Television has always been something of a difficult area for the
public relations industry. It’s those damn cameras. When you’ve got a
big announcement to make, how do you maximise the chances of your brand
and key messages coming across on TV when all the shots you like end up
on the cutting room floor?
In recent years, many people have come to believe they’ve found the Holy
Grail in the corporate video news release (VNR). Gazing fondly across
the Atlantic, supporters of VNRs believe they have already seen their
destiny - a world where the VNR becomes as widely accepted as the press
The argument goes something like this: television is expanding
In a world of 200-plus channels with resources stretched to the minimum
and acres of airtime to fill, broadcasters will come to need VNRs. There
are two very powerful arguments against this vision.
The first is that the advent of the digital age does not just create
vastly increased airtime - it also creates the technology to fill
It’s not too difficult to imagine a future where every producer in a TV
newsroom will have a compact, digital camera in his hand and will be
able to cover a story as easily as a newspaper reporter. In addition,
the new technologies will greatly increase picture sources. Existing
agencies, such as Reuters and Associated Press, will zap moving pictures
to desktops in newsrooms across the globe at the touch of a button, as
they do with stills today. The future for news gathering is bright.
The second argument against VNRs is very much apparent today. It’s a
cultural one. Britain - indeed Europe - is not the US. There is an
intense distrust of VNRs in the mind of the British journalist. And it’s
not going to go away.
The latest BBC producer guidelines make it crystal clear that there have
to be exceptional circumstances before the partial use of a VNR is
And even then, strict instructions are issued not to use shots which
’promote the supplier or their products’. The hostility across town at
ITN is, if anything, even fiercer, as editor-in-chief Richard Tait has
made know on a number of occasions.
Oh yes, but they do use them, I can hear you say, no matter what the
guidelines state. Yes, sometimes they do use them. Often out of
laziness, often out of ignorance, rarely through choice.
If you’re thinking this all sounds rather gloomy, let me accentuate the
positive. There have never been more opportunities for public relations
in the electronic media, as there are now that the digital revolution
has kicked in.
Towards the end of last year, the BBC’s deputy director of television,
David Docherty, was musing on the fact that, within a very few years,
television will become indistinguishable from the web. The two
technologies will merge into one, creating a holistic, worldwide,
multimedia experience which will do everything for you, from ordering
your shopping to calling up a TV show on demand.
Already visionary CEOs from corporations such as Procter and Gamble and
Bell Atlantic, have foreseen a world where paid-for advertising on
television becomes redundant due to the vast range of consumer choice
which will be created. Conversely, the power of editorial is hugely
increased. The real future for PR lies in the electronic media - no
This new media world calls for communications strategies which are as
sophisticated as the medium they are intended to address. In this world,
the VNR looks increasingly like an expensive, unwieldy and ultimately