TELEVISION: Multi channels mean a wealth of opportunities for promotions
as well as PR headaches
GAINING COVERAGE: Understanding of editorial needs is essential to get
coverage on radio and television
RADIO: The once poor relation of TV is enjoying a resurgence in
popularity resulting in huge diversity
As the borders of television and radio grow ever wider through
technological development, PR firms are discovering an even greater
potential for promotion.
Despite Rupert Murdoch’s tireless striving to loosen the grip that
terrestrial broadcasters have on our viewing habits, only about a fifth
of households in the UK have cable or satellite television. That may
sound a relatively substantial number but it pales in comparison with
the Benelux countries, much of Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland and
several other European nations where penetration is well over 50 per
Indeed, in Germany, where the number of cable channels has grown
spectacularly in the past few years, they are close to saturation level
and experiencing real problems finding enough capacity. It seems that
the new digital compression techniques, which can increase capacity
exponentially, are arriving in the nick of time, which means that the
international growth of television should maintain its impetus.
Europe is now firmly in the multi-channel age and many channels offer
pan-European or at least cross-border broadcasting. This presents both a
myriad of opportunities and a giant headache for PRs as they try to keep
up with developments and establish what they can and can’t do.
‘International TV is much more flexible than terrestrial TV at providing
promotional opportunities,’ says Frances Whitehead marketing director at
European Business News. She says there are opportunities for companies
involved with significant business events to talk to EBN about
developing a programme or slot linked to it.
The diversity of channels and gradual change in viewing habits has made
it increasingly important for PRs to think internationally when
developing TV campaigns as demonstrated by the work Fleet PR and WTN
Productions did on the launch of P&O’s cruise ship Oriana last year.
WTN put together a VNR on the construction of the ship using archive
footage and also handled a satellite feed of the naming ceremony,
performed by the Queen, in Southampton. The result was 44 ‘hits’ in the
UK and 13 in Germany where the liner was built.
‘I don’t think the PR industry is really in step with the developments
that have been taking place in television in the last few years,’ says
WTN Productions senior producer Tony Charlesworth. ‘I don’t mean that to
sound patronising, it’s our job not theirs, but it can be frustrating
when PR companies don’t see the opportunities. Maybe some are a little
As many of the newer channels have quite limited resources with which to
fill their editorial airtime, opportunities for coverage abound. In this
respect, the VNR is a powerful tool, although it should not be seen as a
panacea that will work on its own. There is no substitute for the
demanding legwork of building up good contacts with TV producers and
But no matter how good your contacts, a VNR is unlikely to work unless
the story is strong enough editorially and the pictures of sufficient
quality. Even then, some stations are loath to use them.
‘As a rule I don’t like VNRs because we’re taking the material on
faith,’ says Charles Hough head of CNN International’s London bureau.
‘We’ve no idea really about the circumstances in which it was shot. In
fact I killed a story today that was based on a VNR because I couldn’t
Hough has further words of advice for anyone seeking editorial coverage
on what is probably the principal global TV channel. ‘If anybody starts
to put restrictions on us [on use of footage] I think I’m being used
more than usual. Alarm bells go off when someone is too pushy or
restrictive. But when an agency or business becomes involved in a story
that is not particularly advantageous to them but are frank and treat us
well, we tend to remember that and treat them favourably when there’s a
positive story about them.’
If anything, the growth of television in Asia is even more startling
than the European media explosion. Not only are new audiences being
opened up to Western companies but powerful broadcasters are also coming
into the picture.
Like their European counterparts many of these are establishing links
with broadcasters on other continents to allow them to bid for the
global rights to certain large events. There has been a real surge in
the power of TV and event owners are requiring expert advice to secure
the best possible deal on a worldwide basis.
The Swiss-based Federation Internationale de Volleyball, for example,
recently appointed agency Atkinson Courage to handle the co-ordination
and distribution of its global television rights. The contract is
believed to be worth more than pounds 100,000.
Meanwhile, as the number of channels increases some will be forced to
become highly specialised in order to stand out from the crowd. Turner
International Network Sales acting managing director Randy Freedman
believes Europe will see a situation similar to the States where
channels on golf and even Elvis Presley have sprung up.
Product placement, despite some quite stringent codes governing undue
prominence, will also continue to thrive. As long as talking about a
product on air can be justified editorially, there are no grounds for
‘The point really is - is what we are offering the broadcasters good
entertainment value for the viewer?’ says Hill and Knowlton managing
director, marketing communications MaryLee Sachs. ‘If it is, it’s worth
talking to them about it.’
A good example of this is the work Hill and Knowlton has been doing for
crisp brand Walkers. Using the launch of Walkers’ new ad featuring
footballers Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne as a peg, the agency secured
coverage on, among others, the Big Breakfast, How Do They Do That? and
VNR specialists Bulletin and Medialink are also now experimenting with
World Wide Web sites. At the moment the thinking is just to use them to
give broadcasters and prospective clients a taster, but if technology
improves sufficiently, the sites may eventually be used as a delivery
medium accessible by broadcasters around the world. Medialink also plans
to introduce electronic marking of VNRs distributed in Europe. Medialink
says it hopes to introduce decoders to monitor Europe’s ‘100 or so top
stations’ at some point next year. These decoders identify when footage
from a tagged VNR is broadcast, making monitoring far easier and more
comprehensive than it has been before.
TV is no longer an insular pursuit and anyone putting together a
broadcast strategy needs to bear that in mind. ‘Borders as we have known
them have come down and are not likely to go back up,’ says Hough.
There’s a brave new world of choice out there.
Case study: IBM promotes the ‘silicon valley’ of Europe
In November 1995 IBM opened its manufacturing plant for computer hard
disk drives at Szekesfehervar, 40 miles from the Hungarian capital
Budapest. The IT giant wanted to publicise the commitment it was making
to Europe with this factory and had earlier commissioned Medialink to
produce a VNR highlighting the fact.
Medialink filmed the opening ceremony featuring senior Hungarian
Government officials and leading IBM executives to mark the occasion.
But it also shot a wide range of background material in advance so that
the VNR could be rushed out to be as newsworthy as possible.
The VNR included scenes of the ‘clean room’ where the disks were made
and other parts of the plant in action. There was also footage taken
outside the plant showing some of the architecture and historic sites
of the area.
IBM also wanted TV coverage to underscore its long-term commitment to
Hungary - where it had been operating since 1932 and was now creating
1,000 jobs. IBM felt it was important to highlight the choice of
Szekesfehervar for the new site, which is said by some to be the new
‘Silicon Valley’ of Europe.
The VNR was released at a time when there were many strong news stories
around, including Princess Diana’s revelations on Panorama, Lech
Walesa’s defeat in the Polish presidential elections, the Bosnia peace
agreement brokered by the US in Dayton, Ohio and president Bill
Clinton’s visit to Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, the IBM story still
received comprehensive coverage across Europe, with Medialink claiming
an audience of 13.9 million viewers in a score of European countries.
European Business News, Euronews, Deutsche Welle and WTN all broadcast
Medialink also turned some of the footage it shot into a corporate video
that IBM shows to its staff in Hungary and Germany and to its clients.
The cost of producing the VNR and corporate video came to just under
Medialink is now to produce a series of VNRs for IBM in the coming
months relating to its sponsorship of this year’s Olympic Games in
Asia: The new tiger of television
Liberalisation of broadcasting regulations and the strong growth in the
so-called tiger economies of the Pacific Rim has led to a proliferation
of new cable and satellite TV channels serving both local and pan-
‘Broadcast media is developing very very quickly here,’ says Chris
Dillon of Hong Kong-based agency Impetus. ‘Hong Kong is being wired
faster than any other place in television history.’
And what goes for Hong Kong holds true for much of the rest of the
region. China has literally hundreds of cable channels, Malaysia just
launched a satellite with capacity for 25 new channels, Japan is
liberalising its TV regulations, the Singapore Government is actively
encouraging broadcasters to locate there and the number of broadcasters
in India and South Korea is growing.
Many international broadcasters have spotted the potential and have been
pouring money into their Asian operations. Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV has
made huge inroads into Taiwan, China and India by tailoring programming
for different countries, offering Hindi and Mandarin language output as
well as English and it is now available in over 50 million homes.
CNN and European Business News’ sister station Asia Business News are
both strong in the region, providing business news for terrestrial
broadcasters in Malaysia as well as for their own channels. They have
been joined by CNBC which is setting up its rival operation in
Singapore, also home to MTV’s Asian operation.
The region’s economic boom has spurred the proliferation of new TV
stations and has also boosted PR there. Hardly surprising then that the
VNR specialists have identified Asia as a market with tremendous
Last year Bulletin International opened an office in Singapore and in
early February Medialink launched its Asian ‘hub’ in Japan by
formalising a joint venture with Tokyo-based TV news production company
Globe Net Productions. Medialink already has a partnership with a Hong
Kong production company and says it intends to open offices in South
Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and India.
‘The VNR is still relatively unknown here and there are enormous
opportunities,’ says Bulletin director Far East & Pacific, Shoba
Purushothaman. ‘The difference is that the broadcasters here don’t have
a problem doing good news stories. They are happy to say this company is
doing very well.’
Among Bulletin’s clients is KLCC, the consortium building the world’s
tallest twin buildings in Kuala Lumpur. Medialink Japan, meanwhile, has
already produced and distributed its first exported project with the
satellite distribution of a VNR on MCA’s planned dollars 1.6 billion
development of a Universal Studios complex in Osaka.
‘The initial reaction to the VNR concept [in Japan] exceeded our highest
expectations because everyone we met recognised and accepted the logic
of video news releases,’ says Medialink vice chairman David Davis.
Case study: The ITU triumphs in cross-border relations
Last year the International Telecommunication Union, a Geneva-based
United Nations agency with a remit to promote cross-border telecoms use,
integration and standardisation, hired Bulletin International to help it
maximise worldwide coverage for Telecom 95. This is the ITU’s most
important event - a combination of summit conference and exhibition that
is held only once every four years.
Bulletin’s first step was to release a pre-event background VNR tape to
selected broadcasters around the world. The tape featured old footage
from Telecom 91, ITU branding and pictures of some of the latest cutting
edge telecoms products and systems provided by important exhibitors
such as Hewlett Packard, Cable & Wireless and BT.
The Bulletin team developed different sell-ins for developed and less
developed nations and worked out separate storylines for national news,
business news and science and technology correspondents in various
countries. More than 25 sets of written information were made available
in six languages.
A seven-strong team was sent to Geneva to cover the conference and
produce daily satellite feeds that went out to broadcasters across the
world who had already been primed about the material by Bulletin’s
multi-lingual ‘broadcast liaison’ team.
Daily feeds included pictures of the latest product announcements and
demonstrations and interviews with leading telecoms industry figures.
The crew even obtained an exclusive interview with South African
president Nelson Mandela who attended Telecom 95’s opening ceremony.
Work on such a scale cannot be done for next to nothing. The cost of
the project was pounds 63,000.
‘We took a highly-tailored approach to each country and had human beings
selling-in to human beings,’says Bulletin managing director Anthony
Hayward. ‘To get the results you need to have people talking to people;
it’s like classic media relations.
‘There were cheaper options for the project. But you get what you pay
for and it’s paid off beautifully for them.’
Coverage ran to 164 confirmed reports around the world (not including
syndicated or repeated stories) taking up nine hours and 31 minutes of
airtime. Broadcasters who took material included BBC, CNN, ARD (Germany)
and TF1 (France). Bulletin estimates that the eventual TV audience was
over 163 million. The equivalent advertising airtime cost would be about
pounds 2 million, says Hayward.
‘We were really happy with the amount of coverage we got, particularly
in countries we didn’t expect to reach,’ says ITU press officer Sarah
Parkes. ‘For example, in African countries such as Cameroon.’
Parkes thinks that the approach taken was ‘ideal for reaching a global
audience’. ITU was ‘extremely happy’ that Bulletin managed to obtain
significant coverage in Africa and other parts of the developing world
where in the past it had failed to make a ‘significant’ impact.