On April 13, 2005, the FCC released a public notice informing broadcast licensees, cable operators, and others that air video news releases (VNRs) and all entities and individuals involved in the production and provision of this material, of their respective disclosure responsibilities under the Commission’s sponsorship identification rules. The provision requires that licensees and operators clearly disclose to members of their audiences the nature, source and sponsorship of the material that they are viewing.
While many public relations organizations have bristled at the prospect of clearly identifying their clients to the media, we believe that PR practitioners should actually welcome this type of transparency. This may be exactly what public relations needs to bolster its sometimes flagging image.
As public relations professionals, we don’t check our desire for truth at the door. If we are not upfront, it can create a credibility gap, not only with the media, also between our clients and the publics they are seeking to reach. But it’s equally important to support the independent nature of newsgathering. As Americans, we question any attempts by the government to tell radio, television and cable producers how they must produce and what they must present.
If you are in the position to pitch stories to the media, and in particular radio, keep in mind some principles:
1) Encourage editing of packaged news items. Let your clients know that stations are encouraged to edit at will any materials you send to them. In our experience, radio stations rarely, if ever, air produced pieces without alteration.
2) Don’t ever use editing tricks to get airplay. Some VNR and ANR producers package items in such a way that their client’s ‘mention’ cannot be extracted from the piece. This secretive way of production, almost trying to trick newsrooms into using their pieces is bad for our industry. Hiding behind production tricks will not gain coverage. Newsrooms are aware of this trick and choose not to air these pieces at all.
3) Don’t hide your client behind an ‘industry’ expert. If you think your product or trend won’t get placed without an industry analyst touting it, use a different medium to get your message out, such as advertising. While pundits can work in some circumstances, it grays the line between advertising and public relations.
4) When you pitch a story, identify yourself and your client. If you have a good story, it won’t matter whether it comes from your client or the AP Wire. The key is to have a good story. If you have doubts about your story’s chances with the media, don’t pitch it!
5) Know the difference between public relations, marketing and advertising. Having a keen knowledge of the difference between these and acting on that knowledge can save you much embarrassment and difficulty with the media.