Two's company, three's a co-op

Co-op media tours are on the rise - and not just due to lower costs.

Co-op media tours are on the rise - and not just due to lower costs.

When Sharon Cuppett, marketing VP for cell-phone accessory company Wi-Ex, was looking to build buzz during the holidays for her company's cell-phone signal booster product, she opted to go with a co-op SMT - and not just because it gave her the chance to save money.

"For us, it wasn't really a cost issue, it was a value issue," explains Cuppett, who worked with Medialink on the recent tour. "I had done single satellite releases before, but I realize a co-op tour provides better variety." A story about a trend, rather than a single product, she says, is more compelling.

Co-op media tours seem to be on the rise, and not just because they spread the production costs among multiple brands.

Michele Wallace, SVP for client services at Medialink, notes that TV stations themselves are starting to prefer co-op tours more.

"If you have numerous products centered around a theme, it can provide a pretty strong news hook that may not be there when you focus on one product," she says.

However, some stations have recently grown reluctant to book media tours in general, fearing either FCC fines or public backlash for getting too close to the line between editorial and advertorial.

News Broadcast Network VP Matthew Smith says that hasn't impacted the overall interest in co-op tours, but stresses, "Stations want to know if the spokesperson is being paid and by whom so that can convey that to the audience. Full disclosure is important."

Smith says co-op tours centered on trends work best when the products have a lot in common editorially, "You don't want a spokesperson veering from one thing over to an unrelated product," he notes, "Too many times the narrative tends to be written around the brands, but what you really should be thinking about is providing a quality deliverable that the audience will find has value."

There is also a limit to how many brands should be included in a trend piece, especially in the current climate where TV producers are increasingly reluctant to let any segment go longer than three minutes.

"A big mistake I see is people trying to jam too many sponsors into one co-op," says Deborah Genovesi, West Coast VP for DWJ Television, who adds that the number of brands on any tour should never exceed four or five. "When the spokesperson is taxed with trying to talk about eight things, they'll likely come off as snake oil salesmen, and that's not what news stations want."

Cheryl Roth, cofounder of Organic Works Marketing, says it's not easy for PR pros to turn pitching their client over to an outside company, but it's necessary.

"There should be just one person at the reins," she says. "Nothing bothers producers more than getting a bunch of different agencies calling on the same story."

But Erin Mathe, media relations manager at Carmichael Lynch Spong, says that does not mean the PR firm should be completely hands-off.

"You always want to do a phone call with the spokesperson and even a practice round of interviews so you can hear how they plan to deliver a client's messaging," she says.

It's also wise to keep in mind that the vast majority of co-op tours, whether they're via satellite or in-studios market by market, will end up on morning and noon lifestyle programming and tend to be light, feature-oriented segments.

As far as getting as many stations on board a satellite tour as possible, a high-profile celebrity spokesperson can certainly help, says Genovesi. "When it comes to spokespeople," she notes, "credibility is definitely more important than celebrity."

Though it's not easy when you're doing live satellite feeds to 20 different outlets in a four-hour period, many station producers like you to localize their segment in some way.

"If you have a client on a seasonal allergy tour and know that 44% of Minneapolis has allergies, you'll want to pass that on to the production house so they can let the spokesperson know beforehand," says Wallace.

Technique tips

DO

Work with the right spokesperson and keep in mind credibility is more important than getting a big name

Plan well in advance. Reach out to production houses at least four months out to tap into seasonal tours

Make sure your co-op tour doesn't appear too commercialized


DON'T

Join a tour that has too many brands on board. Three or four is the best number

Micro-manage. You need to let one person or production house run things

Just focus on the obvious. Everyone wants to be on holiday shopping tours. Look for new and creative themes

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