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Top Ten Takeaways for Lesson Seven

Start thinking about your midterm next weekend.
This week, for Oct. 25, we're working on the VNR.

  1. Until fairly recently, the VNR was not a priority in a typical publicity plan. Production costs are high, the process is complex, and so video news releases were pretty much limited to big-budget, long-running campaigns... or government propaganda. There wasn't much point in including VNRs in a PR Writing course like this one.

  2. The video news release was (and is) a clever idea. It works like a press release, except that you are aiming at the TV newsroom instead of an editor. You produce a "package" – a filmed story to catch their eye – and send it along with additional footage (called "B-roll"), and thereby share the costs of getting your story on the air; otherwise they might not have the resources (film crew, editors, studio time) to cover the story on their own.

  3. Very rarely, a VNR will be aired exactly as you provide it, at a small station perhaps. Just as a small newspaper might run your press release exactly as you wrote it. But that's not the norm. Usually, the "packaged news" you send them is just to get them interested... and the extra B-roll you supply (extended on-camera interviews, long shots, close-ups, additional shots from different angles) enables them to mix and match and put together their own version of the same story – with their own announcer and reporter and graphics and logo.

  4. The ethics of video news releases are the subject of much discussion within the public relations profession. As Wikipedia reports the professional opinion of PRSA is that a VNR is "the video equivalent of a press release, and presents a client's case in an attractive, informative format." But it also notes that "the FCC is currently investigating the practice of VNRs." At a minimum, news producers must clearly identify the governmental or corporate source of VNR stories.

  5. VNR's are at the center of an industry that has specialized. First, PR writers like you create the story on a blank sheet of paper. You're the geniuses who create ex nihilo. Then there are the filmmakers who do the production work, requiring the arts and crafts of that profession. Thirdly, there are those who specialize in distribution -- knowing where and how to send the finished work. You can see it would be rare for a single individual to possess all those talents.

  6. As PR writer, you start with a Script Treatment. This is a plain straightforward description of what the finished video will look and sound like. On the example I have provided, you can see how the treatment distinguishes between the visual on the screen, and the audio from the speakers. You produce a draft which is not final until all those involved have chimed in.

  7. Then you're ready to move on to a Working Script. This is word-for-word the same as the treatment, except that it's rendered in a form easier for the filmmakers to develop into a shooting script (which is not part of your job as a PR writer). Looking at your working script, they can quickly assess how many locations will be called for, how many different scenes, etc. If you're going to have to cut back for budgetary reasons, for example, the working script will help you identify what's in play.

  8. Again, you're not likely to produce an all-out professional VNR as an entry-level PR writer. But I want my students to keep the VNR in their public relations toolkit – at the very least, you'll be able to keep up with the conversation in the PR strategy sessions. You may even be the one who suggests a VNR as part of a PR campaign.

  9. YouTube changed the game altogether, along with a range of other video opportunities. Although you might not be able to afford a top-of-the-line video news story, with B-roll and "on-air" talent, a short video promoting your client or cause is no longer so exotic. From strategic message planning, to quality production values, the concept of a VNR has expanded in a new medium. The script treatment and the working script remain dependent on the PR writing process.
  10. Read more about the Video News Release before beginning the assignment for this lesson.

    Your assignment is to write a Script Treatment and a Working Script for any worthy cause that interests you. If your imagination has run dry, use the Westland food drive. Follow the directions in this lesson, and in your text, and make sure you observe the format requirements. (Use the "tables" option in Microsoft Word to create your two columns for the working script.) As always, I want a message planner with this assignment. Put the three documenets -- Script Treatment, Working Script and Message Planner, in the same file:

    The "Ten Takeaways" are your fast track to understanding and completing this week's work, but for a deeper understanding you need to read further and in greater detail about each subject we cover. For more information about press release leads, look at this link.