Market focus VNRs - Smash hit VNRs of 1999 - Competition to get video news releases aired is tough. Tony Seideman asks VNR makers about their most successful VNRs of 1999 to see what worked

With the economy strong and baby boomers snugly in middle age, America’s news directors are most interested in video news releases that focus on health, entertainment and business.

With the economy strong and baby boomers snugly in middle age, America’s news directors are most interested in video news releases that focus on health, entertainment and business.

With the economy strong and baby boomers snugly in middle age,

America’s news directors are most interested in video news releases that

focus on health, entertainment and business.

’It’s not like there are any surprises in our top 10,’ says Sally

Jewett, president of Los Angeles-based On the Scene Productions. ’A good

healthcare story will get you the largest audience, followed by

celebrity stories, and then good consumer products stories.’

Though the best-performing VNRs of 1999 turned up by an informal PRWeek

survey of leading VNR producers and publicists may not surprise Jewett,

it does contradict the TV news industry’s reputation as a business

obsessed with celebrities, sensation and sex.

Of the top 10 VNRs from eight VNR companies, 23 are


West Glen Communications cites seven of its top 10 as healthcare VNRs

while DS Simon Productions and On the Scene Productions list four


DS Simon and DWJ Television, which lists three healthcare VNRs in its

top 10, both say their top release dealt with healthcare. News Broadcast

Network and Medialink include two healthcare VNRs, and KEF Media

Associates lists one.

’It’s very clear from the polling we do for TV stations throughout the

year that health care issues are top-of-mind for consumers whether it’s

the biggest or very smallest,’ says Mark Manoff, executive vice

president of Medialink, New York, the largest VNR producer.

The second-highest number of VNRs - but half the amount of healthcare -

belongs to entertainment or sports entertainment clients. Eleven VNRs

promoted packaged goods, with almost every company listing one or two

among its top 10. The case was similar with retail goods. Tourism VNRs,

including the announcements of two Las Vegas hotel openings, were also

among agencies’ top 10s.

Public service VNRs were also quite successful in 1999. Medialink lists

three commissioned by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety among

its top five, including its number one VNR. News Broadcast Network lists

a product safety notice and a message from the National Center for

Missing and Exploited Children among its top 10 VNRs, and On the Scene

says a ’Read Across America’ VNR commissioned by the National Education

Association was also very successful.

’The success of the VNR is almost 100% driven by the value of the news

it contains,’ says one PR agency executive who asked not to be


The fact that many of the most successful VNRs are extraordinarily

simple illustrates a basic truth, the executive says: ’The way people do

VNRs these days is basically film a press conference and put it up. To

me there’s no special trick there, and I don’t think that’s what the

vendors want to hear.’

Many VNR producers and promoters echoed the sentiment that a VNR’s

success is driven by its news value. ’When you have a good hook, you get

good results,’ says Kevin Foley, president of Atlanta-based KEF Media


’If a video news release doesn’t have a reason to be, if it doesn’t

happen in a timely or topical fashion, it doesn’t happen,’ he says.

News Broadcast and National Satellite Production Media Services (NatSat)

say major news announcements were their most successful VNRs. NatSat’s

announcement of a nearly dollars 5 billion lawsuit against General

Motors topped its list, while News Broadcast Network’s broadcast of the

CBS/Viacom merger was its highest rated.

But in-depth conversations with clients, agencies and executives

contradict the industry wisdom that news content is king. KEF’s best

performing VNR was an image-laden, highly-polished announcement of the

opening of the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. ’It was successful

because it had some inherent colorful imagery that supported the story

that this place was opening,’ Foley says. ’We had some really good

pictures to send out.

Frequently clients lose sight that TV is a visual medium, and you need

to have strong visuals to support a good news story.’

Those visuals were available in abundance for Paris, Las Vegas. What had

to be manufactured was the news hook itself, which was hammered out

between KEF and the client, Foley says. ’A lot of VNR stories sometimes

lack strong news value. We have to work with the client to come up with

a good hook.’

Hooks were present in plenty among the top 10 lists provided by VNR


Hard news, however, appeared in a distinct minority of the top


Hard news stories that did well tended to provide media outlets with

access to a story they otherwise might not have been able to cover. One

such case was the CBS/Viacom merger.

’For all of 1999, the VNR we distributed, which had the largest audience

was for the Viacom/CBS merger,’ says Mike Hill, president of New

York-based News Broadcast Network. VNRs come in two basic formats: a

fully prepared program and B-roll, which is raw footage of a press

conference or event. The CBS/Viacom release, which was B-roll rather

than a fully prepared program, was broadcast 183 times and achieved 155

million impressions, he says.

’The program was video of a limited-access press conference, with

statements by some of the principals about the merger,’ Hill says.

Getting air time was more a matter of making the video of the press

conference available to the media than anything else, he says.

A more common approach was that of DS Simon Productions, with its VNR

about a nutritional supplement called Cellasene. Jumping into a

health-food market crowded with thousands of supplements, Cellasene

scored significant visibility. ’We got 428 airings and over 66 million

as a Nielsen audience,’ says president Doug Simon.

The news hook definitely focused more on drama than on hard


Cellasene is marketed as a product that reduces or eliminates cellulite

in women when combined with diet and exercise. It was a major hit in

Australia, Simon says, and pains were taken to make American media aware

of this situation. ’We got footage from Australian TV of panics that

occurred when stores ran out,’ he says. The message the VNR communicated

was: ’It’s coming to the US, distributors are prepared, don’t


Studies of individuals who had benefited from Cellasene added heft to

the story. Intensive negotiations with key media outlets played a major

role in boosting visibility. Dateline was given an exclusive, which

required some shifting of the release schedule. ’We adjusted the date of

the release to allow Dateline to have a scoop, and it broke on the night

of the eighth (of March 1999),’ Simon comments. But the visibility

gained through the deal gave the story considerable legitimacy, and thus


Consumer advice proved an especially strong VNR category, producer and

clients say, with releases focused on health issues performing

especially well. Three of the top four VNRs produced by Medialink

combined health with public safety.

News Broadcast created and publicized a VNR for the American Society of

Anesthesiologists that scored significant amounts of air time even

though it wasn’t tightly connected to a news story of the moment. The

VNR (a radio news release was also made) advised patients on the

importance of telling doctors before surgery that they are taking herbal

products or nonprescription drugs.

’We approached the releases from a standpoint of patient safety,’ says

Philip Weintraub, manager of public relations for the Park Ridge,

IL-based professional group. ’There is really nothing in that VNR that

speaks solely to the profession of anesthesiology. This was an

opportunity to reach out to a large segment of the public with an

important public safety message.’

The VNR included dramatic operating-room footage. It also contained

something that is often neglected in the VNR world: live sound. ’We had

a lot of natural sound in there, and I’m a big believer in that,’ says

Weintraub, who spent 20 years in the TV news business as a producer,

writer and newsroom manager.

Online stories fail

There were some categories that underperformed in 1999. Though the

Internet is still a young medium, it’s starting to get old as a news

story, says Joe Ricci, director of broadcast services for New York-based

West Glen Communications. ’Dot-com video news releases in general didn’t

meet expectations,’ he adds. In great part this was because the stories

didn’t tap into bigger trends - they talked about the Web site alone or

were about now being able to do a typically offline activity online.

Adding to the problem was the fact that far too many Internet companies

were battling for attention. ’Year-end dot-com stories particularly

yielded lower-than-expected results because, by that time, media were

oversaturated with the topic,’ Ricci says.


No. 1 title: Cellasene alert

Hits: 428 airings; 66 million impressions

Client: Rexall Sundown

Agency: Transmedia

Footage of panic buying in Australia helped this food supplement stand

out in a very crowded market. The program’s message was that there was

no reason to fear; quantities of product would be available.

NO.  VNR                                   CLIENT               AUDIENCE


1    Cellasene alert                       Rexall Sundown             66

2    Life Savers retires original          Rogers & Cowan           16.7


3    The science behind Cellasene          Transmedia               15.6

4    Victoria’s Secret swimsuit            Madoff Productions         12


5    USPS approves PC postage              Middleberg-Graham        11.5

6    Fat is good                           Alton Entertainment      10.4

     for The Peanut Institute

7    Healthy fun in the sun                Moving Pictures           9.8

8                        Neal-May & Partners       8.4

9    Sony’s virtual photo album            Sony                      6.8

10   Godiva ice cream                      PT & Co.                  6.3


No. 1 title: New medication for severe headaches

Client: Confidential

Agency: Confidential

Hits: 588 airings; 62.7 million impressions

Medical stories don’t have to be dramatic breakthroughs to gain media

attention, as the wide exposure of this VNR shows.

NO.  VNR                                  CLIENT                AUDIENCE


1    Headache medication                  n/a                       62.7

2    Vaccine to prevent nicotine          NABI                      36.2


3    Marilyn Monroe’s memorabilia         Christie’s                32.4

4    Euro currency                        American Express          20.7

5    Anxiety medication for dogs          Clomicalm                 20.3

6    Uniroyal’s giant tire                Uniroyal                  19.5

7    American Society of Travel Agents’   ASTA                      18.5

     travel trends for the millennium

8    Chronic fatigue syndrome             Menuco Corp.              18.1

9    IBM’s deal with Dell Computer        IBM                       17.1

10   IBM’s computer on a chip             IBM                       15.6


No. 1 title: Paris Las Vegas opening

Client: Paris Hotel and Casino

Hits: 68.2 million impressions

The VNR introduced the hotel and was done in two parts: part one took

people on a ’video tour’ of the hotel and was distributed to national

media that morning. Part two of the VNR, distributed for late newscasts,

consisted of part one, plus tape of the evening’s celeb-filled grand

opening gala.

NO.  VNR                                  CLIENT                AUDIENCE


1    Paris Las Vegas opening              Paris Hotel               68.2

2    Hep C testing                        Home access               47.5

3    NFL rookie cards                     Upper deck                35.6

4    George Washington’s birthday         Mount Vernon              35.4

5    Jif Smooth Sensations launch         Jif Peanut Butter         17.4

                                          (Procter & Gamble)

6    Bounty germ protection               Proctor & Gamble          14.3

7    Adult education                      Career Education Corp.    10.8

8    Izzo-protecting golf clubs           Izzo Systems               9.2

9 launch                   7.5

10   Virgin Islands millennium            Virgin Islands Tourism     6.5



No. 1 title: Midsize SUV Crashworthiness

Client: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Agency: VNR done directly

Hits: 1186 airings; 182 million impressions

Good crashes make great video. Releases from the Insurance Institute for

Highway Safety have consistently scored well in terms of media

visibility, and this was no exception.

NO.  VNR                                  CLIENT                AUDIENCE


1    Midsize SUV crash test               Insurance Institute        182

                                          for Highway safety

2    Midsize SUV bumper update            Insurance Institute for    144

                                          Highway Safety

3    Study on Alzheimer’s disease         Elan                       140

4    Bumper crashes/large cars            Insurance Institute for    136

                                          Highway Safety

5    Jewish Hospital hand transplant      Jewish Hospital,           134

                                          University of Louisville,

                                          and Kleinert, Kutz and

                                          Associates Hand Care


6    Cracker Jack/Doritos Super Bowl      Frito-Lay                  102

7    Jesse Ventura returns to the ring    World Wrestling             83


8    Neiman Marcus Christmas book         Neiman Marcus               74

9    Introduction of NECAR 4              DaimlerChrysler             73

10   Monopoly’s new game piece            Hasbro                      72


No. 1 title: CBS/Viacom Release

Client: Nvision

Agency: Abernathy McGregor

Hits: 183 airings; 155 million impressions

A strong hard news hook enabled a very simple VNR to attain high


The VNR provided the only access most of the video media had to a major

merger announcement, significantly increasing acceptance of this B-roll


NO.  VNR                                  CLIENT                AUDIENCE


1    CBS/Viacom merger                    Nvision/Abernathy          155


2    Fen-Phen Recall announcement         Ketchum/American Home     67.3


3    Atlanta Braves spring training       Walt Disney               65.7

4    Women’s soccer                       Walt Disney               65.3

5    Mud fest                             Fleishman-Hillard/        46.2

                                          Procter & Gamble6      Herbal

therapy warning                           American Society of       38.6


7    Product safety notice                Liggett-Stashower           35

8    Comcast/MediaOne merger              Nvision                     31

9    Tide’s dirtiest kids                 Alan Weiss Productions/   26.3

                                          Procter & Gamble

10   Cyber kids                           Nat’l Center for Missing

                                          & Exploited Children      26.2


No. 1 title: Eyes Wide Shut Premiere

Client: Warner Brothers

Agency: VNR done directly

Hits: 4,035 airings; 422.3 million impressions

This VNR had everything - sex, celebrities and even death, given the

passing of director Stanley Kubrick shortly before the film’s


Strong visuals helped drive the movie into the marketplace, though the

film’s gross subsequently proved below expectations.

NO.  VNR                                  CLIENT                AUDIENCE


1    Eyes Wide Shut                       Warner Bros.             422.3

2    FDA/Confidential                     Confidential             294.5

3    JAMA/alternative medicine            American Medical         120.7

                                          Association4   NAIAS Auto Show

Ford Motor Company                        108.5

5    Backstreet Boys in concert           Jive Records/MSO         100.2

6    Candie’s fragrance                   Candie’s                  94.6

7    JAMA/college smoking                 American Medical            90


8    Campbell’s Soup new label            Campbell Soup/BSMG        81.5

9    Read across America                  National Education        63.6


10   JAMA/weight control                  American Medical            61



No. 1 title: New Web site

Client: Sears Online

Agency: Edelman PR

Hits: 245 airings; 32.4 million impressions

Sears launched its new Web site to offer more than 2,000

brand-name appliances online. The VNR included video of customers

shopping at home and showed how consumers can comparison shop, research

and purchase merchandise online

NO.  VNR                                  CLIENT                AUDIENCE


1    New Web site                          Sears                    32.4

2    Fingerprint ID system                 Lockheed Martin          21.3

3    Online postage                               21

4    Grape juice/second-hand smoke         Welch’s                  20.7

5    Cordarone IV                          Wyeth-Ayrest             19.1

6    ADD drug                              Shire-Richwoods          17.4

7    Enbrell FDA approval announcement     Wyeth-Ayrest             16.1

8    Bifocal contacts                      Vistakon/Acuvue          14.9

9    Managing menopause                    Novogyne                 14.3

10   Kids & rheumatoid arthritis           Wyeth-Ayrest             13.9


No. 1 title: GM billion-dollar lawsuit announced

Client: Greene, Broillet, Taylor, Wheeler & Panish

Hits: 37.4 million impressions

When the verdict was announced that six victims were awarded nearly

dollars 5 billion from GM for being disfigured after the car they were

riding in burst into flames, NatSat quickly produced a press


NO.  VNR                                  CLIENT                AUDIENCE


1    GM lawsuit                           GBTW&P                   137.4

2    Abba Pater: the Pope’s first CD      Sony Classical Music     121.6

3    Wooly mammoth uncovered in           Discovery Channel         85.6


4    Star Wars: The Phantom Menace        Elizabeth Glaser          78.5


5    Indian red crayon renamed            Binney & Smith            70.5

6    Talk magazine premiere               Miramax                   65.2

7    Saving Private Ryan                  DreamWorks                58.7

     (Spielberg and Hanks honored

     by Navy)                             8   Opening of the Venetian in

Venetian Hotel                            58.1

     Las Vegas

9    AFI’s 100 years, 100 stars           American Film             55.1


10   Our Friend Martin premiere           Fox Home Entertainment    50.8

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