Keren Haynes
Keren Haynes
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How can B-roll make or break a TV campaign?

TV news editors choose between dozens of stories on a daily basis; the deciding factor between a story making it on air, or not, often boils down to one thing: visuals. Obviously broadcasters would prefer to shoot their own pictures, but when they don’t have the resources to do that themselves B-roll can become one of the most valuable tools in your PR kit bag.

So what is B-roll? 

B-roll is around 6-8 minutes of roughly edited video footage that can be used to illustrate a PR story. It’s given to broadcasters free of charge and any copyright issues, in the hope it persuades them to take the story.

In the past I worked at ITN as a news editor and if I was choosing between two stories, one with pictures and one without, I would have picked the former. Often broadcast PR is about making life easier for the journalist, and that’s what B-roll does. It gives the journalist ready-made, free pictures, on a plate.

Is there a but?

Ah, yes, there is. To ensure it gets on-air, B-roll needs to be shot in a particular style. At Shout! Communications we have two golden rules, and every client who has followed them has had the pleasure of seeing their footage on UK television.

Golden rule 1: Shoot the B-roll footage in a news style.

The footage would have to be exceptionally unusual to be accepted by a documentary programme; B-roll is really only taken and used by newsrooms. News style means simple, static and functional shots that can be edited together into a sequence that normally includes at least a wide, a medium and a close-up shot.   It cannot look too glossy or resemble an advert! Most importantly the footage needs to blend in with any other pictures the broadcaster has filmed themselves.

We keep each shot long so the B-roll looks like raw footage, not something that has been edited. That makes it more attractive in the eyes of a broadcaster. And we include a wide variety of shots, so if the BBC AND ITV both use it for example, they can each edit something different.

To make it really easy we divide the footage up with black slates on which we put titles, explaining what the next segment is about. We put the most useful or most visual pictures at the beginning of the B-roll and interview clips towards the end.

Golden rule 2: Include footage that broadcasters can’t easily film for themselves.

Video footage of a high street chain, for example, could be filmed by anyone anywhere in the country. Broadcasters don’t need material they can get from their own library, or shoot quickly in 20 minutes. What they are grateful for is material that is hard to access, such as filming in a food factory or pharmaceutical lab; or material that takes a long time to capture, for example, footage on an oil rig.

Interviews

Broadcasters want to film their own pictures and they want to do their own interviews even more.   That said, we would include interview clips at the end of a B-roll for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a good way of show-casing your spokesperson to broadcasters and might encourage them to do their own interview.
  • It’s also a diplomatic route to trying out your spokesperson – and your key messages – without offending anyone!
  • If your spokesperson is in demand, but with no availability (or willingness) to do interviews, broadcasters may use the clips anyway.

Why do news teams use B-roll?

Quite simply – budget! Newsrooms have seen their budgets slashed over the last few years as competing formats such as social media have come into play, meaning their teams don’t have the time or money to film new footage for every story.

This presents PR practitioners with an opportunity.

Broadcast bosses will deny using B-roll, but in our experience the journalists at the coal-face, working in the edit suites and newsrooms, will always be grateful for the offer of suitable footage.  So if your client is champing at the bit for TV coverage, give them the best possible chance and suggest B-roll.

Is it expensive?

No!  As I’ve said above, it needs to look like something a news crew might have filmed for themselves so it’s relatively quick to film – and edit.   Some of our most successful B-rolls have been shot and edited in a day, at a cost of around £2, 000.

£2,000 to get on TV? That’s a bargain!

For an example of what B-roll take a look at our sample here, featuring some sights and sounds of London:

The best bit about this B-roll? We’re giving it away for free! To obtain our B-roll make sure to keep an eye on our newsletter, which you can subscribe to here: http://eepurl.com/cLGvTn

If you’re interested in getting footage that’s a bit more specific for an upcoming campaign, make sure to get in touch by calling 020 7240 7373, or emailing keren@shoutcommunications.co.uk.

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