BROADCAST: The best of VNRs

While broadcast PR is on the brink of a revolution with the use of B-roll film online, VNRs are a popular, important tool. PRWeek reviews some of the most successful

For the second year running, PRWeek has conducted a review of the most successful VNRs produced by broadcast PR consultants, which they say achieved greatest reach this year. Each consultancy that participated in the survey supplied information on their own best of the year.

Despite new innovations in technology, the VNR remains a popular tool for many clients in a broadcast strategy, for several reasons.

Little depresses retailers more than seeing outdated fascia illustrating a story on the News at Ten. In much the same way, the developers of the new Wembley stadium - which is unlikely to be out of the news much over the next couple of years - will be missing an important trick if they allow old images of the site to be used when dynamic new images are there for the taking.

These examples illustrate why VNRs continue to be vital for many clients' projects. Third-party content remains fundamental to news channels' work and the cost of video has plummeted over the last few years. But just because many TV companies have rolling bulletins to fill, VNRs mean nothing if they are poor quality versions of the wrong story.

Established broadcast specialists remain predictably sniffy about what they see as those who are dabbling in broadcast PR.

Asked how VNRs should be used in a PR strategy, some broadcast agencies are blunt, saying not all VNRs are well-produced. 'It's not a corporate video,' says Tim Arnold, director, Arnold Broadcast.

'In the past, many companies used a one-size-fits-all approach to VNRs and that's wrong. If you have the right product and the the right story, it's a superb tool. But we estimate we turn down 90 per cent of client calls because we say "this is not a good use of your money".'

Several of the VNRs featured here were allied with opportunities for broadcasters to film their own footage. Jonathan Hawker, Fleishman-Hillard/GPC International head of issues, crisis and litigation, who also heads up the broadcast arm, says this, or the straight provision of an extra TV camera to broadcasters, is a better bet than just a VNR.

But despite the continuing importance of the VNR as a tool, the whole area of broadcast PR is currently on the cusp of a revolution that is offering other alternatives. Some are asking: could some of them one day come to challenge the VNR's supremacy?

The use of B-rolls on other platforms, such as online, is expected to increase in the future, as existing technology improves. Peter Morgan, head of the broadcast unit at Weber Shandwick, says: 'It is unusual to have VNRs and moving pictures embedded in a corporate website; it is under-utilised. But we are just at the beginning of it. Once upon a time, websites didn't have pictures on. In ten years' time, when many of us have broadband, that will change. The problem with basic webcasting is that it's terminally dull.'

Further food for thought is provided by online broadcasters such as Cantos, in whom Brunswick is the major shareholder. Although the company insists it provides a 'complementary' service to other content providers, broadcasters such as Reuters are beginning to use footage from its online interviews with senior business figures. 'This approach is much less hands-off than a VNR,' says Rosie Catherwood, Cantos marketing director. 'It is the difference between a meeting and a press release,'she adds.

But streamed interviews should not be over-used, according to Hubert Grealish, campaign manager at Firefly's broadcast arm.'We have to be realistic,' he says. 'How many people will want to watch a Web NR on the internet?'

While the debate still rages, the case studies here illustrate that VNRs still have an important role in broadcast PR.

Consultancy: PRNewswire

Client: Wavelength PR

Campaign: Baxter Healthcare Mont Blanc

Audience reach: 1.03 million (figures from Reuters Global TV unavailable)

Key UK channels: BBC North West, ITV Border, BBC Spotlight South West

The VNR which PRNewswire produced for Wavelength PR illustrated Baxter Healthcare's pioneering dialysis work, using the story of Tony Ward, whose mountaineering career was apparently ended by kidney disease four years ago.

Using Baxter's dialysis treatment, Ward attempted to scale Europe's highest peak, Mont Blanc. A PRN TV crew and producer filmed Ward at home in the Lake District preparing for the ascent. PRN provided camera training and DVcam recording equipment so the climb team could make a broadcast quality video diary of the three-day expedition, which was capped off by Ward paragliding back to terra firma.

A two-minute narrated cut spot and more than five minutes of B-roll were distributed to UK broadcasters, and footage was syndicated worldwide through Reuters TV to 450 broadcasters worldwide and through British Satellite News, the daily TV news service.

Consultancy: APTN Productions

Client: NSPCC

Campaign: New survey on hitting children

Audience reach: (figures not yet available)

Key UK channels: BBC, ITV, LNN, GMTV

The sensitive subject of smacking children was APTN's commission from children's charity NSPCC.

The VNR set out to highlight the results of a new survey on the effects of parents smacking their kids and provide examples of how other countries dealt with children's behaviour. An APTN producer went to Sweden - which outlawed smacking years ago - and Germany, which has recently made it illegal, in order to film families and spokespeople there.

The footage was mixed with UK-shot material of a family, a child psychologist and an NSPCC spokesperson. Throughout filming, APTN liaised closely with the charity. The package was edited at APTN and, in common with many VNRs, then distributed by local ends to BT Tower, giving it direct access to UK newsrooms. A great degree of national TV interest resulted in the NSPCC calling the VNR 'a vital aspect of the successful campaign against physical punishment of children'.

Consultancy: Arnold Broadcast

Client: Port of London Authority

Campaign: Port of London links with Thailand

Audience reach: 90 million worldwide

Key UK channels: BBC, LNN, CNBC

Port of London Authority (PLA) wanted to use a new marketing deal with Thailand as the focus for promoting its work in generating business and jobs, while raising its profile in the freight industry.

Arnold Broadcast suggested the campaign be presented as another stage in the regeneration of the River Thames, on the basis that this would have greater interest for the majority of mainstream media. A VNR was made available in advance of the agreement being signed, showing footage from the Port of London as well as shots of PLA's work along the river, in an attempt to set the agenda for morning broadcasts.

A morning photocall was carried out with the agreement of Cobelfret Ferries, who allowed TV crews onto their premises to get their own shots. Arnold filmed the photocall and signing on video for distribution to Bloomberg TV in London and Asia. All broadcasters were offered live interviews with PLA head of port promotion Geoff Adam.

Consultancy: The Television Consultancy

Client: Department of Trade and Industry

Campaign: DTI Postal Scams Campaign

Audience reach: 28.4 million

Key UK channels: GMTV, ITV, BBC, Channel 5, Sky News

The curious launch pad for this campaign was the rising number of postal scams taking place in the UK.

Typically, a letter arrives saying that you have won a large sum of money; to claim it, you have to send off admin fees and deposits, usually to an overseas address. Surprise, the jackpot never turns up.

The DTI estimates that £100m is spent on these bogus letters each year, and commissioned TVC to raise awareness of the issue to produce a VNR featuring shots of letters that come through people's doors, along with government information leaflets. Several broadcasters, including GMTV, used the section of the package showing a woman from Eastbourne who had lost more than £2,000 to various scams.

The VNR also carried an interview with the consumer affairs minister, Melanie Phillips, who TVC also placed for live and pre-recorded interviews on a variety of stations.

Consultancy: Medialink

Client: Lancaster Group

Campaign: Global launch of Glow by J-LO

Audience reach: 534 million worldwide

Key UK channels: BBC, Channel 4

The international press launch of the first fragrance from singer and actress Jennifer Lopez - Glow by J-LO - required Medialink to tailor its approach to four territories: the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Medialink says the campaign highlighted the ways broadcasters from different countries deal with third-party material, and suggests that the distinctions between B-rolls and VNRs are misleading.

B-rolls ('people, product, places', according to Medialink) of about ten minutes were released to the media in Western Europe, consisting of HQ shots, products and other branded images for the Glow campaign.

But its VNR for the US, Asia and Latin America markets took the form of a three-minute 'news item', which was in many cases aired in its entirety.

Medialink says the project was able to reach 50 viewers for every penny spent, with the BBC and Channel 4 picking it up, along with major networks and the all-important Hispanic stations in the US.

Consultancy: TNR

Client: Charles Wells Campaign: International Nettle Eating Competition

Audience reach: 6.7 million

Key UK channels: BBC, Sky News, Channel Five

This package was part of TNR's ongoing campaign with Charles Wells Brewery, which manufactures Bombadier Bitter, for its Eternal England series - a set of seven unusual and traditional national pastimes sponsored by the brewer (such as Stilton rolling and an international marbles competition).

TNR chose the International Nettle Eating Championships, in which constestants eat as many raw stinging nettles as they can in an hour, as the event likely to contain the most visual appeal for broadcasters and therefore maximise the chance of client branding.

The VNR showed preparations for the event at a Dorset pub, footage of the competition itself, interviews with the crowd and the 2002 winner.

A crew and producer were in the village of Marshwood to film the event, with a mobile edit on site and a second producer and team in London selling it in to TV stations.

As well as most UK outlets, broadcasters in the Europe, Asia and the US took the coverage.

Planned events include the Biggest Liar in the World competition.

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