PR TECHNIQUE ANRs: One way to guarantee ANR placement: pay for it - The difficulty of tracking ANR usage has led some PR pros to guarantee placement by paying for it. Moses Frenck explores the controversy over whether these ’guaranteed placement%2

Unlike with video news releases, which contain electronic coding for tracking, audio news releases are usually tracked by physically calling each radio station and asking whether a particular ANR was used.

Unlike with video news releases, which contain electronic coding for tracking, audio news releases are usually tracked by physically calling each radio station and asking whether a particular ANR was used.

Unlike with video news releases, which contain electronic coding

for tracking, audio news releases are usually tracked by physically

calling each radio station and asking whether a particular ANR was

used.



This process, however, is tedious and time-consuming. So some ANR

producers and distributors buy radio airtime to provide their clients

with a certain number of ’guaranteed placements,’ thereby eliminating

the need to track with call-backs - or to pitch the story in the first

place. ’We regularly buy some airtime to distribute our material,’ says

Mike Hill, president of News Broadcast Network in New York.



The practice of guaranteeing placements by paying for airtime is nothing

new. But the methods producers and distributors employ to make their

’advertorials’ sound less ’adver’ and more ’torial’ have some industry

pros saying the practice is unethical. Others say it’s perfectly

legitimate.



Peter Himler, EVP of media relations at Burson-Marsteller, says he

believes the practice is limited to smaller radio stations. He also says

he trusts that a radio station’s journalistic integrity would prevail

when choosing to air paid ANRs. ’I would like to think the more

established radio stations are identifying those ANRs as advertorials,’

Himler says. ’If they are not, I find it ethically questionable on the

part of the radio station. It’s also a little deceitful on the part of

the purchaser.’



Paid ANRs are regular 30- or 60-second spots that run like commercials

but sound like news items and are placed adjacent to or in-between

newscasts.



News Broadcast, for example, produces 60-second news features that deal

with a variety of subjects (including a client’s message) and ’that has

the same resonance as a news story and is placed within or just

following a newscast,’ Hill claims.



Due to the large number of ANRs submitted to stations, only a handful

get aired, so paid ANRs eliminate the uncertainty of whether a story

will get coverage. Kevin Foley, president of Atlanta-based KEF Media

Associates, says the time-saving aspect in terms of not having to pitch

is worth the money.



Foley adds that the issue of producing advertorials is usually initiated

by his clients during the pitch meeting, who ask what placements can be

guaranteed. ’As PR people we can’t guarantee anything without actually

buying the space or airtime,’ Foley says he tells clients. (Some clients

don’t like the idea and decline the paid route.)



And then there’s the tracking problem. In addition to the follow-up

calls, ineffective reply cards are sent to the stations. Some companies

are in the process of developing coding technology to track ANRs like

video news releases, but the industry’s desire for a uniform system is

prolonging the process.



Foley says the paid placements allow him to produce a report for clients

that accurately identifies all the stations on which an ANR ran, the

time of day and audience reach.



But to stay within ethical boundaries, experts say PR pros must identify

the features as advertorials and not news. Larry Moskowitz, president

and CEO of Medialink, which does not subscribe to the practice, says it

is unethical to disguise advertisements as news. However, he adds that,

’It’s a whole different story if they are identified as such.’



These guaranteed placement ANRs raise a related issue: are they PR?



Burson’s Himler says they are ’sort of a gray area’ but can be

considered PR if they are properly identified. Hill says paid placements

don’t go against the grain of public relations but are ’an extension of

PR.’ He compares them to advertising supplements in newspapers and

magazines and cites companies such as Mobil Oil that buy space on the

op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post to deliver

their messages.



But ANR producers and distributors who pay for placements caution that

paid ANRs do not work for all kinds of messages. They are best used for

products and services that have widespread consumer appeal and ’a good

consumer story’ that involves an author, expert or spokesperson, says

Foley. KEF has produced and distributed advertorials for Coca-Cola,

Perrier, Norelco and the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, for its opening.



’These advertorials are good when you have pressure by the client for

quick turn-around and results,’ Foley says.



These experts also advise that the paid spots should be only one aspect

of an overall news release package and not the sole method of

distribution.



Hill, for example, says News Broadcast also sends releases over the

typical channels and pitches stations to encourage them to use the

news.



PR pros are also warned that major radio news organizations such as WINS

and WCBS in New York won’t air advertorials in any form. ’We do not

permit them,’ says WCBS radio news director Frank Raphael. A WINS

spokesperson says that although advertorials are not accepted, if one

were accepted, it would be preceded by a disclaimer.



Many PR pros also don’t or won’t use paid placements (some aren’t even

aware of the practice). They believe the typical way of distributing and

tracking ANRs is worth the effort.



Lynn Medcalf, vice president of Atlanta-based production house News

Generation, says paying for placements does indeed go against the basic

nature of public relations. ’The essence of PR is

relationship-building,’ she says.



’We want stations to say yes or no based on the merit of the story, not

because we paid them to air it.’



Medcalf says not paying for placements also allows her to obtain

feedback from radio stations about when and why a particular ANR made

the cut, or why it didn’t. ’I like to get their reasons - for our

knowledge,’ she says.



But it seems that until ANR tracking methods become more sophisticated,

guaranteed placement ANRs will have their place.



DOS AND DON’TS

DO

1 Research whether paid ANRs are effective for your client’s message.

2 Use paid ANRs as just one aspect of an overall news release package.

3 Make sure stations will accept advertorials.

4 Identify paid ANRs as advertorials.

DON’T

1 Use paid ANRs as sole method of distributing your client’s message.

2 Automatically use them for every ANR package.

3 Assume every radio station or network will accept advertorials.



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