FOCUS: BROADCAST PR; Broadcast views of the PR industry

VNRS: Flourishing amid the recent proliferation of new television channels and the prospect of 24-hour news BBC: Cut-backs and down-sizing have created new opportunities for broadcast PR specialists CONFERENCE CONFIDENCE: Anticipating broadcasters’ needs can spell success for press conference organisers

VNRS: Flourishing amid the recent proliferation of new television

channels and the prospect of 24-hour news

BBC: Cut-backs and down-sizing have created new opportunities for

broadcast PR specialists

CONFERENCE CONFIDENCE: Anticipating broadcasters’ needs can spell

success for press conference organisers

The results of a recent survey of broadcasters revealed what that

industry really wants from PR professionals and what they are actually

getting. Tom Dawn reports

How easy it is to get your company name, a campaign or product launch on

to televsion and radio depends on a set of rules that most public

relations companies are notorious for failing to understand.

But, to make things a little easier, the rules are changing. Unless you

have been living in a cupboard for the last year or so, you should have

heard about the huge number of television channels about to be unleashed

in Britain, about the BBC plans for round-the-clock news, and the rapid

rise of myriad commercial radio stations. And more stations, with more

space to fill, on slimmer budgets, spells opportunity for PR people.

This trend is illustrated by a new survey of broadcasters’ attitudes,

carried out by independent research company Metra Martech on behalf of

TV specialist The London Bureau. According to Metra Martech, some 62 per

cent of a sample of 60 TV forward planners, producers and correspondents

felt the use of footage from outside sources would grow in Britain

during the next twelve months.

In addition, three-quarters of the planners and producers of these

business and regional news programmes had used such footage in the last

month, as had two-thirds of international news programmes.

TV journalists were, however, keen to qualify their enthusiasm for using

PR generated footage, underlining the fact that the selection of stories

was subject to normal editorial judgement and that such footage was

edited to reduce branding and overt product placement.

‘We would only use material from an outside source if there was a strong

news reason to do so,’ says Nigel Dacre, editor of ITN News on ITV. ‘To

be absolutely frank, the vast majority of video news releases aren’t

even looked at.’

These views are echoed by regional broadcasters, even though they are

invariably hungry for stories.

‘Broadcasting needs news and news events, companies going bust and so

on,’ says Pallab Ghosh, a BBC TV and radio local science and technology

correspondent. ‘There may be a useful role for public relations in

crisis management, or putting up experts for comment, but there’s less

time on air than there is in print. It’s not about good news for

companies, it’s about real news.’

The word every broadcaster bandies about is ‘news’, and what they really

want to cover is the ‘issues’. ‘They are far more issue-oriented than

newspapers, which is why people like pressure groups find it so easy to

get on TV,’ says crisis media specialist John Stonborough. ‘Broadcast

media are often hostile to commerce.’

So the important questions are whether the broadcast media explosion

will materially alter these positions, or whether a little more guile

from PRs would make their message more palatable to broadcasters.

There is no doubt that the new channels are more receptive to commercial

PR than the established stations, largely because they include niche

programmes, with an interest in business and commerce.

‘If you send us a decent video news release, not too tightly edited, and

done so that we can use it without patronising the public, then the odds

probably do increase that we will run the story,’ says Sue Watkins,

deputy managing editor of European Business News, a pan-European cable

and satellite channel, partly owned by Dow Jones.

However, she applies the same basic editorial criteria: ‘Smart PR people

realise that we’re out for news, and they are also aware of the fact

that the public are not stupid. They can see straight through something

that’s obviously plugging someone’s products. Having said that, we can

allow ourselves to be positive.’

The quality issue harks back to comments gathered by The London Bureau’s

broadcast survey. Most interviewees equated VNR quality with long, uncut

shots, a light touch on product or branding, and an accompanying timed

log of the contents. Many respondents said they would not use interviews

unless they had themselves asked the questions, but among the stations

that would use pre-recorded interviews, interviews of a good length were

preferred which could be cut.

More revealing still was the fact that PR operators were most valued as

facilitators. Many of the interviewees quoted the ability to source and

set up location and interview subjects, and generally give useful

assistance in terms of logistics, as the most valuable services provided

by PR people.

‘The VNR is not always the answer,’ admits Stuart Maister, managing

director of The London Bureau, ‘but it may be part of it. Remember that

television producers will say one thing about what they use, and then do

another. Footage alone is not enough, however, you need to have a

television strategy.’

Maister claims his ‘cute’ spin on stories makes the difference. For

instance, Guardian Direct Insurance was far from being first direct

insurance product in the marketplace, but The London Bureau landed

coverage on ITN’s six o’clock news bulletin with a ‘changing Britain’

theme. Last month, the London Bureau used Linda Evangelista the ‘new

face of Yardley’ as the hook to generate coverage of the new Baroque

perfume. Interviews were accompanied by prepared footage, including

point of sale and production shots which reached 3.9 million UK viewers.

Clearly, hanging your story on a bona fide news peg or popular issue, is

a useful tactic, which The London Bureau augments with a regular TV

forward planner, with various ideas thought out from the broadcasters’

point of view, including plants from its own customers.

Using pegs is of course the accepted route of PR to broadcasters, when

the client company can provide an expert to comment on events. For this

purpose, the proliferation of broadcasters makes it easier to secure


Lucy Tilbury, Bulletin International’s director of client services,

explains: ‘We can now be much more targeted in our approach to TV

stations. There are now 60 news outlets in the UK, including national,

regional, and cable and satellite channels. So for City PR consultancies

who try to place financial interviews with the print media we can say

there are five, six or seven stations where they could target their

spokespeople. People are sceptical about cable and satellite, but if you

take [Sky] for example... it is a very important target now. It has

European audiences that are really worth having.’

The commentator approach translates effectively to radio as well, and

according to Peter Geraghty proprietor of Media Image Incorporated,

there is currently a surge of interest from organisations investing in

broadcast quality phone connections to help get their commentators on


This rush has been assisted by the reduced cost of installing the

necessary equipment. For instance, the National Farmers’ Union has just

bought and is installing seven regional connections, to put its

spokespeople in touch with radio.

Geraghty’s opinion is borne out by the experience of the Countryside

Commission. The organisation’s media relations manager Terry Grant says:

‘In a normal year we got about 28 hours of airtime on radio. When we got

ISDN, in the first full year we had 41 hours of local (and national)

radio coverage.’

‘I think it makes a considerable difference. Once the radio stations are

aware that you have it, I think they come to us with that in mind. We

find now in radio there are individuals who we have got to know very

well, and built up some trust and confidence with them, and a good

rapport,’ says Grant.

Local radio correspondent Ghosh concedes: ‘Local stations are not going

to go to companies just because they’ve got an ISDN connection, but it’s

the kind of thing that stations would like.’

Commercial studios such as Ludbrook Radio and Two-Ten Communication’s

broadcast division, regularly provide syndicated stories for radio, but

also provide a venue for spokespeople to do high sound quality live

interviews with a series of radio stations.

‘There are fewer and fewer broadcasters that actually have airtime for

PR,’ says Ludbrook Radio director Paul Plant. ‘But they want live


Getting a handle on what broadcasters really want is the key to

effective broadcast PR. ‘The VNR is just one tool’ says Steve Garvey,

manager, Reuters Corporate Television. ‘You have to look at


Garvey recently sewed up a deal with BT to provide TV news coverage to

complement its sponsored round-the-world yachting event, the BT Global

Challenge. Reuters offers free delivery to any station that wants


‘The pictures will be in demand,’ says Garvey. ‘It’s newsworthy, but

broadcasters will find it too expensive to cover themselves. This scale

of event is what we’re really interested in doing, not chasing snippets

here and there. I don’t want to be in the business of flogging dead

horses selling stories to broadcasters. Life’s too short.’

Getting it right: A guide to media success


The London Bureau

DON’T edit your video news releases too heavily. Similarly don’t dub

sound on to them or overdo branding or product hype.

DON’T send out low quality or irrelevant press releases, which are not

actually targeted at television.

DON’T keep us too long with your initial phone call and try to avoid

hassling broadcasters with a barrage of follow-up calls.

DO provide written timed summaries.

DO keep shots long and steady.

DO concentrate on providing useful background material and on time

consuming technical shots.

DO concentrate on the story. Get the right spokespeople and make sure

they are well-briefed, and prepared.

DO encourage them to build bridges, answering the questions they’re

asked, and returning to the message you are putting out.

John Stonborough

DON’T let TV journalists on to your premises until you’ve agreed the

subject and terms of their filming.

DON’T expect to make an instant hit with television staff.

DON’T be afraid of broadcasters. A lot of PR people are nervous of TV

people because they feel that they have their own agenda. There’s a

feeling that PR people lose control of the story. Also there’s a lack of

trust, and television [journalists] are notorious for abusing the trust

of companies.

DON’T send lots of unwanted press releases.

DO find out who does what on each programme - should you be dealing with

the researcher, the editor, or the producer of the day? There are

databases to help you keep up with staff changes.

DO add a regional twist to your stories, remember local radio is

desperate for news and information.

DO think about televisual considerations, such as locations and picture


DO remember the formula: expert, plus user, plus theme.

DO make sure your story is topical. Choose the right presenter - if it’s

a personality, why him or her? Do they have a personal link with your


DO package the VNR carefully. If you’re sponsoring a syndicated item for

radio, keep it to three minutes, and try to offer something of value to

the listener, rather than worry about a head count of brand mentions.

BBC: Opportunities do exist for outside providers

‘The BBC, like broadcasters in general, recognises there are a number of

credible outside providers of news content. It has no reason to be

concerned about the quality because at the end of the day it has the

editorial veto.’

So says David Davis, senior vice-president of Medialink, which has

recently placed news stories for swimwear firm Speedo, Norwegian

conglomerate Kvaerner and car manufacturers Ford, Toyota and General


Like others in the broadcast PR business, Davis is a fan of John Birt’s

BBC, which he sees as an increasingly competitive organisation with ‘a

voracious appetite for programming’.

John Birt’s brave new BBC has, in many ways, become its own biggest news

story: recent years have seen a radical shake-up in the way programmes

are made and resourced, while the Birtian emphasis on competition - both

internal and external - has created a whole new breed of Beeb


Recent pronouncements from the Director General’s office have reinforced

the image of a semi-privatised organisation obsessed with the need to

shed its bulk in favour of a lean and mean ‘virtual corporation’, to use

the DG’s own words.

The BBC has thus reached a commercial cross-roads; but Birt and Co

resolutely maintain that all the changes will have no impact on the

BBC’s hard-earned reputation as a public service organisation committed

to the highest ethical and journalistic standards.

But is the BBC practising what it preaches? There are now a significant

number of PR specialists whose full-time job is to get their clients

coverage on the BBC and other stations.

They appear to be thriving in the Birtian era, while the BBC itself

seems preoccupied with cut-backs and down-sizing - witness the recent

announcement of a pounds 10 million budget cut and the loss of around 80

jobs at the World Service.

Stuart Maister, managing director of The London Bureau, which claims to

be the leading specialist in video news release (VNR) material, says

business is booming. ‘We’re getting a lot of repeat business because our

clients can see results.’

This is despite the fact that VNR material has been out of favour with

the BBC since last year’s Shell Brent Spar story. The BBC made extensive

use of Greenpeace’s footage, only to find itself red-faced when it

transpired that Greenpeace’s version of events was not the whole story.

An internal BBC memo was fired off, urging staff to ignore all VNR


Things appear to have calmed down somewhat since then. Others in the VNR

world believe there is often a disparity between BBC theory and BBC

reality. The increasing demands of time, resources and quality being

made on BBC programmers means they are inevitably receptive to outside


John Clare, an ex-TV journalist and now managing director of Lion’s Den,

asserts: ‘As long as you’re not trying to peddle crap, you have a good

chance of getting your story covered.

‘There’s a lot of BBC doublespeak - they’ll talk about PR hype, but

they’re often completely blind to it. Look at all the political spin

doctoring that goes on.’

Clare sees big opportunities for client exposure: serious news stories

are being extended and there are more news and current affairs slots

during daytime programming.

‘In the old days, before the budgetary cuts, the BBC would have shot

everything themselves. These days, they’re happy to run footage supplied

by people like us - even if they have to make it clear that it’s come

from an outside source.’

The official BBC Producers Guidelines state: ‘However tempting it may be

for hard-pressed programmers to accept outside material at face value,

it must be scrutinised. The audience must be made aware of the source of

committed material, especially if it has a campaigning purpose, so it

can be judged from an informed perspective.’

All very worthy, of course, and strongly endorsed by Richard Eyre,

controller of editorial policy and planning at the BBC. His response to

the claims by broadcast PR professionals that they are enjoying booming

business is: ‘Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?’

However, he does concede that ‘as the PR profession gets older and

older, they do get better and more sophisticated. But we have also got

more sophisticated in recognising the PR and applying normal editorial

judgements to it.’

Perhaps, but in some ways the BBC does look naive. For example, Eyre

says the BBC would never use an ISDN line that had been supplied by an

outside organisation specifically for a particular broadcast. If the

ISDN was already installed, then no problem.

But this theory ignores the reality that many broadcast PR specialists

are busy advising their clients left, right and centre to install ISDN

lines solely in order to lure the broadcasting brigade through their


Another ISDN line installer and broadcast PR specialist, mainly

targeting radio, is The Broadcasting Company. Greg Strange, an editor at

TBC, comments: ‘The growth of ISDN in the last few years has changed the

face of radio. It has allowed a quality that just wasn’t possible

before. All broadcasters appreciate this and are not afraid to take

advantage of the technology wherever possible.’

But he too stresses the need for strong stories and (proud of his radio

journalism roots) the importance of being ‘straight, honest and

truthful’ in dealing with broadcasters.

Howard Kosky, director of Market Tiers, a name well-known in BBC news

rooms, notes: ‘If you are looking to get coverage on TV you are having

to work harder and listen more to the programmer’s requirements.

‘That means getting way from obvious PR tricks like National Weeks,

which have become devalued, and thinking about how you can enhance, if

at all, a programmer’s requirements.’

An anonymous BBC local radio producer, who has used Market Tiers on

several occasions, agrees: ‘ If a PR person understands what you need,

they’ll have much more chance of success.’

He adds: ‘Local radio has been stretched by the move towards dawn-to-

dusk speech-based programming. The pressure on us, using very, very

limited resources, is enormous.’

Press conferences: Improving the spectacle

According to the recent broadcast survey undertaken by Metra Martech on

behalf of The London Bureau, the most common complaint among

broadcasters about press conferences is that they are not visual, that

they are not logistically thought out, and that they are dull.

The favourite whinge of network news editors is midnight press

embargoes, which mean the press get the story in the morning, but

television not until 20 hours later.

Looking at an event from the broadcaster’s point of view is clearly the

job of a broadcast media specialist, and probably a strong reason why

most of the survey respondents said they preferred dealing with

specialists above general PR companies.

Ranked in order of importance, the services that broadcasters from all

sectors thought most useful were: Understanding the broadcasters’

timeframe, providing comprehensive information, and providing broadcast

quality pictures, organising interviewees, providing brief story

advisories and setting up filming arrangements, International news

producers rated the availability of film footage most highly, while

regional news producers most valued contacts with interviewees, and

national news producers were primarily concerned about their time frame.

Business programme producers rated as ‘essential’ services, the setting

up film arrangements, providing information, and lining up interviewees.

Clearly, the PR that can promise some visual opportunity is going to

have an edge both in drawing the camera crew, and in securing coverage.

‘The location and visual opportunities are incredibly important,’ says

Two-Ten’s broadcast operations manager, Colin Dawson. ‘If you must have

the conference in a hall or something, think about the backdrop. Don’t

choose anything too tacky or commercial.

‘The second thing is that your people must be very well briefed, so they

can field any questions that come. Preparation is important, so you know

what you want to say, and can use questions to build bridges to that


The most frequent logistic problem for camera crews is only having ten

minutes to arrive and set up. If possible, it is also a good idea to

allow time for individual interviews with a spokesperson, face-to-face.

Steve Garvey, manager of Reuters Corporate Television, points out the

crucial advantage of a press conference - the coverage you get is free.

However, there are drawbacks as well, namely that you have no copyright

over the material that’s used, no control of its distribution, and no

proof of who used it, unless you commission a monitoring company.

Case study: Football kicks off BTA campaign

One of the most effective uses of commercial videos is in international

event coverage, where many stations balk at the cost of sending crews


The British Tourist Authority (BTA) took just such an opportunity this

year, to promote English tourist attractions to fans visiting Euro 96.

Since the national teams, and their fans, were hosted by cities up and

down England, the BTA wanted to promote alternative attractions in the

regions, off the beaten tourist trail.

The BTA commissioned Bulletin International to produce a series of

tailored background video news releases, visually promoting England as a

‘vibrant, contemporary holiday destination’. The host cities were

London, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Birmingham,

and Newcastle. The broadcast targets included TV sports programmes, plus

other programming surrounding the event, such as tourist/holiday


Bulletin filmed a variety of attractions, accommodation and activities

in and around each of the host cities, and produced 15 different edits

of the tape for broadcasters throughout Europe. Background information

was translated into the main European languages, and Asian and Middle

Eastern countries received generic background information and then

satellite feeds of the pictures.

Typical VNR length was 3.5 minutes per city, of loosely edited

background pictures. For example, the footage of Leeds included general

views of the Elland Road stadium, plus the City Market, Corn Exchange,

Royal Armouries museum (a new tourist venue), the Yorkshire Dales, and

several restaurants.

In total, the BTA tapes received two hours of coverage, in at least 49

broadcasts (estimated audience 89 million). The total cost of the

promotion, including filming, was pounds 30,000.

How much the promotion benefited specific venues is difficult to say,

although the combined effect of Euro 96 was unmistakable. Some 250,000

fans visited England for the tournament, and spent about pounds 118m

while they were here. Regional tourist boards in the host cities

confirmed that the tournament swelled their volume of enquiries by

around 60 per cent. In Sheffield, for example, takings in pubs and off

licenses rose by around 300per cent, and hotel occupancy was up by 40

per cent.

A number of statistics together showed the importance of the event to

tourist venues. For instance, Leeds Bradford Airport had its busiest

weekend in 75 years when matches were played at Elland Road. In Leeds

itself, fans were the predominant visitors at Tetley’s Brewery Wharf in

Leeds, and the Royal Armouries museum.

The wisdom of mixing football fans, beer, and arms might be questioned,

but the importance of Euro 96 as a whole, and the success of the

promotional video with a large number of broadcasters seems clear cut.

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