Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Johnny Coburn, MD of Coburn Communications and former news editor at London Tonight, on what makes a good broadcast story, rules of engagement and why B roll is never a waste...
Why do so many PRs overlook broadcast when putting together their media strategy?
Securing broadcast coverage on TV and radio is a big challenge. To succeed it's important to understand how programming works and it's unlikely you'll know this unless you've worked in the broadcast industry and you speak their language.
Deadlines are tight and turnaround is rapid, only a specialist broadcast agency or broadcast division is going to fully understand how to service the requirements of TV and radio.
What makes a good TV story?
News, case studies and footage of a subject that's rarely available to film. These are at the heart of a good TV story. But resources in newsrooms are thin, and news editors are generally reluctant to send a reporter and camera on a punt to a PR event. So if presented with footage (B roll) shot in the correct manner, they'll take a look at it. Offering B roll, in conjunction with a client spokesperson, live in the studio, is a simple and effective way of communicating a message on TV.
And for radio?
Research and statistics are vital to securing coverage on radio. The research must have a news angle that generates discussion and debate. Client spokespersons should be available to go into a radio studio at short notice and be equipped with the skills and information to handle live studio interviews. They should also be of a sufficient calibre to appeal to networks.
The rules of engagement when selling in a broadcast story are very different to print - what do PRs need to keep in mind?
Don't make a phone call to a newsroom at the top of the hour when bulletins are being lashed together or going out on air. Create a story and sell the story in the first line of the press release. Keep the release short, and the first five rules of journalism apply: what, when, where, how, why. Broadcasters don't really need to know anything else.
What kind of impact can a TV or radio piece have on a brand?
It can have a huge impact. When I was news editor at London Tonight, we covered a new product to help children with dyslexia. Before the piece had concluded the phones were ringing off the hook to find out more. It's the same with radio, and if you're ever with a client who's just appeared on Radio 4's Today Programme you'll see how their phone starts ringing.
But it's important to target the right programme. I recently placed the chief executive of a luxury car dealer on Bloomberg TV. Bloomberg doesn't have a massive audience but its audience works in the financial markets, and probably 95% of them can afford a luxury car.
What do PRs have to think about when preparing broadcast content?
Create a news story. And if you want regional TV and radio coverage, then regional statistics or regional case studies are the best ways of making your story relevant to a specific audience. If you're promoting something to do with, for example, nail polish and you want to target Newcastle media, find out how many nail bars there are in Newcastle and find one that will allow a local TV crew in to film. If creating B roll, offer broadcasters something new, something they've not filmed before.
Do you think brands/companies can only get national TV coverage if they have something controversial to say?
Definitely not. It's about having something new to say, and having the content or statistics to support the story.
What are TV producers looking for from a spokesperson?
They're looking for someone who is a 'good get' and who isn't already on their contact list. Also availability and readiness to come in at the last minute. Celebrity is good, but if you're targeting the BBC don't pick a celeb who appears on an ITV programme.
How do you prepare someone for a TV interview?
Media training is a good idea because TV interview slots are hard won and it's a shame to waste them. It's imperative that the interviewee is fully briefed and on message so the client's expectations are met. Always look the interviewer in the eye, so avoid looking around the studio at the cameras and lights. Smile, never lose your cool and prepare for the unwanted question because it will come. As media baron Lord Northcliffe said: "News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."
Are there some spokespeople who just shouldn't appear on TV?
None that I can mention here. John Galliano maybe.
Are blatant product or brand plugs a good idea during a radio or TV interview?
No they're not. The BBC will generally tolerate one, at most two, client mentions but no more. And repeated product mentions alienate the viewer. Keeping the client happy while giving the broadcaster what they want is a fine balance. Subtle branding on clothing or in the background is deemed acceptable.
Do TV stations still accept B roll footage or is it a waste of time?
B roll is a very valuable tool, one that's often used by broadcasters to accompany a live studio interview. If a producer has a choice of two stories and one of those stories is offering B roll - the B roll gets it. And if the B roll doesn't make it to air, the client still has some valuable content that can be offered to agencies such as Reuters or Press Association, and it can be deployed online or for corporate use. It won't be wasted.
Favourite TV interviewer?
For pure entertainment, Jeremy Paxman, although I'd think long and hard before putting a client before him.
And finally, who do you think does a great job in TV interviews?
Any politician because they never answer the question and drone on merrily in pursuit of their own agenda.
See more about Coburn Communications here.