PR Technique ANRs: One Way to guarantee ANR placement: Pay for it

Difficulty of tracking ANR usage has led some to pay for placement.
Moses Frenck

Unlike with video news releases, which contain electronic coding for tracking, audio news releases are usually tracked by physically calling each radio station and asking whether a particular ANR was used.

Unlike with video news releases, which contain electronic coding for tracking, audio news releases are usually tracked by physically calling each radio station and asking whether a particular ANR was used.

This process, however, is tedious and time-consuming. So some ANR producers and distributors buy radio airtime to provide their clients with a certain number of ’guaranteed placements,’ thereby eliminating the need to track with call-backs – or to pitch the story in the first place. ’We regularly buy some airtime to distribute our material,’ says Mike Hill, president of News Broadcast Network in New York.

The practice of guaranteeing placements by paying for airtime is nothing new. But the methods producers and distributors employ to make their ’advertorials’ sound less ’adver’ and more ’torial’ have some industry pros saying the practice is unethical. Others say it’s perfectly legitimate.

Peter Himler, EVP of media relations at Burson-Marsteller, says he believes the practice is limited to smaller radio stations. He also says he trusts that a radio station’s journalistic integrity would prevail when choosing to air paid ANRs. ’I would like to think the more established radio stations are identifying those ANRs as advertorials,’ Himler says. ’If they are not, I find it ethically questionable on the
part of the radio station. It’s also a little deceitful on the part of the purchaser.’

Paid ANRs are regular 30- or 60-second spots that run like commercials but sound like news items and are placed adjacent to or in-between newscasts.

News Broadcast, for example, produces 60-second news features that deal with a variety of subjects (including a client’s message) and ’that has the same resonance as a news story and is placed within or just following a newscast,’ Hill claims.

Due to the large number of ANRs submitted to stations, only a handful get aired, so paid ANRs eliminate the uncertainty of whether a story will get coverage. Kevin Foley, president of Atlanta-based KEF Media Associates, says the time-saving aspect in terms of not having to pitch is worth the money.

Foley adds that the issue of producing advertorials is usually initiated by his clients during the pitch meeting, who ask what placements can be guaranteed. ’As PR people we can’t guarantee anything without actually buying the space or airtime,’ Foley says he tells clients. (Some clients don’t like the idea and decline the paid route.)

And then there’s the tracking problem. In addition to the follow-up calls, ineffective reply cards are sent to the stations. Some companies are in the process of developing coding technology to track ANRs like video news releases, but the industry’s desire for a uniform system is prolonging the process.

Foley says the paid placements allow him to produce a report for clients that accurately identifies all the stations on which an ANR ran, the time of day and audience reach.

But to stay within ethical boundaries, experts say PR pros must identify the features as advertorials and not news. Larry Moskowitz, president and CEO of Medialink, which does not subscribe to the practice, says it is unethical to disguise advertisements as news. However, he adds that, ’It’s a whole different story if they are identified as such.’

These guaranteed placement ANRs raise a related issue: are they PR?

Burson’s Himler says they are ’sort of a gray area’ but can be considered PR if they are properly identified. Hill says paid placements don’t go against the grain of public relations but are ’an extension of PR.’ He compares them to advertising supplements in newspapers and magazines and cites companies such as Mobil Oil that buy space on the
op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post to deliver their messages.

But ANR producers and distributors who pay for placements caution that paid ANRs do not work for all kinds of messages. They are best used for products and services that have widespread consumer appeal and ’a good consumer story’ that involves an author, expert or spokesperson, says Foley. KEF has produced and distributed advertorials for Coca-Cola, Perrier, Norelco and the Paris Las Vegas Hotel, for its opening.

’These advertorials are good when you have pressure by the client for quick turn-around and results,’ Foley says. These experts also advise that the paid spots should be only one aspect of an overall news release package and not the sole method of distribution.

Hill, for example, says News Broadcast also sends releases over the typical channels and pitches stations to encourage them to use the news.

PR pros are also warned that major radio news organizations such as WINS and WCBS in New York won’t air advertorials in any form. ’We do not permit them,’ says WCBS radio news director Frank Raphael. A WINS spokesperson says that although advertorials are not accepted, if one were accepted, it would be preceded by a disclaimer.

Many PR pros also don’t or won’t use paid placements (some aren’t even aware of the practice). They believe the typical way of distributing and tracking ANRs is worth the effort.

Lynn Medcalf, vice president of Atlanta-based production house News Generation, says paying for placements does indeed go against the basic nature of public relations. ’The essence of PR is relationship-building,’ she says.

’We want stations to say yes or no based on the merit of the story, not because we paid them to air it.’

Medcalf says not paying for placements also allows her to obtain feedback from radio stations about when and why a particular ANR made the cut, or why it didn’t. ’I like to get their reasons – for our knowledge,’ she says.

But it seems that until ANR tracking methods become more sophisticated, guaranteed placement ANRs will have their place.



  1. Research whether paid ANRs are effective for your client’s message.
  2. Use paid ANRs as just one aspect of an overall news release package.
  3. Make sure stations will accept advertorials.
  4. Identify paid ANRs as advertorials.


  1. Use paid ANRs as sole method of distributing your client’s message.
  2. Automatically use them for every ANR package.
  3. Assume every radio station or network will accept advertorials.
(Originally published in PRWeek April 10, 2000.)