FOCUS: BROADCAST PR - Getting mileage from TV footage/Broadcast PR specialists have come of age, as clients begin turning to them as much for strategic advice on understanding the medium as for ways of gaining exposure. Danny Rogers reports

If anyone doubts the significance of broadcast public relations it’s worth considering the effort invested last month by that master of all things PR, Richard Branson.

If anyone doubts the significance of broadcast public relations

it’s worth considering the effort invested last month by that master of

all things PR, Richard Branson.



For several days our TV screens were dominated by huge propane gas

canisters shaped like Virgin Energy drink cans, while Branson’s face -

let’s face it an integral part of Virgin’s brand equity - popped up with

startling regularity at subsequent challengers’ balloon launches.



Television and radio exposure for the Virgin brand was consequently

phenomenal.



In a PR industry traditionally dominated by former print journalists,

many now argue that broadcast PR has come of age and is subject to the

same strategic considerations that have evolved for press relations.



Medialink’s most recent research shows that 72 per cent of people get

most of their news from television rather than print media. And the

company’s new year announcement that it has appointed former editor of

ITN News, David Mannion, to spearhead a new international consultancy

service may prove a watershed for the sector.



Mannion has been brought in to head a panel of broadcast consultants

located throughout the company’s 17-country network.



Medialink’s international senior vice-president David Davis says the new

service has been created to meet the increasing demand from clients for

advice on the development of broadcast strategies and planning.



’Clients are now coming to us and saying that they want to understand

television as part of their wider PR strategies. We have carried out a

number of ad hoc consulting assignments and are presently talking to

eight other major clients,’ claims Davis.



Medialink’s consultancy portfolio already includes the launch of the

Stewart Ford racing team’s new Formula One racing car during

December.



The event it masterminded attracted 30 broadcast journalists and

achieved audience figures of 90 million viewers in Europe and

Australia.



Medialink’s biggest global competitor Bulletin International tells a

similar story.



’Analysis of our sales over the last two years has shown that strategic

consultancy has doubled year on year over this period,’ says chief

executive Anthony Hayward.



’Although some still have the perception that we’re just video news

release providers, VNRs are just one of many tools that we bring in. The

overall trend is that we are contacted more and more by large

multinational corporations looking for advice.’



Hayward says Bulletin’s strategic relationship with clients Rhone

Poulenc and the Ford Motor Company has developed to a point where it

links these companies directly to specific broadcasters, enabling

journalists to access a ’taster’ of the footage held on their

behalf.



’The connections are achieved either through ISDN lines or modem,’ he

explains.



With a logical progression towards actual footage being transferred down

such lines, Hayward points out that the Internet is fast becoming a

broadcast medium itself.



But apart from new technologies, what else is driving this growing

client demand for broadcast consultancy?



Hayward believes his clients - whether in-house departments or PR

agencies - are rightly concerned about the changing broadcast

environment. ’With the expansion of channels there will be more

opportunities, but there will also be more threats because of an

increase in business and financial reporting,’ he explains.



Hayward also says that many corporate affairs teams over the past year

have realised that they don’t have the resources to deal with this

environment and are seeking specialist advice in corporate affairs,

brand building and crisis management.



UK company The London Bureau is another broadcast specialist to

reposition itself as a television consultancy.



’Television’s usage of contributed footage is rising because of

structural changes,’ says managing director Stuart Maister.

Nevertheless, Maister’s attitude is that the role of VNRs should not be

overblown.



’We haven’t thought of ourselves as a VNR provider for a year and a half

now. In fact we’ll often tell clients that they don’t need a VNR as it

provides no added value. While they’re good sales tools, the real thing

you buy is consultancy,’ he says.



Maister says he wants to be judged by overall type and level of coverage

achieved for clients. He gives the example of the last year’s launch of

the Persona contraceptive: ’We produced a VNR but also provided a lot of

stuff that TV companies could film themselves.’



He adds: ’Clients are now retaining us on a monthly basis to provide

input into TV planning. We can conduct television audits whereby we

analyse what is interesting about a client to a TV broadcaster and

develop a ’calendar’ of opportunities. We will also develop the

relationships between clients and TV producers.’



And it’s not only TV consultants who are facing an increasing demand for

strategic advice. Howard Kosky managing director of radio specialist The

Market Tiers says: ’A couple of years ago we were used purely as a

facility but now around 30 per cent of our clients ask for strategic

consultancy.’



Kosky believes that, until a year ago, the relationship between radio

broadcasters and PR consultants lacked mutual respect, but that this is

now improving.



’As PR people make more effort for the medium and realise that producing

a tape is not sufficient, so radio becomes more open to PR,’ says

Kosky.



’To generate radio coverage you now need to be smarter. It’s not just a

case of people sitting on the telephone selling in a story. You have to

understand the differences between national and regional radio and know

what the programmer is looking for.’



For this reason Kosky advises sitting down earlier in the planning

process and building radio into the overall broadcast strategy,

something which the agency has done with clients such as the Sports

Council for its national stadium scheme and AA Home Assistance.



’We have monthly meetings with the AA Home Assistance management board

and the whole PR team. We know if something is happening in a particular

region and can act upon it. Radio agencies are moving away from just

national activity and localising their efforts,’ he says.



So should PR agencies be worried about all these specialists muscling in

on their traditional consultancy territory?



Martin Loat, managing director of Propeller PR, believes not: ’We can

work with broadcast specialists to provide new opportunities. It may be

that we even sub-contract the TV side of campaigns.’



Although Loat does warn: ’TV specialists should be savvy enough to let

PR companies front up campaigns with their clients and not try and steal

the limelight.’



Loat believes clients have been slow to take suggestions by their PR

advisers to take broadcast more seriously and there is an increasing

opportunity to provide good footage, particularly on an exclusive

basis.



’Television PR requires a different attitude of mind. Strict ITC codes

make it a real challenge to achieve good coverage for your clients and

broadcasters retain a lot of resistance to PR. One needs to find that

middle ground between news credibility and branding. This is where

specialists can help,’ says Loat.



Bulletin’s Hayward agrees PR agencies shouldn’t regard his company’s

increased consultancy services as a threat: ’We work closely with

Shandwick in Asia on the Digital and Mastercard accounts. PR agencies

just aren’t set up to reach world-wide TV broadcasters within the hour

and this is our expertise.’



Maister says: ’I see our work dividing down the middle between direct

clients and PR companies. Many agencies now call us in to pick our

brains or use us for pitches. We can add value as part of the PR team

because we have a constant relationship with the broadcast media.’



He adds: ’We must be fed with good stories to keep our relationships

with the television companies alive, and in this sense PR companies are

terrific clients.’



CASE STUDY: WORKING AGAINST THE CLOCK ON CABLE MERGER



Ideally, of course, a major PR launch - including the broadcast element

- is carefully planned well in advance. But sometimes time is a luxury

one just doesn’t have.



In October last year global telecoms giant Cable and Wireless announced

that it was merging the UK operations of Mercury, Nynex Cable, Bell

Cable Media and Videotron into a broad group called Cable and Wireless

Communications.



Cable and Wireless’ in-house team and PR advisers Brunswick immediately

recognised that a deal of this size (worth five to six billion pounds )

and of this type - involving telecoms, new media, cable and satellite TV

distribution - was going to be of immense interest to the broadcast

media.



Despite having only four days’ preparation time, Cable and Wireless and

Brunswick developed a clear strategy with broadcast PR as a key

element.



The challenge was to distil the corporate position, and then to

integrate the appropriate messages for each type of media, not only

conceptually, but in a way that meant the right spokespeople were

available at the right time.



Brunswick briefed independent production house Remvision to produce a

video news release (VNR) that could be distributed electronically as

soon as the announcement went public.



As a global company this meant instant distribution to an audience

spanning the US, Hong Kong, the Far East, the Caribbean and Australia,

as well as the UK.However the VNR was only part of the story and efforts

were made to make a limited number of spokespeople available to the

broadcasters’ individual needs.



The team deliberately set out to avoid corporate jargon in favour of

straight talk and developed messages that enabled chief executive Dick

Brown to deal with business issues in his own language. Despite the

scale of the task, the whole shebang was over within less than 48

hours.



’We received a lot of incisive coverage, and on all the main broadcast

channels in the UK,’ says a Cable and Wireless spokeswoman, ’There was

also widespread use of the VNR footage, including the early BBC

news.’



She adds: ’Although it was a UK merger and the prime focus was on those

media, we were very pleased with the level of interest from the US and

around the world. For example when CNN received our release, they

immediately requested an interview with Dick Brown.’



Brown himself emerged as a highly competent communicator and the force

behind the deal. One sure sign of a well executed campaign.



CASE STUDY: ABBEY NATIONAL GAINS AN AUTHORITIVE FOOTHOLD



During last autumn’s budget, Abbey National put forward its chief

economist as a TV commentator achieving valuable profile and

credibility.



Now Chris Wermann, Abbey National’s group PR manager, has ambitions to

build on this with the aim of becoming the pre-eminent financial

services company in broadcast PR. ’In the past we’ve worked with

Electronic Media Relations to develop our radio PR and now we’re doing

the same with television,’ says Wermann.



Abbey National was the first building society to convert to official

bank status and is looking at ways in which it can influence analysts

and institutional shareholders.



The company recently teamed up with Medialink to develop an overall

broadcast strategy including a weekly TV news intelligence service. The

agency also strives to create live interview opportunities for

spokespeople and help business and economic TV broadcasters gain a

better understanding of the bank.



Wermann sees the TV challenges facing the bank’s in-house department as

two-fold.



First there is the potential myriad of new programmes as television

undergoes a revolution in channels and technology. And then there is the

difficulty of explaining sometimes complex financial products or

services via a medium which has a tendency to rely on snappy

catchphrases and soundbites.



’The benefit of using a broadcast consultancy is that I don’t have time

to monitor the new TV stations starting up and their content. They can

take all that away from me, as well as setting up briefings and

developing the right strategy for the particularly message we want to

convey,’ says Wermann.



He points out the mutual benefits of closer relationships: ’Broadcasters

such as EBN and Bloomberg don’t yet have a big presence in UK

broadcasting and need good material to build their viewing figures.’



Abbey National’s third challenge is therefore to develop the right

content for the target broadcasters. To this end the bank is developing

monthly surveys which it believes have potential as PR platforms.



’With Medialink we’ll be looking at how the survey results can be used

to generate the right TV pictures,’ says Wermann. ’The position I’d like

to be in a year from now, is the company to which TV companies come for

comment on various financial issues,’ he concludes.



EVALUATION: DETERMINING THE WORTH OF COVERAGE



Broadcast specialists, like most players in the PR mix, face the

difficulty of effectively evaluating what they have achieved on behalf

of clients.



Only, in their case, the task may have a steeper gradient as even the

initial monitoring stage can be a long way from foolproof. However all

this may be about to change.



’There is an increasing requirement to prove the use of our service,’

says Neil Ormsby commercial production executive of WTN. ’This can be

done through a combination of monitoring agencies and station

liaison.’



By ’station liaison’ Ormsby means a team of people ringing round the

stations to which material was sent and asking them whether it was

used.



It’s a highly labour-intensive and inconclusive process at the best of

times and Ormsby admits it is even more difficult to do in Europe than

in the US. He hints at how things are likely to improve.



’We anticipate a development in that area later this year. In the US

systems such as Sigma and Lumatrack are used to track coverage

electronically and we now have an exclusive arrangement with another

provider to achieve the same for the Europe and Asia markets,’ he

says.



The US systems rely on encoding the contributed footage with a

’watermark’ that can be electronically monitored. So each time footage

is broadcast on air, the watermark can be automatically tracked and sent

to a computer which collates the information.



Medialink’s international senior vice-president David Davis says his

company created new technology for electronic tracking in the US and

that Medialink is also working on a similar system for Europe this

year.



The London Bureau’s Stuart Maister is more sceptical: ’We are looking at

electronic monitoring, but I have a problem with that. You shouldn’t

only judge an agency by how much footage is used. It’s too VNR focused

and not strategic enough.’



Maister says the London Bureau has an exclusive arrangement with an

independent media buying agency which he believes gives a good

measurement of success.



’As TV specialists, this company knows exactly how many people watched a

particular programme,’ he says.



However Maister concedes that this still doesn’t provide qualitative

analysis of coverage.



Howard Kosky managing director of The Market Tiers believes the

difficulty in quantifying coverage has been a key reason for radio’s

lesser status in the PR mix: ’Although it’s improved, radio monitoring

is still an issue.



It’s still not fail-safe.’



He adds: ’Displaying a page of newspaper clippings still has more impact

on the client.’



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