PR companies have long used their CD-Rom, DVD and live video expertise to stage events and explain clients' internal comms programmes. But as is often remarked upon, PROs rarely expend the same effort on self-promotion.
Now, however, an increasing number of agencies are adopting video for self-publicity, to liven up pitches and even to debrief clients.
On a practical level, this move reflects a cost saving: production companies typically charge £750 per day for shooting and £75 per hour for editing.
However, the trend is also indicative of the fact that the smallest innovations can yield strong relationship-enhancing results. Hill & Knowlton, for example, has incorporated more video in its pitches since its rebrand in 2003. Most recently its bespoke footage, including case studies, helped win work from London 2012, Hewlett-Packard and HSBC.
'As an industry, PR has got slightly stuck with PowerPoint presentations,' says H&K brand manager Wayne Fick. 'If a potential client has already seen three or four agencies and we come in with a captivating video that has music, complex animation and 3-D graphics, then it literally wakes them up and gives us a personality.'
The agency is about to launch a three-minute corporate video in the style of a show reel. This will project the culture of the firm, its most successful work and facts and figures about practice areas, offices and personnel.
Field of vision
Limelight Projects, which focuses on CSR activity, such as the Nike 10K run, Sport Relief and BT Community Connections, is another agency seeing the benefits of using CD-Roms to promote its own work - to existing and new clients. 'Our day-to-day work is quite complicated and involves negotiating with venues and working with the police on transport issues,' says director of comms Sarah Smith.
'But when you show video snippets of children smiling, or 30,000 runners going over Tower Bridge, potential clients see the finished event and the impact and emotion comes through.'
It may sound simple, but according to intermediary AAR - which helps clients shortlist agenscies for pitches - few PR firms present their credentials in this way. Head of PR Alex Young hopes more will catch on. 'At the initial agency selection stage, a corporate CD-Rom or DVD is a fantastic tool for prospective clients to "meet" the agency, before the team walks through the door,' she says.
Weber Shandwick favours video as a means of bringing the views of third parties alive for potential clients.
When its healthcare division pitched for a global brief last year for Fournier Pharma's diabetes research, it included a six-minute film montage.
Produced by Shoot You! it cost £2,500 to film and edit and featured a series of interviews with healthcare professionals in the UK, Europe and Australia.
'The film showcased our network and demonstrated our understanding of the markets and our ability to work with thought leaders at a global level,' explains WS senior account executive Kelly Teasdale.
Corporate specialist Eloqui PR also uses video in pitch presentations as a means of delivering a punchy summary. 'Videos have to be pacy and quite short - a maximum of two minutes - but if you're presented with a wide brief they can be very effective in pulling together lots of strands or topics,' says partner Joanne Milroy.
Committed to video
However, despite the falling costs, price is still an issue, with many of the UK's leading production companies, including World Television and Large Blue, claiming that as a promotional tool for PR agencies the medium has yet to catch on. This is despite the attractions of 'repurposing', whereby footage can easily be re-edited and reformatted from CD-Rom to DVD or streamed on the web for internal and external audiences.
'We do a huge amount of showreel work for many clients, and are trying to persuade more PR agencies to do the same, but there is still some hesitation,' says largeblue director Ade Thomas. 'Our rates start at about £450 per day for editing and £750 for filming. A good showreel - which can be used over and over again - can be made for as little as £2,500, but PR companies still don't bite. That's not a lot of money considering the return it could make.'
Some PR agencies, though, have their own broadcast facilities. Burson-Marsteller, for example, has studios in its basement, enabling it to produce B-rolls, VNRs and fly-on-the-wall films that show the culture and day-to-day working of the agency.
UK chairman Gavin Grant, who often leads pitches, says the agency also uses video for client endorsement. 'The written word is OK, but it's even better if potential clients can see their peers talking about their experiences of B-M,' he explains.
As yet B-M has not used its on-site broadcast capabilities to produce a video debrief for clients, but the firm is considering some sort of audiovisual annual review, according to Grant.
But a word of caution must be included. Just because a video looks good, it is not necessarily guaranteed to work in the agency's favour. As Adam Lewis, senior consultant at issues management firm Luther Pendragon says: 'A rubbish offering with lots of fancy technology is just a rubbish, expensive offering.'
TOP TIPS ON SELF-PROMOTION - Assess your potential audience - Set objectives - what do you want clients to know, think and feel? - Agree a realistic budget - Decide on the programme style - do you want to include case studies, talking heads, vox-pops? - Think about locations - indoors, outside, in a studio or on location - Consider graphics, animation and music - Robbie Williams' Let Me Entertain You, for example, is not an original idea - Be true to yourself - if you're not a funky agency, don't pretend you are - Be efficient - a lot of video can be re-edited or streamed on the web - Keep it short, punchy and updated
CASE STUDY: REVOLVER'S TEAM VIDEOS
CD-Rom updates can reassure clients of the effectiveness of a campaign midway through or immediately after. To show client Jemella how its hair-styling appliance brand, ghd, was being promoted globally, for example, Revolver Communications asked partners in South Africa, Australia, Spain and Italy to produce five-minute videos.
Working to an open brief, the agencies introduced members of their team, showcased various activities and talked to opinion formers and beauty journalists to gauge their views of the brand.
The Spaniards and Italians took a humorous approach, while the South Africans were quite formal. The Australians pulled off a finale in a bar overlooking Sydney Harbour. In January, the videos were shown to Jemella UK managing director Martin Penny and commercial director Jo Adams.
Revolver consultant Clancy Walker says the videos reflected each agency's national and working culture, brought activities to life and reassured the client that the different teams reflected the image of the brand.
She adds: 'They gave a human aspect to what is essentially a virtual project team'.
The videos are now being used for the induction of new team members.
CASE STUDY: MISSION MEDIA'S 'CELEBRITY SHORT'
Earlier this year, consumer agency Mission Media put together a three-minute video as part of its pitch to handle mobile operator O2's music, sport and fashion activity. Costing around £2,000 to produce, the film was designed to reflect the O2 brand and the views of opinion formers and the public.
Using music by Scottish band Franz Ferdinand, the footage featured journalists, including Tatler style director Isabella Blow, singer Darius Danesh and actress Margo Stilley, the co-star of controversial film Nine Songs.
'The idea was to show our understanding of the O2 brand, what other people were saying about it, and to demonstrate that we were on the pulse and had access to contacts such as of-the-moment celebrities - which is one of our unique selling points,' says Mission Media managing director Thomas Bunn.
Using text messaging-style graphics for the titles, the video also included vox-pop opinions of the O2 brand by members of the public, and agency endorsements from existing clients.
O2 was impressed enough with the video presentation to hire Mission Media to work on music and fashion projects in conjunction with its retained agency, Cohn & Wolfe.