Thinking far in advance about a VNR not only gives you the chance to make your client's story stand out, but offers ways to save time and money. Sara Calabro reports.Whenever a PR practitioner embarks on a project involving a video news release (VNR), attracting media attention for the client on a controlled budget is the primary concern. Proper planning steps are key in adding value to the VNR, and determining whether it proves to be a successful choice of tactic. "Planning is the most important part of producing a VNR because it is the one way you can cut through all the clutter," says Peter Duckler, VP and media strategist for Ketchum. "You need to do your homework beforehand in order to differentiate yourself from all the other stories out there." Offering footage that the media couldn't get itself - something that can only be obtained through advanced planning - is one way of catching a reporter's attention. Tight budgets and schedules in newsrooms create an environment in which hands-on material that makes a compelling news story is often welcome from outside sources. Planning ahead also grants time for researching appropriate interview subjects that might be difficult for a reporter to pin down. Melody Kimmel, SVP and partner of media services for Fleishman-Hillard, points to an example of a VNR on Alza's testosterone patch. "Advanced planning allowed us to include an interview with someone who was actually using the patch. That boosted pickup because the stations wouldn't have been able to get such a first-hand account otherwise." As important as it is to allot time for producing quality content in VNRs, keeping within a budget is an equally pertinent, unavoidable consideration. When dealing with TV, mistakes are almost always expensive ones. Ensuring things get done correctly the first time is key in staying within a client's budget. "If someone is not looking through the camera's eye during the initial planning, it is likely that you will have to start undoing things," explains Bryan Glazer, president and executive producer of World Satellite TV News, "and that can get very expensive." Another way to cut costs is to obtain b-roll in the same city that the main interviews for the VNR are being done. "By taking the time to think beforehand about the b-roll you need, it is likely that you can combine locations and avoid an additional day of shooting," says Kimmel. Glazer suggests working with your VNR partner from the outset to avoid producing a release that is unlikely to get airtime. "Everything is essentially a made-for-TV movie," says Glazer, "so your VNR producer should be getting in on the ground floor and consulting on how to make it look that way." Mary Buhay, SVP of sales and marketing for Medialink, however, believes that "value planners" view VNRs in terms of their overall benefit to a client's strategy, which is a process she feels begins prior to selecting a producer. She recommends examining audience-perception studies, credibility ratings for media outlets, and other completed research during the initial planning stages, before choosing a VNR partner. For Avis' "On the Road to Leisure" campaign - designed to increase the company's presence in the family-travel sector, having always been focused on business renters - Ketchum developed a VNR for which planning began before In Five Productions was selected as the vendor. The account team made several phone calls to the media to bounce ideas off of them. "We felt it was important to do a brief audit before investing heavily in the project," explains Duckler. The agency also performed a survey to determine what its messaging would be. This showed that since September 11, more families have opted to travel by car. Pauline Frommer, daughter of travel expert Arthur Frommer, was chosen as a spokesperson. Avis encouraged the agency to interview several VNR vendors once it knew the direction it wanted to take. "Our challenge was to communicate our message about surviving family car trips on holiday weekends, but in a non-commercial way," says Duckler. "Planning our strategy ahead of time allowed us to choose the VNR partner that would work best." Successfully launched over Memorial Day weekend, Ketchum decided to reissue the VNR a couple months later for July 4, but changed the pitch. "Using a VNR for more than one purpose - a technique that we call a combo deal - is something we have been doing for years that is becoming increasingly popular," says Jack Trammell, president of VNR-1. "In the current economy, all clients are looking to get maximum value when they do a VNR." Trammell recommends PR pros plan in advance by discussing additional uses for the footage obtained from a VNR prior to contacting any broadcast companies. In addition to reworking a pitch for the same VNR, video streaming, training videos, and marketing videos for tradeshows and shareholders are other ways footage obtained from VNRs can be repackaged. VNR-1 offers streaming video to all its clients for free, while marketing videos made from VNR footage cost between $4,000 and $9,000 - minimal compared to rates that include shooting, should a client choose not to reuse the existing footage. Having acquired a sense of familiarity with a client's strategy and messaging, the vendor that produced the VNR is better-equipped to more efficiently develop additional materials. "By making additional uses part of the initial conversation, it can all be done in one day of shooting," explains Trammell. "As long as everyone and all the equipment is there, you might as well ask those four more questions that can make the VNR versatile, should the client decide to use the footage for something else in the future." It is estimated that about half of VNR companies have a policy of returning tapes to clients as part of the package, while the other half charges extra if clients want the footage returned after the VNR is completed. "We view holding onto tapes as hostage-taking," says Trammell. Investigating a VNR company's policy on returning tapes should be involved in the planning process. Having limited options - without incurring additional costs - for future uses of footage could be significant in determining a VNR's overall value.
-------------- Technique tips 1 Do make sure that you are developing a solid news story. This is a key initial step of the planning process 2 Do plan far enough in advance in order to obtain footage that a reporter could not get hold of easily 3 Do keep in mind alternative future uses for your VNR footage 1 Don't forget to obtain a list of what is NOT included with your budget. Costs can quickly add up 2 Don't leave too much work for the final stages. Edit in advance so that only final elements need to be dropped in at the end 3 Don't neglect your role in the planning process. Be specific in communicating your vision for the project to your VNR partner