Pulling Back the PR Veil

If you’re a PR person, you call them “video news releases,” or “VNRs.” If you’re a PR critic, you call them “fake news.” If you’re the average news viewer, you call them “the news.” And if you’re the FCC, you now call them “valuable consideration.”

I’m not an attorney, but this is how I understand the situation. Until this point, the FCC has only required disclosure of PR agency-produced video if the TV newsrooms were directly paid to use it. But a few days ago, the FCC ruled that handing over pre-produced video to people whose job it is to produce news video has the same effect as paying them, since it saves newsrooms the time and resources necessary to produce the video themselves. Therefore, newsrooms have to disclose the source of the video.

Because of negative publicity, some PR people have already stopped doing fully produced VNRs. But my sense is that most agencies at least still supply “b-roll” to newsrooms on behalf of their clients. (B-roll is video that visually tells a PR agency’s client’s story without directly telling the story through faux-reporter narration. Essentially, b-roll supplies the video dots of the story, but the real reporter is allowed to connect the dots through sequencing and narration.) Assumably, b-roll now also will need to be disclosed by news stations, which probably means news stations will use much less agency-generated b-roll.

Last April, I popped off on this issue. I suggested that the PR industry do such disclosure voluntarily: “Carrying a source disclosure through the full length of the VNR would make VNRs much more abuse-proof, save TV producers from themselves, preserve some of the remaining credibility of TV newsrooms, save clients from being subject to scathing criticism for promoting “fake news,” and help make public relations a more honorable profession.”

And now it looks as if we PR hacks can thank the FCC for saving us from ourselves.

– Loveland