How Many Topics Should You Put in a Topical News Promo?
by Graeme Newell
One of the biggest problems with TV station web site advertising these days is “banner blindness.” After being assaulted with banner ads that jiggle, flash and gyrate, readers are learning to simply block them from their consciousness. To avoid slipping into seizures from overstimulation, all of us are getting better at simply pushing aside the advertising barrage we endure throughout the day.
Check out some of the insidious places that ads are showing up these days: ads in bathroom stalls and elevators. You’ll find ambush ads in taxi cabs, doctor’s office pillows, airline motion sickness bags, and even on dice. This clutter makes it harder and harder for our station advertising and promotion to stand out.
We all experience this Madison Avenue onslaught each day, yet if you take a hard look at the topical promotion strategy at a lot of stations, you’d think we were the only advertiser in the world. Far too many stations still produce topicals that will simply be drowned out in the cacophony of the advertising howl.
We all need to get real about the effectiveness of our own promos. That starts with a pragmatic look at the reach and frequency of our own on-air schedules. In a typical evening, many stations will produce multiple versions of topical promos to air in different time periods. Most producers try hard to showcase a wide variety throughout the night. They will feature one group of stories in an access promo, then mix it up for the 9pm promo, just to keep the topics fresh and avoid repetition.
The problem with this logic is that it assumes each person in the audience will be glued to your channel for the entire evening, and never touch the remote. It also assumes that each person will attentively watch every ad and never take a bathroom break.
Remember, your ad is competing with more than a hundred other channels, and even when your channel is on, most people are not paying attention. They are ironing, cooking, talking, reading, or doing a million other things while the TV drones on in the background.
Consider yourself incredibly lucky if a potential viewer sees your topical promo ONCE in the course of an evening. This means your promo must be a showstopper. It must be so persuasive that it will motivate viewing hours later. In one blaze of glory it must irresistibly compel a distracted viewer to neglect sleep just to see your story.
So if most viewers see our promos only once or twice at best, why do we spend so much time and energy doing different promos that air throughout primetime? Often the producer is so harried from doing all these different versions, that none of the ads has real punch. They produce five mediocre ads when they could be producing one or two really powerful promos, complete with nat sound, music and great editing. In the onslaught of the gigantic production logistics, getting five promos with anything different in them becomes the goal, and producers start trolling the bottom depths of the show rundown for any new content.
While you can make a case for producing different promos that target specific show demographics, I find that most newscasts don’t have much audience-specific content that can be showcased. Generally, we count up the number of topical positions in prime, then blindly produce the same number and type of topicals each night, regardless of audience particulars.
My recommendation is that you follow a simpler strategy – do fewer promos with higher production values. Those higher production values will pay off because great sound, video and editing will cut through the ad clutter and make viewers sit up and take notice. Three mediocre promos with rotating topics will never be as effective as one dynamic promo with the punch to wake viewers from their lethargy.
In advertising there is something called the “rule of three.” It states that an ad won’t even hit a person’s consciousness until it is seen three times. That’s why I recommend that you unashamedly run the same promo again and again throughout the evening. While it is important to change your promo if new compelling content arrives, don’t change the promo just for the sake of making it different. Just because a house fire or convenience store robbery is breaking does not necessarily make it more compelling. Better to use strong material that is a few hours old than breaking news that has no facts, video or sound.
Because most topical promos are created in newsrooms, they tend to take on the characteristics of a newscast. Some of the primary goals of a newscast are to:
1) Identify all the most important stories of the day
2) Provide a concise synopsis of those stories
3) Showcase many differing sides and opinions on those story.
While these are admirable goals for a newscast, they are a recipe for disaster in advertising. If you look at a lot of newsroom topicals and teases, you will see that they are often little mini-newscasts, that dryly synopsize the rundown. They lack passion and focus. They are often a fast-talking laundry list of topics that cram ten pounds of news topics into a five pound bag. These kind of topical promos happen when well-meaning journalists inflict their craft on a completely different medium – advertising.
Remember, promos and teases are not journalism, they are advertising. Far too many journalists still see topical promos and teases as synopsized versions of the journalistic enterprise they live each day. Some producers feel that unless the promo tells the audience about all the most important stories in the newscast, it has not done its job. It has “left out” important stories and betrayed the journalistic creed. Completeness is a noble goal for a newscast, but is a lousy strategy for a topical promo.
Journalism is telling. Advertising is selling. The two have completely different agendas and strategies. Just because you are doing advertising for journalism doesn’t mean it should have the same structure as journalism.
Effective promos showcase, compel and inspire – they do not provide a synopsis of the day’s news. That means they must take the time to instill emotion and passion into the product they showcase. As the clutter factor in all our lives continues to rise, any advertising that lacks passion is increasingly ignored.
So how many topics should be in a nightly promo? Realize that you will have to make the hard choice between passionate topicals that showcase sound and video, and promos that have a lot of topics. Usually, you can’t have both.
Follow this rule: tease as many topics as can be teased clearly. Err on the side of doing fewer topics well. Avoid superficial promos that showcase a wide variety of topics. Quantity will not sway them. You have little chance of enticing viewers to stay if the promo barrels through a laundry list of topics, bent on conveying as much information as possible. The tease becomes an unintelligible blur of words and images.
A clear understandable benefit and compelling snapshots of real people will grab their attention. Reduce the number of topics in your teases and thoroughly sell the very best moments in your show. Don’t just sell information, sell experiences.
This strategy will reacquaint you with the most passionate and vital part of the topical promo – sound and video. These important components have become an afterthought in many newsrooms. Most stations follow their own version of “the rule of three.” That is the self-imposed decree that all topical promos must have three stories. The unfortunate casualties of this edict are the real people who make our news stories interesting. They are the left on the cutting room floor because they just take up too much time. Our most valuable resource for evoking interest and feeling is left out because it is inconvenient and time consuming.
Focus on the few things you can really win, then go after them hard. Unless your promo hits them with an ax in the middle of the forehead, they’re not going to notice what you’re saying. We have all learned to block out the clutter.