking head',' says Jewett, especially since competition is increasing as more firms realize the benefits of SMTs.
Early morning SMTs present different demographics and untapped journalists.
'There has been an expansion in time devoted to early morning shows,' says Jones. 'And their demographics tend to be different and more attractive. In a two-hour spread you can reach professionals during the first hour, and stay-at-home viewers during the second.'
'A lot of stations are doing five to 15-minute news or feature broadcasts on 'good morning' shows,' which is a perfect slot for an SMT, notes Hill.
Also, the early-morning producers may be more open to booking SMTs, since they are not approached as often as their mid-day counterparts.
'Producers are looking for a novel twist in today's SMTs,' says Hill.
A cooking demonstration held on top of a mountain in Aspen in the winter is a lot more interesting than one held in a studio, he explains.
By enlisting the on-air journalist to participate, 'you create a little more excitement,' says Hill. For Disney, News Broadcast Network has taken the cooking SMT a step further with the interviewer preparing the same recipe as the SMT spokesperson. 'We ship the menu ingredients to the journalist the day before the SMT,' explains Hill. This helped Disney to promote its on-site cooking school and seminars.
Most PR executives agree that while transmitting on-location typically doubles the cost of an SMT, it will most certainly increase the exposure and interest. A typical two-hour in-studio SMT may cost $10,000 versus $20,000 or more for an off-site production, says Judy Hartley, principle of Denver PR firm Avery Hartley.
'Co-op SMTs present a lower cost opportunity for firms whose product or service might not get the exposure on its own,' notes Doug Simon, president, DS Simon Productions. 'I think this is a tremendously significant trend.'
'Holiday shopping is a great example,' Simon explains. 'You can't necessarily do a whole segment on one product that may not be brand new, but if you tie it into a segment on the 'four hottest toys of the season,' then you have a draw.'
Costs for a co-op SMT can be 40% less than a one-firm program, says Simon.
'We may charge $6,000 for each of four participants and expand the program to a three-hour tour.'
Transmitting SMTs to international markets has become the norm, says Jewett. 'Even one year ago international publicity was considered separate from domestic,' she notes. 'Now, we try to consider international markets in whatever SMTs we're doing.
'When Chrysler and Daimler merged to become DaimlerChrysler, it was of interest to the whole world. We did interviews with the chairmen of the two companies and followed them to the New York Stock Exchange, where they rang the bell and bought some ceremonial stock.'
The Internet has opened up a whole new medium for transmitting SMTs, but the industry is proceeding with caution. 'We are still trying to determine how best to harness the Internet and how to evaluate the results,' says Jewett.
And, simulcasting interviews over the Internet can cost thousands of dollars, depending on where the interview is originating, notes Jewett.
But, companies can provide taped interviews to put on web sites for much less, maybe $1,000 for an Internet-only video release, adds Jones.
Companies are addressing their desire to communicate their message directly to consumers by transmitting SMTs from one retail outlet to others. The music business has taken the lead with this type of SMT, says Jewett.
Recently, an SMT featuring the recording artist Jewel, reading from a book of poems she published, was transmitted from one Virgin music store to others throughout the country. 'It gave fans all over the US the chance to ask her questions,' notes Jewett.
In a similar event, country and western artist Garth Brooks gave an exclusive concert to Wal-Mart customers. The concert, held in one Wal-Mart store, was transmitted to others around the country.
As SMTs become more complex and creative, both with location and the number of cameras used, costs increase simultaneously. Other variables can contribute to higher costs. These include using:
- multiple camera angles.
- a remote location: if local production crews are not available, staff must be flown in, incurring additional costs. A recent remote SMT held in Telluride, CO cost an additional $7,000, Hartley notes.
- a location in a big city: skyscrapers can cause production challenges, says Jewett. 'In New York, you may have to bounce the transmission off buildings. You may also have additional parking and cabling costs in a big city.'
- additional satellite time: costs are fairly stable, at $800-$1,000 per hour for firms that use a lot of time, says Hill. 'We use about 300-400 hours of satellite time a year,' he notes. On location, costs can be higher, using the more expensive Ku time. Cban, which costs less, is available for in-studio SMTs, he adds. The two bandwidths are based on audio frequency, with small satellite dishes operating on Ku-band.
Remote SMT in practice
Two months before the Prostate Cancer Education Council was holding its annual screening week, it contacted Avery Hartley for help in publicizing Prostate Cancer Awareness Week. 'We chose the SMT because it is a highly effective tool to get the reach and impact they needed,' says Judy Hartley, principal, Avery Hartley. 'They had already missed the chance to get space in major publications.'
For the SMT, Hartley chose two spokespeople: one for celebrity impact, and one that could provide expert medical information. Retired US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf had served as a Prostate Cancer spokesperson before, and was the obvious celebrity choice. And medical expert, Dr.
Norman Crawford, is executive director of the Prostate Cancer Education Council and a well-known authority.
Schwarzkopf could only do the program from his home in Telluride, CO.
Additional production crews had to be flown in from Denver to the remote location, while Crawford came in from New York.
During the two-hour SMT on September 17, Schwarzkopf and Crawford conducted interviews in 20 of the top 30 markets, says Hartley. Medialink was the SMT supplier.
The program was screened 500 times during Prostate Cancer Awareness Week, September 21-25. And as a result, more than three million men showed up for testing.
Most of today's SMT companies can do two to three SMTs a day, on sometimes very short notice. And while some SMTs are planned months in advance, many are scheduled with two weeks or less to airdate. And, in crisis situations, that time frame can be chiseled down to one day or less.
Case 1 Thanksgiving leftover sandwich ideas
Type: New product launch
Name: Thanksgiving leftover sandwich ideas
Air date and time: November 19, 1998, 6:15am-2pm
Client: Reynolds Consumer Products Division
PR Firm: Amann & Associates PR, Richmond, VA
'Reynolds wanted additional 'lift' for their new Wrappers product,' recalls Elinor Mutascio, vice president, Amann & Associates PR. 'The whole focus of the product is sandwiches, so we came up with the idea of using the wrappers for turkey leftover sandwiches.'
Amann then enlisted the talent of Sissy Biggers from the TV Food Network to conduct the demonstrations. But, these alone were not enough to draw in a lot of stations, says Mutascio. 'We tied the whole thing together by transmitting from Berkeley Plantation, the site of the first official Thanksgiving.'
For a slightly higher satellite cost, Amann decided to run the SMT for six hours, rather than the typical two or three. 'We had to do the same amount of preparation, so we decided to go for it.' The satellite time cost approximately $2,500, she reports. Total cost of the SMT was $30,000-$45,000.
During the six hours, Biggers conducted 47 interviews. 'That was awesome,' says Mutascio, 'particularly because we were up against Ken Starr's testimony.' As a result of the SMT, Reynolds received 3,091 requests for recipes to its 800 number. And, the Reynolds web site received 10,571 hits the same day. DS Simon Productions was the video supplier.
To squeeze more value out of the day, Amann had Biggers tape one-and three-minute generic segments that could be sent to stations that didn't get a chance to air the program live. Amann also re-released the program twice on the following Wednesday. At press time, Mutascio did not have complete numbers on the stations that used the taped version of the program.
During the booking process, Amann sent coolers filled with turkey sandwiches to journalists in the biggest target markets. 'The samples - exact recipes Biggers would use during the SMT - helped to make the show more interactive,' Mutascio says. 'The more hooks or angles you have, the better your chances of getting on TV. If you have a theme, a really good message and fun talent, you have it pretty much made.'
Case 2 Cellphones fight domestic violence
Type: Product/Cause Tie-In
Name: Call to Protect
Air date and time: October 23, 1998, 11am-2pm
Client: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) and
PR Firm: Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, Washington, DC
A three-hour SMT helped get the word out to victims of domestic violence that help is available and accessible, especially via cellphones. More than 11 million people were reached as a result of the SMT, transmitted live to 21 stations in markets including LA, Seattle, Cleveland, Miami and Denver. 'We had a good smattering of the top market areas,' reports Roger Lindberg, senior vice president, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.
During the broadcast, Rita Smith, executive director of the NCADV, conducted 26 interviews.
Motorola's donation of 7,500 cellular phones boosted the cause. 'A couple of years ago Motorola began supplying phones to women in shelters,' Lindberg explains. They can be programmed to call 911, a shelter, or the police.
And, local carriers donate the airtime for the phones, he reports.
To personalize the story, Ogilvy supplied journalists with B-roll that contained interviews from women who have used the phones. Journalists could also localize their story by interviewing women from their area.
The SMT was publicized, in part, by signs and tear-off cards in 11,000 stores that carry Motorola phones, says Lindberg.