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The Fine Art Of The VNR

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Judging by the uproar, you'd think the video news release (VNR) were an insidious invention of the Bush administration. Political reporters, like Claude Rains in Casablanca, are "shocked ... shocked!" to find that some TV news reports are prepackaged by government groups and corporations. Of course, the practice isn't new. For a refresher, Shoptalk caught up last week with Chris Kropp, a VNR titan during the early '80s ("PR's golden era") while at Burson-Marsteller. Kropp says he went after news directors with limited budgets and imaginations and a predilection for puff pieces. "We preyed on slow news days, so the news producer would be desperate," he recalls. "I saw it from both sides. When I was a news producer in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I used VNRs without realizing what they were. I was very naive about how they were generated until I wound up making them myself." Kropp, now a senior creative director at Showtime in New York, produced pieces for the U.S. Army and the U.S. Postal Service. Corporate clients included pharmaceutical companies. "It's not that the doctors were lying," Kropp says. "They just happened to mention that the new treatments included the drug sponsoring the VNR." A favorite VNR of Kropp's involved a charcoal-briquette maker. For the start of summer (that huge news event), the company had Kropp ready a piece on barbecuing season. It got such play that the manufacturer burned for more. "They actually were lobbying to make daylight saving time permanent, or something crazy like that," Kropp says. "The idea was that someone at the company had figured that those extra hours would sell 800,000 more briquettes or something."