For many PR firms, the opportunity to secure television appearances for clients is both the ultimate goal and win when it happens. It gives the client access to a mass audience that other media simply cannot match. Around 95% of homes in the US population have TVs, with 71% watching local news.
Furthermore, success on television has the power to generate such a store of client goodwill that it can cement a PR professional’s long-term status as a trusted partner.
There are, however, many ways to slip up, testing your ability to stay calm under pressure to its limits.
Benefits of Broadcast Media
The primary advantage of television news programs is they have plenty of air time to fill and are continuously hungry for fresh content.
If a big news story breaks and your client is in a position to bring fresh insights to the topic then things can happen very quickly. There’s a good chance that a pitch to the right researcher or news editor can result in your client being invited into the studio to contribute their expertise almost immediately.
Another plus is that TV likes to invite guests they like back time and again. So, if the client has a certain charisma and knows their onions, they may well be asked on regularly.
PR professionals experience a further benefit in that broadcast recordings may be readily shared. It’s common practice, for example, to take clips from interviews and post them on the client’s website. They are generally free from the copyright issues associated with print media.
Not for the Faint-Hearted
Broadcast interviews are not for the faint hearted.
The client has to be thoroughly prepared beforehand. The PR professional should book time for a dummy run – even with the most seasoned spokesperson – to rehearse the key messages and ensure they have two or three sound-bites to use on air.
No matter how well rehearsed they are, nothing can prepare a client going on TV for the first time for the commotion and distractions of a busy studio.
Most probably they are already apprehensive knowing all eyes will be upon them. Often they tell friends and family to watch, piling further stress on themselves.
With all the pressure, even the best laid plans can go awry.
Live TV Can Test the Nerves
One time I had a client who was invited on to the BBC Breakfast program to present the findings of a new report. Back then the BBC had premises in West London. As was the custom, the BBC sent one of their cars to collect our spokesperson and drive him to the studio.
I, meanwhile, travelled in separately by train, arriving comfortably ahead of the scheduled interview time. A member of the backroom team was taking me through the drill when suddenly my mobile rang – it was the client.
In a state of high agitation he explained he was en route in the BBC’s car but they were stuck in traffic. He feared they would not arrive in time and he was going to miss his slot.
The adrenaline rush you get in a situation like this is not something you forget in a hurry.
The only thing to do was speak to the TV crew to see what could be done.
What Broadcast Success Looks Like
A live television interview is comparatively short (just a couple of minutes on average).
Brief as it is, this is plenty of time for an accomplished, switched-on spokesperson to convey their core messages.
Naturally, clients who are completely at home in front of cameras value their time at a premium. They will rightly expect a worthwhile return for the effort spent on preparation and travel.
Fortunately, the impact of a television appearance is relatively easy to quantify. Depending on the objectives, this may manifest itself in a variety of ways – ranging from increased sales or a share price jump to a spike in website activity or a crisis averted.
The Importance of Plan B
Returning briefly to my own mini-crisis, a short chat with the production team helped me quickly come up with a Plan B. I called the client back. Yes, he would miss his original slot but I had managed to reschedule the interview and it would now go out on the News 24 channel.
This had a twin benefit. First, a tricky situation was immediately defused. Second, whereas the Breakfast program gives you just one quick hit, BBC News 24 repeats the morning’s stories in a continuous loop.
In consequence my client’s interview was shown 2-3 times throughout the morning. Happily, therefore, the client also gained more airtime.
In summary, in PR terms nothing beats an invitation to be part of a live TV segment. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that it throws the spotlight not only on the client but also on their PR professionals, giving both a chance to shine.
A TV studio is a scene of organized chaos. So many variables are in play that things seldom run exactly according to plan.
Nonetheless, if you have a client who is confident and well-briefed working alongside a PR person who is composed and quick on their feet there’s no reason why they should not be able to relax and enjoy the ride.