Video News Release Goals and GuidelinesBackground
A video news release (VNR) is the television version of the printed press release, translating the printed word into the language of moving pictures. It is distributed via satellite to television stations nationwide.
VNRs are essential staples of any public relations campaign. They effectively transmit news of a product recall to television news decision-makers (producers and news directors) in the form they need.
While usually aired in edited form, VNRs provide proven reliable television exposure for your news. They are produced in broadcast news style with a compelling video.
There are two types of VNRs: "Packages," are pre-edited videos with a professional voice-over, similar to television news stories. "Bite and Cover" VNRs include "sound bites" or brief interviews with company representatives and CPSC Chairman, and "b-roll," which is edited, eye-catching footage that makes it easy for TV news producers to air the video on newscasts.
Hire a professional production company to write, produce, edit, and distribute your VNR. CPSC's Office of Public Affairs can provide suggestions for production companies and show samples of their work. Public Affairs also will help every step of the way as the video is produced.
Television journalists are in the business of presenting news with moving pictures; a VNR must meet that need.
Like press releases, VNRs need to communicate basic information in order to be successful. When writing VNR scripts, remember that in order for this information to reach consumers, it first must be picked up by television stations -- which means the script is written for television producers.
VNR scripts, which the production company writes for the client, are written and negotiated like press releases and should closely follow the negotiated written press release. They also must go through the same CPSC clearance process as press releases.
The following information must be included in your VNR in order for it to appeal to television journalists:
Number of products sold - This information, which should be included in the very first sentence or two of the VNR, gives an immediate idea of the magnitude of the problem.
Description of the hazard - States the possible consequences of using or keeping the product or ignoring the remedy. This information must be clearly explained as it provide "the meat" of the VNR. Consumers should be told and shown what could happen to them if they use this product. VNRs are visual. Show as graphically as possible the problem with the product, including actual damaged products. For example, if a child could become entrapped in a crib, you could use a doll to show the entrapment.
Number of injuries and deaths - By focusing on the consequences of using a product or using it in a hazardous manner, this information strengthens the chance that the media will use the VNR. When possible, include a breakdown of deaths by state -- this helps the media "localize" the story.
Where were the products sold (names and locations of retailers, dealers, catalogues) and how much did they cost - This information helps the media "localize" the story to their viewers and provides consumers with information that may be needed to clarify product models involved in the recall or locations for more details.
Time period during which the products were sold - This information helps the consumer identify a product or product model that may have been purchased.
What should people to do with the recalled product? Include a phone number/web site - We need to tell the media how the consumer should proceed with the dangerous product. Make sure the toll-free phone number and web site are accurate.
Much of this information appears on background slates at the beginning of the VNR, as well as in the voice-over in the package. A very brief, one-sentence summary of the story also appears at the beginning of the package as the "Suggested Anchor Lead," which local news anchors read before the video is played.
Production basics- Keep these 10 points in mind when producing a VNR:
- Shoot on videotape in broadcast news style, emphasizing quick cuts and non-commercial production values.
- A VNR package (full narrated story with announce track) should run one and a half to two minutes long, followed by three to five minutes of b-roll. B-roll is supplemental unedited video to help the TV news producer edit the story for air. It should include clean shots of the product from a variety of angles. B-roll should also include shots of the product without people, shots of the product in use, and shots of the product in its natural setting. For example, a dishwasher could be shown in a kitchen, with people loading dishes into it, and again without people loading dishes.
- A VNR comprised of b-roll only (no narrated package) is effective when the story is self-evident, and the TV news producer does not need detailed context of the "spin" of a script to understand it.
- The package should be produced with split audio channels (separate channels for the announce track and natural sound on tape), or in two versions, one with the announce track and the natural sound combined throughout, followed immediately by same package with natural sound only. This allows the TV news producer maximum flexibility in presenting the story.
- The subject of interview soundbites in the VNR should be looking at the interviewer slightly off-camera to the right or left. They should never look directly into the camera. TelePrompTers (tv screens that show the script to the subject) are good tools to use if the subject is not fluent in minute details of the recall, if the subject has just one or two lines to say and an actual interviewer is not present, or if it makes the subject more comfortable.
- The production company should present all supers (names and titles of people interviewed in or speaking on the video) or Chyrons on a slate at the start of the VNR rather than on the tape during the VNR. This allows stations to recreate the information in their own type style. Make sure the sequence of identifications on the slate matches their order of appearance in the VNR.
- For technical or otherwise complex stories, use graphics and animation to illustrate key points.
- Never allow your reporter to do a stand-up (on-screen appearance) in the VNR, and never produce a bed of music under the package.
- Do not blatantly hype your company, product, or service. Show logos only if it helps identify the product.
- Make sure your video news release has news that lends itself to television. If you can imagine your story on TV news, you have the makings of a VNR.
The best VNR in the world won't be used unless it is well-promoted and widely distributed. In addition to buying satellite time to broadcast your VNR to stations around the country, effective distribution includes a media alert that tells stations when and how to pull down the video; enough time for a satellite feed to be effective; and usage monitoring so you can tell the reach of your VNR.
Hard copies of the tape should also be available, in case a station requests a copy. The production company or a dubbing company shall make 20 beta sp and 20 vhs dubs and deliver them to CPSC 2 days before issuance of the press release and VNR. CPSC will FEDEX copies to their public affairs field offices around the country. This enables public affairs staffers to take the tape to their local tv stations on the day of the recall and get coverage of the story. The rest of the copies will be available at CPSC's headquarters office and handed to local media who request a copy or handed out during a press conference on the recall.
Buying satellite time -- The production company should purchase two half-hour windows of C-band satellite time to "broadcast" the VNR to the media. The entire package will be fed on a continuous loop each half-hour, to ensure that stations have access to the feed.
If possible, purchase time between 1 and 3:30 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday -- this will help your story reach the widest audience. Purchase a half-hour feed the same day that the press release is scheduled and another half-hour feed the following day.
When the production company purchases satellite time, it will receive a set of numbers called "coordinates." Coordinates tell TV producers when the VNR is available and how they can "grab" it for their stations. Satellite coordinates include feed date, time, satellite name and transponder numbers, downlink frequency, and audio channels. Always purchase time on C-Band satellites -- it's easiest for most stations to use.
Tell the production company to "Sigma-code" the VNR before it's fed. This will enable you to track your audience.
Advance notification of the VNR's satellite feed - as soon as satellite coordinates are available, they should be forwarded to CPSC's Public Affairs office. On the day before or the day of the feed, the company should fax out a media alert, which includes very general information about the content of the story and the satellite coordinates, to broadcast media.
The alert should include two contact names: one name for more story information and one name to contact for technical questions. The contact for story information should be someone in CPSC's Public Affairs office and/or a company spokesman. The technical contact should be someone at the production or distribution company who can answer questions about satellite coordinates and other technical questions.
In addition, the production company should call targeted stations nationwide to pitch the story. Avoid "stepping on your story" by talking to the media the day before a feed, or leaking the story to the press (even local press).
Satellite feed -- On the days of the satellite feed, the media may call with questions about the feed or the content of the VNR. Many news outlets won't call during the actual feed, but may call afterward to clarify some information or to request hard copies of the tape.
Usage monitoring -- To get an estimate of how many people saw your VNR, make sure your distributor can provide usage sheets based on electronic tracking services such as Nielson and Radio/TV Reports. Your usage reports must contain detailed information by market, station, affiliation, time and date or airing, length of confirmed video usage, and potential audience by station. The report must contain a summary line with the grand total for potential audience.
Public Affairs has worked with a number of manufacturers and various production companies to produce VNRs for a variety of products. We would be happy to sit down with you, watch sample tapes, and explain some of the factors that went into the production of each VNR and the crucial elements of the monitoring report.
Sample Production Schedule (once VNR script is approved by company/CPSC)
Friday, March 26 - Air VNR again
Thursday, March 25 - Issue media advisory and Issue press release and air VNR
Tuesday, March 23 - Deliver dubs to CPSC in the morning so that CPSC can FEDEX dubs to their field public affairs staff
Monday, March 22 - Get final approval on VNR and make 20 vhs and 20 beta sp dubs for CPSC
Friday, March 19 - Re-edit/re-shoot if needed and re-send tape to CPSC/company for final approval
Thursday, March 18 - Edit VNR...deliver tape to CPSC/company for review
Wednesday, March 17 - Product's shoot
Tuesday, March 16 - Chairman's shoot (Chairman uses a TelePrompTer)
Monday, March 15 - Company Representative's shoot
Video Production Company will:
- keep natural sound behind b-roll
- make sure that the VNR is sigma coded
- make 20 beta sp and 20 vhs dubs and deliver to CPSC 2 days before issuance of pr/vnr
- pitch story to broadcast media the morning of the VNR feed
- issue media advisory to broadcast media with CPSC approval on language used and times purchased
- provide CPSC and company with a usage report containing the total potential audience captured.