PR people don’t normally miss a trick, so one may conclude that the
proliferation and significance of television must be the single most
important factor in the PR boom we have seen in the UK. But that would
Historically, PR consultancies have developed on the back of their work
with the print medium. Many have more than a sprinkling of ex-print
journalists among their staff, and because of this their focus has been
predominantly on the press.
Consequently, the growth of new broadcast channels and the abundance of
PR consultancies over the past 15 years is not as interlaced as a casual
observer might suppose.
Indeed, some PR consultancies have been roundly criticised for their
lack of expertise in the broadcast arena. It was almost as if the
broadcast revolution had passed them by.
’When we came into the market six years ago it was obvious the PR
community was afraid of TV,’ says David Davis, senior vice-president
international of broadcast specialist Medialink Worldwide.
This trepidation on the part of PR consultancies has led to them having
to out-source broadcast work to specialists such as Medialink and
Bulletin International, which work hand-in-hand with PR consultancies or
in-house communications teams to develop broadcast PR solutions using
techniques such as video news releases (VNRs).
’If PR companies had taken proper notice of broadcast there wouldn’t
have been such a growth in VNR companies,’ argues Nick Hadjinikos,
broadcast manager at corporate and financial PR consultancy Dewe
Dewe Rogerson set up its broadcast team a little over a year ago and
recruited TV journalist Sarah Schofield from ABC News to open up greater
opportunities for client coverage on business TV channels.
Hadjinikos believes that although it can be ’laborious’ for a PR
consultancy to keep track of what is happening in broadcast, it is
essential - otherwise clients have to use separate agencies for print
Andy Nash, a director of PR consultancy Media Enterprises, holds similar
views. ’We believe that it doesn’t really do not to be able to do radio
and television, but a lot of PR agencies believe it is not something
they can handle themselves,’ says Nash.
Media Enterprises recently hired broadcast director Stephanie Laurence
from Medialink and has carved a niche for itself as a specialist at
selling broadcast stories. It has proved so adept at this that it is
sometimes used by other, larger PR consultancies to work on TV and radio
But probably the most significant recent development in the sector is
the launch of a broadcast consultancy at Shandwick, the biggest PR firm
in the UK. The new broadcast division, which will open next month, is
headed by former BBC business correspondent Tessa Curtis, who joined
Shandwick last September.
Curtis identifies what Shandwick is doing as the ’beginning of a
profound change’ and a shift away from the ’facilities-led approach’ of
’There will always be a place for supplied footage (VNRs),’ says
’But the brutal truth is that the better the outlet the less likely they
are to use the footage. So as a client there is the danger that you
could spend a lot of money on footage for programmes that few people
Among the services Shandwick will offer is an editorial contact service
which will match broadcasters looking for a story or comment with
Curtis says her aim is to build a reputation for Shandwick as a
consultancy capable of delivering regular mainstream broadcast coverage
for its clients.
In her view, there will be a genuine need for PR consultancies with
expertise in broadcast PR in the coming years.
To illustrate the direction in which she thinks broadcast PR is heading
she draws a parallel with financial PR. Fifteen years ago there were
hardly any specialist financial PR consultancies; today there is a whole
host, including some of the biggest businesses in PR. Curtis envisages a
comparable sea change in her field.
This may well be the case. Certainly there is evidence that PR
consultancies are making greater strides in building broadcast
’Today, the PR community in Britain has become very aware and
professional in the way they see the opportunities to use radio and
television,’ says Medialink’s Davis.
’In one or two cases, we have advised our clients - and they have
agreed- to bring into their operation at least one person with a
broadcast background and a brief to ensure the agency’s clients are
fully advised and represented in broadcasting.’
Superficially, this may sound as if Davis is encouraging clients to take
their broadcast business away from Medialink and handle it
He is, of course, doing nothing of the sort.
Davis is smart enough to realise that in an expanding market, knowledge
among clients of the possibilities that exist for broadcast coverage
will lead to an increase rather than a decrease in business for
companies like Medialink.
Moreover, most PR consultancies or in-house teams simply do not have the
resources to ensure they have perpetual expertise in the fast-changing
world of broadcast.
’We know that it is almost impossible for PR companies, except perhaps
the very biggest, to keep up to speed with what’s happening,’ says
Stonborough & Co managing director John Stonborough.
Stonborough has carved a niche for himself handling ’hostile’ TV
His consultancy advises PR companies, lawyers and their clients on
drawing up contracts for fly-on-the-wall documentaries or on keeping
their reputation intact when pursued by programmes such as the BBC’s
Watchdog and its offshoots, which he asserts have declared war on the
’This myth that consumer programmes attack double-glazing villains is
five years out of date,’ says Stonborough. ’They will attack you if you
do not meet impossible standards.’
In the world of radio, too, the specialists appear to be gaining
With over 230 radio stations in the UK that take either feature
interviews, promotions or both, there is simply too much activity for PR
professionals to track on full time.
’There will always be PR companies or in-house departments where they
have an expert in-house,’ says Two-Ten Communications head of broadcast
services Alan Hardy. ’But they come and go.
’We have the specialist knowledge of who’s where, what they want and how
to deliver it. The digital revolution is going to exacerbate the
problems there are now with the diversity of radio and TV stations.
You’ll have even more outlets.’
Broadcast consultancy Radio Lynx says that it is enjoying more business
than before, with client companies and PR consultancies turning to it
for help on the creation, planning and management of editorial,
sponsorship and promotions.
While client marketers might be tempted to have their ad agencies work
on promotions, Radio Lynx associate director Claudia Downes believes it
is a job that can be done far more effectively by a radio specialist
used to dealing with the stations on a regular basis.
’There aren’t people at ad agencies who can co-ordinate a radio
promotion on 15 stations,’ says Downes. ’They can book spot advertising
but with a promotion it’s like a pet; you’ve got to nurture it.’
While continuing to turn to specialists as and when required, PR
consultancies are increasingly making sure they have more than a
rudimentary understanding of broadcast so as to maximise the benefit of
Financial services PR specialist Lansons, for example, has two staff who
help to secure broadcast coverage across all 60 of the agency’s
Lansons joint managing director Tony Langham thinks it is important to
have several staff with a broadcast brief because it is unrealistic to
expect everyone at the agency to be as accomplished at TV and radio as
they are at print.
Lansons used the recent financial crisis in the Far East as a hook for
getting clients on TV. A spokesman for its client NatWest was
interviewed on the BBC Nine O’Clock News, as was another client, The
’TV news has a need of new people to interview, rather than the chap
with the beard from Barclays who seems to be on all the time,’ says
Hill & Knowlton, a UK top five PR consultancy, has a reputation for
being switched on about broadcast. On behalf of client Adidas, it
recently achieved coverage of the ad featuring British tennis star Tim
Henman on Sky News, London Tonight and The Big Breakfast.
Hill & Knowlton’s approach is not to handle the whole broadcast brief
itself. According to associate director Dan Holliday this need not
entail a loss of control.
’The control comes from the people you use,’ he says. ’We have very
close links with people like Medialink and Media Enterprises because
they understand our clients.’
Another PR consultancy, Biss Lancaster, works similarly - keeping an eye
on broadcast developments but preferring to out-source specific jobs,
such as the production of VNRs. Biss consultant director Michelle
Waldron believes that VNRs exist as a way to attract the interest of
producers, seldom being used ’holistically’.
However, when footage cannot be obtained elsewhere, programmes will use
excerpts from VNRs if they add something to the story they are
Such was the case with a project Biss carried out in September 1997 for
client Rank, publicising the revamp of its Butlin’s holiday camps.
The VNR commissioned by Biss featured archive footage of Butlin’s
Redcoats together with computer-generated graphics showing plans for the
new enclosed Skyline Pavilion, a key development in the modernisation of
the leisure parks. As this material was illuminating and all but
impossible to source from elsewhere, it was attractive to broadcasters.
Coverage was achieved on GMTV, Newsnight and the BBC Six O’Clock News to
name but three.
The Butlin’s VNR was produced by broadcast specialist the London Bureau,
whose managing director Stuart Maister confirms that more PR agencies
are looking for help in getting their clients on screen.
’One person at an agency cannot do TV,’ says Maister.