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VIDEO NEWS RELEASES FOR B-TO-B MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
Imagine your customer prospect watching the local evening news on TV and seeing a segment that spotlights what your company does. Consider the impression that local TV news story would make on your prospect's perceptions of your company's credibility and expertise!
Next, imagine that scene being repeated at literally hundreds of local TV stations across the country, watched by thousands of your customer prospects and tens of thousands of general consumers as well. Nothing matches the power of television to convey mainstream acceptance of new ideas, products and services.
However you may like that notion, executives of many business-to-business companies assume that their product or service doesn't have broad enough appeal for a consumer-oriented television news, so why worry about such prospects if they're not realistic? or, even if they know something about video news releases, they also know that production costs for TV commercial spots are in the range of a quarter of a million dollars, and they assume that television marketing is simply out of their reach financially.
Nonetheless, even if your company's products or services aren't typical topics for TV news, video news releases - or VNRs - offer a means for your company to get its story on TV news programs in local stations across the country. But it does require imagination, not only from your public relations agency or staff, but from you and your senior management as well. You need to develop a broader view of your company's role - or the product or service your company provides - in the real world occupied by the average television viewer. You have to open your eyes and think a little differently. With that perspective - plus a strong dose of creative imagination, mixed with the experience of PR professionals who have developed VNRs for their clients - local TV news programs, nationwide, can become a powerful source of marketing communications for your company. Attached are two examples in storyboard form of successful VNRs.
Just as the most important benefit of a favorable article about your company's product or service in a prominent trade publication may be its reuse as a reprint for direct distribution to customers and prospects as sales collateral, the TV news segment that features your company can provide marketing benefits well beyond the first impressions of the original broadcast. Think of the practical value of distributing inexpensive video cassettes of that news segment as sales tools for all those who didn't happen to see the story when it was first televised. Figure how many secondary uses that TV news story could have: at new business presentations, trade shows, company or employee meetings, etc.
Even though our firm offers a full range of marketing communications services to clients, our first suggestion is generally to do public relations. That's because we believe that editorial coverage has at least a three-to-one advantage in reader/viewer credibility over the same space or time devoted to advertising. The credibility factor increases the marketing value of a local TV news segment - just as it would for a magazine article rather than an ad - as opposed to commercial advertising on the same program. It is simply more effective . . . if you can get it.
Best of all, the cost-per-thousand impressions of employing this mass media vehicle is a matter of pennies. Even including the many thousands of viewers who are not potential customers, the video news release (VNR) could be one of the most cost-efficient, cost-effective methods of marketing communications available to your company.
What Is a VNR?
The video news release is a hybrid. Like advertising, the communication itself is produced and paid for by the company, the sponsor. Yet more akin to public relations, the communication is in the form and style of a news story rather than a commercial or infomercial.
The VNR is more like a mat feature than a press release for the print media. A mat feature is a generic news article distributed to thousands of newspapers, many of which publish the story as news "filler," as long as the story does appear to offer factual information rather than advertising self-promotion. Similarly, a VNR is distributed to hundreds of TV stations for use "as is," for the most part, rather than simply suggesting a story idea to a reporter, as the term "press release" would imply.
In contrast with a press release for the print media, the video news release may be in the form of a complete, self-contained, generic news segment, or it may be the unassembled elements -several unedited sequences of video scenes, known as "B-roll footage," and a sample script, so that the local TV station's own news department can edit and narrate the finished story. Because the news-gathering resources of local TV stations are under constant pressure to produce enough original material to fill their news broadcasts, many regularly use VNRs to fill in the gaps, just as newspapers run mat feature.
on average, a company that produces and distributes a VNR that is appropriately news-based and not too self-serving or promotional can expect broadcast on at least 50 or more, perhaps even 2OO-3OO or more, local TV news programs across the country.
Reasonable estimates of production and distribution costs can range from $1O,OOO-$3O,OOO or more per VNR (although some production companies are making VNRs at even lower cost these days). Even with a small target audience among hundreds of thousands of potential viewers, the numbers make sense as a viable option for communicating your company's basic identity and sales messages via mass media.
Remember, however, that a video news release is not the same as an infomercial. An infomercial is a television program, produced by the sponsor, and not a local TV news story - although the infomercial also masquerades as news and information, rather than advertising. With the infomercial, nonetheless, the sponsor buys the airtime from the local station. The higher production costs for a more elaborate TV infomercial, plus the costs of airtime, put the price tag well beyond the reach of most business-to-business companies. But the production cost for a VNR are far more reasonable, as are distribution costs, and the local TV stations then carry the "news segment" or VNR for free, at no cost to the sponsoring company. So there's a huge cost differential. The credibility of a local news segment is also considerably higher than that of an infomercial, most of which still resemble commercial advertising more than news programming.
Is It News?
Pioneered by pharmaceutical companies with announcements of new drug discoveries and benefits, VNRs are now employed in nearly every industry. Naturally, products (such as new medicines) that have mass audience appeal are the most logical candidates for VNRs, but there are ways to position business-to-business products and services to suit the requirements of VNRs as well.
The secret is News -- that is, finding a news angle in your story that will appeal to the general consumer watching the local news program. News means something new: a new type of product. or a new use for an older product, or new improvements that make the product more beneficial to the user, or a new technology, or the latest new trend.
The story must have mass consumer appeal for your VNR to gain significant airplay on local TV news programs.
It is unlikely that most companies or products would ever be natural subjects for a local TV news segment. So the trick is to find a more interesting topic - that is newsworthy - that also relates to your company and/or its products.
That's where your public relations agency can be most helpful. Positioning your company and its products for their news value and appeal is what your agency does for a living. They survive and succeed based on their ability to come up with and sell creative news angles and ideas. Their knowledge of the news media and the criteria that define newsworthy information is particularly cogent in this situation. And nowhere is this professional skill put to use more effectively than in getting business-to-business stories on local TV news programs. That's the kind of talent your agency personnel should have, and if they do, use it!
Not every product or service can be translated into a news story at any given moment, and most business-to-business products and services don't generally have innate appeal to consumers. While a VNR offers a very inexpensive means to reach a mass audiences if a dramatic news "hook" can't be created in a way that doesn't stretch the viewer's credibility to far, then a video news release is not your best option at that time. That doesn't mean your sales message is any less urgent or important. But a better alternative at certain times and for certain companies may be the more traditional advertising route, if affordable.
The problem is, of course, that many business-to-business enterprises don't have the size, sales turnover or budget to engage in effective television advertising. one of the key advantages of the video news release option is its relatively low cost in comparison to buying air time and producing commercials with higher (more expensive) production values. If you can produce a VNR with mass audience appeal, the value of the payoff will transcend the dollar investment many times over.
Nonetheless, the primary quality of a successful VNR is imagination. What you need is a theme that will translate your business-to-business category into a news event with broad audience appeal. What could be the ultimate impact of that product or service on the everyday lives of average people? What is the essence of your business that would be most newsworthy to people in general, whatever their own business or occupational interests?
These are issues and questions most frequently confronted within the public relations branch of marketing communications. That's why, for the most part, VNRs are viewed as a PR specialty and tool.
Tie-lns to Current Events, Making, News
If your company is prepared, you may be able to tie your VNR to a major news event, gaining not only visibility but added respect for your product or service as well.
As an illustration, a Hammond Farrell client that was building and operating a wireless data communications service was able to respond quickly to the Midwest flood disaster of 1993 that made headlines around the world. In Des Moines, Iowa, emergency communications were severely hampered, leaving law enforcement and public safety agencies with damaged phone lines and only a few radio channels.
Our client arranged for overnight delivery of wireless portable messaging units to the police department in Des Moines, and key officers were trained in their use the next morning. By noon, commanders of several squad units were exchanging time-critical information via our client's wireless data communications facilities, enabling the police to bypass their own overcrowded radio channels and the crippled telephone system.
A local video crew was recruited to videotape the use of the portable wireless units, as of ricers dispatched a helicopter to an accident site. We quickly obtained the dramatic video footage that became the basis for a VNR that enjoyed wide pickup throughout the country. And it was probably the first time that most Americans heard the client's name and learned about the potential benefits offered by the client's nationwide communications service.
VNRs for Pull-Through and Push
As an interesting example of using VNRs for marketing communications, we employed video news releases to help our client, Schott Corporation to market Schott Ceran glass-ceramic material for smooth-surface cook tops (to be utilized by appliance manufacturers in their new product designs for gas and electric ranges) both as a direct appeal to consumers (pull-through) and as a sales-message vehicle (push) to these OEM appliance manufacturers.
While Schott only sells the Ceran glass-ceramic material in the U.S. to about a dozen range or cooktop manufacturers, the company fueled consumer interest via VNRs. Research results had shown that just seeing a smoothtop range was enough to cause many consumers to want one. So we looked for every possible communications outlet to ensure that as many consumers as possible - as well as builders, interior designers and decorators, remodellers, architects, appliance dealers et al. -- got to see smoothtop ranges for themselves.
Originally, the news hook was the newness of the product. Here was a whole new design concept for range-top cooking: a cooktop with a sleek, attractive appearance and, as a bonus, a surface that was easy to clean. Schott's first VNR was picked up by local TV stations that reached an estimated ten million viewers in both large and small markets. Many of the segments aired during daytime programming (ideal for reaching the target consumer audience), and others aired during prime-time newscasts.
Subsequent VNRs used the familiar "trend" news hook, citing the skyrocketing popularity of smoothtop cooking. "Experts" were interviewed on-camera (and paid a modest fee for their contributions) to verify consumer interest in the new trend, though not to endorse the product specifically, including interior designers and decorators, architects and editors of magazines such as Kitchen & Bath Design News and Bon Appetitl While the Ceran product continues to be a growth phenomenon within the applicance industry, it has also been necessary to relate smoothtops to other trends for news value, such as the trend toward self-cleaning appliances or renewed interest in home remodeling. The VNR with that news hook reached an estimated audience of five million consumers.
The third time back to the well, Hammond Farrell took advantage of an annual survey conducted by Remodeling magazine showing that kitchen remodeling projects, in some areas of the country especially? can increase the market value of a house by more than the cost of the remodeling. An editor of Remodeling provided the rationale, quoting statistics from the magazine, while an interior decorator brought Ceran smoothtop ranges into the story. While these VNRs were getting airplay across the country, we also "merchandised" video cassettes of these local TV news stories to the OEM manufacturers that comprised the client's primary target audience. oriented toward the consumer, the VNRs also carried the message of broad consumer appeal directly to the first customer, the OEM manufacturer.
Remember that, just as in trade or business magazine articles about your company, the first appearance of your VNR -- on local TV newscasts -- may not be its most important and effective utilization. When your prospective customer sees the results of that effort -- a video cassette showing a local TV news story that was shown on hundreds of stations to millions of viewers -the real benefits of this methodology may ultimately be realized.
Among the first questions to ask when you're considering a VNR are:
Does the story offer sufficient opportunity for visual content that is fairly simple to produce and capture on videotape?
Can the story be told in a short (9O seconds) news segment? and
Will the story have significant consumer interest to attract the average viewer, and thus the TV station's news director? If the answer is "yes" to each of these preliminary questions, then you know that a VNR is a real possibility your company ought to consider.
Let's assume that an outside video production company, or even one of the companies that specializes in VNR production and distribution, will shoot the video. What should you know in order to prepare the script or storyboard for the VNR? Here are some basic suggestions:
Don't Get Too Creative in Production Techniques -- The news director at the local TV station does not want to see the brilliant video talents of a budding young Hollywood hopeful. Remember, the news director wants that segment to look like all the other news stories aired on the local program, so that it doesn't stick out as a fancy production resembling a slick TV commercial. The companies that specialize in VNRs will advise you to KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. The production should be simple and straightforward, just as if the local crew had shot and edited the entire story in a couple of hours, total. Your video production company may want to show off their clever, eye-catching, imaginative abilities but that will ultimately be counterproductive to your purpose. The most successful VNR has unusual ideas in terms of informational content and approach, but the production itself should be standard, typical, basic, even unimaginative in style.
Make Sure the VNR Tells a Visual Story -- "Talking heads" don't usually offer a dramatic visual illustration to anchor a news story, so your VNR not only needs a news hook or angle, but an appropriate scene that visualizes and dramatizes the story in itself as well. The meaning of the story may require graphic illustration to make information understandable and clear. You may even decide to use animation as a video technique to portray essential information, although animation will surely add to the production budget. Remember, however, that the basic presentation must still appear simple and ordinary -- ostensibly well within the capabilities of the local TV station's own news department.
Try to Use a Recognized Authority or "Verifier" -- The news value of any story can be bolstered by comments from a third party acknowledged to be an expert in the field. That expert can be used to verify and reinforce your company's claims. The "verifier" also helps to make the story appear to be generic news, rather than a too thinly disguised TV commercial designed for self-promotion only. This is standard practice for any TV news or print story, but it is an especially helpful device for supporting the credibility of a VNR.
Don't Script the Speech for Your Expert Verifier -- Unless you're using actors (usually the wrong move for a VNR), your expert authority will be wooden if you try to force your words into his or her mouth. Better yet, let them speak in their own words, and videotape several "takes" in order to make the speaker's presentation more articulate and succinct. Most often, a good TV producer will be able to stimulate an effective performance from any amateur, but a person speaking in their own words will usually seem more natural than someone delivering a rehearsed, memorized, set speech.
To keep expenses reasonable, the video production should usually not require more than one full day (or two half-days) of shooting at two or three locations. Keep it as simple as possible, just as the local TV news crews must do. Storyboards, using simple sketches can help you visualize the piece before you shoot. Take a look at the attached sample VNR storyboards done after the shoot.. Editing a finished VNR, plus B-roll footage, interviews, soundbites and narration script, should usually not require more than one day in post-production.
The VNR Package
once video production and editing have been completed, and the finished report looks and sounds like a typical local TV news story, you're ready to go, right? Not quite.
Your VNR package may contain several elements, both in combined and unedited form:
- A complete SO-second video news story, including voiceover narration
- B-roll video footage with the same and perhaps additional scenes that can be edited according to the local TV news department's style and standards.
- Soundbites and video interview clips that can be used by the local station's news department to augment or enhance the news story
- Suggested narration script, so the local TV station can use the voice (and maybe the introduction) of its own reporter
Providing all the ingredients in both finished and unfinished form -- on a silver platter, as it were -- gives local TV news directors the flexibility to use the material in the manner they prefer. Some VNRs7 however, are distributed only in finished form, other sponsors choose to distribute only the unfinished elements, perhaps just B-roll footage and a narration script. But if the budget allows, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the more options offered to local TV news directors. the more the story will be selected for broadcast.
After the VNR is completed, you will probably want it distributed by one of the firms that specializes in that business. Although the VNR may be produced by almost any company that can mimic a local TV news style and approach, distribution should be handled by specialists.
These specialists, or your PR agency, may notify newsrooms that the VNR is coming in order to "pre-sell" the news in specific markets, or to make sure your company gets the most mileage for your money. If the news story is not particularly time-sensitive (or, as we say in media-speak, if it's an "evergreen" story), you might consider delivering hard copies on video cassette that news editors or producers can view at their own convenience.
If the story is time-sensitive, it should be delivered by satellite feed to hundreds of stations simultaneously. Stations must be alerted to expect the feed, so they're set up to accept it. So they'll need to know why the story is important to their audiences. This is generally done via print press release over a wire service network. In special cases, you may want your PR agency to call the news editor in advance to "pitch" and promote the story.
How do you know which stations actually broadcast the news story, and when the segment appeared? Fortunately, that's a lot easier to do today that it used to be years ago. Your videotape is now encoded with a unique electronic signature that can be tracked by computer for much more accurate results than handwritten station reports. So you will have a way to measure the results of your VNR program, and to assess the cost-efficiency of reaching a mass audience via this method.
Many VNR distributors offer tracking reports as part of their service. Ask about this possibility, and inquire as to how the tracking is recorded and reported. This is a vital part of your program because tracking results provide the proof of results to senior management, or to your Board of Directors.
You can also develop graphic illustrations of your VNR's coverage to help dramatize just where and how many viewers saw your product or service on TV. (See attached.)
If you wish, you can also order videotapes of the stories as they were broadcast by the individual stations. These "aircheck" tapes, while costly (anywhere from less than MOO to MOO or more, each), are often very effective for use in follow-up reports to management. If expense is not a critical issue showing management a series of aircheck tapes - often delivered by different newscasters and/or reporters at each station, if it is not a self-contained, fully edited VNR with its own narration) - can have a powerful impact as evidence of your successful marketing communications efforts to get your story on local TV news programs nationwide.
Like other public relations tools, VNRs have limitations. Print news releases can be distributed broadly to media outlets throughout the country or the world, or sent only to a few select, targeted editors. on the contrary? in order to be effective, in most cases VNRs must treat topics of wide, general interest. With the growth in cable networks, however, VNRs may be more narrowly focused now than ever before. This is especially true if the story targets a specific geographic area, or perhaps some specific audience with its own network, such as doctors or law enforcement officials.
Similar to mat features being carried by more small newspapers and weeklies than by large metropolitan daily newspapers, VNRs are more likely to be broadcast by smaller stations with less internal newsgathering resources than larger market stations. But if the targeted audience will be reached primarily with a videocassette distributed after the original broadcast, the effect is akin to that of the magazine article reprint. That is, it doesn't really matter if the reader or viewer saw the story when it first appeared: what is most significant is that the reprint, or in this case the video cassette, carries the same weight of the implied third-party endorsement of a legitimate news organization.
And with the VNR, the targeted prospect will know that the same story was broadcast on dozens, perhaps hundreds of outlets reaching a combined audience of millions. That news alone has impact.
There are many ways to tell a news story, and a VNR is only one option. Before choosing or eliminating that option, consider the possibilities. Develop your concepts for news hooks. Make a simple plan, and see if it's viable. Then estimate your costs, and evaluate the potential benefits.
Your outline might include the following:
Start with an idea -- concept for a news angle
- What is the primary objective of the VNR?
- What is the key sales message the VNR should communicate?
- What are the copy points needed to support that message?
Develop a production and distribution plan
- Where will the video production take place (studio or locations)?
- Who will appear on camera?
- What will they say?
- Who will shoot and edit the video?
- Who will distribute the VNR? How much will these activities cost?
Estimate the timeframe for a completed project
- Is the story time-sensitive?
- (How much of a window do you have?)
- How long will it require to develop the script?
- How long will it take to contact and schedule the participants?
- How much time should be estimated for production and editing?
- What is a realistic target date for distribution?
- Plan how you will recycle the VNR to maximum advantage?
Who should see the news story?
How will the VNR be distributed to that target audience?
How will the VNR be promoted to that audience for maximum impact?
Should video cassettes be distributed to the sales force in advance? How many copies will you need?
If you're ready to answer those questions, then you are ready to proceed with your VNR project. If you have the right answers, you will probably never find a less expensive vehicle to reach more people than a video news release - or, perhaps, to reach a few people in the most memorable fashion.
For many business-to-business applications, that kind of exposure may offer an extraordinary opportunity. Yes, the principle of the VNR is simple. But the result can provide your company with an impressive introduction, attention-getter and sales tool. In that context, the VNR is among the best investments your company could make in the public relations marketplace of ideas.
Fred Dulaney and Fritz Lyon are both Public Relations Supervisors for Hammond Farrell, a business-to-business communications agency in New York City. they can be reached at 212/995-5680 ext. 205. Or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.