Whatever Happened To VNRs? The Original Fake News

Okay, I admit it: I recently struggled to get television coverage in Los Angeles for one of my projects. Granted, it was a feature story and it was on a busy news day, but still—I’d hoped at least one of the local news stations would come out and cover my event.

In the end, the client was happy with the plethora of print and online coverage we got, but it got me thinking: Whatever happened to video news releases (VNRs), when PR firms or other organizations could produce the video story they want to tell and deliver it to news outlets? Do VNRs still exist, and are TV news producers even receptive to them anymore?

“Yes and no,” says Doug Simon, president, CEO and founder of D S Simon, an award-winning influencer marketing and video communications firm based in New York. 

“These days, providing video content for free to news media is often done but rarely called a video news release. The name VNR became controversial during the Bush administration—in fact, they were called fake news because stations didn’t disclose they were third-party video. At that time, stations frequently would air a full 1:30-second package that had been produced by a third party. Today, we have a much more sophisticated service called the Influencer Media Package. If done well, it still generates significant coverage.” 



Simon went on to describe a recent example of an Influencer Media Package produced by his company:

“A major medical organization was announcing new guidelines for treating low-back pain. Stations were provided with access to b-roll footage, interview sound bites from the organization’s president and a narrative video that explained the new guidelines,” says Simon. “The results were 638 broadcasts including airings on all major network evening newscasts and morning shows.” 

Simon said the Influencer Media Package is one of two popular tools with producers today. The other is the Satellite or Influencer Media Tour. They each have their pros and cons.

Influencer Media Package:The IKEA approach

For the opening of New York City’s new Whitney Museum of Art, D S Simon produced an Influencer Media Package that included not only b-roll of a ribbon-cutting ceremony and soundbites by the museum curators but also a speech (in full) by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Pros: There is great demand for this content—not only at traditional broadcast stations but online as well. “In fact, we did a Media Influencer Report last year and found that 71% of online media outlets use outside video content and 80% will either post, air or share your entire video,” says Simon. “Even more interesting, 79% of them want content from brands and 76% want it from non-profits.”

These packages range in cost from $17,500 to $25,000.

In terms of distribution, D S Simon creates branded websites that global media can access to download specific content they want for their broadcast. They have an opportunity to preview video before they download it and can also access additional background information. D S Simon can send one link to thousands of stations who can access the content 24/7.

Cons: Influencer Media Packages are time-intensive to produce and don’t work as well for stories that need to be explained over a longer period of time. “If this is the case, then an Influencer Media Tour a.k.a. Satellite Media Tour (SMT) might make more sense as you have more control over the message and a better ability to dive deeper into the story,” explains Simon.

SMT: From one to many

“An SMT allows you to effectively communicate your key messages across 25 to 30 markets in the U.S. or globally—if you have the right spokesperson or story,” says Simon. 

Pros: SMTs are efficient and they save wear and tear on your spokesperson. “An SMT utilizes only five or six hours of your spokesperson’s time, because they basically sit in a studio and talk to TV shows around the country via satellite,” Simon says. For instance, your spokesperson can talk with Good Day New York, Windy City Live in Chicago, and KTLA Morning News in Los Angeles, all from the comfort of a single studio in Atlanta. 

“They are also an effective way to raise an executive’s influence and positioning as a thought leader,” adds Simon. This was the case for DS Simon’s tour with Check Point Technologies, featuring their senior executive, Michael Shaulov. who talked about security for mobile devices.

Cons: SMTs can be more expensive to produce, ranging from $25,000 to $35,000. In addition, you’re dealing with live TV in many instances, which means there is a chance something could go wrong or you could get bumped from the schedule due to breaking news.

Note that both tools still require advance pitching to news producers to confirm interest in the story. So it seems to me that the key message is this: In this rapid-fire, insatiable, content-hungry media landscape, the more you can do to provide a media outlet with a visually rich, video-driven, custom story, the better off you and your client will be. But it still boils down to the pitching skills of the publicist and the strength of the news hook. 

I’m happy to see that some things never change!

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