PR TECHNIQUE VNRs: Perfect sweeps: get your VNR on at the prime time of year - The competition to get VNRs aired is fierce, but during the sweeps periods it approaches the ridiculous. David Ward explores ways to get a station to use your video when every

Mention the word ’sweeps’ to TV news professionals and you can visibly see their stress level rise.

Mention the word ’sweeps’ to TV news professionals and you can visibly see their stress level rise.

Mention the word ’sweeps’ to TV news professionals and you can

visibly see their stress level rise.

Sweeps is the popular term for the periods when the Nielsen ratings for

local and national programming are used to determine stations’ ad rates

for the following three to six months.

The three major sweeps periods are November, February and May. July is

also technically a sweeps month, but it’s much less important,

especially on the national side.

While there are only about 5,000 homes nationwide that determine the

Nielsen ratings, what they view during those months can make or break

careers, so news programs tend to pull out all the stops to lure


Much of this is accomplished by sending out reporters to generate

sizzling local content. That makes it all the more difficult for PR

professionals to get their clients’ video news releases aired during

those times.

Which is not to say that it’s impossible. While news directors will tell

you they evaluate each story on its own merits, they do feel added

pressure to use only the most eye-stunning visuals during sweeps. Asked

what type of VNRs she looks for during those times, Elaine Bennett, the

five o’clock news producer for KDFW in Dallas, says, ’A little jazzier

and a little sexier. That always helps.’

During a sweeps period last year, normally staid Prudential Insurance

realized this and worked with DS Simon Productions to develop a VNR on

’Faking Your Own Death,’ which aired on WNBC-TV in New York. Prudential

also helped WNBC track down and interview a local person who had faked

his death to collect on the life insurance. The piece delivered the

message that Prudential was on the lookout for scams that could drive up

insurance rates.

For many local stations, sweeps is the time when they look to

distinguish themselves from their competition by doing local stories, so

stress any and all local hooks to your VNR. ’During the ratings periods

we spend a lot of time focusing on things of local interest,’ says

Gordon Collier, anchor of the 6 pm and 10 pm Channel 10 news in Waco,


Steve Gold, president of VNR maker TVN, says it’s important to reach out

to the news stations early for sweeps stories, giving them ample time to

prepare whatever local content they need to add to the VNR. ’August and

September is a good time to pitch beat reporters for technology and

health pieces for the November sweeps,’ he says.

But it’s also important not to get too discouraged if a station shows no

early interest and to keep pitching stations all the way through a

sweeps month. ’Toward the end of sweeps, a station may dip a little bit

or get more heat from their competition,’ says DF Simon media relations

manager Kenneth Meyer. ’You may see a change in the way they do news as

a result, and the station that hasn’t been using VNRs may change their

mind and begin calling you.’

Sometimes it takes more than a VNR to cut through the sweeps


Patrick Pharris, CEO of Electronic Media Communications (EMC), says, ’If

you’re going to launch a hot new product for the holidays during the

November sweeps, don’t just do a VNR; create an event somewhere. Recruit

the media to cover that event, because you just more than doubled your

opportunity for coverage.’

Pharris says one way local stations distinguish themselves during sweeps

is with remotes - the more exotic the better. Providing them with that

chance can enhance your prospects for coverage. For years, EMC worked

with Princess Cruises on a Love Boat National Holiday promotion during

February, inviting reporters from up to 20 cities to spend a week

sailing the Caribbean. ’We provided the camera crew and the editing

equipment so the anchor or the weather person could do live reports from

the ship, as well as collect stories on the cruise industry to air

later,’ Pharris says. EMC also had people renew their wedding vows on

board as the hook for a separate Valentine’s Day story.

Of course, not all VNRs are suited for sweeps; some companies may not

feel comfortable during the times of the year that even news directors

will admit tend toward the sensational. ’If you have a client that

doesn’t want to be the story after the talking gorilla, you may want to

tell him to reconsider for another time,’ says Meyer.

Gold suggests sending out two different VNRs of the same story; one

time-sensitive for sweeps and the other designed to be more of an


Once sweeps is over, you can get back in touch with the station so the

evergreen piece can get aired later, he says.

Gold says in general it’s the human-interest factor and not the category

that ultimately determines whether a VNR airs during sweeps. ’If you

have a lightweight story with little human interest, it doesn’t matter

what category it is,’ he says. ’It has very little chance of getting


Michael Hill, president of VNR producer News Broadcast Network, says PR

pros must remember that sweeps are the times when news stations, not

agencies, keep score. ’The audiences aren’t particularly larger during

the sweeps period,’ he notes.

Sylvia Barnard, managing account executive for Ketchum’s Atlanta office,

echoes that sentiment, saying agencies should not let sweeps impact

their approach or their VNR content. ’You should make sure your VNR is

newsworthy to the news director and you’ll get play, sweeps month or no

sweeps month,’ she says.



1 Pitch VNRs for sweeps periods early.

2 Think locally. During sweeps, stations distinguish themselves with

local stories.

3 Include extra video that can be used for a news teaser.

4 Look to add a press event - even if it’s a single-city press

conference - to your VNR to enhance your chance of coverage.

5 Offer reporters the chance to do remotes - the more exotic or

interesting the better.


1 Push all clients into doing VNRs to air during sweeps. Some campaigns

and coverage are suited for the sensationalistic tone that many stations

adopt during sweeps.

2 Get discouraged if a station doesn’t take your VNR early. Many times

early ratings results may cause them to take another look at a VNR

toward the end of the sweeps month.

3 Change your VNR content too much to get aired during sweeps. Remember

sweeps are when TV stations, not agencies, are judged.

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